7.12.2007

ice patrol

Stephen Harper recently announced that the federal government will buy eight new Arctic patrol ships. This will supposedly help Canada "reassert sovereignty" over the far North.

There are a lot of things wrong with this, in my opinion. While I've been thinking about it - and while I wasn't blogging - for the last few days, two letter writers in the Toronto Star voiced my opinion for me, and better than I would have. Here they are.

Stephen Harper is astute to recognize our need to invest in Canada's Arctic, but his plan is embarrassingly misguided and far from prudent.

The matter for true concern is not the condition of Canadian icebreakers and patrol vessels. For Harper to casually admit that Arctic waters will be navigable by 2015 is reason enough to puncture the veneer of his environmental concern. Does he not recognize the sheer ludicrousness of such a statement, or the sense of urgency that it elicits?

Harper is telling us that when the planet has been altered beyond repair, we will be there to plant our flag and exploit its resources. Reckless exploitation is what brought us to this crisis in the first place.

In this age of concern for the state of global warming, it's perhaps the mode to criticize Harper for his lack of any environmental agenda. But Harper's knee-jerk spending defies common sense. An icebreaker becomes obsolete when there is no longer any ice to break.

I thought civilization had tired of the need to break through the Northwest Passage. The 17th century is over. If we want to lay claim to the Canadian Arctic, we've got to be committed to its upkeep before we concern ourselves with a petty attempt to defend it. If Harper's hope is to assert our sovereignty in the Far North, then there is no better way than by spearheading an effort to ensure its survival. That would be prudent Arctic spending.

Eric Démoré, Stratford, Ont.

* * * *

Let me get this straight. Our Prime Minister is prepared to purchase hundreds of millions of dollars in military hardware and personnel in order to keep his best friend from usurping traditionally sovereign Canadian property and resource rights. Has it not occurred to our hapless leader that no amount of military might will scare off the world's mightiest superpower? If Uncle Sam wants something, a few icebreakers and a hundred troops will hardly keep him at bay.

Apparently, Stephen Harper can think of no better way to establish our presence in the North than to send troops and hardware. Has it never occurred to him that supporting culture and encouraging the development of civilian infrastructure may be considerably more convincing to a truly "friendly neighbour"? It seems to me that civilized friends respect each other's sovereignty and settle problems in discussion and debate, not by showing off their respective gunboats.

Every time we have a problem with Harper's best friends, he is ready to snap shoulder-to-shoulder, ready-aye-ready, and we have to borrow from our grandchildren to finance military operations. I, for one, am getting a little tired of Canada's new government's obsession with military solutions to issues of civility and democracy.

Joseph Romain, Toronto

Thank you Mr Démoré and Mr Romain!

8 comments:

M@ said...

On the arctic sovereignty thing, I have to admit that I kind of understand the need to have boats to patrol up there. It is hard to assert sovereignty when you do nothing to protect it. A similar idea (and where I came to grips with this concept) is in patents -- unless you aggressively pursue most or all of the infringers on your patents, you'll get your patent thrown out. You can't just wait for a big fish to bite before you start the reeling-in proceedings. So I suppose, on the world stage, there is some reason to have these patrol boats.

Do I think that the expense is justified? No.

Do I think this is something we need to worry about, as a country, at this time? No.

Do I think there are better ways to spend this money? You better believe it. And pointing out the doublethink between the "socialist plot" of non-existent global warming and preparing for open arctic seas with icebreakers, yes, I get that too.

I'm just saying, I can perceive where this is coming from, and it's worth keeping in mind when it comes to arguing about this with the terminally stupid.

Speaking of which, I can't wait to see the huge yellow "SUPPORT OUR MAGNETS!" ribbon they stick on the stern of those babies, eh?

loneprimate said...

Has it not occurred to our hapless leader that no amount of military might will scare off the world's mightiest superpower? If Uncle Sam wants something, a few icebreakers and a hundred troops will hardly keep him at bay

Time to build the Bomb, I guess. Seems to be the only thing that works.

PeterC said...

