Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Breaking the Arctic Ice

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been investing time, money, and energy to assert Canadian sovereignty over Arctic territories that are sparsely populated yet richly endowed in natural resources.

The Prime Minister recently visited the community of Iqaluit, the capital of Nunavut. Nunavut's population is thinly spread over a territory equal in size to both Alaska and Texas combined. Poverty and suicide are quite rampant in these northern communities, as are serious problems of substance abuse. Unfortunately, there are limited resources available for treatment centres. This issue was one of several discussed with the Prime Minister on his visit.

Canada is not the only nation looking towards these northern regions. The area is rich in natural resources, including huge oil deposits. The U.S. Geological Service estimates that the Arctic regions contain enough oil to supply global demand for three years. Global warming has contributed to an erosion of sea ice thus making passage to the Arctic via the Northwest Passage easier. Canada claims that the Northwest Passage is sovereign Canadian territory while the U.S. claims that it is an international waterway. Joining the U.S. claim are other countries with eyes trained on the Arctic and its treasure trove of natural resources. Russia and Denmark have been heard to lay sovereignty claims to areas in the Arctic in recent years.

Prime Minister Harper's move to enhance the communities of the Arctic is intended to spur economic and social growth, thus creating a contiguous territory. His government intends to relinquish much regional economic planning to local regional councils. Nunavut Premier Eva Aariak has called on Ottawa to give the Arctic region more control over its offshore energy resources as well as its derived benefits.

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