INDEPENDENT NEWS

Cablegate: Canada's Conservative Government and Its Arctic Focus

Published: Thu 21 Jan 2010 04:52 PM
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date: 1/21/2010 16:52
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SUBJECT: Canada's Conservative Government and its Arctic Focus
CLASSIFIED BY: Eric Benjaminson, Economic Minister-Counselor, State
Department, Embassy Ottawa; REASON: 1.4(D)
1. (C/NF) Summary: Since the day after his initial election victory
in January 2006, Canadian PM Stephen Harper has continually played
up his government's commitment to defending Canada's "North" (the
landmass above 60 degrees North latitude represents about 40% of
Canada's total territory, but only has about 100,000 people) and
has endeavored to make concern for the Arctic a prime feature of
the Conservative political brand. The culmination of that effort
was the release of the government's "Northern Strategy" in the
summer of 2009. Thus far, the government's ardor for the "North"
has translated into only a modest array of actions that have an
impact on American and other foreign interests: most significantly
an extension of the reach of its pollution protection rules in the
Arctic, from 100 nautical miles (nm) to 200 nm. To make further
progress in its efforts to "enhance Arctic sovereignty," the
government likely needs to leverage the stature, policies, and
resources of the United States, the one Arctic neighbor whose
national interests are most closely aligned with, Canada's.
Numerous observers of the Canadian political scene caution,
however, that while Arctic sovereignty is tried and tested as an
election issue, the promises made are seldom implemented. End
summary.
Conservatives make concern for "The North" part of their political
brand...and it works
2. (U) Beginning in mid-2004, the then-minority government of
Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin commenced a rhetorical battle
with Denmark over a two-decade old claim to uninhabited Hans Island
between Greenland and Ellesmere Island, which culminated in July
2005 when the Canadian Defence Minister and several soldiers
actually landed on Hans Island and hoisted the maple leaf flag
(they also left a bottle of Canadian whisky). Danish-Canadian
tensions were reduced to a simmer by a September 2005 joint
statement, but the government's Arctic sovereignty statements of
2004 and the Canadian military efforts the following summer set the
stage for Conservative Party leader Stephen Harper to make the
North an election issue in the campaign that began in December
2005. "The single most important duty of the federal government is
to protect and defend our national sovereignty," he declared in
stump speeches invoking "...new and disturbing reports [sic] of
American nuclear submarines passing though Canadian waters without
obtaining the permission of -- or even notifying -- the Canadian
government." Candidate Harper's Arctic plan focused on the
construction and deployment of three new armed heavy icebreaking
ships, an Arctic Ocean sensor system, as well as the eventual
construction of a deepwater port in Nunavut to guard the Arctic
waters. The message seemed to resonate with the electorate; the
Conservatives formed the new government in 2006, but failed to win
a majority.
3. (U) Once elected, Harper hit the ground running with frosty
rhetoric; on January 26, 2006 Harper (who was still only Prime
Minister - designate) used his first post-election press conference
to respond to the United States Ambassador's restatement the prior
day of the longstanding U.S. position on the Northwest passage.
Harper firmly declared that "...the Canadian government will defend
our sovereignty, ...and it is the Canadian people we get our
mandate from, not the Ambassador of the United States."
4. (C/NF) PM Harper made a focus on the North a prime feature of
the Conservative political brand again in the October 2008 general
election. In addition, in his government's annual budgets and in
public announcements, he has continued to accentuate the focus on
the North. For example, in its budgets over the past four years,
the government announced a series of significant Arctic
expenditures, including: C$750 million for a new Polar-class ice
breaker to replace its sole heavy icebreaker, (which is 40 years
old and scheduled to be decommissioned in 2017); millions for
mapping of the Extended Continental Shelf and mapping of northern
natural resources; and, most recently, a C$250 million dollar
economic development agency focused on Canada north of the 60th
parallel. The culmination of the branding effort was the release of
the government's "Northern Strategy" in the summer of 2009. A
consolidation of previous Conservative policy pronouncements, the
Strategy largely reflects long-standing Canadian Arctic shibboleths
(Enhance Arctic Sovereignty; Promote Social and Economic
Development; Protect the Environment; Improve Northern Governance
and give greater authority to Northerners) to which previous
Canadian governments have periodically given voice. The persistent
high public profile which this government has accorded "Northern
Issues" and the Arctic is, however, unprecedented and reflects the
PM's views that "the North has never been more important to our
country" - although one could perhaps paraphrase to state "the
North has never been more important to our Party." (Comment: The
opposition parties have not developed policies on Canada's role in
the Arctic beyond generalities, defaulting "ownership" of a
robust, rhetorical northern policy to the Conservatives that
dovetails with party's broader priorities of rebuilding the
Canadian Forces and enhancing Canada's international role". End
Comment).
