A new Wikileaks cable suggests the U.S. government views Stephen Harper’s talk about Canadian Arctic sovereignty as little more than empty chest-thumping designed to win votes.
In a diplomatic cable posted this week by the online whistleblower, the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa says the Tories have made successful political use of promises to beef up Canada’s presence in the Arctic.
But it says the Harper government has done only scant implementation on pledges like increasing surveillance over the Northwest Passage.
“Conservatives make concern for ’The North’ part of their political brand . . . and it works,” says the note, titled Canada’s Conservative Government and its Arctic Focus.
“The message seemed to resonate with the electorate; the Conservatives formed the new government in 2006.”
The January 2010 cable, issued under the signature of U.S. Ambassador David Jacobson, even pokes fun at Harper’s statements on the North.
“The persistent high public profile which this government has accorded ‘Northern Issues’ and the Arctic is, however, unprecedented and reflects the PM’s views that ’the North has never been more important to our country’ — although one could perhaps paraphrase to state ‘the North has never been more important to our Party.’ ”
The cable says many of these promises — such as the purchase of armed icebreakers and Arctic Ocean sensors — have since been forgotten.
It notes that Harper hammered away at the issue in his first post-election news conference following his election in January 2006, before he had even been sworn in. Harper chided the U.S. government over its longstanding view that the Northwest Passage was international water.
“Once elected, Harper hit the ground running with frosty rhetoric,” it says.
“Harper (who was still only Prime Minister-designate) used his first post-election press conference to respond to the United States Ambassador’s restatement the prior day of the longstanding U.S. position on the Northwest passage.”
The cable says Harper trotted out the subject once again during the 2008 election campaign.
But between elections, the note questions whether Harper’s public stance on the North corresponds with his behaviour in private.
It says Harper did not even mention the Arctic during January 2010 meetings with U.S. Ambassador David Jacobson, which lasted several hours.
“That the PM’s public stance on the Arctic may not reflect his private, perhaps more pragmatic, priorities, however, was evident in the fact that during several hours together with Ambassador Jacobson on January 7 and 8, which featured wide-ranging conversations, the PM did not once mention the Arctic.”
Since coming to power, the Conservatives have frequently tried to draw attention to Canada’s military presence in the North.