Don't mess with Canada: Harper vows to bolster military might in the Arctic
OTTAWA (CP) - Foreign vessels bold enough to trespass into Canada's Arctic would get a frosty reception from hulking new navy icebreakers under a Conservative government, says Stephen Harper.
The tough Tory talk is part of multibillion-dollar plan to protect the country's sovereignty in the wake of reports that American submarines routinely cruise Canadian waters undetected. Harper announced Thursday that he'd put an end to that by establishing a national sensor system for northern air and water.
He promised to commission three Canadian-built heavy icebreakers and create a military-civilian deep-water docking facility in the Iqaluit region.
And he said he would set up an Arctic army training centre in the Far North and station new search-rescue aircraft in Yellowknife.
At least 500 sailors, soldiers and airmen would operate the icebreakers and the docking station, which would cost about $2 billion over eight or nine years.
"You don't defend national sovereignty with flags, cheap election rhetoric and advertising campaigns," Harper said during a campaign stop in Winnipeg.
"You need forces on the ground, ships in the sea and proper surveillance."
"As prime minister I will make it plain to foreign governments, including the government of the United States, that naval vessels travelling in Canadian waters will require the consent of the government of Canada."
Harper's announcement is aimed at attracting voters upset about ongoing threats to Canadian control of its northern territory.
Recent reports suggested a U.S. military submarine likely passed through Canadian waters recently on its way to the North Pole.
And there is a high-profile territorial dispute with Denmark over tiny Hans Island in the Far North.
The Conservatives are hoping to get a boost from their patriotic platform as yet another poll suggests the Liberals continue to hold a comfortable lead.
A Leger Marketing survey, done for The Canadian Press, put Liberal support at 36 per cent, compared with 28 per cent for the Tories. The NDP stood at 17 per cent and the Bloc Quebecois at 12.
The poll of 2,006 voters across Canada was conducted over five days ending Wednesday and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.2 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
Prime Minister Paul Martin said this week that the federal government will do what is necessary to stop American submarines from entering Canadian waters without permission.
Defence Minister Bill Graham dismissed the Tory plan as hugely expensive and unnecessary; the underwater listening system alone would cost billions of dollars, he said.
"This is an overreaction . . . to a situation in which an American submarine might . . . have gone through Canadian waters," Graham said. "This is the wrong threat. The real threat in the North is the social change, environmental change, climate change."
Under the Tory defence plan, annual defence spending would soar to about $20 billion a year after five years, compared with about $14 billion under the Liberal plan.
Harper said that even after the new cash injection, Canada would still be at the lower end of the spectrum for per-capita defence spending among NATO countries.
While Harper was talking about defending the Arctic, New Democrat Leader Jack Layton was more concerned about defending medicare.
Layton used a campaign stop in Edmonton to warn Alberta Premier Ralph Klein, B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell and Quebec Premier Jean Charest to "back off" on private health care.
"You are not going to destroy public health care," Layton said to hearty cheers from gathered NDP supporters. "New Democrats won't let you."
He said Alberta has commissioned a study to look at introducing private, for-profit insurance companies into the province's health-care system.
Layton also accused the Liberals of having abandoned their values, including the defence of medicare. And he said Harper's Conservatives are anxious to usher in more privatization.
Layton is putting his national campaign on hold until Jan. 2. Martin and Harper are also expected to gear down for the holidays.
What a dumb ass!Lets spend billions to protect ourselves from our best ally.
The Canucks have officially lost it!