Colleagues, pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), a study of Canada’s sovereignty in the Arctic, we have a number of witnesses today and for the full two hours, these witnesses will be in front of us.
From the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, we have Jeffery Hutchinson, commissioner of the Canadian Coast Guard and Mario Pelletier, deputy commissioner, operations, Canadian Coast Guard. From the Department of National Defence, we have Major-General William Seymour, deputy commander, Canadian joint operations, and from the Department of Transport, Jane Weldon, director general, marine safety and security. Welcome to all of you.
It's always an exciting time when you get people for two full hours in front of the committee. I understand that you'll make some opening statements, so I'm going to turn the floor over to Mr. Hutchinson. We'll start with Mr. Hutchinson, we'll go through the panel and then, colleagues, we'll get into questions.
I will turn the floor over to you.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Good afternoon to all the members of the committee. As was stated, my name is Jeff Hutchinson and I am the commissioner of the Coast Guard. I'm pleased to be here with Mario Pelletier, who is deputy commissioner of operations for the Coast Guard. It's our honour to be here as well with our very close partners from the armed forces and Transport Canada. We are pleased to have an opportunity, which is exciting as the chair noted, to discuss Canadian sovereignty, particularly as it relates to the Arctic and the roles of our respective organizations in the north.
Perhaps, to state the obvious, sovereignty can be a difficult term with both legal and geopolitical complexities. Today, my colleagues and I wish to focus on three aspects of sovereignty, which we hope you'll find useful in your deliberations. Those aspects are stewardship, security and safety, especially as it relates to regulation of activity in our north. I will elaborate on the Coast Guard's role, in particular, focusing on Arctic stewardship. My colleagues will touch on security and safety, respectively. We'll speak as if the Arctic mission and our Arctic presence is done in silos. In fact, it is important to underscore that our organizations work very closely together, knit together in a partnership that's effective, in our view.
The Canadian Coast Guard mandate includes authorities that put us in command of on-water search and rescue and environmental response. That goes with the responsibility of being a first responder. However, our mandate, especially in the Arctic, might better be captured by the idea of stewardship. Why do I connect stewardship and sovereignty? We care for what we value. We care for our own. It is the Canadian connection to the Arctic that drives us to protect a remote and fragile environment, to partner with people of ancient traditions, and to enable leading-edge science in a rapidly changing region.
Please allow me to be clear. I do not mean to say that the Coast Guard is the steward of the Arctic, not at all. We are but a steward in the Arctic. Major-General Seymour's views on the security of the Arctic and Ms. Weldon's views on the proper safe regulation of the Arctic both contribute to a robust view of how Canada expresses and exercises its sovereignty. I would contend that the Coast Guard's role in stewardship contributes to the same outcome.
The Canadian Coast Guard is regarded as a leader in Arctic issues. What does this mean in specific terms?
The Coast Guard provides marine domain awareness to federal partners such as the Armed Forces and Transport Canada through the Marine Communications and Traffic Services office in Iqaluit. That office maintains 24/7 operational awareness across the North American Arctic throughout the navigation season.
The Coast Guard deploys up to seven icebreakers to the Arctic, the majority of which are equipped with a helicopter, to ensure community resupply, to support Arctic science and to assist commercial shipping. Of course, these ships respond as needed to search and rescue and environmental response cases. Services include shipping escort, providing ice information and routing advice, harbour breakouts, flood control, and the supply of dry cargo and fuel to northern communities.
As of September 13 of this year, the Coast Guard has conducted 57 escorts and coordinated 30 search and rescue cases.
The Coast Guard is responsible for some 2,000 aids to navigation in the Arctic, including buoys, markers and radio towers, which we install and maintain to ensure safe shipping. The aids to navigation program assists marine navigation, determining positioning and course, warning of dangers or obstructions to navigation, and marking the location of preferred routes. We also contribute to Canada's marine domain awareness in the high latitudes by identifying and monitoring vessels in the area. Our base in Hay River in the Northwest Territories ensures a year-round northern presence with a focus on the Mackenzie River.
