“Because our North, and all the wealth it contains, will be a critical part of
Canada’s future. And in an uncertain world where demand for resources is growing,
where any number of civilian needs can suddenly come upon us, and where conflicts
and potential conflicts remain ever present, you, our men and women in uniform,
are here to literally stand on guard for the true North, strong and free.
And I believe our country’s greatest dreams are to be found in our highest
latitudes. For us, the North is more than just a great land. The North is
Canada’s call to greatness.” (Prime Minister Stephen Harper)
Churchill, Manitoba – August 24, 2012
Thank you very much. Thank you, first of all, Peter, for that kind introduction, and also for the fine job you’re doing as Minister of National Defence, leading the department and the members of the Canadian Forces.
Greetings as well to all of my colleagues who have been with me all of this week, to Minister Leona Aglukkaq, to Minister John Duncan, and to Member of Parliament Ryan Leef.
General Natynczyk, always good to see you, and let me use this opportunity in front of so many of your people here to thank you and to congratulate you on over four years of fine service as Chief of Defence Staff of Canada.
Give him a big hand. And through you, General, I’d like to thank Canada Command, especially Joint Task Force North, Joint Task Force West, Special Operations Forces Command and indeed, all members of the Canadian Armed Forces, Including the Canadian Rangers for the excellent work you have been doing these past few weeks.
Special thanks as well to Commissioner Gergoire and the Canadian Coast Guard, to the RCMP, and all other government personnel for your work and for your presence here.
My deep appreciation as well to the captains and crews of HMCS St. John’s and CCGS Pierre-Radisson for all your hospitality.
And, of course, I know we all want to thank the residents of Churchill for hosting us here this week.
Ladies and gentlemen, Canada’s North has a long and proud history.
In fact, soldiers and sailors have been operating in and around these waters for more than 300 years.
During the period from the 1600s all the way up to the American Revolution, the British and French repeatedly clashed in these territories.
There was , in fact, a major naval engagement not far from here in 1697 when Pierre d’Iberville, among the most famous sons of New France, captured York Factory from the Hudson’s Bay Company.
And there remains today, of course, an impressive stone fort, the Prince of Wales Fort, later built across the river from Churchill.
Standing here today, it’s easy to forget an earlier time, when the great powers plied these waters and fought to control the natural wealth of Northern Canada.
But this history reminds us why we are here.
This history reminds us why the work you are doing is of utmost importance to all of us as Canadians.
Because our North, and all the wealth it contains, will be a critical part of Canada’s future.
And in an uncertain world where demand for resources is growing, where any number of civilian needs can suddenly come upon us, and where conflicts and potential conflicts remain ever present, you, our men and women in uniform, are here to literally stand on guard for the true North, strong and free.
Your task demands readiness, capability and resolve.
And as you conclude this sixth Operation NANOOK, the first ever in Hudson’s Bay, let me say that you personify these qualities.
You are getting the job done, and you are all making Canadians very proud.
Since the first NANOOK exercise in 2007, more than 5000 members of the Canadian Armed Forces have taken part in these joint exercises in the North.
You have practiced Arctic operations from Inuvik to the Davis Strait, from Ellesmere Island to this great historic bay.
Importantly, every one of these operations has been based on a real-life scenario.
Sadly, possible scenarios sometimes become tragic realities, as we saw last year in Resolute Bay with the crash of a First Air jet.
It was a sad reminder that, in an uncertain world, constant preparedness is a soldier’s occupation.
Likewise, every one of these exercises has shown the world our deep resolve to exercise Canada’s sovereignty in our Arctic.
This is precisely why I am here with you now, to wrap up a week during which we have showcased the remarkable, unprecedented breadth of our Government’s approach to Arctic sovereignty.
Responsible development of resources, the preservation of wilderness, opportunities and improvements in the lives of people and their communities, the scientific quest for knowledge from the mountaintops to the sea beds.
We have seen this week all such work, great work being done in Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, right across our North.
But friends, it all depends on one thing our sovereignty.
Our sovereignty, our presence and our ability to project that presence everywhere we place our flag, that is where you come in.
You are part of the determined expansion that we are making to our sovereign presence in the Arctic, through expansion of the Canadian Rangers across the region, the construction of the Canadian Forces Arctic Training Centre at Resolute Bay, the enhancement of our military airlift capacity and, over the next five years, the completion of the Nanisivik naval facility, the arrival of the first Arctic offshore patrol ships, the assembling of the Diefenbaker-class icebreaker and the newest RADARSTAT Constellation Mission satellites.
And, of course, the annual and growing, Operation NANOOK.
This year’s Operation NANOOK is the largest Northern sovereignty exercise held ever.
And it tested your response to an entirely plausible threat, that of ships entering our waters illegally.
It involved all elements of the Canadian Armed Forces and of course Coast Guard and other government personnel, and as I watched the interception and storming of the ‘vessel of interest’ earlier today, I have to say, and I know I speak for everyone who was there, I was deeply impressed and frankly, as a Canadian, I was unabashedly proud of the skill and precision with which you performed.
You know, last year I visited some of your colleagues in Trapani, Italy, as the NATO Libya campaign wound down.
A very different mission.
You will recall there that the allies there were just completing that mission, that most successful mission in NATO’s history, and expertly led by one of your own, one of our own, General Charlie Bouchard.
I want to tell you now what I told them there on the ramp in Trapani..
My exact words were: “Soldier for soldier, sailor for sailor, airman for airman, the Canadian Armed Forces are the very best in the world!”
And that, my friends, is the truth.
With the experience gained through our time in Afghanistan and operations like NANOOK here, ours is one of the few militaries that can be proficient from 50 degrees below zero to 50 degrees above zero.
But always remember, anyone who puts on the uniform, whether it be military, coast guard, RCMP, or any other such service, takes on a big job and a noble calling.
For there are those in this world who value strength at the expense of freedom, who would harvest resources by destroying our common environment and who would come here without respect for our laws.
Against such risks, we must be prepared and you are the ones who are prepared.
Through history and destiny, it has become Canada’s destiny to protect a large portion of our planet’s North.
Canada has been a consistent champion of the Arctic as a zone of responsible development, environmental protection and international peace.
Yet, we also remain determined to assert our national interest and to protect our sovereignty in these lands.
I, like many of you, am among those Canadians who have been fortunate enough to see so much of the wild and vast beauty of Canada’s North.
And I believe our country’s greatest dreams are to be found in our highest latitudes.
For us, the North is more than just a great land.
The North is Canada’s call to greatness.
Many have answered this call, from the voyages of Captain Bernier all the way to those who kept constant vigil in the darkest days of the Cold War.
You here continue that legacy, one of courage and sacrifice, in the name of our country, all that it possesses, all that it stands for and all of its people.
And I know I can speak for all Canadians in saying that wherever you may find yourselves, how grateful we are for your service and your commitment to respond whenever necessity arises and duty calls.
I want to thank all of you.
Thank you very much.
God bless you all and god keep our land glorious and free.