Saturday, August 11, 2007

Harper's Bogus Resolve to Protect Canada's North

RCAF Lancaster bomber on its belly, Resolute Bay, Aug. 1950

Did any of you get excited last week about the possibility of the Canadian Forces finally getting serious about our Northern Defence? I certainly did. Recall how Stephen Harper's staff scattered a trail of breadcrumbs in front of the Ottawa press corps, which gave the Tories a week of free headlines speculating about a huge military announcement in the offing. The Feds, the media brayed, were about to make a big commitment to enforcing Canada's Arctic sovereignty. The international media loved it and the BBC even suggesting "Rambo" was packing his snowshoes. Parliamentary staff leaked "training cenre" but the media predicted we would build an Arctic "base". What a load of crap! In fact we are going to build NOTHING.

Why Resolute Bay? Well we already have a gravel airstrip at Resolute, built just after WW2 to supply our weather station. 6,500 feet of its length is still in service. For years we also had an RCAF detachment on site and today the bones of several aircraft are still found scattered around the field. Currently the runway is controlled by the Nunavut aboriginal government and it is used by Air Canada to fly in the mail, frozen pizzas, the occasional clutch of scientists and oh yeah - politicians needing to make token announcements.

The existing Resolute Bay air terminal, 2004. Not much traffic.

This morning's Globe & Mail tells us: "The military training facility at Resolute Bay will house 100 Canadian Forces personnel. It will cost $4-million to refurbish the existing federal buildings, with a further $2-million a year to operate the centre that will employ 12 full-time staff." So that's it! They will "refurbish" an existing facility, get it? What they are talking about is the Polar Continental Shelf Project, established in 1958, and which operates an 80 bed hostelry for visiting scientists and adventure film crews.

This polar ice research center (photo) is now designated a "military training centre". It will be upgraded from an 80 bed hostel for scientists, to a 100 bed hostel for military trainees.

Keep this in mind: the Canadian Forces once had as as many as 6,000 to 10,000 personnel in the Arctic, depending on the scale of annual exercises using our military installations, and also NORAD's evolving early warning operations. The village of Resolute Bay, created by our military, once had a weather station and added the aforementioned Polar Ice Shelf project. The RCAF operated the airfield with an ATC detachment and it was also host to the old Airforce Arctic Survival School. What happened? Well the military pulled out of Resolute when the politicians decided the Arctic had little strategic value. Hell, they even gave the Northwest Territories away to the aboriginals, renamed it Nunavut and informed Canadian schoolkids that it's now "there land". No wonder the Kremlin has become emboldened. They're taking their cues from Ottawa. Expect Mr. Putin or his successor to open negotiations with his real northern neighbors - the Inuit.

So now our DND is authorized to assume the annual operating costs of feeding the white elephant, and to "refurbish" the existing facility, which was always seldom used. The military will ADD 20 BEDS and guarantee the payroll for twelve full-time caretakers. Big deal! And this is the exciting force projection which the Prime Minister has the gall to term a "training facility," - a super-hostel that won't have enough beds to accommodate an infantry rifle company??? What sort of deployment are they thinking of to intimidate Mr. Putin? In fact the message to the Russkies is "Please don't embarrass us, and we won't harass your Arctic operations".

Oh yes, our Arctic phalanx does include troops of sorts. The G&M reports:

"As well as the two military posts, the 4,100-member Canadian Rangers patrol – the rifle-toting Inuit volunteer force – will be increased by 900 members. The expanded Rangers program will cost $240-million over 20 years, an average $12-million a year. The program will take on new patrol routes and have its equipment – which consists of trademark red uniforms and antique rifles modernized."

Well I discussed this very issue in June. The truth is that the Ranger program is tapped out. Experts here in Vancouver who work among the Inuit, say the tiny communities simply cannot offer any more bodies to the program. They prefer high paying mine jobs, and the holiday trips to Toronto which high wages can buy.What are we going to get for $12 Million per year? Nothing.

What the Rangers will get is cool new snow mobiles, satellite phones and M16s. Good for them, but the Russians know the truth. If Ottawa is unwilling to position genuine military units in the north, (and that seems to be the case) then Canada is signaling our response to the Kremlin's territorial claims. The Tory government's political posturing will scarcely annoy the Russians or delay their industrial deployment to the polar sea. What the Americans initiate in Alaska will be more significant to any geopolitical wrestling match at the North Pole, and generate the kind of hard news stories we are waiting for.

A local landmark greets aircraft decending to Resolute Bay strip.

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