The Coast Guard maintains strong partnerships with indigenous people, who rely on our icebreakers to ensure the timely arrival of fuel, building materials, vehicles and all manner of goods that are uneconomical to carry by plane. We are fully committed to working with indigenous partners and stakeholders to ensure safe and secure marine shipping in the Arctic. We have a number of initiatives to support this engagement. For example, we have 15 community-based Canadian Coast Guard auxiliary units active at this time, with over 200 auxiliary members and 25 vessels. Those numbers are expected to continue to go up in 2019.
We're also building bases and training local people in search and rescue. On June 28, 2018, we opened a seasonal inshore rescue boat station in Rankin Inlet—the first of its kind in the north and crewed by Inuit youth—to enhance northern search and rescue capacity and to strengthen our relationships with these communities.
As an asset for the Government of Canada, our fleet has a long history of supporting enforcement activities of National Defence, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and other federal departments. The Coast Guard’s icebreakers also provide a mobile scientific platform for Canadian scientists in the Arctic.
In 2014 and 2015, we participated in Canada’s definition of its continental shelf for the Arctic Ocean by sending our icebreakers to the North Pole where they worked together to map these waters.
Thanks to the oceans protection plan, we're extending the operating season for Coast Guard ships working in the Arctic, allowing earlier resupply of fuel and other critical goods to northern communities. A longer shipping season also means greater economic opportunity for northerners looking to move goods to southern markets.
I might just note before concluding that the Coast Guard has also engaged in international co-operation, as it relates to the Arctic. Our principle forum being the Arctic Coast Guard Forum, where we participate with seven other Arctic nations at an operational level to make sure that coast guard organizations are working collaboratively to cover the vast distances that are common in the Arctic region.
Interest in the Arctic continues to rise as changing climate conditions are making the Canadian Arctic more accessible for marine traffic and economic development. More marine traffic means a greater risk of incidents. There is a misconception that melting ice makes it easier for vessels to navigate our northern waters. In fact, the unpredictability of broken ice floes adds to the risk of navigation. Those factors will continue to increase the demand for Coast Guard services.
Thank you, Mr. Chair and members of the committee, for this opportunity. Along with my colleagues, I will look forward to your questions.
Mr. Chair and committee members, good afternoon. I am Major-General Bill Seymour. It is my pleasure to appear in front of the committee today, along with Commissioner Hutchinson and my colleagues from the Canadian Coast Guard, and of course, Jane Weldon from Transport Canada.
I am the deputy commander of the Canadian Joint Operations Command, responsible for planning and carrying out Canadian Armed Forces operations and joint exercises throughout the world, including in Canada’s North.
The Arctic is a key priority for the Canadian Armed Forces and its security and defence are built into our core missions, as defined in our defence policy, “Strong, Secure, Engaged”.
As a part of our vision of being strong at home and secure in North America, we are tasked with detecting, deterring and defending against threats, conducting search and rescue, and responding to domestic disasters and emergencies. Accordingly, the Canadian Armed Forces protects Canadians and ensures Canada's Arctic sovereignty in two main ways. First, through maintaining a year-round regional presence, and second, through domain awareness operations, which allow us to know what is going on.
The Canadian Armed Forces Arctic presence is anchored by joint task force north in Yellowknife, with permanent detachments in Whitehorse and Iqaluit. I spoke with the task force commander Brigadier General Carpentier yesterday and he looks forward to your visit up there.
We share facilities in Resolute Bay with Natural Resources Canada, which houses both the Canadian Armed Forces Arctic training centre and Canada's polar continental shelf program. We also share the facilities in CFS Eureka and CFS Alert with personnel from Environment and Climate Change Canada.
The Canadian Rangers are an integral part of our northern presence through their support for our operations and the important link they provide to northern and indigenous communities.
We conduct a host of operations and exercises, including those under Operation Nanook, to maintain our ability to operate effectively and be a key partner in Arctic safety, security and defence.
We also provide search and rescue services and have the ability to rapidly deploy forces to the Arctic from the south of Canada. I would like to emphasize that due to the operational challenges posed by the harsh Arctic environment, collaboration with partners at the community, territorial, federal and international levels is essential to what we do in the north.
