Tag Archives: Arctic

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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How to tame a vanishing wilderness


One item that seems conspicuously absent from Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s wilderness kit, as he tromps across the Canada’s vast Arctic expanse this month, is a well-thumbed copy of Farley Mowat’s 1956 children’s classic, Two Against the North, also known in some publishing quarters as Lost in the Barrens.

The story tells the tale of a white boy, Jaime, and his Cree companion, Awasin, who overcome enormous odds to survive a season stranded on the brutal tundra. (Think Australian outback, except colder). During their sojourn, their cultural differences dissolve and heir friendship deepens. So does their respect for nature.

What’s not often mentioned in the literature reviews is that the book is also a pretty good survival guide for anyone who suddenly finds himself, say, needing to pitch a tent or light a pot of seal oil.

As the Globe and Mail reported last week, “An Inuit elder and Ranger dressed in traditional animal skins taught (Mr. Harper) how to build an inuksuk, the famous northern stone figure. They later erected a traditional animal skin shelter. Mr. Harper set up the pole inside the structure under direction from his wife, Laureen Harper. The Prime Minister was also instructed how to light a traditional carved bowl lamp – which uses seal oil – but was unable to set it afire. Mr. Harper remarked wryly: ‘I guess I’d die in the wilderness.’”

Sure, but what a way to go. Canadians’ – especially southern Canadians – love affair with their great boreal region grows more ardent in late summer, when the mug and grime of the urban landscape tests all but the most stoic, the Northern Lights crackle and dance in the imagination and the call of the wild is a primal scream.

“There is nothing worth living for but to have one’s name inscribed on the Arctic chart,” the 19th century English Poet Alfred Lord Tennyson once remarked. Mr. Harper might well agree. Every summer, the glaciers continue their relentless retreat and the polar ice recedes into memory. Every summer, the prime minister is there to bear witness to both loss and opportunity, as if to say the north isn’t what it used to be and likely never will be again. But is that, he is wont to query, necessarily a bad thing?

“We recognize that the Arctic is growing more accessible to international shipping,” he said in Churchill, Manitoba, two years ago. “The various circumpolar countries are pressing claims that may conflict with our own. The global demand for northern resources is growing. . .The first and highest priority of our northern strategy is the protection of our Arctic sovereignty. And as I have said many times before, the first principle of sovereignty is to use it or lose it.”

Of course, the federal government’s commitment to the region depends on an essentially dialectical arrangement with the truth: Global warming is mostly hype, but that doesn’t mean we can’t exploit it. In this, the environment takes a back seat to geopolitics and whispering ski-doos.

“The Canadian military has been secretly test-driving a $620,000 stealth snowmobile in its quest to quietly whisk troops on clandestine operations in the Arctic,” reports The Canadian Press. “The Department of National Defence even has a nickname for its cutting-edge, covert tool: ‘Loki,’ after the ‘mythological Norse shape-shifting god.’”

The Arctic, today, is not only a proving ground for the armed forces; it is the site of previously undreamt economic development. Or, as Mr. Harper’s northern strategy declares, “From the development of world-class diamond mines and massive oil and gas reserves, to a thriving tourism industry that attracts visitors from around the globe, the enormous economic potential of the North is on the cusp of being unlocked.The Government is taking action to encourage future exploration and development by improving Northern regulatory systems and investing in critical infrastructure to attract investors and developers to the North.”

So much for the pitching of tents and the igniting of lamps. So much for the sentimentalities of the south. Soon, the brightest of the northern lights will belong to the derricks and diggers of industry.

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