Prime Minister Stephen Harper was in Nanisivik yesterday, to announce that Nanisivik has been chosen to be the new deep water port to service the new Arctic patrol fleet. The choice of Nanisivik as the port is the only logical one for the government to make. For one thing, it already exists. Nanisivik has been a deep water port, with fifty feet of water port side, since 1975. To construct a new port in Iqaluit or Resolute or elsewhere would be much more expensive and needless.
It also is situate on the Northwest Passage, the only existing port on the Northwest Passage (there was a second on Little Cornwallis Island that was decommissioned when the Polaris mine was shut down. There will be people in Iqaluit jumping up and down saying a port should have been built there (give me a break, Iqaluit is about 600 nautical miles south of the Passage, and the costs of construction would be enormous), and apparently Churchill Manitoba (alright it has a port, serviced by a railroad to the south, but it is so far away you might as well use Newfoundland).
There is also additional infrastructure at Nanisivik that makes it a logical choice (although not as much as there used to be). Fuel tank facilities, proximity of a 6,400' runway, and a utilidor for fresh water all still exist in Nanisivik. No, Nanisivik is the smart choice if you're needing a base for Arctic Patrol vessels.
The only problem is the new scheme for Arctic Patrol vessels is the wrong approach to sovereignty. The Prime Minister is right when he says that when defending sovereignty you must "use it or lose it". As far as the waterways of the Northwest Passage go, Canada already uses them, and have for years. A fleet of Canadian Coast Guard icebreakers spend all summer in the Arctic waters. And more importantly, Canadian Inuit make use of the frozen and unfrozen waters, to travel, and hunt, and live. The Inuit have been living lives up here for thousands of years, long before there was a Canada, and now they are Canadians and their lives, and those of other Nunavumiut are the strongest possible arguement for Canada's sovereignty in the Arctic that there is.
It has been long understood that it is people's lives that enforce sovereignty, it is the reason that the RCMP had detachments on Devon Island (the largest uninhabited island in the world) and on Ellesmere Island, policing no one but the people they brought with them. It is the reason for the poorly conceived and executed movement of people from Northern Quebec to Grise Fiord and Resolute Bay. It is the reason that the government should be doing as much as they can to make the Arctic a better place to live for the people who are here, and to attract other Canadians here.
What can the Government do? First starters they need to have a long look at the price the airline(s) charge for airfares in the north. Flights from Arctic Bay (Nanisivik actually, as that is where our airport currently is) to Iqaluit, 900 kms south and our only direct destination apart from Resolute, cost $2,500. Flights from Nanisivik to Ottawa range from $3,700 to almost $5000. In less than six months, when Hilary no longer flies for free, the cost for our family of four to fly to see my family in Manitoba would cost at least $15,000, but likely closer to $20,000.
And it not just that I want a vacation. The airfares impact on absolutely every aspect of our lives up here. If one of the stores needs to bring someone up to fix the coolers in the store (which I really wish they would do) that $2500 to $5000 gets added into my grocery costs. The cost of every teacher from the south includes the airfare from bringing them up, taking funds away from education programs, and the same thing happens on every in-service training that they have to attend outside the communities. Every time someone from the government flies into a community that takes away from money for their programs. I stagger to think about how much medical travel costs the Nunavut government each year, but you wouldn't be able to find a flight here that didn't have someone travelling to Iqaluit or Ottawa on medical. Think about your school sports teams and the opportunities that they have to play other schools. Now think about how often that would happen if you had to spend $2000 per athlete and the coach/chaparones. The costs of housing and other capital projects (such as the new airport) also includes the costs of flying in skilled people.
There are so few business opportunities up here, and one that is trumpeted all the time is tourism. Think of the challenges in attracting people to a community like Arctic Bay, when it costs someone $3700 just to get here from the south. I could fly to Australia from southern Canada three times for that price. In fact I just looked, booking a flight from Toronto to Sydney return in mid-October cost $1424 with Air Canada, in fact I can get a flight and a weeks accommodation for $2500 from Vancouver.
Imagine how much lives could be improved up here, with cheaper food, more money for medical and government programs if even an average saving of $1000 per flight were realized. There are four flights up to Nanisivik each week. When I flew last month there was 24 passengers on the flight. A young girl from Arctic Bay I met at the airport had been trying for three weeks to fly up on standby, so you can see the flight is usually full. So, some quick math would show that there are 96 passengers a week to Arctic Bay, or 4992 a year. The vast majority of those are travelling on government, medical, or business. A $1000 reduction in fares would mean almost $5 million more for programs or reduced food or other costs to this community alone. Oh, and just in case you don't think that $30,000 is enough revenue (24 pax times $1250 one way costs) to bring a Hawker the 900 kms from Iqaluit to Nanisivik (plus the $30,000 for the return flight), half the plane is carrying air freight, also generating revenue (and you don't want to get me started on the costs of air freight up here).
So if the Government really wants to defend our sovereignty in the Arctic, save the 8 billion dollars on the redundant Arctic Patrol vessels, and make it worth Canadian's while to live up here. Oh and at the same time free up the Coast Guard to do community projects, such as mapping the family grave sites (and marking graves) that are scattered all over up here from when people lived on the land, making sites like the RCMP detachments at Dundas Harbour and Alexandra Fiord National Historic sites. Take some of that 8 billion dollars and create more housing and better infrastructure in the Arctic Communities. Our sovereignty depends on peoples lives lived up here.