During Parliament’s winter break, Prime Minister Stephen Harper was making headlines. Though one would have expected that his trip to the Middle East would have garnered the most attention, when he became the first Canadian PM to address the Knesset, the national legislature of Israel, this was overshadowed by the media coverage of the first part of his winter break.
Many articles were written on his annual trip to Arctic Canada, questioning why the area matters, and if Canada should be using valuable resources and gaining international prestige over this frozen land. Those writers could not be more wrong about the importance of the Arctic to Canada’s future.
For starters, the Conservative government is emphasizing developing the land, making this more than just a flag-waving exercise designed to show the world who’s in control of the territory. In fact, Canada’s current term as the chair of the Arctic Council has been devoted to sustainably developing the eight states and six indigenous populations that are members.
The continued presence of Canadians, including our indigenous Inuit populations, give Canada a strong claim on the Arctic territories. But this claim is under threat. Foreign submarines travel under the Arctic ice pack as a shortcut to move from the Pacific to the Atlantic, often, apparently, without explicit Canadian knowledge.
Pierre Leblanc, a retired colonel and former commander of the Canadian Forces’ northern command, told the National Post that “for decades” the Canadian government relied on other countries’ “goodwill to know if they’re in our waters or not.”
One could imagine the outrage that would occur if a Canadian Navy vessel took a shortcut through the Florida Keys without informing the United States government. It sends the message that we are not willing to defend our sovereignty, which may become important in future years as the Arctic becomes more accessible and desirable for mining.
A much as I hate the melting of the polar ice caps, there is a great economic opportunity here for Canada if we act on it. Along with the possibility of the opening up the fabled Northwest Passage, the Arctic also provides an opportunity for huge economic gains.
Over time, Northern Canada has given us gold, diamonds, and uranium along with other minerals. As the ice caps melt, more resources will become available; the United States Geological Survey, in fact, estimates that 22 per cent of the world’s “technically recoverable” oil and natural gas could be located in the Arctic Circle.
Granted, there are many environmental concerns to be addressed here, but it should come as no surprise that Canada recently submitted a proposal to the United Nations to extend its territorial sovereignty to include the North Pole, where the Russian Federation planted its flag in 2007. If the Arctic territory that we currently control is any indicator, the vast store of untapped wealth there has the potential to turn Canada into an economic power in the world if we manage to focus our attention on the region.
In 2008, there was a proposal from the European parliament to place the Arctic under international control similar to Antarctica. While the current Antarctic Treaty does not support nor deny territorial claims to Antarctica, Arctic territories have a variety of countries involved in their administration, simply because they are part of the sovereign territory of the nation.
As the Canadian Arctic territory has belonged to our nation or its British colonial predecessor for hundreds of years, we should stand strong on our true north Arctic territories.