Prime Minister Justin Trudeau injected a dose of electoral politics into an announcement Thursday in Canada's Far North, taking aim at his Conservative rival while unveiling details on two marine protected areas.
Trudeau used the trip to showcase some of the most dramatic effects of climate change to promote the Liberal government's record on climate action ahead of this fall's federal election.
Later Thursday, he will also attend a nomination meeting for his party's candidate in Nunavut.
Trudeau began the day by making an announcement about a now-finalized marine protected area near Arctic Bay — an Inuit hamlet on the northwest corner of Baffin Island — known as the Tallurutiup Imanga National Marine Conservation Area.
He also unveiled first steps to create a protected zone on the northwest coast of Ellesmere Island that will be known as the Tuvaijuittuq Marine Protected Area.
Tuvaijuittuq means "the place where the ice never melts" but melting sea ice and increased shipping traffic have posed increased threats to many important local species, including sea birds, narwhals and bowhead whales.
Canada now has protection measures in place for almost 14 per cent of its marine and coastal areas that span more than 427,000 square kilometres — an area larger than Newfoundland and Labrador. The Liberals had targeted protecting 10 per cent of Canada's marine and coastal areas by 2020.
Trudeau used the backdrop of shifting Arctic terrain and endangered sea life Thursday to cast himself and the Liberal party as best-placed to serve as stewards of the environment — already shaping up to be a key election issue — and as partners with Inuit in protecting the North.
"It's not about photo-ops. It's about actions," Trudeau said in response to a reporter's question.
"Those actions that we've taken as a government consistently throughout these four years demonstrate not just concrete deliverables for people in the North, but indeed demonstrate that at the heart of everything the government of Canada can and must do in the North needs to be respect and partnership with the Inuit."
Building the relationship has been the most important thing his government has done in the North to set a foundation for future work, Trudeau said.
He contrasted his approach to former prime minister Stephen Harper and to that of Andrew Scheer, adding the current Conservative leader didn't use the word "Inuit" when he unveiled a policy vision last month.
"It tells you a lot about the future he would build if he were prime minister," Trudeau said.
Last month, a political spat erupted over the Liberal plan to introduce a clean-fuel standard that would require cleaner-burning fuels as a way to reduce overall carbon emissions by 30 million tonnes a year.
Scheer accused the Liberals of plotting to levy a "secret fuel tax" on Canadians by enforcing a standard that would increase the cost of gasoline.
The Liberals wasted no time firing back, accusing Conservatives of hurling smears, while also calling the Tory environment policy "anti-climate action."
Natan Obed, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, said climate change has already had devastating impacts on local infrastructure in the territories — a trend projected to continue if emissions and global temperatures continue to rise.
A recent report by Canadian scientists warned that most Canadian Arctic marine regions would be free of sea ice for part of the summer by 2050 and that most small ice caps and ice shelves in the Canadian arctic will disappear by 2100, even if emission reduction measures are enacted.
That's why Obed said he hopes political parties will not simply bicker about the merits of a carbon tax as they debate climate policy during the campaign, but rather look more broadly at the real-life, "drastic" effects of climate change on northern communities.
"Fixating on one or two pieces of a climate-action policy sometimes overshadows the larger picture," he said.
"People should be very concerned about the reality of the Canadian Arctic and the fact that it is a part of Canada. Just because somebody might not see massive changes in their backyard today doesn't necessarily mean that there shouldn't be urgent concern from all Canadians about the Arctic and the Inuit portion of the climate discussion."
Later Thursday, Trudeau attended a nomination meeting for the candidate for the Liberals in Nunavut.
Megan Pizzo Lyall, a former Iqaluit council member who is now based in Rankin Inlet, was acclaimed as the Liberal candidate for Nunavut after being the only qualified contestant to successfully complete the application process, according to the Liberal party website.
The seat has been held by former Liberal cabinet minister turned Independent MP Hunter Tootoo, who announced earlier this week he will not seek re-election.
Pizzo Lyall will be going up against Conservative candidate Leona Aglukkaq, who served as Nunavut’s MP from 2008 to 2015, including as one of Stephen Harper's cabinet ministers.