"At this stage, we're not really in the game," said John Higginbotham, a Carleton University professor and former assistant deputy minister for Transport Canada. "The marathon started some time ago, but we haven't sent in our application yet."
Arctic experts suggest it would be wise for Prime Minister Stephen Harper to take a look at what's happening in Russia. Shipping on that country's Northern Sea Route across the top of the continent is booming and hauling resource projects in the Russian North along with it.
A total of 421 commercial vessels have applied for permission this season to use Russia's Northern Sea Route, which cuts days off the shipping time between Asia and northern Europe. They will be aided by nearly two dozen icebreakers and protected by a string of 10 up-to-date search-and-rescue centres along the route.
Ports are being upgraded. Sea lanes are well-understood and comprehensively mapped. Cooperation with maritime neighbors such as Norway is strong.
Canada has no Arctic commercial ports. Mapping is so poor that cruise ships have run aground and captains use old Soviet-era charts to supplement Canadian ones. The Coast Guard's six icebreakers are not available to accompany routine commercial voyages.
Arctic search and rescue remains based in southern Ontario and depends on planes that were scheduled to have been replaced long ago. And disputes with the United States about border issues and the status of the Northwest Passage add legal uncertainty for shippers.
Only 61 tankers and cargo ships entered the Canadian Arctic last season, most of them related to community resupply.
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