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Canada's new leader flexes muscle on Arctic

Associated Press
Published January 27, 2006


TORONTO - Canada's next prime minister used his first news conference Thursday to tell the United States to mind its own business when it comes to territorial rights in the Arctic North.

Testing the notion that he would kowtow to the Bush administration, Stephen Harper, whose Conservative Party won general elections on Monday, said he would stand by a campaign pledge to increase Canada's military presence in the Arctic and put three military icebreakers in the frigid waters of the Northwest Passage.

U.S. Ambassador David Wilkins had criticized the plan Wednesday, describing the Arctic passage as "neutral waters."

"There's no reason to create a problem that doesn't exist," Wilkins said during a panel discussion at the University of Western Ontario, according to the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. "We don't recognize Canada's claims to those waters. Most other countries do not recognize their claim."

No reporter brought up the U.S. ambassador's views Thursday, but Harper said he wanted to comment on them. "The United States defends its sovereignty; the Canadian government will defend our sovereignty," Harper said. "It is the Canadian people that we get our mandate from, not the ambassador of the United States."

Arctic sovereignty has been a sensitive subject for decades, with U.S. Navy submarines and ships entering northern waters without asking permission. Ottawa has generally turned a blind eye to the United States' sending ships through the area.