The Arctic remains the bedrock for Canadian identity. That's good, but Canada must know its limits.
A new poll reveals Canadians think the region should be the nation's top foreign policy priority, believe military resources should be shifted there, and have vehement views about asserting Canada's interests. For example, three-quarters of Canadians polled say the Northwest Passage is an internal waterway, although few outside Canada agree. Similarly, more Canadians insist that the country should assert its full sovereign rights over the oil-rich Beaufort Sea than are prepared to negotiate with the U.S.. In contrast, Americans are more willing to negotiate, although the large percentage who did not offer a response suggests many Americans are blissfully unaware of any dispute.
There is a clear disconnect between Canadians' militancy, and the country's capacity to assert it. General Walter Natynczyk, Chief of the Defence Staff, on Friday said that the North was logistically more difficult than Afghanistan. The patrolling by the Canadian Rangers of those vast territories rightly earns Canadians' respect, but they are an under-resourced militia - 4,300 members - to control an area equal to Europe.
It's time that the better instincts of Canadians were pursued, and Canada sat down to negotiate Arctic disputes. In his five years as Prime Minister, Stephen Harper has succeeded in focusing Canadians' attention, and Canadian policy, on the North. But a military option is no option against the United States, the Russians - or even Denmark. It's time for a little Pearsonian quiet diplomacy on the Northern Front.