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Canadians rank Arctic sovereignty as top foreign-policy priority Add to ...

A majority of Canadians see Arctic sovereignty as the country's top foreign-policy priority and believe military resources should be shifted to the North from global conflicts, according to a new opinion poll.

The survey also found that Canadians are generally far less receptive to negotiation and compromises on Arctic disputes than Americans.

"That traditional notion of what is a Canadian is kind of challenged by this. We sound more like what people would say Americans would sound like dealing with international issues. That's quite an eye-opener," said Neil Desai, director of programs and communications at the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto.

The findings are based on an Arctic-security poll of more than 9,000 people in the eight northern countries: Canada, the United States, Russia, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden and Iceland. The surveys were conducted by Ekos Research for the Munk School.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper regularly reminds Canadians that his Conservative government is determined to defend this country's sovereignty in the Far North. As well, climate change is causing Arctic ice to melt rapidly, opening up previously impassable waters and potential new international disputes.

Among the poll's other findings:

» The environment ranks as the primary Arctic concern among Canadians, especially for northerners

» The top-of-mind conception of Arctic security is dominated by issues relating to sovereignty and border disputes, especially among southern Canadians

» There is a high degree of consensus among Canadians on the symbolic and public-policy significance of the Arctic

» The Arctic is a cornerstone of Canadians' national identity

In contrast to Canadians' intransigence on Arctic negotiation, the poll found that Canadians stand alone among northern countries in the view that the Northwest Passage is an internal Canadian waterway. Respondents in other countries largely see the passage as an international waterway.

Canadians' hard-line views also come into play in the dispute over the Beaufort Sea. (Canada and the U.S. use different and conflicting methods to calculate the Canada-U.S. boundary in the resource-rich Beaufort Sea.)

The poll found about half of Canadian respondents said Canada should try to assert its full sovereignty rights over the Beaufort Sea compared to just 10 per cent of Americans. Sixty-two per cent of Americans said the U.S. government should try to strike a deal with Canada over the disputed area.

Those surveyed were also asked to name their preferred partner in dealing with Arctic issues - only Americans named Canada. By contrast, Canadians said they would choose Scandinavia.

In Canada, pollsters surveyed 2,053 people in the 10 provinces as well as 744 residents of the three territories in November and December. The poll's margin of error for southern Canadians is plus or minus 2.2 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. The margin of error for northerners is plus or minus 3.6 per cent, 19 times out of 20.

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