DND boss: Arctic port decision by year’s end
GN touts seven possible locations, including Iqaluit, Kimmirut, Nanisivik, Resolute Bay
Gordon O’Connor, the defence minister, will pick a location this year for a civil-military seaport in Nunavut, after defence department officials study seven choices suggested by the territorial government, including Iqaluit, Kimmirut, Nanisivik and Resolute Bay.
“Our military staff are going to look at all seven and try to determine which one, or ones, are good enough for us, and then try to negotiate with the Nunavut government,” O’Connor told reporters in Iqaluit this past Friday.
At the same time, O’Connor backed away from a Tory election promise that would see the federal government buy three armed icebreakers for service in the Arctic, vessels that could cost at least $450 million each.
He said the navy is now looking at “other possibilities,” including double-hulled vessels that are “smaller than a frigate,” and a new type of boat that can cross the ice.
“I want the Navy to operate in the North. Whatever is the most effective way to get the navy operating in the North, I will be able to go with it,” he said.
O’Connor passed through Iqaluit this past Friday, on the last leg of a pan-territorial tour that included Whitehorse and Yellowknife.
In 2005, a City of Iqaluit study estimated that a small, one-berth port at Inuit Head, near the end of the causeway, would cost about $50 million.
But O’Connor said he’s prepared to spend much more than that. He says that’s because he wants to ensure that any new Arctic port serves the navy’s needs, as well as Nunavut’s economy.
“I’ve taken a look at the town plan. It’s a fine plan but it wouldn’t be big enough for us to have naval vessels, so we would have to look at an enlarged plan,” O’Connor said.
Stephen Priestley, a researcher, wrote last February in the Canadian American Strategic Review, an online publication, that an enlarged three-berth port at Iqaluit would cost at least $105 million, and likely more.
Shipping company officials also believe a one-berth-only port might lead to delays if two or more ships were to call at Iqaluit around the same time, wiping out the big cost-savings that a seaport is intended to achieve.
Paul Okalik, the Nunavut premier, would not endorse any particular location, saying it’s up to the federal government to decide where to build it.
“We want to get the port regardless of where it may be. We need one. It’s as simple as that,” Okalik said, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with O’Connor at a press conference in the foyer of the Nunavut legislative building.
Though he didn’t mention Kimmirut by name, Okalik did refer to a GN-sponsored scheme that would see a seaport at Kimmirut connected to Iqaluit by an expensive road pushed through the rugged Meta Incognita peninsula.
“I’ve told the minister that we made a commitment to try and help smaller communities. We have a struggling community just south of here…” Okalik said.
But he seemed willing to accept whatever location Ottawa chooses.
“If we build a road, that would be great. But I support National Defence in wherever it [the seaport] may be. The location has to make sense for them in a military way,” Okalik said.
Okalik, however, said he does differ with Ottawa on the location of a new army training centre in the Arctic.
O’Connor said his military staff prefer Resolute Bay for an army training centre, and have already done a tour of the site.
Okalik, on the other hand, says the GN prefers Cambridge Bay, a site that O’Connor looked at last summer when he was still the opposition defence critic.
“I told the minister they’re expecting something for Cambridge Bay, so I said let’s try and do something for both perhaps, but it’s the federal government’s decision,” Okalik said.
O’Connor said his announcements last week prove his Tory government is committed to doing what they said they would do in last winter’s election campaign to strengthen Canada’s claim to sovereignty in the Arctic.
He said the the defence department is also looking at increased aircraft and satellite surveillance of the Arctic, and a bigger role for the Rangers, to provide “24-7 coverage” of northern Canada.
“I want the navy, the army, and the air force operating here so that our air space, our waters, our lands, are all under the control of Canadians,” O’Connor said.
Early this week, Joe Handley, the premier of the Northwest Territories, jumped into the competition, saying the Inuvialuit community of Tuktoyaktuk should also be considered as a potential location for an Arctic seaport.
For information on the Iqaluit port proposal, go to www.sfu.ca/casr/id-iqaluitport2.htm, or download a copy of the City of Iqaluit’s proposal at: www.city.iqaluit.nu.ca/pdf/portproject.pdf.