By Doug Horner
An oft-forgotten Northern land is now a source of contention for federal politicians. Geologists predict there are vast stores of fossil fuels beneath its seabed and this potentially resource-rich territory is under dispute. The Northwest Passage might also soon become a viable trade route between the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean. Canada has established communities living in the region which raises the question of how to protect the rights of Northern and Inuit communities from being trampled in a race for control and resources.
Calgary-West Marxist-Leninist candidate Andre Vachon agreed the situation merited consideration.
“I think all these questions should be put on the table . . . and they cannot simply be the subject of a race for profit,” said Vachon.
Independent candidate Kirk Schmidt recognized the significance of Canada asserting its sovereignty over the Northwest Passage for both economic and environmental reasons. He proposed the construction of a deepwater port in order to stimulate the local economy and capitalize on future international traffic through the passage.
“We will basically be the go-between between the Pacific Rim and the European Union, which puts us in a fantastic economic situation,” said Schmidt.
Liberal candidate Jennifer Pollock articulated her party’s plan to approach the Arctic from within. This strategy hinges on stimulating the economies and social infrastructures of Northern communities.
“Just as Alberta has a right to their resources, the federal government would acknowledge ownership by the people of the North of their lands and waters,” said Pollock.
The Liberal strategy depends on developing a higher profile in the Arctic Council, an intergovernmental forum for all Arctic countries, and committing the necessary resources to complete a Canadian bid for Arctic territory to the UN by 2013.
While the Green Party does not mention an Arctic policy in their party platform, Calgary-West Green Party candidate Randy Weeks recognized the need to assert some kind of presence in order to protect Canada’s sovereignty in the region.
“We need to go in there and start exercising our sovereignty or some superpower like Russia or the United States is going to walk in and take over,” he said.
Weeks argued the Green Party does not see the Arctic in terms of resources, it is too fragile an environment and Canada needs to scale down dependence on fossil fuels.
“Exploiting the resources up there is only a temporary fix, we need to find alternatives to drilling for more oil,” said Weeks.
The Conservative party platform involves a four-prong approach to the Arctic. The Tories argue for economic development, input from Northern communities that do not include paternalistic federal policies, environmental protection and an increased military presence.
The NDP platform outlines a detailed strategy for the North. They push for international diplomacy and an acceleration of the Canadian claim to Arctic territory being made to the UN. They also advocate the bolstering of the Coast Guard with ice breaking ships and more officers stationed in the North. NDP Calgary-West candidate Teale Phelps Bondaroff expressed his party’s plan to ensure that Northern communities will be involved in the process and benefits of this new Arctic resurgence. The Liberals and the NDP see success in the Arctic in terms of the success of established northern people.
“We need to be investing in Northern communities . . . essentially investing in Inuit communities and creating a strong network of people in the North,” said Phelps Bondaroff.