Knowing what's happening in the Arctic is critical to ensuring Arctic security. Through Operation Limpid, our routine domestic surveillance operation, we detect threats as early as possible in all domains. To do this, we work in close collaboration with the Canadian Coast Guard, Transport Canada, Canada Border Services Agency and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police through the marine security operations centres, or MSOCS, to detect and assess marine-based threats.
NORAD is also essential to domain awareness in the north through its missions of aerospace warning, aerospace control and maritime warning for North America. With increased international interest and activity in the region, the stakes for ensuring the security of Canadians in the north are increasing.
To accomplish this, we have policy directions through Strong, Secure, Engaged to enhance the mobility, reach, and footprint of the Canadian Armed Forces in the north.
We are also acquiring a range of Arctic-focused capabilities, including the Arctic and offshore patrol vessels—the first of which touched salt water for the first time on Saturday—and space-based capabilities, as well as search and rescue aircraft and upgrades to our search and rescue helicopters. I will incorporate these capabilities into a systems-of-systems approach to domain awareness. This means combining data from all of our assets and those of our partners in every domain to provide a clear picture of what's happening.
In the coming years, we'll continue to work with our American partners to modernize NORAD, taking into account the full range of threats and new technologies, to improve surveillance in the Arctic. We'll also conduct joint operations and exercises to strengthen information sharing with Arctic allies and partners, including NATO. The Arctic Security Forces Roundtable, which Canada hosted for the first time in May, and that I chaired, is an important forum for co-operation at the international level.
Lastly, we'll continue to collaborate with our partners to ensure a whole-of-government approach to Arctic security. We maintain excellent relationships with these partners, including with northern and indigenous communities, and will continue this collaboration moving forward.
It's been a pleasure to speak to you this afternoon, and I look forward to answering your questions.
Along with my colleagues, Commissioner Hutchinson and Major-General Seymour, I appreciate the opportunity to address the committee about some aspects of Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic as they relate to maritime transportation.
As global commerce in the Arctic has increased, northern resource development has become more and more important to Canada, and it will continue to do so. The economic potential of the north is of growing significance to other Arctic states as well, and to other non-Arctic states with an interest in the north. Given this context, it's essential to continue to exercise sovereignty over maritime regions under Canada's jurisdiction.
To this end, a number of federal departments and agencies are working together with provincial, territorial, community and international partners to maintain a Canadian presence, response capability and law enforcement, as well as appropriate situational awareness.
Transport Canada, the Canadian Coast Guard and the Department of National Defence are working together with other partners to ensure the safety and security of vessels through a legislative program that includes unique requirements for vessels operating in the Canadian Arctic.
When Commissioner Hutchinson spoke earlier, he laid out three pillars: stewardship, security and safety. Transport Canada's major role flows from our regulatory role with respect to safety and security in the north. We don't have the lovely assets that everyone likes to travel on.
Two main legislative measures, the Canada Shipping Act, 2001, and the Maritime Transportation Security Act, establish the framework for Transport Canada authorities and for vessels operating in Canadian waters, including those in the Arctic.
A third piece of legislation, the Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act, is applicable only to vessels operating in Canadian Arctic waters. In December of last year, Transport Canada introduced the new Arctic shipping safety and pollution prevention regulations, which incorporate requirements of the International Maritime Organization's polar code.
Furthermore, the oceans protection plan, or OPP, will improve Transport Canada's marine safety and security oversight operations in the Arctic and, of course, it will support Canadian Coast Guard and the others partners in the oceans protection plan. It's also going to enhance local marine pollution reporting and monitoring of offshore vessels.
These efforts, which will also support Canadian sovereignty, will especially benefit from the construction of a hangar in Iqaluit for patrol flights under the national aerial surveillance program.
The program provides 500 hours of surveillance flights annually in the Canadian Arctic. These flights take place in the Arctic navigation season, from July to October or November.
Under another initiative of the oceans protection plan, Transport Canada is working in partnership with two Arctic communities, Cambridge Bay and Tuktoyaktuk, to test a comprehensive and user-friendly marine awareness system that will provide information and data on marine activity, including sea traffic.
The system will provide indigenous and coastal communities with a real-time picture of maritime activity in local waters.
