Planned army base, port in North heat up Arctic quest

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is expected this week to announce plans to convert an abandoned mine in the North into a military training centre — a move meant to reassert Canada's sovereignty in the Arctic.

Far up north on the tip of Baffin Island, an abandoned mine is set to play out a crucial military role in Canada's mission to assert its sovereignty in the Arctic.

(CBC)

CBC News has learned that the federal government is proposing to refurbish the former lead-and-zinc mining site into a deepwater docking facility, and also plans to build anarmy training centre in the North.

Military planning documents, obtained through an Access to Information request, outline plans for a $60-million conversion of the old Nanisivik Mine, which closed in 2002, into a Canadian naval station.

An army training centre is expected to be located in Resolute, Nunavut, one of Canada's most northern communities, sitting on the shores of the disputed Northwest Passage. The international strait remains free to all navigation, although Canada claims ownership over the much-coveted waterway and shipping route.

The prospect of the new, strategically placed military centre is exciting for Pierre Leblanc, the former commander of the Canadian Forces in the North.

"That facility, being a military facility sitting on the Northwest Passage, will also give a very clear political signal to the rest of the international community that we are serious about our sovereignty," Leblanc said.

For years, Leblanc said he campaigned to the government for a large sovereignty centre in Resolute to be operated by the army, navy, air force, and other government departments such as Customs, Immigration, and the RCMP.

PMexpected to announce Arctic base this week

While the new training centre doesn't live up to Leblanc's ambitious vision, he was pleased nonetheless. "It's important for Canada to be able to say this is ours, and if you want to go in here, these are the rules and standards by which you will abide," he said.

If the planned refurbishment of the mine goes ahead, it would deviate slightly from the Conservatives' promise during the last election campaign to build a new military deepwater port in Iqaluit.

The government of Nunavut pushed for the construction of that port as well as a small craft harbour in the territorial capital. The proposed port would have cost about $50 million.

Nanisivik, however, already has a deepwater dock and a fuel reservoir. It is also closer to the Northwest Passage.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is expected to announce plans for the Nanisivik site later this weekduring hisstopover in Resolute.