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$3B for arctic ships: PM - Vessels unable to patrol year-round
Description: In the wake of a federal announcement to spend more than $3 billion on new “ice-strengthened” ships—in order to, as Prime Minister Harper says, “defend our sovereignty over the Arctic"—a UBC international law professor said that the vessels are a welcome addition, but the government must revitalize Canada’s ageing icebreaker fleet so it can have a regular presence in the Arctic. "That capability to operate anywhere in Canadian waters at any time of the year will not be answered with this announcement," said Michael Byers. "It's not what we really need for the decade or two ahead and it's not what [the Prime Minister] promised."
Date: 10 July 2007
Author: David Pugliese
Source: National Post
 

VICTORIA - The Conservative government will spend more than $3-billion on new ships to patrol the Arctic, with the Prime Minister saying it is "urgent" that Canada do more to assert its claims to the North.

"Canada has a choice when it comes to defending our sovereignty over the Arctic," Stephen Harper said. "We either use it or lose it. And make no mistake, this government intends to use it."

The patrol vessels are described as a class below the armed Arctic icebreakers the Conservatives had promised in the last election. The Prime Minister had said the government would supply the navy with icebreakers in order to enhance Canada's northern sovereignty claims, but the proposed vessels won't be able to operate in the region year-round.

The vessels will also be able to operate at the approaches of the Northwest Passage year-round, as well as off the country's East and West coasts.

But an international law professor who specializes in Arctic sovereignty says that while the vessels are a welcome addition, the government must revitalize the country's ageing icebreaker fleet so it can have a regular presence in the Arctic.

"That capability to operate anywhere in Canadian waters at any time of the year will not be answered with this announcement," said Michael Byers of the University of British Columbia. "It's not what we really need for the decade or two ahead and it's not what [the Prime Minister] promised."

Prof. Byers said both Russia and the United States operate heavy icebreakers able to sail in Arctic waters claimed by Canada pretty much any time those countries wish.

In his announcement yesterday, Mr. Harper acknowledged the patrol vessel program is different from his election promise of armed heavy icebreakers. But this way, he said, more ships can be purchased. Moreover, the "medium" icebreakers are more versatile.

The ships will be capable of operating in ice up to one metre thick, Mr. Harper said.

However, Prof. Byers said the vessels are not icebreakers at all, but rather "ice-strengthened" ships whose operations will be limited.

Military officials privately agree, adding the ships would be more valuable for patrolling the East and West Coasts, in place of the more expensive frigates currently used.

Government officials say the Arctic patrol ships will cost $3.1-billion. Another $4.3-billion will be spent on operations and maintenance over their 25-year lifespan. Six to eight vessels will be bought, but delivery of the first ship is not expected until 2013.

The new ships, to be based in Halifax and Esquimalt, B.C., will be built in Canada. Mr. Harper did not specify which shipyards would build the vessels, but added there will be enough work for all such facilities across the country.

In the past, Canada has used foreign ship designs and built the vessels in Canadian shipyards.

Six months ago, the Ottawa Citizen reported that the Conservative government would not proceed with the purchase of the armed icebreakers promised by Mr. Harper. Instead, it would acquire Arctic patrol vessels, in line with a Conservative defence strategy also obtained by the newspaper. Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor dismissed the article as "inaccurate [and] sensationalist."

The Canada First Defence Strategy document stated that the government's plan to assert sovereignty over the Arctic, its waterways and resources is a key policy for the nation.

The Arctic constitutes 40% of Canadian territory and the region is growing in importance, the paper said.

It also acknowledged that global warming will open new shipping routes in the Arctic and could allow for more commercial activity in the region.

Over the years, the Canadian Forces' ability to operate in the Arctic has declined significantly, the strategy document warned.

In his announcement yesterday, Mr. Harper emphasized the economic importance of the Arctic, pointing out that with extensive oil, gas and mineral finds, "northern resource development will grow ever more critical to our country."

He also said a deep-water port would be constructed for the North at an unspecified location.

Yesterday's news comes on the heels of an announcement last week in which the government shared details of a $3.1-billion plan to refit a dozen of the navy's frigates.

NATIONALPOST.COM

For more background on Canada's sovereignty in the North, visit nationalpost.com

Source: National Post

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