In spite of its claims, Canada is still far back behind in securing its Arctic region.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper observed last week that Canada never will have the capacity to provide rapid emergency services across the vast Arctic.
This observation, made in the wake of an air disaster in Resolute Bay and in the midst of his annual northern tour, should have been put in perspective. According to a report from the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program, the sea ice cover over the Arctic Ocean is shrinking even faster than predicted by the UN's expert panel on climate. Within the next two decades, the Northwest Passage will likely be ice free throughout the summer.
The Chinese, Americans, and Europeans are already counting the savings to be had by shipping goods through the passage rather than through the Panama Canal. According to a Danish study, a trip from Europe to the great port in Seattle will be 25 per cent cheaper. Already China is negotiating a deepwater deal with Iceland in anticipation of the passage becoming passable, and Europeans are looking first to Russia's Arctic waterways.
Canada is a long way from being able to either exploit the opportunities of this new traffic or even provide substantial protection to the environment or those using the northwest route should an inevitable tragedy occur.
Canada has increased the attention paid to its vast Arctic territory over the past half decade, but it isn't the only country that has something at stake. While our Arctic territory is vast and sparsely populated, there are many things the Canadians government should be doing rather than concede the impotence brought by some shortcomings.
Not only must Ottawa step up the development of such northern infrastructure as the proposed deepwater port at Baffin Island, but it must more aggressively support northern research institutions such as the University of the Arctic and the University of Saskatchewan.
Securing Canada's presence in the vast Arctic requires more than an annual military exercise, the yet-to-be delivered promised fleet of patrol warships, research into a stealth snowmobile, and an office to sell the benefits of Northern resources. Arctic universities, of which Canada has but a few including the University of the Arctic that shares space at others institutions, provide a more holistic view of the region, its people, and its rapidly changing environment.
It is only through such institutions that Canada can develop the human and intellectual capital required to bring orderly and cohesive development to the North.
One need not tell those at the U of S about the precarious nature of northern research. Just more than a decade ago the university community buried on a renowned researcher, Malcolm Ramsay, who died in a northern helicopter accident. Although Prof. Ramsay was globally famous for his work on polar bears, hours before he set off on his final research mission he spoke to The StarPhoenix about the rapid transformations taking place in the Arctic and the need for Canada to take this area seriously.
There's no wonder that the world is looking for alternatives, when 11 years after this interview the prime minister continues to express doubt about Canada's ability to provide basic emergency services to the region.
The editorials that appear in this space represent the opinion of The StarPhoenix. They are unsigned because they do not necessarily represent the personal views of the writers. The positions taken in the editorials are arrived at through discussion among the members of the newspaper's editorial board, which operates independently from the news departments of the paper.
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