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Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks to media on the Historic Kinsol Trestle a wooden railway north of Shawnigan Lake, B.C., on Jan. 7, 2014. (CHAD HIPOLITO/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks to media on the Historic Kinsol Trestle a wooden railway north of Shawnigan Lake, B.C., on Jan. 7, 2014. (CHAD HIPOLITO/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

The North

Q&A with Harper: No previous government has ‘delivered more in the North’ Add to ...

Right.

Do you think Canada would ever do the same? Encourage people to use the Northwest Passage?

Well it’s not something we’re doing today. It’s conceivable but obviously to do that we would need much better presence, ability to do all the things I said before; the ability to assert our sovereignty and be present, ability to enforce environmental regulation, and economic regulation for that matter, ability to make sure our sovereignty is fully respected. Because, obviously, major shipping through that would imply a need for a really strong and effective range of government presence in a way that does not exist today.

Sometimes when people talk about the Arctic they try to bring in the model of Antarctica. I’m talking about whether the Arctic should be internationalized. Some say the Antarctic is a good model and the Arctic should be managed and governed by all countries. There’s others who say the Arctic should be managed and governed by countries that have Arctic territory. What I wanted to ask you is should decision making regarding the Arctic be managed like Antarctica or should it be the domain of countries with Arctic coastline and territory?

The government’s position is unequivocally the latter. Unequivocally. The … Antarctic model is absolutely and completely unacceptable to the government of Canada and to the people of Canada and we want to make sure that that kind of thinking is not part of any government department – of any part of the government of Canada. It is not the thinking of the Canadians who live in our Arctic. Canada’s Arctic is unequivocally Canadian sovereign territory and that Canadian sovereignty is proudly and strongly supported by the people who live there. Of course, in terms of obviously much of the Arctic … the Arctic Ocean itself is obviously international, much of it. And of course we want to co-operate on that and co-operate with our neighbours.

But any suggestion that we will in any way renounce or limit our sovereignty over our territory is something that I believe in unacceptable, not just to this government but unacceptable to any significant segment of the Canadian public.

So how does this translate into your approach to membership and rights at the Arctic Council?

Well, it’s been a concern. It’s been a concern. Now, it should be clear that membership at the Arctic Council is restricted to states that have sovereignty – full membership, [that is] – and permanent indigenous representatives. There’s been a lot of observer countries admitted. Our concern with that, and unfortunately, to be blunt about it, I think frankly this had already gone way too far before we became government. But given that that is the precedent that has been established, we’re prepared to have a significant number of observers as long as they understand and respect the sovereignty of the permanent members. And as long as their presence doesn’t override or impede upon the deliberations of the permanent members. So I think it’s a matter of balance. There’s a difference between being an observer to an organization and being a full participant. And as long as that is respected, I think it works and it recognizes that other countries will be present in the international areas.

But our participation – let me be absolutely clear on this – Canada’s participation in the Arctic Council under this government is predicated on the notion that this is an association of sovereign states. The Arctic Council is a forum where we act to co-operate but in no way – that in no way – impinges on our sovereignty over our own territory.

I’d like to ask you about ...

I am glad you raised this issue, Steve, if I can be really honest with you. Because this is a sleeper issue. I think it’s important for Canadians to understand that in some circles this view does exist, that our Arctic should be internationalized. People who sometimes criticize what we’re doing in our North are doing so because this is in fact their real deal. They’re not complaining about our government having a sovereignty agenda merely because they don’t like military investments. They may not like them. They’re actually complaining for a deeper philosophical reason: they actually don’t really support Canada’s sovereignty in this area. So I think it’s important that … You’re the first one to ever raise this with me. Because we’ve had a lot of chats about this in our government. This view does exist. It does exist in some academic and bureaucratic circles and I think most Canadians would be shocked to learn it even exists.

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