Stephen Harper takes to the tundra with a .303 Lee Enfield rifle

Stephen Harper took up arms — albeit antique arms — on the Arctic tundra late Tuesday in a round of target practice meant as a show of solidarity with Canadian Rangers.


GJOA HAVEN, Nunavut – Stephen Harper took up arms — albeit antique arms — on the Arctic tundra late Tuesday in a round of target practice meant as a show of solidarity with Canadian Rangers.

Both the prime minister and newly appointed Defence Minister Rob Nicholson went shooting with the First World War vintage .303 Lee Enfield rifles.

They are the standard-issue weapon for the aboriginal reservists — the part-time soldiers comprising the Rangers who spend their days patrolling the vast, desolate tundra.

Harper clearly relished the bonding exercise, firing from several different positions, including laying down.

Shots from the rifle demonstration reverberated for kilometres over the empty limestone and sand landscape.

But it was as much a political statement as a chance to share the rigours of northern life for a prime minister whose mantra has been to assert and defend Canada’s claim to the Arctic.

“Canada has a choice when it comes to defending our sovereignty over the Arctic. We either use it or lose it,” Harper said in a July 2007 speech that helped lay the foundation for the Conservative government’s northern strategy.

The tough rhetoric and thundering military photo-ops, however, have gradually faded with each successive summer tour of the Arctic, which Harper has undertaken religiously since becoming prime minister.

His latest trip has led him to this wide-open, chilly nook of Nunavut’s King William Island, infamous as the potential resting place of the lost Franklin Expedition of the 1800s.

With four cabinet members in tow, Harper and his outdoors-loving wife set up camp on a remote stretch of beach about 20 kilometres from Gjoa Haven, birthplace of Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq.

A group of enthusiastic Rangers helped him build an inukshuk, the stone landmark synonymous with the Inuit. They also showed him how to erect a traditional tundra shelter made of animal hide.

As the sun set close to midnight, Harper inspected drying Arctic char hung on string between wooden posts, and watched a demonstration of the lighting of qulliq, an Inuit oil lamp that is set ablaze using the spark of two flint rocks.

The army has been trying to replace the Lee Enfields for years because there are so few manufacturers left who make spare parts for the rifles, first introduced to the British Army in 1895.

The fact that they don’t freeze up or jam in the Arctic is part of their charm.

At a stop in Hay River, N.W.T., prior to arriving in Nunavut, Harper acknowledged National Defence was still looking for an appropriate replacement.

“I am told there is no difficulty in servicing the weapons at this time, but this is a concern and we believe it is time,” he said. “The Department of National Defence is in the process of scoping out the program for replacement and I expect that to happen over the next few years.”

The weapons the Rangers are currently using were purchased in the 1950s.

Public Works put out a tender last fall for 10,000 replacement rifles, but defence industry sources have said that the program has been held up over concern about who holds the design rights on certain weapons.

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Stephen Harper takes to the tundra with a .303 Lee Enfield rifle

  1. Invisible snowmobiles, antique rifles, a PM on his annual camping trip….yeah the north is really important to us.

  2. Look out Putin. It’s rifles and shirtless (well maybe not) at the North Pole and winner takes it all.

  3. That would be my weapon of choice when fending off the unwanted advances of a hungry 1,500 lb. polar bear or an invasion by a whole battalion of those no good Russian’s.bent on Arctic domination.
    By the time you were able to fire off a shot and chamber another round you’d either be the main course for the bear or have those Russkie invaders rolling around on the frozen tundra howling with laughter when they realized what you were using to defend your northern borders.

    • Chambering another round takes all of two seconds – throw the bolt back, throw it forward again. Bolt actions haven’t changed in a century, so it makes little difference whether the guns are old or not. Automatic and semi-automatic weapons will freeze up north. I used to hunt geease, and watched the expensive semi-auto shotguns of many American hunters freeze up in weather only 1 or 2 degrees below 0. At -40 automatics & semi-autos would be problematic. Whatever new rifle the Rangers get will also be bolt action – likely the .308.

      • How big were the ‘geease’ where you were? I don’t think that you’d be bagging too many ‘geease’ with a single shot bolt action rifle which is why all those Americans used shotguns.
        Yes I knew of the conditions that these old rifles functioned under and the reasons they were still being used. I even had the opportunity to heft a few to shoulder height at a gun shop in Victoria BC many years ago, worked the bolt action, felt the overall weight, and generally was able to assess the guns reliability. I was just having some fun at the PM’s expense.
        You’d probably want to get some feedback from the Rangers as to their firearm of choice before making any decisions on what make and model to re-equip them with. While the .308’s and the .303’s have a long range, are accurate, and pack a lot of firepower, it’s the number of bullets in the clip that I’d find most important when choosing a hunting rifle. You’d have to put, if you were able, at least two or three well placed high powered rounds into fully grown male Kodiak charging at you at 30 miles per hour just in order to slow it down.

