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Canada should build two new military bases in the Arctic, says Jean Charest

Sovereignty over the north becoming an ‘emergency issue,’ claims former Quebec Premier

The federal government should build two new military bases in Canada’s Arctic – including one with a deep-seawater port – to boost the country’s presence in its farthest northern regions, while also honoring a commitment to help maintain global peace, former Quebec Liberal Premier Jean Charest suggested during a talk at Concordia University last week on Canada’s prospects as a “middle-power.”

Canada has been “derelict” in failing to effectively occupy its Arctic regions, claims former Quebec Premier Jean Charest. (Photo: Martin C. Barry, Newsfirst Multimedia)

During his wide-ranging address on global economic and security issues hosted by Concordia’s Jurist in Residence program, Charest, who is now a partner at Montreal-based McCarthy Tetrault law, concluded that Canada needs to assert its sovereignty over the north – and the Northwest Passage in particular.

Arctic bases needed

As well, he said the country needs to take responsibility with respect to national and international defence, and this should especially involve creating new military bases in the Arctic.

In PowerPoint notes, he said Canada “continues to be overly reliant on the U.S. for trade” and needs to diversify in this respect with Europe, Asia and the Indo-Pacific region, while being more affirmative of Canada’s interests in relations with the U.S.

“Sovereignty over the north and the Northwest Passage in particular for me is an emerging development and an emergency issue,” said Charest, whose Liberal government launched the northern-Quebec-focused Plan Nord in 2008, with an eye to opening up the province’s far northern reaches for industrial/economic development.

Canada’s ‘failure,’ he said

He said Canada has been “derelict” in failing to effectively occupy its Arctic regions, while noting that “Russia is a physical neighbour of ours” in the Arctic. “But at the end of the day, if you don’t occupy your territories, you’re not behaving as a sovereign nation.”

He said that if we do build the new bases, “we’d serve our own interests, but we’d also serve the interests of our allies,” while honoring a commitment Canada made to its NATO partners to spend at least 2 per cent on military defence.

He noted that in 2019, then-U.S. Secretary of State in the Trump White House Mike Pompeo stated in a speech in Finland that the Northwest Passage did not belong to Canada because it is in international waters. The Canadian government maintains the Northwest Passage is part of Canada’s internal waterway system.

Focused on the North

It is not the first time Jean Charest has shown himself keenly interested in the development of Canada’s far north. When Plan Nord was first announced by Charest just before the 2008 election which he won, and also just before the 2012 election when he lost, political observers interpreted it as an electoral pitch.

Left, Concordia University’s Jurist-in-Residence Morton Minc is seen here on Oct. 19 with former Quebec Premier Jean Charest. (Photo: Martin C. Barry, Newsfirst Multimedia)

The concept, which has never been abandoned by changing governments and for which a provincial planning office still exists, focused on the development of mineral resources (including nickel, gold, lithium, vanadium, iron, diamonds and rare earths) in the far north over a 25-year period.

Another longer-term aspect would be the completion of a permanent highway extending Quebec Route 389 – which currently runs from Baie Comeau on the St. Lawrence River to Fermont and the Newfoundland/Labrador border – all the way to Nunavik, Quebec’s rocky, northernmost subarctic territory.

Sympathetic to China

On other economic and security-related issues, Charest conceded that the People’s Republic of China “aren’t totally wrong in some ways” with respect to the realignment of superpowers for a new model of global governance that would replace the western-led international order that emerged after the Second World War.

Former Quebec Premier Jean Charest is seen here last week at Concordia University where he made the case for Canada’s committing to build two new military bases in the Arctic in order to meet growing international security challenges. (Photo: Martin C. Barry, Newsfirst Multimedia)

“They’re saying to the rest of the world ‘we don’t want to play by those rules anymore,’” Charest said, while adding that some people might find his words shocking, but that the facts add credence to the argument.

Citing an example, he said voting rights at the World Bank do not reflect the size and the importance of China. “We have not adapted the UN institutions to these emerging countries,” he said. “The point is if we’re going to have a functioning world, we need to adapt our institutions to every part of the planet.”

Need to adapt, said Charest

Commenting on the emerging bloc of developing countries known as the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), Charest noted that after the Second World War, the U.S. created global institutions which were American-led.

“And they have served us well and they served Canada well,” he said. “But the world has changed, it has evolved, and we have to be able to adapt to bring these countries in. They’re not wrong to say the system is weighed in the direction of the Americans.”

Although Charest stated at the beginning that he had little to say about the Legault government’s recent decision to double tuition fees paid by international students, he opened up at the end.

“I’m hoping that a lot of people in Quebec will stand up and say that this is a wrongheaded policy and it’s the wrong thing to do,” said Charest.