Polygonic

That weren't no DJ, that was hazy cosmic jive

Billions overboard in the Arctic

Canadians care about Arctic sovereignty. But I’m wondering: how many world-class Arctic research stations could we build across Nunavut and the NWT for $35 billion? Because $35 billion is a lot of bread for some flashy new military hardware, and I’m not convinced that’s where Ottawa’s weakest on the Arctic sovereignty question.

Some simple maths. The Cambridge Bay research station announced last year, a top-flight facility that will do some important work in climatology, will cost $200 million over ten years. Cambridge Bay wasn’t the only choice for a location – Resolute Bay wanted a station, as did Pond Inlet, and they would have been able to do different kinds of work in studying glacial retreat and other cryological studies. Given that the entire Arctic sovereignty question has emerged because ice cover is disappearing, there is clearly lots of Arctic science to be done – and plus, if a prime goal is to consolidate claims on sovereignty, what better way to do it (while also bolstering our research and innovation capacity) by investing in the place, and not just in the boats to guard it.

Given the new Cambridge Bay station costs, my (grossly simplified but maybe entirely correct) calculations suggest that we could fund not only Resolute Bay and Pond Inlet as well as Cambridge Bay, but a further one-hundred similarly incredible, world-class research centres across the Arctic archipelago for the next ten years, and still have money left over to replace 75 of them in ten years’ time. All for the price tag of Harper’s boats.

Not that boats aren’t important, it’s good to be on patrol. But Ottawa’s got a very basic idea about what Arctic sovereignty entails. Is it just boats and planes? All the time? Or maybe we should be doing things up there? Developing our understanding of what we assert to be our own backyard? Making a clear case against exploiting the region as a new international shipping freeway or playground for BP to explore? Being present in the Arctic – not just with warships which will frankly never fire a single torpedo in anger, but being present as people: learning, working, and maybe even contributing something useful to the universe.

We have thousands of Canadian citizens in the Arctic, and they rely on climate patterns that are changing right under our noses. Being incapable and disinterested in even understanding how this is so is, to me, actually a pretty serious blow against a case for Canadian sovereignty up there.

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Filed under: Canada, Politics, , , , ,

2 Responses

  1. Andre says:

    If you mean the Canadian government should be building more of these research centres in the Arctic, I totally agree with you. The region is vast and what happens in the east doesn’t necessarily mean anything for the west. Case in point: the high temperatures experienced this winter on Baffin Island.

    Now I don’t know where you picked up $35 billion. Figures I’ve seen tend more towards $85 million.

    I’m also curious about your calculations. How did you come up with those numbers? Have you taken into account the sometimes 10-fold cost of delivery and salaries associated with the Canadian North?

  2. polygonic says:

    Hi Andre – thanks for the comment. The $35 billion price tag for the new ships plan is the estimate quoted in the G&M (link below), though as a projected budget, one can well imagine it swelling. It’s an absolutely incredible figure.

    $200 million is what was cited for costs in funding development of Cambridge Bay’s new CHARS station from 2007 through 2017 (link below as well), including initial feasibility studies. You’re right the operating costs will be very high – do you have an estimate? If it were another $200 million on top of the $200M outlay, for example, that would be serious money – but I’m theorising it would still enable us to build and maintain up to 100 stations like CHARS (not that 100 such stations are necessary – just to illustrate what $35 billion could get us in the Arctic!).

    http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/billions-in-shipbuilding-contracts-will-make-waves-for-harper/article1892593/

    http://www.nature.com/news/2010/100825/full/news.2010.432.html

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