So what was that all about?

by Aaron Wherry

The Nunatsiaq News calls it “the most expensive photo op you’ll ever see.”

Torch blogger Mark Collins laments the “jingoistic nonsense” of it all.

And then there is what our own Andrew Coyne wrote. A year ago.

In fact, Canada’s Arctic sovereignty is getting along just fine, thank you. For all the emphasis the Conservatives have placed on it — “use it or lose it,” in Harper’s famous formulation — and for all the reams of hyperventilating, the-Russians-are-coming reportage it has received in the media, no one is actually threatening to invade Canada’s frozen North. Neither is there much dispute over Canada’s territorial waters — the ribbon of sea along our coast, 200 nautical miles wide, that international law acknowledges as ours. Even the much bolder claim we have lately advanced to the waters beyond the 200-mile limit, reaching as far as the North Pole, is for the most part uncontested…

It can’t hurt our case, and may help, if we bolster our physical presence in the North. Certainly we should hope that the Arctic spoils are divided by something resembling a legal process, rather than by military force or international free-for-all. And there are good reasons — environmental, security — why it would be in everybody’s interest for Canada to continue to police the passage. But on its merits, the question of Arctic sovereignty would not seem to warrant anything like the attention it has received from this government.

It does, however, serve an important political objective — namely, as part of the Conservatives’ efforts to rebrand themselves as the Canada Party, or perhaps to redefine Canada itself: to devise an alternative language and symbology of patriotism to the one so successfully exploited over the years by the Liberals.




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So what was that all about?

  1. Coyne's comments certainly have some validity and I have no doubt the value of rebranding the Conservatives has been at the core of their approach to the north. Nevertheless I suspect it is always possible to parse a political motivation from any government; it should not detract from an appreciation of good governance. The Conservatives have been consistent and fairly effective in their approach to the north. While it is a little too strongly focused on security for my taste, many of the infrastructure investments will also have social value. It also puts a spotlight on issues such as
    http://www.nunatsiaqonline.ca/stories/article/suf
    which will hopefully motivate people in Ottawa and the north to find solutions.

  2. Coyne's comments certainly have some validity and I have no doubt the value of rebranding the Conservatives has been at the core of their approach to the north. Nevertheless I suspect it is always possible to parse a political motivation from any government; it should not detract from an appreciation of good governance. The Conservatives have been consistent and fairly effective in their approach to the north. While it is a little too strongly focused on security for my taste, many of the infrastructure investments will also have social value. It also puts a spotlight on issues such as
    http://www.nunatsiaqonline.ca/stories/article/suf
    which will hopefully motivate people in Ottawa and the north to find solutions.

  3. Wow! I'm actually in agreement with Coyne for once…

  4. Are any of Harper's photo-ops inexpensive, especially if they're on the taxpayers' dime?

  5. It might be the most expensive photo-op the North will ever see but G-8 meetings are by far the most expensive photo-ops in the world.

    • So, Harper wastes money, but the G8 wastes more?

      But, since we'll soon be having the G8 in Huntsville, where the Prime Minister will be hosting, does that make him a super waster?

      • Specifically, what part of Harper's visit do you feel was a waste of money? The part where he visited the HMCS Toronto?

        Are Canadian military exercises in general a waste of money, or are they just wasteful when they happen in the Canadian North? Or perhaps they are just wasteful when the prime minister is on board being photographed?

        • You'd be amazed at the additional expense needed to fly, feed and move around the cadre of "just in case" political staff and attendants that surround a Prime Minister. They likely could have amde a down-payment on one of those long-promised "bases" up north for what was spent on this shoot.

        • You'd be amazed at the additional expense needed to fly, feed and move around the cadre of "just in case" political staff and attendants that surround a Prime Minister. They likely could have made a down-payment on one of those long-promised "bases" up north for what was spent on this shoot.

