Canada falling behind Russia in Arctic military, resource extraction and commercial pursuits

Andy Radia
Politics Reporter
Canada Politics

Prime Minister Stephen Harper landed in Whitehorse on Sunday for his eighth annual tour of the north.

The six day trip will include stops in Yukon,the Northwest Territories, Nunavut and Northern Quebec.

In the past, Harper has used these trips to assert Canada's sovereignty in the Arctic; lately, seems to be on economic development.

On both counts, however, it appears that Canada is falling far behind at least one of its Arctic rivals, Russia.

Michael Byers, Canada's Research Chair in Global Politics recently wrote an op-ed from the Globe and Mail comparing the two nations' successes in the region.

Here are some excerpts from the article:

Russian nuclear-powered submarines still sail under the sea ice, where Canada’s diesel-powered submarines cannot venture.

Russia uses icebreakers to escort commercial vessels, and charges fees for the service. Canadian icebreakers generally aren’t used for escorting commercial vessels in the Arctic, and when they are, no cost recovery takes place.

Russia is building 10 search-and-rescue stations in the Arctic, each with its own ships and aircraft. Not a single Canadian search-and-rescue aircraft is based in the Arctic.

Russia has 16 deep-water ports in the Arctic. Canada’s sole Arctic port is at Churchill, Man., nearly 2,000 kilometres south of the Northwest Passage.

Byers says that Russia is also far ahead when it comes to natural resource extraction, road and pipeline building.

[ Related: Winter warfare centre in High Arctic quietly unveiled by Harper government ]

A former Transport Canada deputy minister says that Canada isn't "really in the game" when it comes to transportation initiatives that could help buoy economic development either.

"The marathon started some time ago, but we haven't sent in our application yet," John Higginbotham, now a Carleton University professor, told the Canadian Press.

"It's part of the renaissance of Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The opening of the Arctic, I think, Putin sees as one of his half-dozen highest priorities in terms of restoring Russian greatness.

"I'm pretty familiar with what an active strategy to use transport to drive development looks like, and I don't see any sign of that in either the U.S.A. or Canada."

[ Related: Federal strategy for Far North snarled by red tape, political inertia: DND ]

That's not to say that the Harper government hasn't been active.

In a recent press release, the government touted several of their accomplishments in the region which included a $5 billion commitment to revamp coast guard facilities and representation.

And this year, they began construction of a $200 million all-season gravel road from Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk and opened the Arctic Warfare Training Centre in Resolute Bay.

In that same press release, the prime minister's office said that "building the Canadian North is an essential part of building our nation."

" To further address the opportunities and challenges that exist, the Government of Canada introduced Canada's Northern Strategy in 2007. The Strategy presents an overarching vision for the North, based on four priorities: exercising our Arctic sovereignty; promoting social and economic development; protecting our environmental heritage; and, improving and devolving Northern governance."

It appears, they still have a long way to go.

(Photo courtesy of the Canadian Press)

Are you a politics junkie?
Follow @politicalpoints on Twitter!