(Whitney Lackenbauer/The Toronto Star, 4 September 2008)** -- Canada's control over the Arctic is melting with the ice. The Russian Bear is hungry again and flotillas of foreign ships (from oil tankers to tourist vessels) are poised to invade our internal waters and pollute our pristine Arctic environment. Canada is behind in the polar "race for resources" and our sovereignty is in jeopardy. We are ill-equipped to deal with challenges because previous governments failed to "stand up for Canada." The future of the circumpolar world is not friendly. So commentators would have us believe. The promise of co-operation and dialogue with northerners that framed government plans for the Arctic in the 1990s has been jettisoned and replaced by a "call to arms." Prime Minister Stephen Harper's announcement last week that Canada will unilaterally extend its pollution controls out to 200 nautical miles was made with an air of confidence. The "use it or lose it" refrain, however, reveals a chronic lack of confidence and encourages a disproportionate emphasis on national defence at the expense of a broader suite of social, economic and diplomatic initiatives. Geo-mapping our resources is a step in the right direction, but the North is not the empty, lawless frontier that commentators are depicting. The time for Canadian action in the North has indeed come, but it need not be justified by partisan rhetoric rooted in paranoia. Contrary to popular belief, there is no immediate sovereignty or security crisis in the North. Current alarmism is driven by misunderstanding, fed by scholars and journalists trying to kick-start southern Canada out of its typical apathy toward northern affairs.
Posted 4 September 2008; 4:26:30 PM. Permalink
(Randy Boswell/Canwest News Service via Canada.com, 4 September 2008) -- Two of Canada's leading scholars on the North have issued a ringing endorsement of the Conservative government's Arctic strategy just days ahead of an expected election call, taking aim at opposition critics who argue that Prime Minister Stephen Harper is too focused on resource development and military expressions of sovereignty rather than northern social development and climate change. "The Stephen Harper government's northern initiatives have strengths and weaknesses that are endemic to all public policy," argue University of Saskatchewan political scientist Greg Poelzer and University of Waterloo historian Ken Coates. "Nevertheless, his government has taken some concrete steps toward a comprehensive northern policy, something that Canada hasn't had since the Diefenbaker administration." The Conservatives have made the historically marginal issues of the North a surprise centrepiece of their re-election campaign, a move underscored by Harper's three-day tour of the Arctic last week and a series of announcements aimed at asserting greater Canadian control over the disputed Northwest Passage and the North's potential oil and gas riches. "Some critics suggest the Conservative government's emphasis on Arctic sovereignty focuses almost singularly on the military, and the 'use it or lose it' approach demonstrates a rejection of a multilateral approach to circumpolar affairs," the two experts state in an essay published Thursday by the Saskatoon StarPhoenix. But "rather than ignoring the interests of northern indigenous people or overlooking the region's delicate environment," the professors contend, "the government is placing the interests of Inuit and other aboriginal people and the environment at the centre of its sovereignty and security concerns." Adding that "Canada has avoided acting like a northern nation for generations," Poelzer and Coates say "we should applaud any government that treats the Canadian Arctic seriously and aims to build a country from sea-to-sea-to-sea.
Posted 4 September 2008; 4:18:29 PM. Permalink