          • So you don't object to the Prime Minister's personal travel expenses, but you object to the incremental cost of feeding and transporting the "cadre of political staff and attendants" that accompany him on these visits?

          • Love him or hate him, the Prime Minister is the big guy for the whole country. Whichever party, he needs to travel across Canada. It's part of the job. But in recent years, instead of one or two assistants, the numbers have swelled to include dozens of people who are, at best, not necessary for the trips.

            I say this, being one of those "political staff and attendants" who accompany lesser politicos on working trips. Around here, there is usually only one staff who accompanies one of the bigwigs. Why? Because you don't need more than that. For me, it's work. If there were nine other guys travelling with us, i can't imagine what they could do that they couldn't do via blackberry from the home office.

          • Love him or hate him, the Prime Minister is the big guy for the whole country. Whichever party, he needs to travel across Canada. It's part of the job. But in recent years, instead of one or two assistants, the numbers have swelled to include dozens of people who are, at best, not necessary for the trips.

            I say this, being one of those "political staff and attendants" who accompany lesser politicos on working trips. Around here, there is usually only one staff who accompanies one of the bigwigs. Why? Because you don't need more than that. For me, it's work. If there were nine other guys travelling with us, i can't imagine what they could do that they couldn't do via blackberry from the home office.

            Hailing a cab, getting lunch, calling the airline to change a flight time, making sure the folks who siad they'd be there are showing up, trying to fit the reporters' requests for interviews in before we have to hop a cab to the next stop? That's me.

          • Thanks for narrowing the scope of your specific objection. It's a valid point. So if Harper had traveled with a minimal number of staffers, I assume you would be satisfied?

            By the way, that sounds like an interesting job! I'm sure it can be quite gruelling and tedious at times, but it must give you a unique perspective on things.

          • National politicians have to travel, so no, I don't begrudge having the basic help needed to pull off an event. Nor would I carp about the cost of providing RCMP to travel along, as not every PM has a carving-weilding assistant always nearby, and the Shawinagin Handshake seems passe…

            A unique perspective? Indeed. And a good nose for finding quick and non-greasy food and sweet-talking airline staff…

          • I had noticed that Harper did not continue the tradition of walking to the GG, but instead uses a motorcade. He seems to like extra pomp focussed on him as his recent demand for a salute demonstrated.

        • Wasteful when the "military excercise" as you call it is done for photo ops, far away from where they would usually do it, and not effective "exercising" when so much of it needs to be coordinated with others that you would not normally exercise with (air force, coast guard, navy, rangers, etc.), when the planning of your excercise has to as a first priority be coordinated around photo ops and visists…. yes, very wasteful.

          The entire contingent of military and coast guard personnel and fleets involved in the "exercise" of that day, lost easily three days to the experience – one to get there, one to sit around while being visited by politicos and sitting around for that perfect photo opportunity, one to get back to where they usually train.

          • So military exercises and drills are wasteful only when the Prime Minister is involved? You claim that Harper wasted the time of our armed forces by visiting them in the North, causing them to perform training exercises and drills at a more northern latitude than they otherwise would have done?

          • Military exercises are expensive but needed for training and produce results for the military so not wasteful.

            Military "exercises" that expensive but provide no training and only produce photo opportunites for politicians trying to keep hold of government are wasteful.

            And don't start in with any chance to fly, run around with guns, sail, etc. is SOME training. They are not sitting around with nothing to do until the PM needs some more photos for his ad campaigns.

            Harper has once again used our soldiers and protectors as props for his political ambitions.

  6. "Prime Minister will be hosting, does that make him a super waster?"

    It does, yes. I don't believe Governments really govern anymore – they are all about marketing themselves and that's about it. That's why pols love photo-ops. Gives the sense they are doing something while actually doing nothing.

  7. At least the money goes back into the Canadian economy.

    • And out just as quick to pay the foreign investors we now need and will continue to need for a very long time thanks to Harper.

