Sovereignty or Security? Government Policy in the Canadian North, 1936-1950

Sovereignty or Security? Government Policy in the Canadian North, 1936-1950

Sovereignty or Security? Government Policy in the Canadian North, 1936-1950

Sovereignty or Security? Government Policy in the Canadian North, 1936-1950

Synopsis

Sovereignty or Security? explores the numerous and diverse influences responsible for the dramatic change in northern policies during the 1940s and their subsequent impact on the Yukon and Northwest Territories. Apart from concern for the social, economic, and political development of the North, two major issues emerged which became central to the policy initiatives in the war and postwar years -- the question of maintaining optimum sovereign control and of providing adequate defence against possible enemy attack. As a result, Ottawa abandoned its former laissez-faire approach to northern affairs and adopted an active interventionist role, accompanied by unprecedented financial support.

Excerpt

At the end of the 1980s, Canadian attention has been drawn to its Arctic frontier for many urgent reasons. Perhaps not since the 1940s, with which this book is concerned, have the dilemmas of policy been so baffling. The acute sensitivity of Canadians to sovereignty issues and American "challenges" was evident in the instance of the voyage of the Polar Sea in 1985. Similarly, renewed concern for defences against aircraft or missiles of advanced technology and the possible complications of the American Strategic Defence Initiative pose again the ambiguities of alliance obligations and the maintenance of sovereign authority. To complicate things further comes a new prospect of arms control agreements between the superpowers and an extraordinary shift in Soviet positions on the Arctic. Not only in his speech in Murmansk in September 1987, but also in his proposals for a conference of sub-Arctic countries and a bilateral treaty with Canada, Mikhail Gorbachev is floating ideas similar to those Canada proposed over forty years ago. The fact that these new developments are hopeful and encouraging does not make them any the less difficult, for we have to move on from the intellectual comforts of the status quo.

All this is happening at a time when, partly because of its own stances in the United Nations and the Commonwealth, Canada is obliged to direct much greater attention to the historic rights of the native peoples and is finding that the will is easier to achieve than the way. The internationalization of the Arctic community is being pioneered by the Inuit themselves. It is notable that, even in hot and cold wartime, as Shelagh Grant illustrates, there was in the bureaucracy and that small elite interested in the North, great concern for the health and welfare of the people who lived there and a continuing effort to reconcile this concern with strategic demands. There was little expectation then that the Arctic might be a source of rich energy supplies in a world badly in need of them. Although expectations that this northern Mediterranean Sea might become a Persian Gulf have diminished, they cannot be absent from our economic and strategic calculations.

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