I have been worrying about Canada’s sovereignty over the Arctic for some years now. Now I see a report by Levon Sevunts of RCI (Radio Canada International) which says that “2019 marked a busy shipping season in the Canadian Arctic with 27 ships making a full transit through the Northwest Passage, according to statistics released by the Canadian Coast Guard … [and] … this year saw a marked increase in commercial traffic through the passage … [because] … Five general cargo ships and five passenger ships made a full transit through the Northwest Passage, a series of routes snaking through the Canadian Arctic Archipelago between the Baffin Bay in the east and the Beaufort Sea in the west.“
Now, five freighters and five more passenger ships may not seem like a lot, but it means that the Northwest Passage, which Canada claims as its own territorial waters,* is open for business. If Canada is serious about its claims to sovereignty then it needs to have an official presence in the Northwest Passage.
Thankfully, the first of Canada’s new Arctic Offshore Patrol Ships (AOPS), HMCS Harry DeWolf, will likely be delivered late this year or in 2020 and might be in full service before the 2021 shipping season begins. She is in the water, now, undergoing builder’s sea trials. Despite my firmly held view that the AOPS should belong to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police rather than the Royal Canadian Navy because they are “constabulary” ships, not warships, they will be a welcome addition to Canada’s sovereignty assertion and protection efforts. In the meantime, our 25-year-old spunky little Maritime Coastal Defence Vessels, which can now refuel at Nanisivik, have proven their worth in High Arctic waters when the Northwest Passage is navigable. Additionally, our ageing CF-18 Hornet fighters and downright ancient CP-140 Aurora long-range patrol aircraft can, at least, fly over the Northwest Passage.
Canada is a vast country with the longest coastline in the world. But almost all of us live in a narrow strip of land that hugs our Southern border. As I pointed out a couple of weeks ago, fully ½ of Canadians live in a tiny slice of the country in far Southern Ontario and Québec. Only a few hundred thousand of our 35+ million fellow citizens live in the remote regions and only a few thousand of them along the Arctic coast. But the Arctic coast and the Northwest Passage are rich in resources and, now, are beginning to see significant foreign intrusion.
China has released an ‘Arctic White Paper‘ which describes a ‘Polar Silk Road‘ and there are reports that China has awarded a contract to build a nuclear-powered icebreaker. Russia has launched the third of a family of modern nuclear-powered icebreakers to add to the eight already built. The USA has just issued a contract for a new heavy polar icebreaker. Meanwhile, the Government of Canada cannot decide even where, much less when, the Coast Guard’s much needed John G Diefenbaker will be built and there is not even any discussion about submarines that can operate under the ice or new long-range patrol aircraft.
If the Trudeau regime is right, if global climate change will open the Arctic, then Canada is in trouble. If we are serious about our sovereignty ~ something I wouldn’t bet on with the current, Liberal government ~ then we need to stop spending money on solar farms for Angolans and Zambians and start spending it on icebreakers for the Coast Guard, AOPS for the RCMP, under-ice capable submarines for the Navy and modern long-range patrol aircraft for the RCAF.
* But our claim is disputed by others, most notably by the United States.