  8. The Nunatsiag news was quite entertaining. One can picture the helicopters hovering, the fighter jets reswooping, and the submarine lingering until all three ships are perfectly aligned for Harper's photo op.

    • According to Critical Reasoning up above though, there is nothing wasteful about any of that.

      • What do you feel is wasteful about "fighter jets reswooping" or "helicopters hovering"? The incremental fuel costs?

        • "Incremental" few costs, man/woman hours, opportunity costs, wear on the equipment, risks of damage, etc.

          All fine if you are really training, that's part of the cost of running a military, but wasteful if done so the PM can ad some photos to his ad campaign.

          What's more, this is the PM who says the military has been starved for cash and that we all need to be tightening our belts because of the recession. So most especially in context it is wasteful.

          • "Incremental" few costs, man/woman hours, opportunity costs, wear on the equipment, risks of damage, etc.

            The men and woman of our armed forces are paid salaries, not hourly rates, so these are sunk costs. Opportunity costs? Puh-lease. That doesn't even make sense in this context. Wear on the equipment? Now you're just being petty.

            I suspect that you would have no objection whatsoever to this military exercise if the Prime Minister wasn't there. But the PM was there, so in your mind that makes the whole exercise pointless and wasteful.

          • CR, you are always of a strong clear viewpoint, but not usually so obtuse so I have to assume you are being deliberately so. To use our military for an armed excercise they would not otherwise have to conduct, and therefore would not otherwise have to spend money on, is by definition wasteful.

            If the PM asked them to dig holes and then fill them up again, by your definition, it would not be wasteful. What I and pretty much all non-Conservative commenters are saying is that, when you divert our soldiers and sailors to act out your fantasies and assist your political campaign like they were just props sitting around with nothing to do, you divert them from the real work they have to do, the real training they need to do. It is by very definition wasteful.

    • Yes, precision military exercises are usually entertaining.

      • Not to me, but putting all that war machinery into making a good picture frame and having a reporter describe it well, is.

  9. As a great Canadian said during the last election on the need for Canada to have a better thought out plan for the Arctic and the need to engage the circum-polar coutries on the diplomatic front:

    "We're too small to fight the Russians and the Americans and too sophisticated to shoot the Danes."

  10. My vision for the North includes a Hooters at each of the East and West entry points of the Northwest Passage. Someone else can build 'em. I want dibs on the shuttle service.

  11. The Arctic is fantastically valuable in terms of mineral deposits and control over the Northwest passage, which may soon be a viable trade route between the Atlantic and Pacific.

    International law is not like domestic law however – it is one part legality and ninety-nine parts practicality. This is because international law is unenforceable except in a few cases where enforcement is in the national interest of a lot of the great powers (eg. the first Iraq war). Right now, while the Russians are united in demonstrating their own use of the arctic, Canada lags behind. Accordingly we do not have the support of our allies on this matter – they either have their own claims (eg. the Danes) or support making the Arctic/northwest passage international waters.

    Establishing a Canadian military presence is just the first stage. It is a precursor to resource extraction and an increase in the permanent settlement of Canada's far north. All of this is geared towards one end – not "building up a military that could defeat the Russians", but rather, legitimizing our claim to the north to our own Nato allies (who could then back us against the Russians in any potential conflagration). Settlement is probably more important in the long run than a military presence (though of course, military ice-breakers are necessary for settlement). Settlement gives us an ironclad claim to the north, at least in the eyes of our Nato allies.

    What Canada should be doing (but isn't) is building a coalition in Nato that supports our northern claims. The key, to my mind, is linkage – can we link our own claim to arctic sovereignty (or rather, our claim to a 200 mile fishing zone) to the interests of other states? Can we promise them fair and equitable treatment in a Canadian-run arctic? Can we offer concessions on other sticking points in order to get this very important thing right? The answer to these questions should be "yes". The untold potential of the arctic should remain in the hands of the democratic west, and so should remain in the hands of Canada.

