June 8, 2019 – In 1867, Canada embarked on a great nation building project. We united as a country and built a railway that connected the country from east to west, bringing security and opportunity to what has become a vital heartland of our nation. It wasn’t easy. It took great leadership, courage and sacrifice – but much of the economic success Canada enjoys today would not have been possible without it. Today it is our Arctic that holds the potential for economic growth through trade, infrastructure development, natural resources, and potential maritime shipping routes that will position Canada for continued prosperity in the next century. But we are not the only ones who see the value in what our rich Arctic has to offer.
Every day, there are news stories about China and Russia flexing their military power in the far north. Our NORAD commanders have warned that the threat to our sovereignty is real, and that Canada must not be complacent.
It is Canadian territory that surrounds the Northwest Passage and the enclosed waters. Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the Northwest Passage would be defined as Canadian internal waters and as a result governed by Canadian sovereignty and law.
However, China has declared the Canadian Northwest Passage an international strait and has begun building their “Polar Silk Road”, an infrastructure investment to bolster Chinese trade and tap Arctic resources. China’s expanding global forays go hand-in-hand with their increasing defence investments, including submarine modernization.
Russia has also increased their presence in the Arctic region as Putin has re-opened Arctic military bases and is building new ports. Russian military aircraft breach our northern airspace and Admiral James G. Foggo II, the current Commander of the US Naval Forces Europe and NATO Joint Force Command Naples has also stated that “Russian submarines are prowling the Atlantic, testing our defences, confronting our command of the seas, and preparing the complex underwater battlespace to give them an edge in any future conflict…. Allies should also be concerned by threats from North Korea as they seek to develop submarines armed with sea-launched ballistic missiles.”
We must improve Canada’s defence capabilities by land, sea and air so our country and NATO can defend our Arctic and preserve our sovereignty. Yet this government continues to mishandle the equipping of our Canadian Forces. A scathing Auditor General’s Report on Canada’s Fighter Force highlights that adding used F-18s from Australia to Canada’s Air Force will not enhance our fighter capability. Further, it is critical that our Navy work to improve its anti-submarine warfare (ASW) capabilities along with NATO allies in order to address increased submarine threats from Russia, China and North Korea in our waters. As a member of the NATO Parliamentary Association, I was pleased to submit my draft report, NATO Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) and theneed to rebuild NATO’s ASW assets. The report is available at https://bit.ly/2WuMOoP
Most recently, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stated that Canada’s claim to the Northwest Passage is illegitimate. If Canada does not firmly reassert our sovereignty and prioritize enhancing our defence capabilities, our Arctic could quickly be compromised and our Canadian Northwest Passage be deemed international waters.
It is critical that Canada has comprehensive foreign and defence policy, and an economic growth strategy that prioritizes our Arctic sovereignty. The Leader of the Official Opposition, Andrew Scheer stated, “[We] will do more, a lot more, to show the world that we are an Arctic power. Above all, we must establish…everywhere in the world, that our sovereignty over the North is non-negotiable. The Arctic does not only belong to us. It is us. And that includes the Northwest Passage”. Our sovereignty is at stake – the threats to our Arctic risk detrimental impacts to our borders and our economy. We must have federal leadership with a bold vision for Canada and the courage once again to nation-build and stand firm in defence of Canada’s Arctic sovereignty.