By Greg Poelzer
The North is vital to 21st-century Canada
and will only increase in importance.
Yet Canada is worst prepared among
all eight circumpolar states to address the
challenges that confront its Arctic region,
and the least equipped to fully seize the
Canadian North’s opportunities. This is
astonishing for a country that prides itself as
“The True North, Strong, and Free.”
The polar ice cap has long allowed Canada to avoid addressing external Arctic sovereignty questions in any serious way, as there was little traffic in Canadian Arctic waters during most of the 20th century. Canada treated its Arctic Canadian state as a forgotten frontier.
Domestically, Canada’s territories remain just that—territories. They are not full partners in the federal political community because Canada has not striven to ensure the full political, social, and economic development of the region and its 100,000 residents.
Canada, for example, is the only circumpolar nation that does not have a university in its Arctic region. Contrast this with the United States where more than 10,000 students graduated from the University of Alaska system between 1997 and 2004.
Canada has clearly fallen behind its northern neighbours and must address enormous challenges if it hopes to keep pace and reinvigorate the North.
Global warming presents one such challenge. The rapid melting of the polar ice cap means the Northwest Passage may be navigable in the nottoo- distant-future. Canada claims waters outside our Arctic archipelago as internal domestic waters. Both the U.S. and Europe reject this claim, contending these waters are international straits of innocent passage.
Why is this turf war over icy waters important? The Northwest Passage shaves off more than 7,000 kilometres for freight ships sailing between Asia and Europe, reducing both massive fuel costs and equally enormous CO2 emissions.
Increased ship traffic would present both an environmental threat and a tremendous economic opportunity to the Canadian North.
As Canada confronts these challenges on our Arctic waters’ surface, we also face challenges below.
Recommend this Story?