Sunday, August 22, 2010

All Talk and Photo Ops

The Tories have been making noise for five years now about how they're going to defend the Canada's Arctic sovereignty and establish a genuine and indisputable presence there but have so far done very little beyond those promises. To quote Stephen Harper, "You don't defend national sovereignty with flags, cheap election rhetoric, and advertising campaigns. You need forces on the ground, ships in the sea, and proper surveillance." Indeed.

So where are we today? Well, sadly all of the Tory promises made about defending Canada's Arctic sovereignty have not come to pass -- just more rhetoric and repetition that said Canadian Arctic sovereignty is not negotiable, except when it is. That's right, on Friday they announced their desire for co-operation and rules everyone could abide by. The prime minister's comment came after the federal government announced earlier Friday that Canada will work to create a "rules-based region" with clearly defined boundaries. Speaking to reporters in Charlottetown, Harper said the statement does not signal a policy change but is an elaboration of the government's "broad approach" on the North. That approach, Harper insisted, has always included working with partners in the region "where appropriate."

And not to worry, they have lots of stuff on the drawing boards to fuel their tough rhetoric. The Conservatives announced plans in 2008, instead of the promised three new armed naval heavy icebreakers, a new, $720-million polar-class icebreaker named after former Conservative Prime Minister John Diefenbaker (after scrapping plans for three armed naval ice-breakers which were an election but neither the pledged icebreaker nor the promised six smaller, Arctic patrol vessels that critics call "slush-breakers." In fact little that has been promised has gotten beyond the announcement phase.

Stationing three new armed ice breakers, to be made in Canada, in the area of Iqaluit, as mentioned above has been turfed. Building a new military/civilian deep-water docking facility in the Iqaluit area has been delayed. Establishing underwater listening posts to monitor northern waters for foreign submarines and ships hasn't happened yet. Building a new Arctic army training centre in the area of Cambridge Bay on the Northwest Passage finally got under way last month three years after it was announced. Stationing new fixed-wing search-and-rescue aircraft in Yellowknife still has not happened.

It's remarkable that they rarely get called on it. In the North they are reluctant to complain too loudly for fear of being ignored completely. The economy has been suffering and so understandably they tend to tread lightly when speaking of any and all possible job creation initiatives.

Has Harper actually accomplished anything in Canada's North since he was first elected -- a little but nothing to match his government's rhetoric for the past five years. For a solid in depth look into many of the issues in play you can go read this report by Rob Huebert the Associate Director Centre for Military and Strategic Studies, entitled Northern Interests And Canadian Foreign Policy (PDF). Or you can go watch this CBC documentary entitled Battle For The Arctic which also does a pretty good job of explaining all the issues that should concern Canadians.

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