Event Recap: Politics @ the Pub – Canada and the Arctic

By Jessica Nasrallah

The Arctic may be very cold, but it’s certainly a hot topic these days. The latest Politics @ the Pub, hosted by the CIC, focused on this very issue. Four expert panelists weighed in on the debate regarding Canada and the Arctic: Threats, Opportunities and Challenges. Robert Hage is a former Canadian diplomat and senior fellow at GSPIA, John Higginbotham is currently the lead on the Centre for International Governance Innovation’s global security research project on the Arctic, Stewart Webb is an expert on military procurement and recently co-authored a report with Michael Byers entitled Titanic Blunder: Arctic/Offshore Patrol Ships on Course for Disaster, and finally one of our own, Inger Weibust, applied her expertise on environmental issues and governance to the Arctic region.

For the Arctic, the implications of global warming are significant and are occurring at a very impressive rate. In fact, the top of the world is warming about twice as fast as the rest of it. This is, without a doubt, shifting the circumstances and interests within the region. The geopolitics, political-economy, environment and security of the Arctic are crucial issues that are increasingly being discussed by experts all over the world. Great potential lies within the Arctic and many want a stake in it. This has raised concerns about a race for resources in the Arctic, although some feel this is exaggerated, including all four panelists (well that’s not as exciting).

Four main themes were explored during the two-hour discussion: defence and security, the environment, infrastructure, and sovereignty. When I wasn’t making a mess eating Hooley’s chicken wings, I jotted down some rough notes on the key points. I’ve outlined them below. Sorry, I don’t have time to be witty and creative with this blog post. I’m melting in schoolwork…as is the Arctic…

Defence & Security

  • Overall, security issues over the potential for conflict are not a major concern
  • Potential for drug smuggling in light of increased accessibility
  • Search and rescue capabilities remain to be a major concern
  • Harper’s 2005 promises to secure the Arctic with military procurements have been delayed over and over again
  • There is a need for greater domestic leadership/support and federal money put towards the Arctic
  • There is a significant learning curve with regards to Canadian military capability in the Arctic
  • Canada should increase its Arctic offshore patrol ships and its capabilities in general, not for fear of war, but for search and rescue, emergencies, regional integrity, etc.

Environment

  • Climate change in the Arctic is occurring at a rapid pace
  • Lots to consider seeing as the eco system in the region is quite delicate
  • Oil spills would have tremendous long term consequences
  • We have seen a shift in focus with the Arctic Council from environmental and scientific data collection to resource development
  • Canada is doing very little in regards to environmental Arctic issues, scientific research and protection
  • Inuit are very protective of their northern environment, but many support responsible and sustainable economic development in the region

Infrastructure

  • Weak infrastructure in the North
  • Increased shipping as a result of melting ice and formation of new sea routes
  • Ice breakers are important in light of growing traffic in the North
  • Lack of infrastructure is worrisome and problematic with regards to Canadian search and rescue abilities
  • Russia and Norway have been more active than Canada in pursing increased capabilities and improvements in Arctic infrastructure
  • Canada’s lack of infrastructure development could be due to its relatively smaller northern population

Sovereignty

  • Diplomatic picture is actually quite positive
  • Threats to Canadian sovereignty exaggerated
  • Canada in disagreement over status of Northwest Passage (NWP) with USA
  • Is the US position on the NWP undermining the sovereignty and security of the region?
  • All talk and no action in the Arctic from the Harper government (and previous governments), however, Harper has put the Arctic back on the Canadian agenda
  • Identity and branding policy in the North
  • Canada and Russia should strengthen their bilateral relationship in the Arctic
  • Russia is the major winner when it comes to continental shelf claims; Canada is second

For more information on CIC events, click here.

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2 thoughts on “Event Recap: Politics @ the Pub – Canada and the Arctic

  1. I wish they’d gotten someone other than Stewart Webb, his intro was shockingly unprepared (and full of ums and incomplete thoughts) and he had very little or nothing to contribute once it was question time. His general conception seemed to be “defence procurement… doesn’t work…bad.” Being in defence myself, I would have loved to have heard someone articulate procurement issues a lot better than that, I was pretty disappointed in his part of the panel discussion. The rest of the speakers were well-informed and able to answer questions well, so all was not lost.

  2. I completely agree with you, Dana. On the plus side, he did make the audience laugh more than once with his “yaaaah I have nothing to add.” hah.

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