Arctic sovereignty 'non-negotiable': Harper

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has declared the protection and promotion of Canada's sovereignty in the Arctic a "non-negotiable priority."

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has declared the protection and promotion of Canada's sovereignty in the Arctic a "non-negotiable priority."

Canadian Rangers take part in Arctic sovereignty patrols such as Operation Nunalivut in 2007. Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon says Canada now considers making progress on Arctic boundary issues a top foreign policy priority.
The prime minister's comment came after the federal government announced earlier Friday that Canada will work to create a "rules-based region" with clearly defined boundaries.

Speaking to reporters in Charlottetown, Harper said the statement does not signal a policy change but is an elaboration of the government's "broad approach" on the North. That approach, Harper insisted, has always included working with partners in the region "where appropriate."

"All of these things serve our No. 1 and, quite frankly, non-negotiable priority in northern sovereignty, and that is the protection and the promotion of Canada's sovereignty over what is our North," Harper said.

"That is what Canadians want us to do. That is what we will do."

The statement, unveiled in Ottawa by Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon, also said Canada will promote economic growth and trade, along with "vibrant northern communities and healthy, productive ecosystems."

Describing Canada as an "Arctic power," Cannon also said the government will meet the 2013 deadline for presenting Canada's claims to the ocean floor to the United Nations.

But the statement does not mention Canada's two main disagreements with the United States in the region: control over the Northwest Passage and the disputed border of the Beaufort Sea.

During the 2005 election campaign, the Conservatives promised to buy three huge, armed icebreakers to patrol the melting Arctic seas, build a deep-water port, and establish an Arctic warfare training centre.

The port and the training centre are being assembled, but the plan for icebreakers was scaled back years ago to smaller patrol ships.

PM to tour North

NDP Leader Jack Layton said his party welcomed the statement as a "step in the right direction" and hopes the government is serious on resolving the border issues instead of opting to flex Canada's military muscle in the region.

"This idea that we can purchase large military vessels and go to war with other countries if there are boundary issues is ridiculous," Layton told reporters in Ottawa on Friday.

The policy statement comes as Harper prepares to head to the Arctic region next week for a five-day tour.

The prime minister will visit the High Arctic while the Canadian Forces carry out its annual Arctic sovereignty exercise, Operation Nanook, his office said Friday.

Harper will also make announcements in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, and in Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T.

With files from The Canadian Press