Peter Mackay makes the most of quickie Op Nanook visit in Nunavut
Canadian Forces looks to “year-round presence” in Resolute Bay
RESOLUTE BAY — Peter Mackay, Canada’s national defence minister, who arrived in Resolute Bay in the early hours of Aug. 18, made the most of his day-long visit to observe Operation Nanook, the Canadian Forces’ military exercise, shoring up support from every direction for his department’s increased visibility in Nunavut and the North.
Mackay even managed to cram in a dive from an iceberg lodged in the bay outside Resolute with divers who have been learning how to work around icebergs.
That, said Mackay, who donned a dry suit and full divers gear, was “disorienting,” but “incredible” as light shone through the iceberg into the water.
But his dive was just part of a packed schedule, which included meetings with the Danish defence minister, chats with Canadian Rangers and a visit with Resolute Bay’s hamlet council, where young throat-singers and a drum dancer performed for the VIPs.
Stopping by to visit a group of Canadian Rangers, Mackay — who shook hands and spoke with each one — viewed a display of some of the traditional fur clothing worn by Canadian Rangers out on the land in winter, such as polar bear fur pants and caribou fur kamiks. He and the other visitors also sampled bannock, raw Arctic char and fresh maktak.
But Mackay’s stop at the hamlet office was more than just a simple courtesy call.
His message to mayor Tabitha Mullin and her council was to the point: the Department of National Defence is grateful to be located in Resolute Bay, where more than 400 members of the military are now at Camp Nanook for this month’s Operation Nanook military exercises.
Mackay vowed to work closely with the community of 270, respecting the environment and the people — a promise that was well-received by Mullin, who said if the military can protect the environment and wildlife, “we’re fine” with a large-scale military exercise like Op Nanook.
“We don’t want to do these things without your input and advice,” Mackay said, assuring that the military will try to leave the smallest footprint possible on the land. “We have much to learn from you.”
The benefits of the Op Nanook, which includes a reaction to simulated aircraft collisions near Resolute Bay, will include improved search and rescue capability in the Arctic, and, closer to home, the sharing of some of the on-site expertise of doctors and dentists at Camp Nanook.
“That’s what we want to be able to do,” he said.
The mayor and hamlet councillors raised their concerns about the impact of climate change and the possibility of more maritime traffic through the Northwest Passage — a concern shared by the Danish defence minister, Gitte Lillelund Bech, who said that her government, and Greenland, have the same worries.
Denmark and Canada, along with other Arctic nations like Norway, want to encourage the International Maritime Organization to adopt measures that will prevent cruise ships, for example from going into places they shouldn’t, she said.
Bech later told Nunatsiaq News that Denmark and Canada plan on more co-operation to find solutions to their shared challenges, like climate change and increased marine traffic — and no, Bech said, she and Mackay didn’t talk about Hans Island, the tiny rock of an island claimed by both Canada and Denmark, which lies between Ellesmere Island an Nunavut.
But she did want to learn more about the Canadian Rangers, an example that Denmark is looking closely at for Greenland where there are only special troops from the Danish army patrolling the island.
“We can share and learn from each other,” Bech said, noting that next February, Canadian Rangers and their Greenlandic counterparts will meet on the ice between Nunavut and Greenland.
Mackay said collaboration and co-operation defines Canada’s relationship with its closest neighbours in the Arctic, Denmark and the United States.
Op Nanook built on that, with the involvement of the U.S. Coast Guard and the Royal Danish Navy, in this year’s Op Nanook, he said.
As for the Canadian Forces’ temporary presence in Resolute Bay during Op Nanook, that will grow into a “year-round presence,” with the support of the local community, Mackay said.
That would mean much of the equipment, which is now shipped in and out, could remain there.
Along those lines, an expansion planned to the recently-renovated Polar Continental Shelf Program will see a new wing with 100 new beds added to the facility, doubling its present capacity.
Mackay couldn’t provide a price-tag for that expansion and the construction of a new storage area at the airport, but, according to National Defence documents, the Canadian Forces Arctic Training Centre will be “a multi-purpose facility for Arctic military training as well as operations.”