Hmm, I can't see Harperites doing something that Trudeau did. No matter how good the idea might be.
I mean, nobody actually believed that we put airports in northern communities to help them, do they? Sure, it might have been a beneficial side effect (although there is debate on that too), but the real reason was for sovereignty. How many federal government staff did it take to operate the equipment and airports? This is what establishes a presence in the artic.
I’ve said it before, but anyone remember the train in Canada? The biggest reason it was built was to assert our claim that the 49th parallel was a dividing line between us and the US!
Do I think we need ice-breakers? Yes, bigger ones that can patrol properly. I also would like to see some subs that I’d be willing to risk someone’s life in. I have always felt that we need enough sovereignty here to make us credible peacekeepers elsewhere. That is a whole other kettle of fish though.
Boats and military are simply not enough. What we need is people, and not people who are “owned” by multi-national companies, but federal employees and local Canadians who are proud to be Canadian. We need a vision of Canada that is strong and inclusive, not mean, petty and divisive.
Hehe, as you may have noticed I've thought a lot about this in the last six months. I really should blog some of it. Loved the post, as usual!
Peterc

L-girl said...

Interesting thoughts here.

It is hard to assert sovereignty when you do nothing to protect it.

I can see that. But given how you feel (and I agree) re waste of time and money, what should be done?

anyone remember the train in Canada? The biggest reason it was built was to assert our claim that the 49th parallel was a dividing line between us and the US!

I read a lot about the building of the trans-Canada railroad. The main reason, as I saw it, was to establish Canada as one nation, with a national identity, rather than a collection of separate regions, and also to be able to control travel within its borders - not to have to go into the US to get from one part of Canada to another. It was for sovreignity but also for identity. And of course for business, trade and profit. Don't forget that always-important reason.

I have always felt that we need enough sovereignty here to make us credible peacekeepers elsewhere.

What is the connection between the two?

PeterC said...

In my vision of peacekeeping, Canada should be a neutral third party. We are western in our outlook but we've also, or at least used to, be viewed as fairly impartial. Perhaps not always trusted but at least not hated.

I do not see us being viewed that way since the mid-80s. The closer our economic and miltary ties in this "North American Union" the less able, or perhaps willing, we have been to show any impartiality.

As for the train, why would a national identity be important? I agree the patriotic reason sold to Canada was "national identity", but some of John A. Macdonald's personal commentaries(and I hope you don't ask me to find them as that was a long time ago for me:) left me to believe he was concerned about US manifest destiny more than anything else. As you point out though, the money did not hurt either.
PeterC

L-girl said...

The closer our economic and miltary ties in this "North American Union" the less able, or perhaps willing, we have been to show any impartiality.

That's certainly true in the eyes of many Canadians, but I don't know about elsewhere. My perception as an American is that Canada is still seen as very separate. Not going into Iraq made a big impression, esp since Britain is there. And despite Afghanistan.

As for the train, why would a national identity be important? I agree the patriotic reason sold to Canada was "national identity", but some of John A. Macdonald's personal commentaries(and I hope you don't ask me to find them as that was a long time ago for me:) left me to believe he was concerned about US manifest destiny more than anything else.

I don't disgree. I think the two are closely linked. I won't ask you for proof. :)

PeterC, are you the same Peter who used to post as Alberta Peter, way back in the early days of this blog? That Peter described himself as a socialist from Alberta.

M@ said...

We are western in our outlook but we've also, or at least used to, be viewed as fairly impartial. Perhaps not always trusted but at least not hated.

I think the key here is that, unlike almost every other industrialized western democracy, we do not have an imperialist past. Within our own borders, Canada's record is poor, but we've never gone abroad and taken another country by force to suck its resources out (whether they are military, vegetable, or human) and ship them back to the home country.

Its most common manifestation is the perpetual jokes about Canada -- "they even have a military!?" etc etc -- but it does show that we're not seen as aggressors or bad guys, as a nation, almost anywhere in the world.

We're identified as being part of the "club" -- be it the G8 or the G20, we're among the "haves" of the world, not the "have-nots". But no other G8 nation did not colonize or invade at least one other territory in the last two centuries. We might hang out with thugs, but basically we're good people.

L-girl said...

I agree with M@'s assessment of how Canada is seen in the world.

Canada's image is so benign that people are often shocked that it isn't "more perfect" within this country. For example, Americans who read my blog have been surprised - as I was - that Employment Insurance isn't a better deal here, or that social assistance (welfare) in Ontario is so low.