        • A few things:
          1. Have you ever made a typo before? Just wondering. If you’re just having fun, then have at ‘er. 2. While Lee Enfields are indeed bolt action, they are not “single shot”. They are repeater rifles with clip magazines. 3. The Americans didn’t bag any geese after their weapons froze up. 4. I know you don’t hunt geese (nor “geease”) with a rifle. It’s not legal. It was merely an example of the problems endemic to semi-autos. A better example – I’ve also witnessed 30-06 semi-auto rifles freeze up during deer season. The bolts never did. 5. Having a bolt action in no way impedes the number of shells in the magazine. The military can order magazines of any capacity they chose. (You and I , as civilians, are limited by law). 6. Tragically, Lee Harvey Oswald demonstrated that bolt action rifles can be reloaded and refired quickly. 3 times in 6 seconds – a feat repeated by experts in at least 2 forensic reconstructions of the Kennedy assassination. 7. I’m sure DND has consulted with the Rangers before chosing the .308 as the likely replacement. A reliable action that does not freeze was likely at the top of Ranger demands. 8. My one concern about the .303 is that it doesn’t have a very long range, at least compared to more modern calibers with flatter trajectories, like the .308.

          • And I hope that this is the last word on the capacity of magazines, trajectories, Lee Harvey Oswald, and whatnot.
            Yes i make typos. I’ll always make typos, and don’t mind anyone having a little fun at my expense whenever I do so.
            But I’ve always wondered what a ‘geease’ looked like.

          • Similar in shape to a goose, only it has fangs, long, dagger-like claws, and glowing red eyes. They don’t honk. They roar. Be glad you’ve never seen one.

  4. Does Harper and his brain trust realize that the concept of stealth snowmobiles and Leaside’s Stephen Harper running around the Arctic with a real, maybe even loaded, gun is just hilarious?
    I suppose you can become so overwhelmed by self regard that normal reality checks and balances just don’t click in. Even Putin who probably has the equipment? to pull this stuff off is starting took ridiculous. But, in this game Steve, Putin is NHL all star and you’re house league bantam.

  5. “Public Works put out a tender last fall for 10,000 replacement rifles,
    but defence industry sources have said that the program has been held up
    over concern about who holds the design rights on certain weapons.”

    That’s because they want the winning design built by Colt Canada and other manufacturers don’t want their rifle built by a competitor. The program for replacing the CF’s pistols has the same problem.

    The Rangers No 4 Lee-Enfield is the WW 2 version not WW 1 and until recently was still being manufactured in Australia (and sold in retail stores here) in .308 Winchester, the caliber the army wants the new Ranger rifle to be chambered in.

    • Thanks for shedding some new light on this rather dark topic FT. Let’s hope that Stephen Harper’s commitment to Arctic sovereignty involves more than just a neat photo-op of him and Rob Nicholson firing at an imaginary target. Although you never know, that with enough practice, he might actually qualify for a tour of duty up north.

  6. Harper obviously uses the same public relations agency as Vladimer Putin.

  7. Just wanted to point out that the .303 LE is a “weapon of war” that was “designed for killing lots of people fast” at “great distances”.

    Hell, it is fed with stripper clips too, for quick reloading.

    Guess what? It is one hell of a deer hunting rifle, a very common one in Canada.

    Deal with it.

  8. Oh, God – how pathetic is this creep!?

  9. McCleans some facts correct on Enfield rifle, the one the rangers use is of WWII vintage most probably made at Long Branch, Toronto, some of the best made. Enfield rifles grew with the times from the 1895, but I suppose still some 60+ years old and in service, what does that say for one great rifle hard to beat. You will still see them in military service in India and some countries 118 years, got to be good. And many hunters and sporters use them today.

  10. Get out of our north you hypocrite . . . . . its only a photo op for you, meanwhile all you hit us northerners with is cuts to the scientific community, cuts to healthy living initiatives, cuts to social programs, etc. We can see how important us northerners are to you (much like the majority of Canadians)!

  11. As for the Lee Enfield . . . . . its very reliable at minus 40, unlike the harpocrit.

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