As I mentioned earlier, we work with partners at all levels to protect Canada's Arctic maritime region. Threats to maritime security are more effectively identified, addressed and mitigated through collaborative whole-of-government efforts to share information, contribute to a common maritime domain awareness picture, and leverage resources, tools and expertise to conduct joint threat assessments or risk assessments.
Transport Canada is one of five core partners in the marine security operation centres, or MSOCS, that Major-General Seymour mentioned earlier. These are key to the coordination of maritime surveillance, monitoring of shipping traffic, and intelligence activities in the north.
Through these centres, Transport Canada has access to a vast range of intelligence sources that help with our marine knowledge.
The sources include regional operations, information sharing networks with national and international partners, the national aerial surveillance program, and pre-arrival information reports.
In closing, let me add that Transport Canada remains resolved to support Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic by providing safe and secure marine transportation in Canadian Arctic waters and by protecting the marine environment in the region from the impacts of navigation.
Transport Canada will continue to work closely with our partners at all levels, including industry, to share information and collaborate on the identification, prevention and mitigation of threats to marine security and marine safety. In doing so, we will continue to improve situational awareness and our ability to exercise Canada's sovereignty in the Arctic.
Thank you, and we really do look forward to your questions.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Thank you all for appearing as part of this. It's great to see an almost Arctic team approach here with the agencies represented, and I appreciate your comments, Commissioner Hutchinson, with respect to our first nations being part of this, particularly the Canadian rangers.
My questions will be fairly distinct, and whoever thinks it's most appropriate to answer, I'll defer to you.
In the Northwest Passage, which is an inland waterway for Canada, but some view differently, do all countries notify us when they're having a transit through the Northwest Passage?
NORDREG, which is the northern Canada traffic services zone regulations, are Transport Canada regulations but are, as the commissioner was implying, run, administered, and operated by the Coast Guard. They have been in place since 1977. At that time, it was a voluntary ship reporting system, but as of July 1, 2010, that became a mandatory or obligatory reporting system. Basically it's a system of procedures and requirements for vessels that are within or are intending to enter our waters.
With respect to when they tell us, they have to give us 24-hours' notice. The reporting zone is 100 nautical miles, which lines up with our environmental protection Arctic waters pollution prevention regulations. Those two things are lined up to ensure that we know when vessels are in our waters, and then we keep an eye on the pollution.
But I'll turn it over to—
I think the response time is based on the posture of forces we have up in the north. There's the standard SAR posture you're well aware of, but there's another posture I think that bears mentioning. Through our exercises throughout the year, we have a variety of exercises within the north, and that opportunity can also present a Canadian Forces asset that could respond to something. One example is there was a commercial airline crash, First Air, I believe, in Resolute Bay where we had an exercise. They were right there. My brother was among the folks who responded to that crash.
The more proper protocol we look at is the major air disaster plan. Frankly, we just finished an exercise up in Yellowknife where we exercised that plan, brought people onto the crash site, launched the equipment, and those kinds of things. The travel time from Trenton, Winnipeg, or one of the main SAR bases up to an area up north could be anywhere from several to up to nine or 10 hours, depending on where the crash site is located.
This is also important because SAR in the north is a multi-layered activity. Before that aircraft gets there, and before you drop some jumpers, chances are you have rangers on site, potentially RCMP, and local people from the villages, so we become an addition to the response that had already focused on the activity up there.
The fee regime is actually administered by the Coast Guard. As Ms. Weldon has described, fees are normally charged when a ship enters a Canadian port.
In the Arctic, there is a fairly far-reaching exemption of fees, particularly for ships that have more than 50% of their tonnage being used for community resupply. That applies north of 60°. There are details and nuances around this that are always under consideration, including ships that go north of 60° for a final destination that is south of 60°, if you think of Churchill.
In terms of the other part of your question, have we looked at charging fees outside of that framework? Yes, we have done some work. The general ethos, particularly as it pertains to search and rescue, is that we don't charge fees for that. We've worked through whether a cruise ship should have a fee structure applied to it when the primary service we might provide would be icebreaking, versus search and rescue, versus environmental.... There are some considerations there.
Internationally, the ethos is that you don't charge for search and rescue because you never want anyone to hesitate calling for help based on whether or not they have their Visa card with them.
