Chilly relations in a cold country

We could sell the snow. There's plenty of that

One of the Harper government’s fondest conceits is Canada’s sovereign claim over the Arctic – or, least, that portion of it perched just above our heads. Now, it seems, a goodly number of the prime minister’s fellow citizens aren’t quite so sure.

According to a  piece, reporting on the latest Ekos Research Associates opinion survey on the matter, “support among Canadians is collapsing for Ottawa’s long-standing but dubious claim that the Northwest Passage belongs to Canada.” In fact, “Less than half of Canadians – 45 per cent – still believe the Northwest Passage is ‘within Canadian waters,’ a dramatic drop from the 74 per cent who held that view only five years ago.”

I’d like to think that our latent lack of interest in this cold country has something to do with an abiding resentment of Old Man Winter over the past few, unreasonably rough seasons. But, as the Globe writer speculates, it may have more to do with the fact that the Canadian government truly stands alone in the international community when it insists it owns the Northwest Passage – a fact which might becoming a source of some embarrassment.

In any event, said Frank Graves, president of Ekos, in an interview with the Globe, “It doesn’t help the case that whatever the legal complexities, the vast array of [international] public opinion is offside.”

Public opinion notwithstanding, of course, it seems that nothing will cool the federal Tory enthusiasm for all things Arctic. Only two weeks ago, for example, the Department of Defence issued a news release entitled, “Harper Government re-affirms Canada’s Arctic sovereignty with Operation NUNALIVUT 2015.”

The presser went on to assert, “The Honourable Julian Fantino, Associate Minister of National Defence, today visited Operation NUNALIVUT 2015, one of the Canadian Armed Forces’ (CAF) premier High Arctic military exercises, to highlight the Harper Government’s commitment to protecting Canada’s northern borders. Minister Fantino met with Canadian Armed Forces personnel, who demonstrate Canada’s readiness and ability to operate in the challenging Arctic environment to counter any threat to Canada’s Arctic Sovereignty.

“The large scale military exercise brings together Canadian Armed Forces members from the Third Battalion Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (3 PPCLI), the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN), the Royal Canadian Air Force, and Canadian Rangers. During his trip, Minister Fantino will also visit the headquarters of the Joint Task Force (North), as well as the 1 Canadian Rangers Patrol Group, in addition to visiting the ice dive site of the HMS Erebus.”

As for Mr. Fantino, he appeared delighted to dish the chest-thumping propaganda with the best of them: “Seeing the remarkable men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces – including our Canadian Rangers – operate in Canada’s high Arctic has been an honour. Our Government has never been more committed to our CAF personnel and we will continue to support them as they protect our northern borders and assert our sovereignty in the region.”

I’ve never quite understood the ferocity of the Harper government’s claims on the Arctic. Clearly, global warming, which is affecting northern climes more dramatically than other places on Earth, is opening up the region for increased shipping and oil and gas exploration. But, this should be reason for caution and circumspection, not jingoistic belligerence.

Besides, if the greatest threat is posed by Russia, what are Canada’s tin-pot armed forces supposed to do against that nation’s nuclear powered submarines and ice breakers? “The Obama administration has been very clear that Arctic co-operation must continue,” Michael Byers, a professor of international affairs at the University of British Columbia, told the CBC last week.

Good luck with that.

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