Canadian Senate issues report on Arctic sovereignty

Canada’s Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence has tabled an interim report (PDF) entitled, “Sovereignty and Security in Canada’s Arctic.” The 75-page paper discusses various aspects of Canadian Arctic policy, including domestic and international issues and multilateral regimes in the region. There are also several useful maps in the appendices, including one showing Canada’s potential continental shelf claims and another displaying the Canadian search and rescue zones. I haven’t yet read the report, but I will do so in the coming days to analyze it.

In other Canadian Arctic news, the 2011 federal budget would allocate $150 million for the construction of a 140-kilometer, all-season road between Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk in the Northwest Territories, which currently has a very limited number of roads. Whether the budget will actually pass, though, is another issue. CBC reported that the Member of Parliament for the Western Arctic, Dennis Bevington, remarked, “The budget document that was presented here doesn’t seem to be one that’s going to be accepted by a majority of parliamentarians.” Moreover, the Member of Parliament for the Yukon, Larry Bagnell, suggested that he would vote against the budget since it does “not offer much for the North.” Bagnell is also the Official Opposition Critic for Arctic Issues and Northern Development. With all three opposition parties vowing that they will not support the budget, the Conservative government looks likely to fall. That means elections could be held as early as May. If a party other than the Conservatives wins a majority, or even plurality, of seats in Parliament, this could herald a new era in Canadian Arctic policy. The Conservatives are ahead in the polls, though, so such a change of tack seems unlikely for now.

News Links

“Senate committee calls for improvements to Arctic search-and-rescue capability,” Winnipeg Free Press

“Clash on Conservative Budget Could Spur Canadian Election,” New York Times

0 thoughts on “Canadian Senate issues report on Arctic sovereignty

  1. AL_INAF_5100 says:

    Thank you for posting online the interim report on “Sovereignty and Security in Canada’s Arctic” tabled at Canada’s Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence in March 2011. I did enjoy a 75-page read, but did not notice any major progress on the part of the Federal government in terms of addressing outstanding disputes in the Beaufort Sea, sovereignty over Hans Island, and the legal status of the Northwest Passage. I did appreciate the witnesses’ testimony, in particular that of Michael Byers, Rob Huebert, and Whitney Lackenbauer, Canada’s most prominent experts on Arctic sovereignty.

    The Senate concluded that the government is on the right track (i.e. supported status quo), and no deviations from the policy are necessary at this time. The recommendations presented at the Committee, I found, slightly lacked context. Although, I do strongly support the notion that the Federal government should make speedy acquisition of new fixed wing SAR aircraft the top military procurement priority, in light of the aging Canada’s SAR aircraft fleet.

    I am also a proponent of the establishment of SAR centres across Canada’s North, in light of a forth-coming legally binding SAR agreement among the Arctic Council’s member-states.

    The Senate Committee did not touch on the issue of how to address the prospects of the Northwest Passage becoming navigable as early as 2030. With a status quo, should commercial and naval shipping traffic become more heavy, Canada’s legal claim to the NWP being its internal waters will be weakened, thus measures by the Federal Government need to be taken now.

    As I proposed in my paper on Canada’s Arctic sovereignty policy, Canada currently is in a great position to strike a deal with the US, its biggest ally in the Arctic, to recognize the NWP as Canada’s internal waters. Given that the US is preoccupied with continental security post 9/11, Canada might have a chance convincing the only remaining superpower to make concessions in return for the continental peace of mind. Of course, a massive Canadian diplomatic lobbying campaign in Washington would in order.

    On a 2011 federal budget note, indeed the now-failed budget did not offer much for the North, except for a proposed $150 million dollar investment in a road in the Northwest Territories that would finally connect Canada from coast to coast to coast… Another budget allocation destined for the North was a $9 million dollar investment in Northern adult basic education. This investment was to be a part of social and economic development program suite, as outlined in the Northern Strategy.

    Now that the election campaign is in full swing, these much-needed investments are put on hold. However, no matter what party comes into power after the May 2nd election, Arctic sovereignty and Northern strategy in general will still be on top of the agenda, given their significance in Canada’s foreign policy. The Liberals might put more emphasis on Northern economic and social development as well as environmental protection, while the Conservatives would be more preoccupied with the military presence to ensure Arctic security of Canada’s North.

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