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Arctic warming fires debate

Chris Hunsley
Northern News Services

Iqaluit (Nov 22/04) - Questions around the impact of global warming and the navigation of the Northwest Passage have become increasingly controversial, particularly with the recent release of the Arctic Climate Survey. Last week two Northern security experts found themselves at polar opposites when asked if Canadian sovereignty over the Arctic is at risk.

"If shipping companies see an opportunity, they will come through the Northwest Passage," said Dr. Rob Huebert.

The associate professor of political science at the University of Calgary feels consistently clear oceans will quickly attract international shippers to Canadian waters.

The more ominous possibility, he said, noting recent comments by American Ambassador Paul Cellucci, is that U.S. shippers will seek to have the Northwest Passage declared an international strait.

With mounting American pressure, the threat could come even sooner, he explained.

"I see no signs of the Americans changing their position."

The European Union and Britain both echo the American opinion, he said.

Huebert believes the proposal for joint administration of the waterway will fall to the wayside.

"A concern over the precedence and economic considerations will trump joint management," he explained.

We're fooling ourselves if we believe anything else, he suggested.

However, Dr. Franklyn Griffiths believes that economics will actually keep international shipping away from the Canadian coastline.

"Reputable shipping companies are not going to try to pass through the Passage," he said.

"Why would they go through the treacherous Canadian Archipelago."

With a more direct route across the pole already available, increased costs from reinforcing commercial ships to handle the ice fields and added insurance costs make the Canadian Waters route unattractive.

"It's not economical for them (shippers)," the retired University of Toronto professor explained.

Shipping in the region will increase as more Canadian ships are charged to deliver newly accessible resources from the North, he said.

But what does that mean for Canadian sovereignty?

"There is no major issue for Canadian sovereignty, period!" Franklyn said.