Martin slams Tory plan to protect Arctic
“Mr. Harper seems to think that the cold war with Russia is still on”
Describing the Conservative’s plan to protect Arctic sovereignty as “nonsense,” Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin said only his government has a “comprehensive plan” to tackle sovereignty issues in the North.
In December, Conservative leader Stephen Harper announced a plan to build three new armed Arctic icebreaker ships, stationed at a new military-civilian deep-water port in Iqaluit. That plan would bring about 500 staff to Iqaluit.
Harper also said the Conservatives would build an “Arctic National Sensor System” – a high tech surveillance system that would use underwater listening posts to detect foreign submarines and ships in Canadian waters.
The Conservative web site says the party would recruit 500 more Canadian Rangers, and build a new Arctic army training centre near Cambridge Bay, with 100 regular force personnel.
The Conservatives put the total cost of their plan at $5.3 billion, while the Liberals say it will cost $6 to $7 billion.
“Mr. Harper seems to think that the cold war with Russia is still on,” said Martin in an exclusive interview with Nunatsiaq News on Jan. 12.
“The threat to our sovereignty in the North is not going to come from submarines or some cold war,” he said.
“It’s going to come from the opening of the Northwest Passage and the environmental damage that could ensue that we have got to protect against, and it’s going to come from people seeking to exploit the natural resources of the North that essentially belong to Canada and the people of Nunavut.”
Martin said his party would focus on “quality of life” for people who live in the North.
He referred to the first ministers’ meeting in Kelowna last year, which resulted in a pledge to spend $5 billion to improve health, education and training for First Nations, Inuit and Metis.
“Sovereignty in the North is effectively territorial occupation, and that translates into the best housing, the best education, the best hospitals. In other words, you can’t simply say that you’re going to occupy a territory, if in fact you’re not providing to people who are living there the kinds of services that they would have elsewhere.”
Next, the Liberals would work to address direct threats.
The Liberals would monitor the Arctic with 10 to 20 surveillance drones – or unmanned space vehicles – which would be monitored and serviced in Iqaluit. The Liberals would complete the mapping project currently going on in the eastern Arctic.
The Liberal party platform also promises to station two search and rescue aircraft in Iqaluit, and two more in Yellowknife, and to create Arctic search and rescue patrol teams made up of Canadian Rangers. The Conservatives, in contrast, promised to station one search and rescue plane in Yellowknife.
Martin stressed that scientific research will help Canadians know more about threats to the environment, including global warming, and he reminded northerners that his party gave $150 million to do research for the International Polar Year in 2007.
“We’re putting a lot of money into the science of the North so that in fact we understand what we have to do to protect the fishery, and what we have to do to protect the seal hunt.”
Inuit employment and the Northern Strategy
Asked about the federal negotiations on implementing the Nunavut Land Claim Agreement, Martin said that his party has already solved the contentious issue of Arctic 23 – or Inuit employment in government.
“We’ve basically set that money aside,” Martin said, pointing to the vague promises about training made at the First Ministers’ meeting in Kelowna last year.
That meeting produced some promises for more training, but no actual price tag, or any mention of specific land claim obligations for the Inuit of Nunavut.
Martin also said the Liberal party has already told Premier Paul Okalik that per capita formula funding does not make sense for Nunavut, where distance makes federal programs much more expensive than in the South.
“I’ve already told the premier that it’s clear,” Martin said. “You can’t have 30,000 people over a huge expanse with all of the cost of that expanse, and then say you’re going to treat it the same as you treat an area further south where you’ve got a small area and a dense population.”
A Conservative government would lead to the end of the much-vaunted Northern Strategy, Martin said.
Martin announced the Northern Strategy Dec. 14, 2004, but so far, the lofty policy idea has produced little more than consultation meetings.
Martin took a few moments to praise Nancy Karetak-Lindell, who has served as Nunavut’s member of Parliament for the past eight years.
“She is one of the hardest working members of Parliament; she is incredibly articulate on the North.”