Opinion Editorial

Stephen Harper and Canada's role in the Arctic

RICHARD ROHMER, O. C., Q. C.

OnMonday, Prime Minister Harper opened his one-week venture in the High Canadian Arctic that will take him to the most northern parts of Canada's three Territories: the Yukon, the Northwest Territories and, on the east, Nunavut.

As a person with a whole lot of experience in Canada's Arctic, both civilian and military, I can't resist the strong temptation to offer comments on what's going on in our Arctic and the opportunities the PM will have this week to get the nation's focus on this incredibly valuable piece of Canadian real estate, its enormous waterways and the Inuit, the native people who have lived there from time immemorial. A lot of experience for me?

A 1969/71 Mid-Canada Conference of some 150 Canadian experts looking at the boreal forest region, including the Mackenzie River and its delta area around Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk.

I organized and chaired the conference with its then forward-looking recommendations.

I delivered them eyeball to eyeball to Pierre Trudeau, who was blind to what we had to say.

Nevertheless, the then-leader of the Northwest Territories later granted me his Commissioner's Award for Public Service to the NWT.

A decade later as Honorary Colonel of an Air Reserve Squadron (411 of Toronto), I organized and led a flight of two single-engine Otter aircraft from Churchill, Manitoba to Eureka, at the northern end of Canada's Ellesmere Island close to the North Pole.

That was a 'sovereignty' flight even in the early 1970s.

Yes, and I've written books about Canada's Arctic and its challenges.

So there goes the Prime Minister into his/our treasured Arctic.

What purpose?

To tell the other Arctic nations, including the Russians and the ever-assertive Americans, that the Arctic Islands belong to Canada--as do all of the natural resources (oil/gas) that lie thereunder.

Add to that we own the Northwest Passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific past Resolute Bay in the east to Banks Island (on the west) and beyond.

The Americans claim that the Passage is international waters and they can have free access to transit. Canada says no.

But more important for our PM is to review and look at the social conditions in which our Inuit people are now living in the High Arctic.

There is a huge lot of 'fixing' that needs to be done in those communities.

Generally speaking, Canadians will have high expectations that Stephen Harper's week in the High Arctic will bring about both short and long term changes that will benefit not only the Inuit but also the peopleof Canada South!



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