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If Canada is serious about defending sovereignty over its Arctic archipelago, Ottawa needs to develop better infrastructure there and start with a permanent military base, says the only MP who attended the International Arctic Forum held in St. Petersburg, Russia.
“The conversation was that it’s international waters. From a Canadian perspective we lay claim to it, but the international community is really looking at it as international waters,” said David Yurdiga, Conservative MP for Fort McMurray–Cold Lake Alberta.
“There are plans to open up the Northwest Passage and connect it as part of international shipping lanes, as they call it…even the U.S. says it’s international waters.”
Canada’s jurisdiction over the waterway was last publicly questioned at the meeting of Arctic Council nations in Finland, where U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called Canada’s claim ‘illegitimate’.
This triggered the usual domestic social media politicking, beginning with Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer’s take:
Not to be outdone by Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland:
But back in the real world, nobody cares about Canada’s claims to our Arctic archipelago, except for us, said Yurdiga. And barely a month before Scheer and Freeland duked it out on Twitter, in St. Petersburg, according to Yurdiga, only department staff attended the International Arctic Forum – not MPs, nor ministers.
“I was really shocked there was no representative from the government,” Yurdiga said. “We have international communities talking about these as international waters, and we have nobody from the Canadian government pushing back on our sovereignty. We’ve got to be an active player.”
Canada-Russia relations have reached new lows since Vladimir Putin’s regime annexed the Crimea in Ukraine in 2014 and then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper slapped sanctions on Russia and admonished Putin at G20 that year.
Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland is also banned from visiting Russia since March of 2014; one of 13 Canadians blacklisted by the Putin regime in retaliation for Canadian sanctions against it for expansionist machinations.
Bilateral relations with Russia aside, our closest ally could care less about our Arctic nautical claim, and also disputes another offshore demarcation in the Beaufort Sea along 141st meridian between Yukon and Alaska. The seabed between this sliver likely contains rich oil and gas deposits.
While Canada has one dirt road – the Dempster Highway – connecting the rest of the nation to the Arctic Ocean, and a dilapidated railroad from Winnipeg to Churchill, Manitoba and Hudson’s Bay, Yurdiga said other countries are scaling up their ambitions.
“We see Russia building, there’s no more talk about diesel icebreakers, I mean Russia’s building at least nine nuclear icebreakers,” he told The Post Millennial. “Also they’re adding liquid natural gas to fuel these icebreakers.”
Also in May, Canada welcomed the diesel-powered, medium-icebreaker CCGS Captain Molly Kool , the fleet’s first new icebreaker in 25 years.
“I had three conversations with the President of Finland (Sauli Niinistö), one on how important the next stages of an alternate trade route through the Arctic is to them that will save a lot of time and money,” said Yurdiga. “That’s why they’re investing in icebreakers, Finland, Iceland and Russia. China was also part of the forum’s conversation – China sees a big benefit too.”
So what does Canada need to do to protect her interests, and sovereignty?
“First of all, a military presence, a base up there. Not a summer base but where we’re there year round. To promote our sovereignty over the North, we’ve got to be there,” Yurdiga said.
The Alberta MP also said targeted infrastructure investment that can integrate resource extraction in the North to its domestic refinement closer to the Canada-U.S. border is also key.
“We’ve got to figure out a means to get our product to market economically, and hopefully we can process the ore in the south, which will create more jobs.”