Madam Speaker, I rise in the House today to lend support to Bill C-3, a bill to protect Canada's Arctic environment and sovereignty.
The Arctic grail, or Northwest Passage, was the water route through Canada's northern islands that explorers sought for three centuries.
In 1903, Norwegian explorer, Roald Amundsen, waited months for the ice to sufficiently melt so that his vessel could be the first to successfully navigate the passage. In 1940, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police schooner began charting the grail's icy waters to demonstrate Canada's sovereignty over the north.
In the future, climate change and not navigational skill may turn the explorers' elusive dreams into a major maritime highway, with the nautical journey from China to New York reduced by 7,000 kilometres.
With climate warming, new passages will develop and Canada will be increasingly open to international traffic. Concerns will increase regarding control and regulation of shipping activities, environmental degradation and protection of northern habitats, and who controls the Arctic and its resources. About 25% of the world's remaining oil and gas reserves lie beneath the Arctic Ocean floor.
While the opening of the Northwest Passage and Arctic may be attractive, this could prove the ultimate test of our claim to Arctic sea sovereignty.
The Arctic coast represents almost 70% of Canada's coastline and stretches 165,000 kilometres from James Bay and Baffin Island to Yukon.
However, the Arctic, a region celebrated in our country's anthem, is under siege. In 1985, the U.S. sent its icebreaker, Polar Sea, through the Northwest Passage without asking permission of or informing Canada. In 2007, Russian explorers used a submarine to plant their country's flag on the seabed at the North Pole, 4,200 metres below sea level. Politicians bordering the Arctic saw the exercise as a plan to extend Russia's territory almost to the Pole itself and to lay claim to the vast energy and mineral resources below.
In the future, our Arctic may be vulnerable to airspace, surface, both maritime and terrestrial, and subsurface incursions. Canada must be able to monitor and recognize such invasions and enforce sovereign claims over its territory.
The North Pole is an international site administered by the International Seabed Authority. Under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, a coastal country has the right to control access to the 12 nautical mile shoreline belt along its coasts. A country can also control the resources under its coastal waters up to 200 nautical miles from its shores. More important, a country may expand its territory much further if it can prove that the rock formations underneath the water are connected to its continental shelf.
Therefore, some questions beg to be asked. What scientific data have been collected? What have we learned about our continental shelf? Will we be ready to submit this data to the UN commission by 2013? What new funding is necessary to support required research beyond the 43 projects that were under way in 2007 for the International Polar Year.
It is generally agreed that islands north of Canada's mainland belong to Canada, but what about the waterways? Will Bill C-3 determine who has jurisdiction over the waters separating, for example, Devon Island and Somerset, or Banks Island from Melville Island, as the channels dividing some of the islands in Canada's north are less than 50 nautical miles wide?
Will Bill C-3 support Canada's assertion that the Northwest Passage represents internal territorial waters? The United States, along with other countries, has argued that this water constitutes an international strait that any ship should be free to transit. However, there were only 11 foreign transits between 1904 and 1984, suggesting that the Passage was not used as an international shipping route.
If Bill C-3 does not protect sovereignty over the Northwest Passage, what action is being taken to do so? It is not enough to have an Alert military base some 800 kilometres from the North Pole when Russia staffs a year-round research base 60 kilometres from the Pole. It also is not sufficient to argue that the waters separating most of the islands in Canada's Arctic are frozen most of the year and in fact turning them into an extension of the land.
A stronger argument, however, may be that Canada's northern aboriginal and Inuit peoples use and occupy the land.
While most of the Arctic sovereignty disputes are between Canada and the United States, Denmark also has been involved. Perhaps the government could, therefore, give us a status update on Hans Island located between Ellesmere Island and Greenland.
Canada has not been doing enough to declare and enforce its Arctic sea sovereignty.
How might Canada strengthen its northern interests? First, the government must define sovereignty with elements of authority, control and perception, and with rights, such as jurisdictional control, territorial integrity and non-interference by outside states.
Second, the government must define how to exercise sovereignty. A former national defence minister stated that “Sovereignty is...exercising, actively, your responsibilities in an area”.
Third, the government must plan how to enforce both our sovereignty over Arctic waters, as well as the environment to the limits of our exclusive economic zone.
In addition, the government must also consider appointing a senior minister to lead an Arctic agenda and work with Environment Canada, Indian Affairs and Northern Development, National Defence, Natural Resources Canada, Transport Canada and territorial leaders, and purchasing more than one icebreaker as Canada's fleet will not be adequate once shipping increases.
According to the Senate committee report, “Russia's icebreaking capability is what empowers it to make a claim for a large part of the Arctic Ocean”.
Because the Prime Minister has stated that scientific inquiry and development are absolutely essential to Canada's defence of its north, the government must also consider the following: creating a national network of permafrost monitoring stations that northern communities and oil and gas companies could use to plan for future buildings, pipelines and roads; endowing a separate Arctic research foundation to support atmospheric, economic development, oceanographic and wildlife research; fulfilling a promise to create northern research chairs at Canadian universities; and reinvesting in the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences.
One hundred years ago, on April 6, 1909, Robert Peary and his team reached the top of the Earth. Five months later, when the group landed on the northern shores of Labrador, Peary sent a cable that made headlines around the world: “Stars and stripes nailed to the North Pole“.
We need to ensure that Canada remains sovereign over ours, the Northwest Passage, and the waterways between our Arctic islands. We need to ensure that we identify the true expanse of our territory. We need to keep our north, the “splendid frozen jewel...for which centuries, men of every nation...struggled...suffered and died”, Canadian.
I forgot to mention that I will be sharing my time with the member for Newton—North Delta.