There are a number of issues under the OPP that benefit the Arctic.
As the commissioner mentioned, the first one is the extension of the season. Last year we were out there for 35 more sea days. We intend to increase that by another 10 sea days in the next few years, basically showing up there a few weeks earlier in the spring and June and leaving a few weeks later in November. That's a major one, because more and more the resupply ships are there at the ice edge earlier, and they want to start resupplying. Obviously, they need to adjust depending on the ice conditions, but we make it our responsibility to make sure we're there to support them.
Another initiative is around the Coast Guard Auxiliary. We created a Coast Guard Auxiliary chapter in the Arctic. To give some context, throughout Canada the auxiliary has about 4,000 members, and about 1,100 units. In the Arctic right now we are at 15, we're going to be expanding with another five next year, and we have about 200 members. We're working really hard to expand that. We're going to increase the role of the auxiliary as well. Right now it's focused on search and rescue, and we provide training and everything else, but we want them to be part of the emergency response. If there's any pollution, they're on the ground, they're right in the community, so we can draw from their presence. Again, we'll provide training around that.
This year we also opened the first inshore rescue boat station in Rankin Inlet. That's a program we've had down south for many years. We hire students to deliver the search and rescue services. It's a very successful story in Rankin. We canvassed the 45 communities up north and did some risk assessment, and determined Rankin to be the best location. Also, we recruited from colleges and we had indigenous youth minding that station this summer. They just ended the operation last week.
The final one I want to touch on is the operational network. It's little known but the marine communications and traffic services centre in Iqaluit monitors the entire Arctic. This is where people report for NORDREG, ask for ice information and so on. We have dedicated, professional people at the centre who provide information and monitor the activities. We upgraded all the centres, and we have 11 communication towers throughout the Arctic that they use. Now we're upgrading the links between those towers to make sure we use state-of-the-art technology to ensure reliable communications networks, plus a business continuity plan.
These are all parts of investment for the Arctic.
Our role, of course, is quite a bit less in terms of actual operations, but under the oceans protection plan, we did get some funding to be able to do vessel inspection in the Arctic. We have been able to dramatically increase the availability of our inspectors up north. They spend large chunks of the season up north inspecting various vessels at various facilities like Baffinland and in various ports as well. That allows us to ensure that the level of marine safety on vessels up there is kept to the same account. Historically, we had done the inspection in the south, but some vessels don't come down a lot and it's not the same thing.
Additionally, under the oceans protection plan, we've put a significant amount of funding into training. We have a contribution agreement with the institute in Iqaluit, and it has now opened up a training facility in Hay River where there wasn't previously a facility. That facility is doing training in marine with the goal of supplying more qualified mariners for various jobs in the north to increase the safety level for people who are fishing and engaging in other traditional uses of the marine environment.
Third, as I mentioned in my opening remarks, we're working with a number of Inuit groups to look at how to better supply them with marine domain awareness information. There are issues in the north about access—for example, when you're out in a boat—to satellite information or other information about who is in the Arctic and who is in the water. The goal we have there is to ensure that we have a tool, like an app, designed for their needs as opposed to the kinds of things you can get on site now that are designed for other people's needs.
I should also highlight that, outside of the oceans protection plan, we are working with corporate interests that mine in the north to look at whether there are needs for formal pilotage services, be they formal through one of the pilotage authorities or less formal but requiring certain qualifications for people to be able to land those large ships in the various ports to ensure that there is adequate safety with respect to how those vessels land. As you can imagine, a large cargo ship is not the easiest thing to “park”, as we like to jokingly say. We are now working with various companies to ensure that there are appropriate services in place so that we don't have any accidents.
It's interesting the way you asked your question. If you review the literature, some of which you received from Dr. Lajeunesse and others about the sovereignty issue....
Frankly, I don't see that Canadian sovereignty is under attack or under threat. We have sovereignty in Canada. It's ours, and I think you've heard from Global Affairs Canada, which spoke from a legal perspective about what sovereignty is. From a defence perspective, I guess our interest in sovereignty is speaking to what you offered, Commissioner, in terms of the security piece—sovereignty ignored is perhaps sovereignty lost.