    • Very well said. Hopefully we can build some roads up to the northern coast soon, to improve the quality of life of northern Canadians, to boost the northern economy and to further legitimize our Arctic claims. Canada's north is too important to ignore.

      • You're supposed to say "kudos!"

    • "Establishing a Canadian military presence is just the first stage."

      No, we've been establishing that first stage over and over again with the result of a whole lot of abandoned military installations, exposed permafrost/soil erosion and chemical contamination.

      International law regarding offshore fishing and other rights is based on historic settlement and use, not marching bands and flyovers. If the residents of the Arctic consider themseles Canadian, avail themselves of Canada's legal, political and civil institutions to administer their intrerests, and particpate in using the territory for transportation and other economic means, our sovereignty is demonstrated. The need for a military response would only arise if someone flagrantly disreagarded international law. In other words not the first step. Buidling a stronger social, economic and admnistrative infarstructure in the Arctic, with the active oversight and direction of the people of the Arctic will strengthen our claim more than faux military exercises, and that's the first, most practical and most sustainable step. And a much more efficient delivery vehicle for "econmic stimulus" to boot.

      • Exactly.

        Moreover, no one has yet pointed out the utter futility of having military excercise in Frobisher Bay as part of your strategy of "use it or lose it" with respect to our Arctic territory.

        Baffin Bay is pretty much fully used as far as that "strategy" excuse for this photo op goes.

  12. The way I see it, should we have an election soon – of which I am hoping we don't until we gain some Conservative Libertarian candidates – who are not affiliated with the following organizations in any form: The Bilderberg Group, Council on Foreign Relations, CCCE, Trilateral Commission, IMF, WTO, WHO or the United Nations!

    Otherwise Canadians have a choice of Right Wing Stephen Harper Global Elitist or Left Wing Michael Ignatieff Global Elitist! Layton, Doucette and the Green Party are vote wasters and Jack is a communist Marxist taking pointers from Obama on top of everything!

    • You forgot the Bavarian Illuminati, the Saucer People, and the Mole Men.

      • Yeah right when your eating bread and water in a Fema camp I'll feed you a little green! Martian on the side! Get your head out of the sand, go check out rumormillnewsradio.com, http://www.infowars.com , http://www.stevequayle.com, http://www.franklyspeakingradio.com, – Go to youtube.com, check out "The Obama Deception", "End Game", Alex Jones etc. If you like Mole Men and Lizards check out David Icke he sometimes gets out of hand, but never the less he knows what is going on! Come on, I dare you! Jump down the dirty rabbit hole and see what you find! ?

  13. Coyne: "It does, however, serve an important political objective — namely, as part of the Conservatives' efforts to rebrand themselves as the Canada Party, or perhaps to redefine Canada itself: to devise an alternative language and symbology of patriotism to the one so successfully exploited over the years by the Liberals."

    That "symbology of patriotism" would be the "jingoistic nonsense" that blogger Mark Collins refers to.

  14. . . . part of the Conservatives' efforts to rebrand themselves as the Canada Party, or perhaps to redefine Canada itself: to devise an alternative language and symbology of patriotism . . .

    I must say, I will believe it when I see it. The Harper Tories and the CF seem to me to belong to different universes. If you're looking to identify the CPC with a military force, try Panama.

  15. [...CONT.]

    It is a waste of their time. It is a waste of the Prime Minister's time. It is a lost day that could have been spent truly training, fixing equipment, planning, learning, building, doing the great humanitarian work they do, etc. And in addition to all of that waste, this party that claims to be fiscally prudent and tells us we all need to be tightening our belts and tells us that the military has been desperately underfunded, cost us Canadian taxpayers money. A lot? In the greater context of the Canadian budget or even of the budget of the DND, no, of course not.

    But it cost time, money and effort for no purpose other than some photos for Harper's ad campaign. That by definition is wasteful. Surprising that you see it any other way.

