Timing is everything
Earlier this week, I came across a web page that allows Canadians to submit questions they’d like to be answered by the party leaders in debates leading up to the October general election. So, I offered one.
If I can remember my wording correctly, my question is/was: given the growing geo-political manoeuvring concerning the Arctic, what will your government do to strengthen Canada’s security in the north other than place a few Rangers with Lee Enfield rifles? Why I would ask that question instead of one about health care, the economy, the environment etc., is because of the growing claims to Arctic territory – and the attendant resources – being made by all countries ringing the Arctic, and even China. With more and more ice disappearing, larger areas of the Arctic are becoming more accessible and that means more opportunity to undertake drilling operations. And some of those claims come with alarming complementary moves, such as Russian fighter planes and bombers coming extremely close to or even crossing into Canadian air space.
So, having submitted my question, imagine my surprise when the following day the Trudeau government released its policy on developing the Canadian North. According to the CBC, the policy lists eight priorities for the North, with health, infrastructure and economic development at the top of the list. As the CBC story states, “the policy is a departure from the tone of the previous Conservative government under Stephen Harper, which emphasized security concerns and threats to Canada’s Arctic sovereignty.”
A Google search shows that the Canadian armed forces have only one base in the north, located at Alert in Nunavut. The Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut account for roughly half of Canada’s land mass and yet there is only one base there. One base and a few thousand Rangers roaming around on snowmobiles armed only with rifles.
The fact that the Trudeau government released this policy just a day before setting the official election campaign underway is rather suspect, given that it has had four years to do something. And even though I was not a supporter of former prime minister Stephen Harper, at least he visited the North every year, even if it was just ride on a snowmobile with the Rangers. I am not aware of Trudeau making the same sore of excursion.
So why would I be concerned about security in the North? That geo-political manoeuvring I talked about includes the Russians developing a floating nuclear power station that is now in the Arctic, and the Chinese government contemplating the same. Since the Chinese government has built new islands in the South China Sea and turned them into military bases, it’s not a stretch of the imagination to think that they could expand such operations into the north. Add to that the years’ long negotiating with the Americans about just where the boundaries of territorial waters should be drawn between Alaska and the Yukon and various nations eyeing the rich fishing grounds to be found in the Arctic, and one is forced to ask what a Ranger with a rifle can do to protect Canada’s interests – and sovereignty.
If the Trudeau policy espouses, among other things, infrastructure and economic development, I would suggest that building at least a couple more Canadian forces bases in the North would go a long way to achieve those ends as well as enhancing our security. Imagine the number of jobs that would be created building airfields, roads, housing and all the necessary services to sustain them.
Look what happened when the Canadian government established the Northwest Mounted Police, which eventually became the RCMP. They established outposts across the west to bring law and order and kick out Yankee whiskey traders, and those outposts, in many cases, became the foundation of cities like Winnipeg (Fort Gary), Regina and Battleford. They were, in large part, instrumental in opening up the Canadian West. Surely we leave that vast northern wilderness unattended at our peril. But more than that, we leave the Indigenous people in peril. Unemployment is rampant, suicides are at an epidemic state, the cost of living is horrendous. A jug of orange juice can cost around $26!
It seems to me that an undertaking such as I propose would address a number of these issues. But it would not be good just for our Northern inhabitants: it would be good for Canada and its security as a whole.
Tell me, am I wrong?
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