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Defence Minister Meets with Northern Leaders on Security and Defence Plans

Climate change is making the Arctic region more vulnerable

National Defence Minister Bill Blair hosted a meeting in Iqaluit to brief Canada’s northern premiers on Arctic and north security plans in advance of the Northern Premiers Forum.

Senior officials from the Department of National Defence, Canadian Armed Forces, and Communications Security Establishment provided an overview of changes to the security environment. On May 5, 2024, they discussed how Canada is investing to meet new security challenges through Our North, Strong and Free: A Renewed Vision for Canada’s Defence.

Minister Blair’s meeting included:

  • Minister of Foreign Affairs Mélanie Joly,
  • Minister of Northern Affairs Dan Vandal,
  • Premier of Nunavu P.J. Akeeagok,
  • Premier of Yukon Ranj Pillai,
  • Premier of the Northwest Territories R.J. Simpson.
Minster Blair and Minister Joly, and Minister Vandal, held a productive meeting with northern premiers. 

Canadian Arctic Warming

“Due to climate change, the Canadian Arctic is warming at four times the global average, making the region more accessible,” said Min. Blair. “Competitors are seeking access, transportation routes, natural resources, critical minerals, and energy sources through more frequent and regular presence and activity in the Arctic and North. Competitors are also exploring Arctic waters and the sea floor, probing our infrastructure and collecting intelligence.”

The defence minister and his officials also heard directly from the premiers on regional security and defence concerns. Minister Blair highlighted that greater Russian activity in air approaches has been observed, and a growing number of Chinese vessels and surveillance platforms are mapping and collecting data about the region.

“Russia continues to modernize and build up its military presence in their Arctic, investing in new bases and infrastructure that is highly capable of projecting air, naval and missile forces both in and through the broader Arctic region.”

Minster Blair and Minister Joly, Minister Vandal, and with northern premiers.

China Seeking to be Polar Great Power

He also expressed concern about how China is seeking to become a “polar great power” by 2030 and is demonstrating an intent to play a larger role in the region.

“China is also expanding its investments, infrastructure and industrial scientific influence throughout the Arctic.”

Minister Blair noted that states are rapidly building up their military capabilities in ways that impact Canada’s security in the Arctic—including submarines, long-range aircraft and hypersonic missiles that move faster and are more challenging to detect.

Minister Blair reiterated that through Our North, Strong and Free, Canada is making a focused series of investments to better protect the Arctic and North, including:

  • $218 million over 20 years for Northern Operational Support Hubs to better ensure Canadian sovereignty by establishing a greater year-round presence across the Arctic and the North and invest in multi-use infrastructure that also meets the needs of territories, Indigenous Peoples, and Northern communities.
  • $18.4 billion over 20 years to acquire a more modern, mobile, and effective tactical helicopter capability that will provide the CAF with the speed and airlift capacity to assert Canada’s sovereignty and respond to natural disasters and emergencies nationwide.
  • $307 million over 20 years for airborne early warning aircraft that will vastly improve Canada’s ability to detect, track, and prioritize airborne threats sooner, ensuring a faster, better-coordinated response with the United States when required.
  • $1.4 billion over 20 years to acquire specialized maritime sensors to conduct ocean surveillance. The sensors will be used to monitor Canada’s naval approaches, including in the Arctic and North. They will be a critical component of the CAF’s ability to defend Canada from a growing range and sophistication of underwater threats, including vessel-launched missiles, underwater systems, ships, and submarines, on all three coasts.
  • $222 million over 20 years to build a new satellite ground station in the Arctic. This ground station will improve the ability to detect, deter, and respond to malign activities and quickly communicate those threats to the country’s most trusted partners.
The Minister of Defence with Canadian Rangers. Blair noted on Twitter, “Have been our eyes and ears in the North. I met with members of the Iqaluit Patrol of the 1st Canadian Ranger Patrol Group to say thanks. As we renew our focus on Arctic sovereignty, the knowledge of our Rangers will remain absolutely crucial.”

Canada’s Security and Sovereignty

The Ministers and Premiers also participated in a working dinner, during which Minister Blair reiterated that as Our North, Strong and Free is implemented, the department will engage closely with territories, Indigenous partners, and northern communities, whose homes and lifestyles are directly impacted by Canada’s security and sovereignty.

“In defending the region, Canada will continue to support the Arctic and Northern Policy Framework’s principle of ‘nothing about us, without us,” he concluded.

Minister Blair, Minister Joly, Minister Vandal and Ms. Jones also met with the Iqaluit Patrol of the 1st Canadian Ranger Patrol Group to thank them for their service and toured the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) Forward Operating Location (FOL) in Iqaluit.

On April 8, 2024, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Defence Minister Bill Blair released Our North, Strong and Free: A Renewed Vision for Canada’s Defence. The plan will invest $8.1 billion over five years and $73 billion over twenty years in the defence of Canada, with a particular focus on the Arctic and the North.

The trip was Minister Blair’s second visit to the North since Our North, Strong and Free was released. Minister Blair also visited the Northwest Territories from April 23 to 25, 2024, and broke ground on a new defence facility in Yellowknife to help the Canadian Armed Forces maintain a more robust presence in the North.

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