Photo: What kind of oceans will our navy protect?

Credit: Roozbeh Rokni(Phot) via Flickr

By Panos Grames, Communications Specialist

The Government of Canada just announced a $32-billion program to build warships and support vessels for the Canadian Navy. But what kind of oceans will they be protecting? While Canada gets set to sink billions into warships, it's cutting investments in its oceans.

After years of work by First Nations, environmentalists, tourism operators, fishermen and others, the federal government recently decided to reject $8 million offered by a funding agency to support management and protection of the productive ecosystems of Canada's Pacific North Coast. The David Suzuki Foundation and others have asked the federal government to step up and fund the process itself, but so far the response has been disappointing.

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The math on the priority is stark: just .025 per cent of the budget for these ships could fully fund a strong management plan for the coastal waters of the North Pacific. To put that in perspective, it's like having $4,000 dollars in your pocket and refusing to give a loonie to someone who's hungry. Clearly, it's not a matter of austerity; it's a matter of priorities.

War re-enactments or healthy oceans?

OK, let's say that hostile nations want our fish, and we need these warships to protect our territorial waters. Why not take some of the $28 million recently dedicated to re-enactments of the War of 1812. I'm confident that most Canadians would agree the future of our oceans is more important than trying to re-live a 200-year-old war.

I'll be a good sport and suggest that we keep most of the funding for war re-enactments, and just put a fraction toward developing an integrated oceans management plan. For an ocean area the size of Portugal that provides billions of dollars of economic activity—year after year after year— surely, it's worth the investment.

Thinking along a Maginot Line

Understanding history is essential. For example, consider the failed Maginot Line the French built after the First World War. As in that case, we're focusing on the wrong infrastructure for a war that has an entirely new paradigm.

Building warships won't protect dying oceans. Let's make 21st-century decisions that recognize the threat to our security from mismanagement and overexploitation of our natural ecosystems. If we're going to spend $32 billion to "protect" Canada's oceans, let's make sure we still have oceans worth protecting.

October 27, 2011

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