Western Arctic MP criticizes government plans for Nanisivik naval port

“The development of a port in Iqaluit seemed a lot more beneficial": Bevington

By SARAH ROGERS

Prime Minister Stephen Harper announces the future creation of Canadian Forces facilities at Nanisivik in 2007. (PHOTO COURTESY OF THE PMO)


Prime Minister Stephen Harper announces the future creation of Canadian Forces facilities at Nanisivik in 2007. (PHOTO COURTESY OF THE PMO)

Western Arctic MP Dennis Bevington, a New Democrat, rose in the House of Commons March 27 to slam the government’s cutbacks to development of a naval facility at Nanisivik, calling the downgraded plans nothing more than a “fuel cache and unheated shed.”

Under the original plan, announced by Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2007, Ottawa would have spent $100 million on a major upgrade to the old dock once used by Breakwater Resources Ltd. for shipping ore out of its now-defunct Nanisivik lead-zinc mine.

But under the department of National Defence’s new plan, spelled out in in a Feb. 24 letter to the Nunavut Impact Review Board, the Nanisivik naval facility would become a part-time summer-only fueling station for Ottawa’s proposed fleet of Arctic offshore patrol ships, along with other federal government vessels.

Bevington questioned the government’s choice of Nanisivik in the first place, calling it an “inappropriate location” for a naval facility.

He said that, if anything, a naval port should be constructed at Iqaluit, where the addition of a deepwater port would be of huge benefit to the territory’s largest population centre.

“This would be vital infrastructure that could help the people of the Arctic reduce their costs and build a prosperous territory,” he said.

In an interview with Nunatsiaq News, Bevington stressed that the government should use any opportunity to upgrade facilities in the Arctic to benefit the people who actually live there.

“The development of a port in Iqaluit seemed a lot more beneficial,” he said. “Building infrastructure in the Arctic is so expensive, we must make good use of it. We can’t afford the luxury of show places.”

Other countries are now working towards a theme of international cooperation in the Arctic, Bevington said — something he says Canada should be working to achieve.

“There are big issues in the Arctic, but not necessarily military needs,” he said.

Responding to Bevington’s comment, Julian Fantino, the associate minister of National Defence, said the federal government continues to develop the Nanisivik station to serve as a docking and refueling station for the Royal Canadian Navy and other government vessels operating in the North.

“Through our northern strategy, our government continues to increase Canada’s presence and sovereignty in the Arctic,” Fantino told the House of Commons March 27.

The government has yet to reveal a detailed design for its new Nanisivik plan, except to say the facility would continue to serve as a refueling base for a $3.1 billion fleet of Arctic offshore patrol ships that Harper also announced in 2007.

Ottawa planned to have the facility up and running by 2013, but that’s been delayed until at least 2016.

It’s not clear how much money Ottawa will save through the Nanisivik cutbacks.

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