5. (U) To underscore his government's commitment to the Arctic, the
PM has also visited the Arctic every summer since taking office
while holding occasional cabinet meetings in the territorial
capitals. In the latest example: as the G8 host in 2010, Canada
has chosen to convene the G8 Finance Ministers' meeting in Iqaluit
on Baffin Island...in February.
6. (C/NF) The government has also taken steps to amend a few key
pieces of legislation to enhance its ability to control shipping in
the North. In 2009, new authorities came into force that extended
Canada's regulations for pollution violations all the way to the
200 nautical mile EEZ limit. A second proposal that would mandate
all ships destined for Canada's Arctic waters to report to Canadian
authorities has not yet been finalized in regulation. To date, the
changes to the shipping rules are the only efforts that have had an
impact on American and other foreign interests. The results of
Canada's submission of a claim in 2013 for an Extended Continental
Shelf under the United Nations Convention on the Law Of the Sea
(UNCLOS) will also have an impact on Canada's neighbors. But, at
this juncture, for Canada to advance its "sovereignty" interests
there is a need to focus on bilateral and multilateral partnerships
with its Arctic neighbors.
Canada's Arctic Foreign Policy
7. (U) According to Foreign Minister Cannon, "our foreign policy is
a reflection of our domestic policy." To that end, "through the
international dimension of our Northern Strategy-our Arctic foreign
policy-we will protect our environmental heritage, promote economic
and social development, exercise our sovereignty in this vital
region and encourage more effective international governance".
Moreover, in March 2009, when FM Cannon unveiled Canada's Arctic
Foreign Policy in the Yukon, he declared that his "utmost priority"
is to further strengthen Canada's bilateral engagement with Arctic
states. He stated that "The United States is our premier partner in
the Arctic," that "we have many shared interests and common
purposes-in environmental stewardship, search and rescue, safety,
security and sustainable resource development," and that he was
looking forward to a more enhanced level of cooperation on Arctic
issues with the United States. He noted that this would include
exploring "ways to pursue a common agenda," starting in 2013, as
Canada and subsequently the United States chair the Arctic Council.
He delivered the same speech in April 2009 at the Center for
Strategic and International Studies in Washington DC, further
adding in his speech that he had discussed opportunities for
enhanced cooperation on shared Arctic interests when he had met
with Secretary Clinton earlier that day. In November 2009, during a
speech in Toronto to the Economic Club of Canada, the Foreign
Minister exclaimed that "Canada, with allies like the United
States, is well-placed to take a leadership position in the face of
the new challenges and opportunities in the Arctic." Interestingly,
while taking questions after the speech, FM Cannon refused to be
drawn into any discussion of difference with the United States over
the Northwest Passage even when pressed, and instead chose to
emphasize Arctic cooperation with the U.S.
8. (C/NF) Comment: Canada places great import on its Arctic
partnership with the United States and at this juncture the
Conservatives in particular see special value in enhancing that
partnership. Not only is that partnership materially significant
for Canada, which benefits greatly from American resources invested
in Arctic science and in defense infrastructure , but also Canada
has much to gain from leveraging the stature and standing of the
United States. Among the Arctic coastal states (and perhaps among
all countries) Canada and the United States typically have the most
closely aligned policy interests and generally share a common
viewpoint on international law and common objectives in
multilateral fora (such as the Arctic Council). From Canada's point
of view, if the two countries can find bilateral common-ground on
Arctic issues, the chance for Canadian success is much greater than
going it alone against the interests of other countries or groups
of countries.
9. (C/NF) Comment Continued: Numerous observers of the Canadian
political scene caution, however, that while Arctic sovereignty is
tried and tested as an election issue, the promises made are seldom
implemented (the armed ice-breakers and ocean sensors that
candidate Harper promised in the 2006 election have been forgotten
; what will be the fate of the three-quarter billion dollar
ice-breaker?). That the PM's public stance on the Arctic may not
reflect his private, perhaps more pragmatic, priorities, however,
was evident in the fact that during several hours together with
Ambassador Jacobson on January 7 and 8, which featured long and
wide-ranging conversations, the PM did not once mention the Arctic.
End Comment.
JACOBSON
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