Friday, December 23, 2005
The Conservative Party of Canada leader Stephen Harper today made bold claims about the Canadian Arctic region at a campaign stop in Winnipeg, “The single most important duty of the federal government is to protect and defend our national sovereignty.” . The prime minister-hopeful stated, “There are new and disturbing reports of American nuclear submarines passing though Canadian waters without obtaining the permission of —or even notifying — the Canadian government.”
Harper promised a significant increase in military presence in the Canadian region, which has had notable soveriegnty disputes with the United States, Russia, Denmark and Norway. “You don’t defend national sovereignty with flags,” Harper said. “You need forces on the ground, ships in the sea, and proper surveillance.”
Among other promises, Harper stated he would station three armed naval heavy ice breakers in the area of Iqaluit with 500 regular force personnel, recruit 500 more Canadian rangers, and build a new army training center in the area of Cambridge Bay on the Northwest Passage.
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“As prime minister, I will make it clear to foreign governments — including the United States — that naval vessels traveling in Canadian territorial waters will require the consent of the government of Canada,” Harper stated.
The Conservative Party Website states this ““Canada First” Northern Strategy will increase surveillance, navy, army and air force presence”.
The Liberal Party of Canada, the Conservatives’ most powerful rival in the election, quickly posted a rebuttal on their website. They claim Stephen Harpers stated defense budget of $5.3(CAD) billion over 5 years is not enough to afford the two polar icebreakers, which the Liberal party claims will cost $3(CAD) billion with the party estimating an upkeep of $150(CAD) million per year. “Where does Mr. Harper plan to find another $1 billion?” the party asked in their rebuttal.
The Arctic may be an important issue in the future for Canadians, as scientists expect the fabled Northwest Passage of the Arctic to open up for year round shipping by 2050 as a result of global warming. According to the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, trade routes from Europe to the Far East could save 4000 km through the passage, as compared to the current routes through the Panama Canal.
Canada last flexed its muscle in the Arctic in 2004 in its most massive Arctic exercise ever, with six hundred personnel from the three services (army, air force, navy) involved in a large exercise in the Baffin Islands.
Canadians are scheduled to go to the polls on January 23, 2006 in an early election as a result of a non-confidence motion in parliament against the former ruling Liberal party.