Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Abdicating the Arctic

Tomorrow, the Arctic Council, comprised of Russia, Canada, the United States, Norway, Denmark, and three other countries bordering the arctic, will sign a treaty assigning search and rescue responsibilities in the high arctic. While the Council has said the practical S&R boundaries should not be interpreted as legal borders for other purposes, Canada should move quickly to avoid the impression that it is abdicating responsibility for the arctic.

As Paul Koring noted in his article in this morning’s Globe and Mail, the Council “explicitly accepted that the search-and-rescue boundaries won’t be used as precedents in the tangle of unresolved boundary disputes and overlapping claims in the resource-rich top of the world.” The problem for Canada lies in the final six words of that statement: resource-rich top of the world. Inevitably, disputes regarding resource ownership, recovery rights, and clean-up responsibilities will arise. Some tangible set of conditions will have to be used to set precedent for ownership, rights, and responsibilities, and it is in this regard that the present treaty is fraught with dangers for Canada.

Canada has been assigned an approximate 80-degree section of the 360-degree arctic region. Over forty percent of the arctic is given to Russia, with smaller pieces of the pie-shaped area going to the United States, Norway, and Denmark.

Since the search and rescue boundaries are practical in nature, they should be understood as fluid. If Canada, due to superior search and rescue capabilities, is able to assist with the rescue of sailors from a ship sinking in U. S.-controlled waters, the United States will be unlikely to turn down the offer of assistance. Such superior abilities could be used in future negotiations to argue for an enhanced Canadian presence in the arctic, and perhaps even an expansion of Canadian boundaries in future disputes over resources.

The problem is that Canada is ill-prepared for S&R work in the arctic compared to other nations. Norway, which already has a strong arctic presence in its oil drilling operations, has developed formidable resources for efficient work in the arctic. Russia has long possessed significant cold-water capabilities. Canada, according to Mr. Koring’s article, “has no dedicated search-and-rescue assets based north of the Arctic Circle...The nearest dedicated search-and-rescue aircraft are four 40-year-old Twin Otter utility aircraft based in Yellowknife.” It is not difficult to envision scenarios in which Norway and the United States will be best equipped for S&R operations in territories for which Canada is now responsible. With capabilities entirely inadequate to upholding of Canadian responsibilities, countries wishing to exploit arctic resources should have little difficulty in prevailing over weaker Canadian interests, presence, and abilities in the arctic.

I hope that Canada is not willing to so easily cede resource ownership and development rights. If the Harper government wishes to continue ignoring the high arctic, we should anticipate a high potential for consequences far more serious than simple loss of revenue to oil, minerals, and other resources. The larger concern is the health of the arctic itself, and it is here that we can find significant precedent that ought to raise our level of concern.

In April, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico exploded. For three months the open well spewed over eight million litres (53,000 barrels) of oil per day into the gulf. Some five million barrels (800 million litres) of oil were released into the ocean before the well was finally capped. The major problem in the capping effort was the inadequacy of the blowout preventer mechanisms installed in the cap, including severe design flaws that prevented the blowout preventer from working as specified. Only a few short months after the well was capped, the United States government approved the resumption of drilling in the gulf. Unbelievably, no blowout preventer design changes were required. Oil companies that wish to drill are allowed to use the same inadequate technology that led to the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

We should anticipate that the United States, with its long-established contempt for environmental health, will have no more concern for the consequences of arctic drilling than it has consistently demonstrated in warmer waters. While this may pose only short-term consequences in tropical regions, a laissez-faire attitude toward pollution in the arctic is likely to prove deadly, and costly not just to Canada, but to the entire world.

Few species of flora and fauna are found in frigid arctic waters. Oil-consuming bacteria thrive in warm tropical water, but they find the cold water close to the pole a bit too hostile. If oil spills in the arctic, it is likely to remain there for a long, long time, causing severe, long-term damage in a fragile environment. Since the arctic region has effects on weather, plant and animal life, and many other natural phenomena far out of proportion to its size, the effects of arctic fouling are likely to have severe repercussions throughout the world, and especially for countries bordering the arctic.

It is time for Canada to beef up its arctic presence. We cannot allow irresponsible countries, like Russia and the United States, to pollute the arctic at Canadian expense, to the detriment of the entire world.

