Just mention the Arctic, then add that tricky word sovereignty and you are bound to get lots and lots of media coverage particularly in the global warming adjusted dog days of summer. Most people haven't, nor will they ever, see the Arctic, hey, in the summer who would want to, and as for sovereignty - doesn't that have something to do with .... I don't know royalty, so a recipe for something kinky maybe? All eyes and ears start twitching.
So, when our illustrious, "new", Prime Minister, Harper. announced that he was going to create an Arctic fleet to defend Canada's claim on its forgotten frontier, by having his spinners pass the word around that "Steve was standing up for Canadian Sovereignty in the Arctic" you'd hardly need to wonder why so much attention, I guess.
(Remember Stevie went up to see the place, the Arctic, last summer and once a Canadian conservative has been someplace they are experts on every detail of it. But, you do remember, I know you do, he was in the Arctic to avoid having to go to the AIDs conference in Toronto. Yes, it was a year ago now, that time before he had his conversion. He now understands that AIDs isn't passed on by a handshake and that Global warming maybe a problem outside of Alberta.)
A Google search netted me about 330 articles on Harper's BC announcement. Gads even The Guardian had a piece on the PMs vitality called: "Canada flexes its muscles in scramble for the Arctic". I guess we have to use it (???) or we'll lose it. I have to think about that one for awhile - if you've seen some Arctic communities in the summer you might just want to lose them but that's another note.
Dave at The Galloping Beaver was out the gate almost immediately with a note on Harpers latest announcement followed up closely by Boris who maybe coming highly suspicious of the "new" Prime Minister and his antics.
We have moved quite quickly for us Canadians, winter is long gone and most should be feeling finally limbered up by now, I know, but the speed we paint hauls is amazing to me (defense of the North has moved from the Coast Guard to the Canadian Forces - the Canadian navy went the way of the tot long ago.) We maybe have missed our true calling as a nation. We are all ships painters. I, myself, prefer the Coast Guard red to the battleship grey of the "forces" vessel but whose to question the "new" Prime Minister, eh.
I'm waiting to hear where the planned new naval base may be. Harper during the election campaign said Iqaluit which had to be one of the dumber of his party's promises. A base about 1,000 to 1,600 km as the crow flies from the Northwest Passage, good idea very useful. The people in Iqaluit would love it but, I don't think, it makes any sense whatsoever.
O'Connor, the Canadian Defense Minister, said last summer, during his tour of Nunavut, that he would announce the location of the new base before the end of 2006. I guess he got too busy trying to figure out where the Afghan detainees went and had no time to think of the North.
The Nunavut government has provided the feds with 7 suggestions, all existing communities in the territory including Iqaluit, Kimmurit, Cambridge Bay - I'm not sure what others.
Neither Iqaluit or Kimmurit make any sense. Kimmurit is about 60 miles South of Iqaluit on the other side of mega incognito facing Northern Quebec. Maybe if we needed to protect our claim on Hudson and James Bay it would be reasonable to station something in the place. How about a big gun, but not a Northern naval base.
Resolute Bay would be the most sensible place (it maybe on the territorial governments list of recommended sites) - it's sort of the midway point in the NW Passage, with potential large oil fields in the neighbourhood, an airport with a gravel runway that can handle 737's fitted up for the purpose, C-130's of course, good hotels and accessible by ocean going vessels for re-supply in late summer (Desgagnés Transarctik, NEAS or maybe Woodward) but no existing docking facilities. In fact there are no docking facilities for any of the 26 Nunavut communities, even though, all but one - Baker Lake - is, in effect, a seaside community
If someone had decided the North was more urgently important sooner, a base could maybe have been situated at the old Polaris mine site on Little Cornwallis Island just a stones throw from Resolute. DND could have used and expanded the existing docking facilities connected to the mine site. But, see the pictures below everything has been reclaimed, now, and Cominco the mine operator, looks like it did a pretty complete job - it cost about $68 million to restore the site.
There is still the mine site at Nanisivik and its dock, buildings and tank farm which I think the Coast Guard still uses. It also has a paved jet port up in the mountains which I don't think is used now the mine is shut down. The Nanisivik mine site is at the eastern start of the Northwest Passage - i.e. at the top of Baffin Island, close to the community of Arctic Bay. Contamination might be an issue, but from the last pictures I saw of the place, on the surface, at least, didn't look too bad for a high Arctic community, see here for example.
Just to orient anyone unfamiliar with the communities in the high Arctic here are 3 maps which show Resolute, Little Cornwallis, Nanisivik and Bathurst Inlet:
If I was given a chance to pick a place for the new naval base, I'd pick Bathurst Inlet . It has a natural deep water harbour and it is, I think, close enough to the deep water Northwest Passage (the St Roch's 1944 route from East to West) route to serve the purpose of routine patrolling. With a port in Bathurst the whole Northwestern part of Nunavut would be open for exploration and development. Some people would be pretty unhappy, most I think from down South, but the Inuit in Cambridge Bay, Gjoa Haven, Taloyoak and Kugluktuk would likely be overjoyed. Western Arctic Inuit are the most hard headed practical aboriginals in the country. They don't want their land damaged but they want some of the economic benefits buried below the tundra and a port facility in Bathurst Inlet would open up the whole of the Northwest part of Nunavut. Pipe dreaming I know. Also one of the interesting clashes you see in the North between some aboriginals and Southerners. It isn't always clear who is pro or con regarding development.
Knowing Harper, and the DND crowd, likely want to avoid controversy, I hope, then that "common sense" wins and Resolute gets the nod for the base.
Bathurst Inlet, though it is only really a summer camp for some Inuit, is supplied with fuel etc. during the summer sealift season because a few Inuit winter there. In Bathurst's case a barge comes in from the sea but it originates in Hay River the start of the summer highway into the Western Arctic on the South shore of the Great Slave Lake.
This PS is really just an excuse for me to include one of my favorite map pictures of the North, courtesy of NTCL (Northern Transportation Company Limited). It's a picture not confused by any of the land mass to the South and, I think, any one should easily be able to imagine what the deep water Northwest Passage is by just looking at it.
Where would you put a naval base, ever if it operates for just a few months in the summer - August and some of September?.