On Sept. 2, 1972, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau dropped the puck to launch an eight-game hockey showdown between Canada and the Soviet Union. But Team Canada won only one of the first three games, then was booed off the ice after losing the fourth in Vancouver.
Team captain Phil Esposito made an emotional appeal to Canadians to rally behind their team rather than kicking it when it was down.
“We're disillusioned and we're disappointed ... We cannot believe the bad press we've got, the booing we've gotten in our own buildings. ... Every one of us guys, 35 guys, that came out and played for Team Canada ... we did it because we love our country.”
Canada won two of the next three games in Moscow. Paul Henderson was an unlikely hero, scoring the winning goals in both Game 6 and Game 7 to set the stage.
With Game 8 tied 5-5 and less than a minute to go, Mr. Esposito got off a shot on net but it was blocked by the Russian goaltender, Vladislav Tretiak. The rebound came to Mr. Henderson, who shot again and then lifted his own rebound into the net. “Henderson has scored for Canada!” broadcaster Foster Hewitt screamed as millions of Canadians went mad with joy. Canada had beaten the mighty Soviet Union for world hockey supremacy.
Fast-forward 36 years. Imagine Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper challenging the Russians to yet another high-stakes contest - this time, a 10-year competition to determine which country can be the best environmental steward of its Arctic region, based on an agreed-upon scoring system adjudicated by an international panel of referees. The winner gains undisputed acceptance of its sovereignty claims.
However this contest is ultimately organized, Canada must find a way to secure its Arctic sovereignty claims in competition with Russia and other countries. We must secure those claims not only in the courts of law, but in the court of world public opinion, where evidence of exemplary environmental stewardship will be most persuasive. In order to do this, several important questions need to be answered:
Where do we currently stand, compared to Russia and other nations? The northern polar region is currently divided among five countries: Canada, Russia, Denmark, Norway and the United States. Russia and Canada occupy the largest and second-largest areas. According to the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy, Canada ranks 12th in overall environmental performance - second among the five Arctic countries, behind Norway. Russia, on the other hand, is 28th overall and fourth out of the five. Russia and Canada thus have the largest territorial stakes in any contest over territorial sovereignty, and Canada could rightfully claim superiority over Russia with respect to general environmental stewardship. But can this claim be substantiated in a contest over Arctic environmental stewardship?
What is Arctic environmental stewardship and how can it be evaluated? In the past, many people in Southern Canada thought of our northern territories as a vast, largely uninhabitable hinterland of little practical value. Only recently, due to technological advancements and rising commodity prices, have the economics of northern resource development begun to improve. And only recently have we come to understand how the polar regions perform vitally important ecological functions such as cooling, absorbing carbon dioxide and providing animal, plant and human habitat.
Indeed, national and international agencies are currently developing criteria for evaluating Arctic environmental stewardship. These include air and water quality indices, biodiversity and habitat health indicators, resource-development impact assessments, climate-change indicators and measures of the well-being of indigenous peoples.
While most Canadians know how hockey is scored, most of us still have a lot to learn about evaluating Arctic conservation efforts. A national educational initiative is required, drawing heavily on the wisdom of scientists and long-time inhabitants of our northern territories.
How might Arctic Team Canada be organized? The hockey version of Team Canada included the best Canadian players from competing National Hockey League teams - players who had fought each other tooth and nail during the regular hockey season. Montreal Canadiens goalie Ken Dryden found himself under Harry Sinden, the former coach of the rival Boston Bruins. Mr. Henderson, a gentlemanly forward with the Toronto Maple Leafs, found himself on a line with brawling Bobby Clarke of the Philadelphia Flyers. But as Mr. Esposito said, they came together for love of country, setting aside their club loyalties and personal animosities.
Could partisan politicians and interest-group leaders ever set aside their partisan loyalties and personal animosities to win an Arctic conservation and sovereignty contest with Russia? Could Stéphane Dion and Elizabeth May ever agree to be part of a broad coalition under coach Stephen Harper? Could David Suzuki, Greenpeace and aboriginal leaders play on a team with Tom d'Aquino, president of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, and officials from the Mackenzie Valley pipeline consortium?
If such a coalition could ever work together, the media and public would be astounded and inspired. The court of international public opinion would also be profoundly impressed - to Canada's great advantage.
Who will be the team's inspirational leaders and unsung heroes? If Mr. Harper were to challenge the Russians to this 10-year contest, there would be an immediate outpouring of criticism against our own government's environmental record. Who will respond in Esposito-like fashion to those who would boo Arctic Team Canada off the ice? That articulate champion who, while acknowledging past failures, would challenge us all to get it together?
Great contests often inspire extraordinary performances from unexpected heroes. Who will emerge in this contest? A scientist who discovers a better way? An interest-group leader who moves an organization beyond mere advocacy to actual engagement in conservation? A writer who causes Canadians to see our Arctic responsibilities in a new light? An indigenous northerner who becomes the new voice and face of Canada's arctic endeavours? A business person who champions environmentally responsible resource development? A new-generation politician with a new vision that fully integrates environmental stewardship with other dimensions of northern life?
Or could it be you, dear reader, who has something unique and meaningful to contribute to Canada's Arctic environmental conservation efforts, even though the country does not yet know your name?