Mr. Speaker, I would like to commend my colleague, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence for his eloquent presentation in the House today. Clearly, he has a lot of knowledge in this area and I am glad that he is a part of our team.
Today I will talk about Arctic sovereignty, an issue that is very important to me as a northerner. I come from northern Canada and am very appreciative of the new approach that the Prime Minister has taken ever since he became Prime Minister to bring sovereignty back to our Arctic.
Canada's Arctic is an essential part of our history and a pillar of this Conservative government's strategy to build a stronger Canada and a better Canada from coast to coast to coast.
Our Arctic is on the verge of major environmental, economic, social and political change. Climate change, the search for resources and a renewed focus on the peoples of the north are driving this change. Sea ice has steadily decreased in the Arctic and this trend is likely to continue. The Northwest Passage is opening up for longer periods in the summer and its use is gaining international attention. At the same time, we recognize the north as a vast well of energy and mineral resources. In short, the opportunities and the challenges for Canada are enormous.
This government is ready and is acting to protect what is ours and improve the lives of all northerners. For too long, people of the three territories were made promise after promise in Liberal government press releases. That era is thankfully over. Our government is committed to helping the Arctic finally realize its true potential as a healthy and prosperous region within a strong and sovereign Canada.
New opportunities are emerging across the Arctic and there are new challenges from other shores. Our government is bringing forward an integrated northern strategy focused on strengthening Canada's sovereignty, protecting our environmental heritage, promoting economic and social development and improving and devolving governance, so that northerners have greater control over their destinies.
In this International Polar Year we have the ability to shape an Arctic of tomorrow that reflects Canada's national interests and values. We come to the international table with some important issues and assets. Canada owns one-third of the world's land mass above the Arctic Circle. There is great natural resource potential within our vast northern lands and seas, and we can count upon the ingenuity, adaptability and expertise of our northern peoples to turn that potential into reality.
But the Arctic is only a piece of a much larger region occupied by eight states with lands that lie above the Arctic Circle, five of which surround the Arctic Ocean. Each Arctic nation has opportunities and faces similar challenges. Canada is seizing the opportunity to reinvigorate our north, stating loud and clear that it is rightfully ours. We are taking the lead internationally to meet the global challenges head on. This is why Arctic sovereignty has been and will continue to be a strong priority of the Prime Minister's government.
Canada's Arctic sovereignty is long-standing, well established and based on historic title. While other nations prepare to stake a claim to Arctic regions more than 200 miles off our coastlines, we are asserting our sovereignty through comprehensive mapping of Canada's Arctic seabed.
Canadian scientists right now are conducting extensive mapping surveys on Canada's largest icebreaker in the Beaufort Sea to establish with certainty where our continental shelf begins and ends. Recently, our Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development visited that dedicated research team aboard the Louis S. St-Laurent and witnessed first hand the valuable and vitally important work that they are undertaking.
Never before has this crucial part of Canada's ocean floor been fully mapped. This research will help Canada gain international recognition of our sovereign rights over seabed resources in the areas beyond the 200 nautical mile limit.
The purpose of Canada's mapping will be to make a submission, due in 2013, which will prove, based on the scientific and technical criteria of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, the extent of the area over which Canada has sovereign rights to its continental shelf beyond this 200 nautical mile limit.
With an investment of almost $70 million over 10 years, this Canadian program is a collaboration among Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and Natural Resources Canada. The scientific work will help Canada present the best submission possible. These results will provide the maximum extent of the continental shelf outside our border. The work being done will have a lasting impact on Canada's future role in the Arctic.
Canada is but one of a number of Arctic nations that have embarked on this process to delineate the outer limits of their respective continental shelves. Should there be overlaps between Canada's claim and that of another nation, there are legal provisions in UNCLOS for resolving them.
This important exercise is neither an adversarial process nor a race. Rather, it is part of an orderly operation within the terms of the agreement. Under UNCLOS, each country has the right to the mineral and living resources of the soil and subsoil attached to its continental shelf but no country has sovereignty over the ice, sea or sky above it.
It is worth noting that in this regard the North Pole is on the high seas and therefore beyond any state's control. Under international law, no country can validly subject any part of the high seas, which includes the North Pole, to its sovereignty. To date, no science has proven that any seabed or continental shelf extends beyond the North Pole. As it stands, Canadians interests are not challenged in this regard.
As we all know, the sole land dispute in the Canadian Arctic is over Hans Island, which Denmark is claiming. Although Hans Island is only 1.3 square kilometres, a fraction of the size of Toronto Island or Stanley Park, and has limited resources, Canada has always acted to protect its sovereignty over this island and will continue to do so in the same manner as it protects all Canadian territory. To ensure that our position is protected, Canada and Denmark have agreed to engage in discussions on managing and eventually resolving this dispute.
The issue with the United States over the internal waters of the Canadian Arctic, including the waterways of the famed Northwest Passage, relates only to navigation rights in these waters and not to whom the waters belong. No one disputes that the waters are Canadian. The United States contends that these are Canadian territorial waters and that an international strait runs through these waters, which would limit Canada's rights to regulate navigation. Canada does not agree with this and has made it quite clear that these are internal waters of Canada by virtue of historic title. Our legal position is well-founded in fact and in law and is consistent with our rights and duties as parties to these international covenants.
For added certainty, the last Conservative government drew straight baselines around the Canadian Arctic in 1986. The drawing of these baselines was done in accordance with international agreements and the Oceans Act of Canada. As a consequence, all waters landward of the baselines are internal waters and form part of Canada's sovereign territory.
As a matter of public policy, Canada is, nevertheless, willing to permit international navigation in and through the Northwest Passage so long as the conditions established by Canada to protect security, environmental and Inuit interests are met.
Our government is moving forward with new Arctic patrol ships and expanded aerial surveillance to guard Canada's far north and Northwest Passage. Our government recognizes that an increased Canadian forces presence in the Arctic is essential to achieving our goals in this region and that it is critical to our national interest and sense of identity.
The acquisition of new Arctic offshore patrol ships will deliver on the government's commitment to maintaining sovereignty over Canada's northern waters, ensuring that Canada's military has the equipment to conduct patrols over all these oceans. With six to eight Arctic offshore patrol ships, the Canadian navy will be able to operate in all three oceans, providing surveillance, search and rescue, and support to the RCMP, the Canadian Coast Guard and other government departments and agencies. The acquisition of these patrol ships is part of Canada's overall commitment to increase its presence in the Arctic and also includes the development of a deep-sea port and the establishment of a new Arctic training centre.
The Canadian Forces conduct aerial surveillance several times annually in the form of northern patrols and will expand this operation. These patrols improve our ability to quickly identify any crises that may happen at home or abroad. They will be a custom designed program and built in Canada and will be amongst the heaviest, most versatile armed naval vessels capable of sustained operations in ice. They will be capable of operating in ice up to one metre thick and each vessel will also be equipped with a helicopter landing pad.
Recognizing Canada's strong legal position with respect to our Arctic islands, waters and continental shelf, the Government of Canada is committed to asserting Canada's sovereignty in the Arctic and to giving itself the means to do so effectively. It is committed to growth and development, to territorial integrity and to building for a stronger future. We have already committed to a number of important initiatives and will continue to make the Canadian Arctic a pillar of our political platform.
To take advantage of the north's vast opportunities, northerners must be able to meet their basic needs. A strong and sovereign Arctic must be a healthy and prosperous Arctic.
Our government will work to continue to improve the lives in the north for first nations and Inuit through better housing. We will continue to introduce these measures on an hour by hour basis as the north continues to grow to its true potential.