Speaking today before the Conseil de relations internationales de Montréal (CORIM), James Davies, President and CEO of Chantier Davie, underlined the urgency of defending Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic in the current volatile global context.
“Time is of the essence,” he said. “This is a volatile period and people are rightly worried. Davie’s role is to deliver the strategic assets to help deal with the complex challenges Canada faces. These priorities include climate change, Canada’s Arctic, sovereignty, trade and border security matters. Additionally, we must not forget the role of supporting and engaging with Canada’s Northern communities.
Clearly, the icebreakers Davie will build, have an important role to play in meeting these strategic priorities in the Arctic.
Climate change is the key catalyst, with the Arctic warming around 2.5 times faster than the global average. This is rapidly making northern waters more navigable, opening access to the North as never before in human recorded history. In turn, this offers great potential opportunities, including new shipping routes, access to new fisheries and, of course, natural resources.
But for every opportunity, new issues and threats also emerge,” Mr. Davies said.
“Arctic cooperation is going through a difficult period, challenging the rules-based order we have enjoyed for so many years. Old foes, with whom Canada shares an ocean, are rearing their heads, while newer forces are also coming into sharp focus.
Ukraine dominates the headlines, but Russia has also steadily strengthened its strategic position in the Arctic. The Arctic already accounts for 10% of Russia’s total GDP, around in 2021 that was 180 billion US dollars, and generates 20% of total export revenue. Russia is not stopping there, for example many of its largest ongoing and planned oil and gas projects, are above, the Arctic Circle. It also expects to control much of the huge change in flow of trade brought about as receding ice opens up shipping lanes between the North Sea and Atlantic with the Paciﬁc. One route, the Northwest Passage, goes through Canada’s territorial waters. The other, the Northeast Trade Route, offers huge potential savings in time and cost for trade, and Russia claims most of this for itself calling it the “Northern Sea Route.”
Russia’s growing offensive and the China factor
“For context, understand, Russia has reopened Soviet, cold war-era military bases, built new airfields and deep-water ports, all in or near the Arctic. Its fleets of nuclear submarines and nuclear-powered icebreakers patrol the region in a way that nobody else does, or perhaps, can! And then there is China.
China is literally hungry for the Arctic’s energy resources, mineral wealth and fishing grounds; fishing grounds has called “the world’s largest storehouse of biological protein.” China has declared itself a “near-Arctic state” and seeks to participate, at a very deep level, in governance of the region. It is also building a fleet of cutting edge icebreakers to support these goals.
Prior to Ukraine, Moscow and Beijing had cooperated on the “Polar Silk Road,” extending President Xi’s signature Belt and Road initiative to encompass both the Antarctica and the Arctic.
China’s militarization of the South China Sea, by way of example of potential future behaviour, has caused Australia to signal its concerns in that region by changing its procurement of submarines from conventional to nuclear propulsion. Which in turn has been supported strategically by the US and the UK.
Taken together, these signals clearly show that Canada must actively and immediately protect its interests and sovereignty in the Arctic”.