From a defence perspective, our key interest in the north is maintaining an awareness of what's going on up there and having a presence year-round both to be able to see what's happening and to respond to what's going on, be that incursions from the kayakers, who were mentioned there, or other ships that weren't forecasted, or those who might seek to do us harm at some point when the waterways open up to the point where maritime traffic is significantly increased perhaps over the next decade or two. Those are the kinds of things we pay attention to.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
One thing about having two hours is that you're going to be stuck with me for two rounds, so thank you for your patience.
Like many things, we've talked about assets in the Arctic, and I think both sides are concerned about that. I want to talk for a moment about infrastructure. Many infrastructure projects, as the government is now learning, don't get delivered as quickly as you might like. The challenge is compounded in the Arctic. Conservative initiatives like the road to Tuktoyaktuk, which is now complete.... We're no longer there to cut the ribbon, so to speak.
I want to speak for a second beyond that road to Nanisivik, the deepwater port that is scheduled to open this fall. Could both Canadian Armed Forces and the Coast Guard, confirm to me that we're on time and on target with fall of this year, which is what I've heard? What are your expectations with respect to this asset for both fuelling and operations in Nunavut?
Sir, I think you're asking a speculative question that is based in part on a showboating event conducted by the Russians. I think previous testimony highlighted that some of the kit they used to do that was probably Canadian.
The interesting piece, when you look at the Russian buildup in their north and their Arctic, as I think a number of commentators out there have suggested and I share this view, is that it is due to a number of things. One, from a national psyche perspective, is that they need to build up the north because they have more than 2.5 million people living in the north. It's fundamental to who the Russians are. It's their near abroad. Of course they would pay attention to this and build up security, especially when that security had lapsed over the eighties. The state of their defensive posture in the north right now is less than it was at the height of the Cold War, so it's certainly not the kind of concern, perhaps, that some had suggested.
The second piece is that this buildup is related to their desire that the northern sea route be the preferred route for shipping to go from China to Europe or perhaps to North America. That economic priority or economic sense that the north is key to the future of Russia's economy is integral, I think, to what the buildup is.
The third piece is that the Russian northern fleet is located in the north, so the buildup is intended in part to make sure that they're able to protect that capability in the north. Inferring then that 20 or 30 years hence the Russians might then be interested in or seek to do things in North America, I think, is speculative and not necessarily borne out by what we're seeing.
For my next question, I'm shifting gears a bit. As climate change.... Of course, that's a major focus, but the question may seem a bit trivial given the enormity of the climate threat. We are seeing the Northwest Passage opening up and cruise ship interest increasing, so tourism is an issue.
Normally we were getting 10 cruise ships a year there, and 2,600 passengers, and then in 2016.... I know, Jeffery Hutchinson, that you were directly involved with planning for the Crystal Serenity coming through, with 1,000 passengers and 700 crew. If anything goes wrong.... I know that this ship was particularly well prepared and had its own helicopters on board and so on, but the tendency of human nature is to begin to think that this is a passage that cruise ships can make.
I don't think we have the preparedness as a nation for the emergency response that we would need if a ship wasn't as completely prepared as the Crystal Serenity was. We don't have the capacity. I shouldn't state this. How would we respond to a tourism cruise ship worst-case scenario for hospitalization and reaching people when they're in about the most remote place one can imagine?
It would be a great way to establish our sovereignty to have more emergency response and more preparedness for what's inevitably going to be an increase in tourism.
Perhaps I'd start with what is a truism for mariners and I don't mean this glibly, so please know that. There are many places where ships go that are remote and that we're responsible for, including search and rescue taskings to the middle of the Atlantic or to the middle of the Pacific. That's a perspective that we might start from.
I think that our capabilities and our combined capabilities to be able to respond certainly speak to Canadian sovereignty, at one level, but I think there's a broader context there that has to be kept in mind. There was already reference to the Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act and NORDREG. These are unique regimes that we've applied, in recognition that Canadian sovereignty in the archipelago isn't exactly the same as the exercise of sovereignty in the Carribean or southeast Asia, for example.
We are alive to the fact that the ITK lead people who have looked out their back doors at solid water for many millennia. All of which is to say that if you start with that framework and then you add in the efforts of the polar code from the IMO, the polar code represents an international recognition that operating in the Arctic is a unique environment.
