Conservative leader Harper asserts Canada's Arctic claims
Conservative leader Stephen Harper said Thursday he would assert more strongly Canada's northern territorial claims following reports that a US submarine recently traveled unannounced through Canadian Arctic waters.
In remarks made during an election campaign stop in Winnipeg and posted on his party's website, Harper said he would increase surveillance and deploy more troops, icebreakers and military aircraft over the Canadian Arctic region if elected prime minister.
"The single most important duty of the federal government is to protect and defend our national sovereignty," said Harper, Prime Minister Paul Martin's main challenger in the January 23 election.
"There are new and disturbing reports of American nuclear submarines passing though Canadian waters without obtaining the permission of -- or even notifying -- the Canadian government."
Canada is at odds over parts of the Arctic region with the United States, Russia, Denmark and Norway.
Ottawa and Washington disagree over control of the famed Northwest Passage and the resource-rich Beaufort Sea, which touches both Alaska and Canada's northern territories.
The dispute has grown in importance as scientists believe that global warming could open up the Northwest Passage to year-round cargo shipping by 2050, and could also open up for exploitation resources like oil and natural gas in the Beaufort Sea.
A Northwest Passage open year-round would reduce the sea trip from London to Tokyo to 16,000 kilometers (9,950 miles), against 21,000 kilometersmiles) via the Suez Canal or 23,000 kilometers (14,300 miles) going through the Panama Canal.
Because the maritime and continental plateau frontier between the United States and Canada has never been formally agreed, the United States disputes Canada's claims the route and the Beaufort Sea are its territory.
Harper pledged to spend 5.3 billion Canadian dollars over five years to "dramatically increase Canada's military presence" north of the 60th parallel.
He said he would install a sensor net in northern waters to monitor foreign submarines and ships, commission three armed heavy icebreakers capable of carrying troops and build Canada's first Arctic deepwater port near Iqaluit, which has been lobbying for a port to boost local economic development.
He also promised to open a new military training facility on Cambridge Bay on the Northwest Passage, station new jets in Yellowknife and fly long-range unmanned surveillance aircraft continuously.
"As prime minister, I will make it clear to foreign governments -- including the United States -- that naval vessels traveling in Canadian territorial waters will require the consent of the government of Canada," Harper said.
Harper also pledged to more strongly assert Canada's sovereignty over Hans Island near Greenland, which Denmark claims as its own.
Both sides have visited the tiny barren patch of land between Canada's Ellesmere Island and Denmark's Greenland often, erecting national flags to mark the territory.
"You don't defend national sovereignty with flags," Harper said. "You need forces on the ground, ships in the sea, and proper surveillance."All rights reserved. © 2005 Agence France-Presse. Sections of the information displayed on this page (dispatches, photographs, logos) are protected by intellectual property rights owned by Agence France-Presse. As a consequence, you may not copy, reproduce, modify, transmit, publish, display or in any way commercially exploit any of the content of this section without the prior written consent of Agence France-Presse.