MP Report: Ottawa needs to focus more on the Arctic


Canada has always strived to be a welcoming nation to visitors and the visit last week from NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg was no different.

The prime minister made sure to roll out a red carpet for their joint visit to Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, and Cold Lake, Alberta, to tour our northern defense installations.

While any attention paid to the sovereignty of our Arctic territory is always welcome, the prime minister's tour of the Arctic was, unfortunately, still more photo opportunity than a substantive commitment to arctic issues. Canada is still feeling the effects of seven years of government indifference to present and future threats in the Arctic.

The Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development conducted an extensive study, called “Nation-Building At Home, Vigilance Beyond: Preparing For The Coming Decades in the Arctic,” where a detailed report with 28 recommendations was tabled in Parliament early in 2019.

We have not seen any plans or follow up based on these recommendations. Anyone interested in seeing this lengthy report can email my office and we’ll send you the link.

Only in the tragic aftermath of the ongoing illegal war in Ukraine has the federal government begun to have serious discussions about defending our borders and contributing to our allies' collective defense.

It wasn't until April 2022 that our prime minister met with our territorial premiers to discuss their continued concerns regarding Canada’s Arctic defense.

Representatives of the previous Conservative government frequently took trips to our Arctic region and made Arctic sovereignty and upgrading Northern communities a focus. A Conservative Arctic MP was always included at the cabinet table.

In contrast, our current government has not had an Arctic cabinet minister since the resignation of former Nunavut MP Hunter Tootoo in May 2016.

We welcome the funding increases the government has agreed to invest in our joint North American defense organization, NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command) but this is long overdue especially considering the neglect in doing so until now.

NORAD facilities served as refueling stations for military aircraft, vital for defending such a wide swath of territory as our Arctic. Similarly, the Nanisivik Naval Facility, a new naval refueling site, has been repeatedly delayed and remains inoperable for Canada's Arctic patrol fleet. That fleet, ordered under the previous government, has still only seen two wholly constructed.

Some may question why a stronger focus on our Arctic sovereignty is necessary. A Ukraine-style invasion is less likely due to our NATO membership. However, Canada's Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Wayne Eyre, has listed the North as an "area of key concern".

Canada’s intelligence services tell us Russia has constructed the world's largest fleet of nuclear-powered icebreakers and ice-capable frigates. They have also built and upgraded northern deep-water ports and new airfields to accommodate bombers, sophisticated air defense, and anti-ship weaponry.

In 2017, Russia publicly stated that its goal was to "phase NATO out of the Arctic." The following year, China declared itself a "near-Arctic state" and committed to offering mutual support to secure Russian sovereignty.

Canada's Arctic also remains a source of enormous resource potential including energy and minerals. That potential wealth opportunity belongs to Canada and its economic benefits to the peoples of our Arctic territories.

It's our responsibility to defend it, and unless our current government gets serious about Arctic sovereignty and national defense, we risk losing our potential as a northern powerhouse.

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