    • Harper's visit to the North had a symbolic purpose, and his visit to HMCS Toronto also had a symbolic purpose beyond snapping photos to serve in an election campaign. Obviously we disagree about the value of such a visit, symbolic or otherwise. I also understand why you object to it… it's because you sincerely feel that the visit was solely motivated by the Prime Minister's partisan political agenda, as opposed to national strategic considerations.

      But let's abandon the pretense that "waste of taxpayer's dollars" have anything to do with it. Our military costs are largely sunk costs, and it makes very little difference from a budgetary point of view whether or not the PM makes this sort of visit.

      You don't see people in other G8 countries whining about military jets performing a flyby when their national leaders visit their armed forces. Only in Canada, where this sort of mindless pettiness has become part of our political culture.

    • Harper's visit to the North had a symbolic purpose, and his visit to HMCS Toronto also had a symbolic purpose beyond snapping photos to serve in an election campaign. Obviously we disagree about the value of such a visit, symbolic or otherwise. I also understand why you object to it… it's because you sincerely feel that the visit was solely motivated by the Prime Minister's partisan political agenda, as opposed to national strategic considerations.

      But let's abandon the pretense that the alleged "waste of taxpayer's dollars" has anything to do with it. Our military costs are largely sunk costs, and it makes very little difference from a budgetary point of view whether or not the PM makes this sort of visit.

      You don't see people in other G8 countries whining about military jets performing a flyby when their national leaders visit their armed forces. Only in Canada, where this sort of mindless pettiness has become part of our political culture.

      • The Tories chanted loudly about the cost of a pack of gum that was expensed and later reimbursed.

        Then they go out and waste at least a million plus dollars – a million plus dollars that would not have been otherwise spent – for a photo opportunity and, if you want, symbolism that serves almost zero purpose (I'll give the symbolism some value, I didn't say it was 100% waste). Like most western countries when there is an exuberent display of miliary might for political purposes, this is being roundly criticized. It does not only get criticized in Canada. Even some of Bush's own more moderate and reasonable supporters thought his version of this same Harper photo op was wasteful.

        And you think a few million dollars here and a few million dollars there is no big deal.

        You accused us all of making a big deal out of this only because the PM orchestrated it. I would turn that around and say that you don't have an issue with this only because it was the PM who orchestrated this.

        At least you seem to have gotten off the idea that this was a useful military exercise.

        • I would turn that around and say that you don't have an issue with this only because it was the PM who orchestrated this.

          You could say that, but you'd be wrong.

          Like most western countries when there is an exuberent display of miliary might for political purposes, this is being roundly criticized.

          I'm sorry, but this made me laugh out loud. First, the way you characterized it as "an exuberant display of military might", and second, the notion that this is being "roundly criticized". So far, the only criticism I've seen is from a handful of blog commenters here at Maclean's, egged on by Wherry. Nobody else seems to care.

          • It is at least as accurate, if not more accurate, as saying only Canadians criticize politicians using the military as props for campaigning.

          • I said: "Only in Canada, where this sort of mindless pettiness has become part of our political culture." And it's true. All this whining about the cost of the PM's visit is mindlessly petty and small-time.

          • Hey, who are you commenting on behalf of in these posts? Your Conservative bias, or your Germany military biological roots?

          • Huh?

          • Tell me I'm wrong again. thought your parents were military – met at a Canadian base in germany. Some argument you had with T-G.

          • They both had long careers in the armed forces, but they met here in Canada. My mom served a year in Germany before I was born, but that's about it as far as any German connection.

          • Better not think about running for office in Canada then or else the Tories will start calling you Kaiser and suggesting you should go back to Germany.

          • Puts your comments into a different perspective, don't you think?

            that's why myl never divulges he's an engineer who rec'd a highly subsidized education and probably works in a highly subsidized industry.

  16. Why do you think Harper stated "We need Global Governance!" at the last G8 summit if he were not an "Elitist" ?

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