Interest in the Arctic has been heating up in recent years, as climate change has turned up the temperature, melting ice in the Northwest Passage.
After years of governments placing the issue of Arctic sovereignty on the back burner, it appears the Trudeau Liberals have stopped worrying about the needs of southern Canada – Ontario and Quebec, in particular – just long enough to airlift some much needed money to the North.
This isn’t just about national pride, as there are some legitimate security issues regarding the countless potential air and maritime approaches into North America from the Great White North.
So while Canada might not be the prime target of an invasion or terrorist attack, we could be collateral damage for some sinister types heading to the United States.
Not since Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper announced plans in 2007 to stake Canada’s claims in the Arctic with a bold and expensive military campaign have we seen the governing party in Ottawa show some real concern about securing the North.
Who can forget the stunt Russia pulled back then, planting its flag on the Arctic Ocean seabed beneath the North Pole.
But in a new defence policy earlier this year – after failing on most Northern files since coming to power in 2015 – the Liberals have finally looked North.
In June, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan unveiled the Liberal government’s long-awaited vision for expanding the Canadian Armed Forces, with promises of more vehicles, surveillance and presence in the region.
And, as Yellowknifer discovered recently, that will include a massive and expensive new headquarters in Yellowknife for the Canadian Rangers who patrol all three territories.
The Department of National Defence (DND) plans to build a 82,000-square-foot facility, expected to open in 2024 with the construction beginning as early as 2020. It’s not known where the facility will be located in the city but the project is estimated to cost between $50 million and $99 million and will include offices, and an assembly space, which will double as a drill hall and warehouse and garage space.
It will serve as the headquarters for the 1st Canadian Rangers Patrol Group (1 CRPG), which boasts close to 1,800 Rangers in 60 patrols across the three territories. It will also inject a lot of money directly and indirectly into the economy, with employment on the construction site.
The 1 CRPG consists of close to 1,800 Rangers in 60 patrols. Acting as the legendary “eyes and ears” of the regular military, the largely Indigenous force provides lightly equipped, self-sufficient, mobile forces to conduct sovereignty patrols and monitoring for the North Warning System. Rangers also train in activities such as first aid, ground search and rescue, leadership, navigation and weapon safety.
There are also more than 1,400 Junior Canadian Rangers (JCRs) in 44 communities across the North.
While DND media relations officer Andrew McKelvey stated in an email it is too soon to gauge what, if any, effect this new facility will have on recruitment, having proper facilities certainly can’t hurt.
And the new headquarters announcement came at the same time the DND announced that it’s close to launching the first of six offshore Arctic patrol ships.
And last spring, the federal government announced it would finally outfit the Rangers with .308-calibre C19 rifles – replacing the Lee Enfield rifles in service for the past 71 years.
Minister Sajjan’s mandate letter stated he is expected to “renew Canada’s focus on surveillance and control of Canadian territory and approaches, particularly our Arctic regions, and increase the size of the Canadian Rangers.”
Not only is that a positive step toward rebuilding the country’s military presence in the North but it could help people in and out of Yellowknife find good jobs that will help themselves, their families, the North and the country as a whole.