Speaking through a video released after bad weather prevented him from speaking in person, Peter MacKay told an international conference on Arctic governance in Toronto that the army, navy and air force contribute to civilian goals in the North as well as military ones.
"As National Defence develops and refurbishes much of our Northern infrastructure as part of our overall modernization of the Canadian Forces, we are committed to making our defence installations accessible and usable by other government departments," MacKay told the Munk-Gordon Arctic Security Conference.
MacKay pointed to the Arctic Training Centre being built in Resolute, Nunavut. The facility is being funded by both the defence and natural resources departments and will be used by scientists and military personnel on training missions.
As well, MacKay said the Canadian Rangers, together with the Junior Rangers and Cadets, are highly prized by the military and northern communities.
MacKay added that it's the military that is responsible for all search and rescue operations throughout the North, pointing to a plane crash last summer that happened during annual military exercises.
"Tragically, 12 people lost their lives in that crash, but the situation could have been far worse," he said.
"We were fortunate that Canadian Forces personnel were in the area and prepping for such an exercise, and that they were able to respond as quickly, given that we had helicopter assets on the scene almost immediately to help rescue the three survivors, and evacuate them to Iqaluit for emergency medical treatment."
MacKay said his department is committed to working with northerners and promised to convey the lessons learned to other branches of government.
"We have learned many lessons from our ambitious defence agenda in the North and our department is prepared to share our experiences and solutions and to hear from others as to how we benefit Northern communities, research and our understanding of Northern issues."
MacKay was addressing a conference presented by the Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation and the Munk School of Global Affairs. The conference was being held to discuss the future of the Arctic Council, which Canada will lead for two years beginning in April 2013.