We then have the framework to say to operators that your cruise ships actually do fall into our principal risks in the archipelago right now, perhaps more so than Russian submarines. You do have to operate responsibly. You do have to be self-sustaining and self-sufficient. The Crystal Serenity set a particularly high mark in that respect. Other operators are paying attention.
When things go poorly and sometimes they do, there's no question that the provisions of the polar code and NORDREG for that matter and the Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act are meant to keep that ship sustainable for the period of time that allow the Hercs, the icebreakers and Inuit response teams to get there.
I think we have a robust regime. I think we have a lot of capability. I think we shouldn't underestimate the role of the operators themselves to have to bring the right assets to the table.
Thanks for appearing today and thanks for your service to our country.
The word that was most heard today was “sovereignty”. I think that's a key word in our discussion and in the plan of the committee to explore further the Arctic and what's happening there.
The first thing that comes to mind is that in terms of equipment, Russia has 51 pieces of equipment and the rest of the world has 39. Yes, there's major interest in it for Russia that didn't just happen yesterday—it's been there for over 100 years—as well for Canada and the United States and Europe. We know that the Arctic is rich with resources. There's also the well-used term “polar silk road” with regard to the interests of China.
In my opinion, and I'd like you to comment on this, sovereignty is not just a matter of a claim. It's a matter of the ability to maintain what you have. Here's the challenge. There are two ways we can defend our position and at least defend our interests. The first is government policy and government position and activity. On the other side are the forces on the ground.
As you represent the forces on the ground, what's your assessment of sovereignty? Although I heard from Mr. Hutchinson that there's not much of a concern, what's your assessment moving forward in the next 10, 20 or 30 years? Are you ready to present a plan, or rather to advise the government or the political side of this, on the challenges, on how ready we are, and on how we can react if anything unusual happens? We've seen Crimea. We've seen a lot of other places in the world. I think we do have that concern.
As I said, sovereignty is not a matter of a claim but a matter of how ready and able you are to protect.
Perhaps I'll start from the civilian perspective.
As was said earlier, there's a good argument to be made, in my view, that sovereignty is not under threat in the Canadian Arctic. The commercial shipping perspective on sovereignty might be something like this. Sovereignty is not so much about excluding somebody or preventing somebody from entering your maritime space. It's ensuring that whoever enters your maritime space does so on your terms, perhaps in compliance with international law as well, because we are a defender of the international rules-based order.
The framework that Ms. May and I were discussing a few moments ago—those are our terms. That is how you come into Canadian waters in the Arctic. In terms of our co-operation, which we have with the Chinese through the North Pacific Coast Guard Forum and with the Russian coast guard through the Arctic Coast Guard Forum and the North Pacific Coast Guard Forum, from where we sit, our rules, our terms, are not a matter of debate, and they're not being raised as a matter of debate.
From a maritime commercial perspective, a civilian perspective, sovereignty is not under threat. I personally would fall into the camp of folks similar to what I think Major-General Seymour was describing. The need for Russian icebreakers and Russian assets is driven by many other factors. To see those assets as being lined up as a threat to Canadian sovereignty in any way—we see no evidence of that, from where we sit.
Colleagues, that wraps up our discussion with transport, coast guard and defence. We very much appreciate this.
As you know, we're speaking of a significant part of Canada's geography. It means a lot. Some of us are an exception and have spent quite a bit of time in the far Arctic, but most Canadians have not. This is an important opportunity, through a study, to flesh out a bit what is going on in the Arctic from your perspective and with regard to sovereignty. I really appreciate the time you've given us today, and I look forward to speaking to you more once the committee gets up north.
On behalf of the committee, thank you very much. We've very much enjoyed the opportunity.
Colleagues, I'm going to wrap it up. I wanted to let you know that today is my last meeting as your chair. I will be doing some other things. I'm going to join the Green Party.
Voices: Oh, oh!
The Chair: I wanted to say thank you. It's been three good years. I look forward to seeing you in the House and talking about other things. I wanted you all to know firsthand, before even my constituents find out that I'm doing something else.
Thank you very much. It's nice to see all of you.