Friday, August 10, 2007

Northern exposure

It's a pleasant surprise to see that the Cons have taken at least a small part of Jack Layton's advice on developing the Arctic region and preserving Canadian sovereignty. But sadly, the Cons' announcement falls far short of what could and should be done:
Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced Friday the government will install two new military facilities in the Arctic to boost Canada's sovereign claim over the Northwest Passage and signal its long-term commitment to the North.

He said the Canadian Forces will build a new army training centre in Resolute Bay and refurbish an existing deepwater port at a former mining site in Nanisivik...

Harper, who made the announcement with Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor, also announced an expansion of the Canadian Rangers by 900 members.
Again, the Cons' limited announcement is better than nothing. But it's striking how the Cons' idea of a vision for the North - like their willingness to spend federal money generally - involves a combination of an undue focus on military issues to the exclusion of any other priorities, and a propensity for false economies which figure to reduce any positive outcomes in the long run.

Of the three announcements today, only the Nanisivik port apparently has any apparent civilian application. And that impact is limited to a port which according to the article is "ice-filled during the winter", and which directly serves a population that has fallen as low as 77 people in recent years.

As for the false economy issue, it appears obvious that the choice of Nanisivik as the sole deep-water port site is based on the fact that there's some infrastructure there to be refurbished - presumably reducing the up-front costs of developing a functional port. But it would seem obvious that if only one deep-water port is going to be developed (as opposed to the two suggested by Layton), then it would make sense to ensure that it serves as many people as possible for as much of the year as possible. And the Cons' choice to ignore those considerations in favour of the cheapest deep-water port design available only increases the likelihood that the site chosen will end up being mothballed again rather than helping matters much in the long term.

What's worse, with the Cons' announcement seemingly reflecting their plans as far off as the 2015 completion date for the port refurbishment, it's looking less likely that much more will get done (or indeed started) as long as the Cons hold power. And with a combination of UN deadlines and melting passages looming large, it'll take a quick change in government to ensure that Canada is anywhere close to ready before it's too late.

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