Harper Stands on Guard in the Arctic
Stephen Harper has just concluded a trip to the Canadian north, during which he announced several new measures dealing with northern affairs in general and the problem of maintaining Arctic sovereignty in particular. Ships passing through the northwest passage will now be obliged to register with the Canadian Coast Guard. The scope of the Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act will be expanded to cover waters up to 200 nautical miles offshore. A long-simmering infrastructure project called the McKenzie Valley gas pipeline will now, inshallah, be pushed to completion in short order. A new icebreaker, the John G. Diefenbaker, will be in service by 2017. Perhaps most importantly, $100 million will be spent over five years on a project to map the Arctic’s mineral resources.
It’s hard to say how many of these ambitious plans for the Arctic will actually be realised, especially with a probable election looming. Icebreaker purchases and pipeline projects can always be cancelled. The NDP also had a point when they accused Harper of neglecting the day-to-day concerns of northern residents, such as roads and housing. Local communities confronted with disintegrating sea ice and starving polar bears would probably appreciate a bit more commitment to tackling climate change, too. Even so, mapping minerals and patrolling the north are important and necessary steps. The Arctic is rich in resources, the Northwest Passage is likely to become an important shipping route as northern waters grow more accessible, and four other powers – Russia, Denmark, Norway, and the United States – are sniffing around the region. Harper is absolutely right in believing that the best way to assert our territorial claims is to establish a stronger presence, both military and civilian.
I’ve had the pleasure of visiting Arctic Canada twice, during the summer months. In both cases I was there to hunt for fossils on southern Ellesmere Island, and the expeditions eventually recovered the remains of a strange creature called Tiktaalik, a transitional form between fishes and ancient amphibians. The Arctic is full of surprises and buried treasures, scientific and otherwise – and in my opinion, it’s well worth defending from the encroachments of rival nations.
In other news, Mark Mardell of the BBC and Adrian Hamilton of the Independent both have very incisive pieces on the conflict between Russia and Georgia. And I should have more to say about climate change fairly soon.