Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Arctic coalition

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Imagine if a foreign country decided it wanted to improve governance in Manitoba, while ensuring that the province's citizens and companies were treated fairly. Of course, it's hard to imagine such an uninformed posture, but that is precisely the position the European Union has been promoting among its members about the Canadian Arctic.

According to a 2010 briefing note to officials in the Department of Foreign Affairs, a senior official with the European Parliament told the body that Europe wanted to ensure that "citizens and companies are treated fairly (in the Arctic), including in the areas of transport and natural resources." The EU also wanted to contribute to "robust and enhanced governance" in the area.

The briefing note said Canadian diplomats had their work cut out for them in terms of educating Europeans about Canada's long-standing sovereignty over its Arctic islands, and the Northwest Passage.

That's putting it mildly. The apparent assumption of some Europeans that the Arctic is an international wasteland without governance or history reveals an astonishing degree of ignorance, but it is also a real threat to Canada's legitimate claims.

It also follows a clever attempt by China to stake a claim in the Arctic by acknowledging Canadian sovereignty while simultaneously claiming equal rights to navigate the Northwest Passage and exploit resources in the area.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has made Arctic sovereignty a priority, a position largely supported by Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff and the NDP's Jack Layton. They disagree on some details, but if ever there was an issue that required a national coalition, the Arctic clearly is it.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 31, 2011 A12

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