Oooo, I’m sure the Russians, Americans and others with claims on submerged Arctic real estate and those who feel the Northwest Passage is an international waterway must be just quaking in their boots at the latest announcement by Stephen Harper that Canada will be doubling the area it regulates shipping and policing waters for pollution violations. Considering that, by all accounts, the Coast Guard’s aging fleet of icebreakers is already regarded as woefully inadequate to the task of policing the existing 100 mile limit, it’s hard to see how they’re going to effectively enforce Canadian sovereignty over an additional half a million square kilometers of Arctic ocean under Harper’s silly new plan.
In any case, as pointed out by Stephen Chase in the Globe & Mail this morning, “It’s hardly a maverick move in international law because Canada’s so-called exclusive economic zone under a United Nations Convention already gives it authority to exploit and manage resources within 200 nautical miles of its coastline.”
In terms of providing the actual capability to back up his tough talk, the $4.3 billion purchase of “up to eight” naval patrol vessels that Harper announced here in Victoria a year ago haven’t even been contracted out yet and wouldn’t even be available for duty until 2013 or quite possibly later given our broken procurement system. And even if/when the new vessels materialize they may be of little use for the purpose of enforcing sovereignty, compared with the ice-breakers that Harper had originally promised but then decided not to buy.
According to Michael Byers, the Canada Research Chair in Global Politics and International Law at the University of British Columbia, Arctic sovereignty inflames Canadian passions. “I think the prime motivation here is electoral,” Byers said last year when purchase of the new “slushbreakers” was announced. “Canadians resonate to the Arctic sovereignty issue. Most Canadians have never been to the Arctic, but in the national imagination, sovereignty over the Northwest Passage does strike a chord.”
Indeed, this latest posturing would seem to be more of the same. Apparently, this is one of the key priorities that Harper wants to move forward as part of the new “mandate” that he feels can’t be accomplished in the current environment of parliamentary gridlock. Uh-huh.