May 11, 2011

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Orange Crush, Blue Balls, Red Retreat

Margaret Wente is insightful as ever this morning. While I don’t know that I agree with her overall assessment, I find it difficult to quibble with most of her points. If you enjoy good political analysis, give this morning’s column a spin:

While she does not dismiss outright the notion that Harper’s pre-campaign attack ads played a prominent role in Ignatieff’s demise, she points to several other factors that proved useful to the Tories’ success. As biting and well-informed as her analysis is, I believe it falls short, and I will tell you why.

She correctly cites several examples of the Grits’ unwillingness to engage in the hard work of base-building, especially among minority constituencies. No one among the Liberals, she said, had the stamina to go out and drink 15,000 cups of tea. The muted and impotent Liberal appeals to minority ridings and groups was seen as insincere. Liberals gave up on ridings and ideas that had been their strong suit many years ago. I think she is spot on here, especially since her words are mirrored by a party insider, Robert Silver, who also presented a sterling analysis of Liberal deficiencies in the last election:

Ms. Wente invokes the obvious, that the Cowtown Wrangler was able to assemble a two-pronged political alliance centred in his stronghold of southern Alberta, but with a now entrenched eastern hub centred in central and southern Ontario. So strong is this continent-spanning coalition of political diversity finding room under the very generous Tory umbrella, Harper’s Posse was able to cede Québec and still manage a comfortable win.

The question for the political analyst, though, is WHY, and it is in this regard that both Ms. Wente and Mr. Silver fall short. I think Douglas Bell comes closest to nailing the analysis. He cites a simple, powerful, 60-second clip from The West Wing as the underlying reason for the destruction of the party of Laurier, Pearson, and Trudeau:

Here’s the Youtube citation:

I agree with the assessment of Bruno Gianelli (portrayed by actor Ron Silver, no relation to Robert Silver), and I believe it comes closest to explaining the reason for the diverse failures catalogued in both the Wente and Silver analyses. Democrats in the United States long ago caved into the notion that the L word was so damaging to political aspirations that it could never be invoked. Traditional liberal concerns—care for the poor, the elderly, the disadvantaged, the sick—had to be abandoned because Americans would not stomach the financial obligations imposed by these social responsibilities. The problem is that Trudeau’s Just Society does not work without an emphasis on providing for the dignity of all people as essential precursor to the establishment of rights for all Canadians. I believe it is the LPC’s abandonment of traditional liberal principles, more than anything else, that has left the party in ruins, and will inevitably lead to the complete disintegration of the party.

The young Mr. Trudeau of Papineau, who will almost certainly become the party’s leading voice, and probably also its formal leader, has his work cut out for him. If he wishes to breathe life back into this fearful, quivering mass, he’s going to have to demonstrate backbone. Trudeaumania did not begin with the playboy and his convertible. It began with the man of political integrity and doctrinal authenticity, who had no fear of standing up to the political titans of his day. The LPC will gain back its voice only when it decides that Liberal is not a dirty word, and that the Just Society is not only something achievable, but that it is, in fact, the stuff upon which Canada is properly founded.

May 5, 2011

Sunday, May 1, 2011


Vote. Vote because it matters. Because when you do, Canada changes for the better. This time, every vote counts, every vote is a mandate for a stronger Canada, for a brighter future. Because Canada is more than it could ever be under Harper. Vote because voting is change. Vote.

Vote. Vote not because it is your right, but because it is your duty. Because a country can reflect goodness and honesty only when good and honest people participate in its governance. Now is not the time to assert rights, but to embrace responsibility, for it is through the common good that each receives her just reward. Vote not for your sake, but for your country’s sake. Vote.

Votez. Votez parce que le Québec est le coeur et l'âme du Canada. Parce que le coeur et l'âme doivent être libre. Le meilleur du passé et de ce que nous sommes est ce que les femmes et les hommes libres donnent en héritage à leurs enfants. Votez parce que le Canada chérit son héritage de liberté. Votez.

Vote. Vote because you feel the energy around you. Because change and excitement and wonder are in the air. This time, it is real. The New Democratic Party, the Liberal Party, and the Green Party have always stood for what is best in each of us, and what is best in Canada. This time your vote counts. Because orange and red and green are the most beautiful colours of the Canadian mosaic. Vote because in so doing, you express Canada’s will. Vote.

Vote. Vote because you matter. Because your voice needs to be heard. Your voice will be heard, and Ottawa will be better for it. Because your future is only as strong and just as Canada’s future. Vote because Canada matters. Vote.

May Day 2011