Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak today in support of Motion No. 387.
I commend the member for Prince Edward—Hastings for bringing the motion forward and for his interest in the Canadian Arctic.
The member is asking:
That, in the opinion of the House, as the various waterways known as the “Northwest Passage” are historic internal waters of Canada, the government should endeavour to refer to these waterways as the “Canadian Northwest Passage”.
I am delighted the member has followed up on my idea to add the word “Canadian” to this famed passage. I was honoured, as the official opposition critic for the Arctic, to make the first motion in the House of Commons to add the word “Canadian” to our beloved passage when I moved it in the last Parliament.
Unfortunately, it never reached the floor of the House before the election and again I have introduced the bill in this Parliament but I am not on the schedule for some time. I am delighted, therefore, that the member for Prince Edward—Hastings, who has an earlier slot on the schedule, has followed up on this idea.
My motion calls for the government to modify its policy on Arctic sovereignty and actually rename the Northwest Passage the Canadian Arctic passage which is slightly different but has the same basic intent as the motion we are debating today.
My motion asks that the future Canadian produced maps, textbooks, government and other documents recognize the renaming of these Arctic waters as the Canadian Arctic passage. Most of the detailed maps of the passage are and will be Canadian, so this will help spread our message around the world.
I believe the stamp of Canadian identity and ownership will be more clearly stated and imprinted on the world community by using the reference of Canadian Northwest Passage or Canadian Arctic passage. This will be a strong, meaningful and peaceful declaration of our Arctic sovereignty for all to heed and respect.
I also point out that with global warming and the melting of the polar ice, the Northwest Passage will be crossed from east to west and, just as frequently, from west to east, which is one of the reasons why I refer to the waterways as the Canadian Arctic passage. As most familiar with the north also know, the Northwest Passage refers to a combination of several routes across the north, which is another reason for my use of the term Canadian Arctic passage.
On the other side of the coin, the Canadian Northwest Passage is a more specific geographic identifier and means a connection with a storied historical past.
I will be interested to hear from people after today's debate which name they prefer: Canadian Northwest Passage or Canadian Arctic passage, and the reasons for their preference.
Although some have challenged our sovereignty before it was not much of an issue as almost year round ice made navigation and water access very difficult but the member for Prince Edward—Hastings has wisely acknowledged the dramatic effects of man-made climate change on the Arctic and the attention that it is bringing to Arctic navigation.
With global warming, of course, northern resources will be easier to access and we are all expecting significant development in the north: new mines, industries, resource development, tourism and other activities as a result of global warming.
The Canadian Arctic passage will prove to be a vital link for a number of existing and new communities for supplies and new materials to be used to nurture the inhabitants, mostly indigenous, for new developments in the north and for the protection of the pristine environment.
Many think of the Northwest Passage as one of the last frontiers of exploration with adventurers seeking the shortest routes to the markets of Asia and the Far East. Canadian students learned of the expeditions of Martin Frobisher, Sir John Franklin, Roald Amundsen, the RCMP vessel St. Roch, Sir William Edward Perry and Robert McClure, the person who in 1850 to 1854 proved such a route existed and was awarded a £10,000 prize for doing so.
What we do not remind Canadians enough of is that the Inuit people and their predecessors were the first explorers of the Arctic. They have been part of the Arctic land and waters since time immemorial. Many of their travels are undocumented but the Inuit are considered to be the rightful discoverers of the Northwest Passage. It is, therefore, important to hear and respect their views, collectively and individually and our partners in sovereignty, the Inuit before we make any change.
In Canada, we have the Northwest Passage but across the Bering Strait there is the northern sea route which is defined as a shipping lane from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. It is more commonly known in Russia as the northeast passage, a vast route from Russia's northern Arctic waters to trading markets in Japan, China, Korea and, in the opposite direction, there are the capitals and huge economies of the European nations.
Just last month, two German container ships travelled from South Korea to Vladivostok. Then, travelling along Russia's Arctic coastline, the northeast passage, they headed on to Rotterdam in the Netherlands. This northern route saves about 3,000 nautical miles and 10 days from the usual southern route, which is down through the South China Sea, past Singapore, around the bottom of India, through the Suez Canal where they pay a toll, across the Mediterranean and up the west coast of Europe. That means lower fuel and other operating costs and also represents greater shipping potential.
The Russians are in a better position to take full advantage of the commercial opportunities from the Northeast Passage. They have a large fleet of icebreakers that are commissioned to travel with merchant vessels, ensuring safe passage through waters and ice floes.
As proven last month, regional warming has brought about the possibility of navigating the northeast passage without the assistance of icebreakers during the warmer part of the year. Previously, Russian authorities would only permit vessel passage when assisted by their icebreakers, thus incurring prohibitive costs. Permission for vessels with reinforced hulls to pass without Russian assistance has only recently been granted.
As the ice continues to disappear in the Arctic, not only will the northeast passage be an option but the direct route over the North Pole will be faster, shorter and less dangerous in a more intricate and confined Canadian Northwest Passage. Even so, under any circumstances we do not want to cede our view of our sovereign control over this route.
Our Inuit live by and depend on these waters, both when liquid and frozen, The ecology is fragile and needs monitoring and protection. Were Canada's Northwest Passage to become an international strait, it would allow overflights of the war planes of all countries of the world.
The corporate world is also preparing to take advantage of these northern routes. It was reported in June 2006 that companies had recently invested $4.5 billion in ships that can navigate Arctic waters. This imposes another responsibility on northern governments. We have a responsibility to protect the fragile, pristine environment that makes up Canada's Arctic.
As an example, we know that with the state of today's technology, if an oil spill of some kind were to occur, there is no way to clean it up once it gets under Arctic ice. As a result, no amount of money will be able to pay for the damage done, the cleanup costs or the prevention programs. Government must quickly invest significant funds to develop technology to deal with hydrocarbon spills in this fragile, harsh, ice-packed environment.
If the government is sincere in protecting the Arctic environment with the projected increase in shipping traffic through the Canadian Northwest Passage and other Canadian Arctic waters, it would look at accelerating the mapping and installation of navigation aids in the treacherous and sometimes very shallow sections of the passage.
In closing, I will once again say that I will be voting in favour of Motion No. 387 and I look forward to the next hour of debate. Hopefully, the member for Nunavut, an Inuit person, will be speaking so we can hear her views and the views that the government has obtained by consultations with the Inuit.
Perhaps this would have been better as a bill duly legislated and passed by the House. It would have had considerably more authority when it was presented to countries like the United States that has long held the view that Canadian Arctic waters of the Northwest Passage are in fact international waters, not Canadian territorial waters.
It is also ironic that while I believe there is support from the House to brand our Arctic waters with a Canadian label, unfortunately, as a motion, even though it might pass in the House, there is no onus for the government to act on it. I hope my colleague has strong assurances from the cabinet and the Prime Minister that when Motion No. 387 passes, it will actually be implemented.
The Canadian Northwest Passage is embedded deeply in our identity. Let us call it like it is.