Resolute sees better days with military centre

“It will definitely be a boost to the economy here”



The Conservative government’s plans to build a military training centre in Resolute Bay is seen as a bit of sunshine poking through the gloom in the High Arctic community.

“It’ll definitely be a boost to the economy here,” said Aziz Kheraj, Resolute’s former mayor and owner of the South Camp Inn.

Business reaches its peak during the summer, when researchers flock to the High Arctic. But Resolute has seen better days.

First the Polaris lead-zinc mines closed on nearby Little Cornwallis Island in 2002, causing the number of visitors to Resolute to drop. Then, in December 2005, First Air cut jet service — something Resolute’s residents are still smarting over.

While First Air’s smaller turboprop Hawker 748s fly more frequently, residents say the planes end up leaving behind passengers, luggage and cargo.

Susan Salluviniq, Resolute’s mayor, said residents have to wait a month before mail arrives from its destination.

And she tells how she once had to wait two weeks for her food-mail order of fresh produce.

When the food arrived, it had spoiled.

As well, residents are reluctant to fly on the 748s since two of the planes had engine difficulties while flying the High Arctic route, Salluviniq said.

The proposed military school may not bring back the jets, but it could bump the number of visitors up, leading to more spending in the community.

In December, during the lead-up to the federal election, Stephen Harper promised a military training centre in Cambridge Bay, as part of the Tory’s plans to beef up Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic.

The training centre would provide cold-weather training for Canada’s soldiers.

During Harper’s announcement, he said the school would be staffed by up to 100 regular Canadian Forces personnel. It’s unclear whether these troops would be permanently stationed, or rotated in and out.

It’s also unclear whether the training would involve Canadian Rangers teaching southern soldiers, or southern soldiers teaching Canadian Rangers — or both.

But since the election, military officials have since suggested that Resolute is a better location.

That’s probably because Resolute is already a hub for military activity in the High Arctic, during annual sovereignty exercises and cold-weather training.

And Resolute is closer than Cambridge Bay to the Northwest Passage.

That could matter as the Arctic continues to experience a warming climate and thinning sea ice, which could make the Northwest Passage a viable route for commercial shipping.

Some countries, such as the United States, maintain the passage is international waters. To counter that claim, Canada needs to demonstrate its sovereignty over these waters, according to defence critics.

A greater concentration of military troops near the Northwest Passage could do that.

Resolute sits on the southern end of Cornwallis Island, facing towards Viscount Melville Sound, which opens towards the Beaufort Sea.

In contrast, Cambridge Bay is on “the wrong side” of Victoria Island, facing south to Queen Maud Gulf, rather than towards the Northwest Passage, points out a recent article in the Canadian-American Strategic review, an online journal published by Simon Fraser University.

The article suggests the training centre was first offered to Cambridge Bay as a “consolation prize” for missing out on a deep-water sea port, which was instead offered to Iqaluit during the election campaign.

Since then, the Government of Nunavut has made it known that it wants six other communities considered as possible port locations, including Kimmirut — and Resolute Bay.

Not surprisingly, the plan to shift the Arctic training centre to Resolute hasn’t gone down as well in Cambridge Bay.

Last week Cambridge Bay’s mayor, Michelle Gillis, panned these updated plans on the radio, saying that it was “rude” that O’Connor never stopped in Cambridge Bay during his pan-territorial tour two weeks ago.

Premier Paul Okalik is also at odds with the Tories over the plan to put the training centre in Resolute, saying he prefers the base be located in Cambridge Bay.

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