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The Real Story Behind Canada's Sudden Interest In Arctic Archaeology

Illustration for article titled The Real Story Behind Canadas Sudden Interest In Arctic Archaeology

Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper was absolutely gushing yesterday when he announced the discovery of one of the lost ships from the doomed Franklin expedition. But this anti-science government doesn't actually care for archaeology. Rather, it plans to use the find as a way to make a territorial claim on the Arctic — and its untapped resources.

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Yesterday's announcement was truly a historic moment for Canada. The discovery of "Canada's Titanic" has finally solved one the country's greatest mysteries, the ultimate fate of Sir John Franklin's ill-fated expedition to the Arctic. Back in 1865, two British ships were sent to map uncharted areas of the Arctic and to find the fabled Northwest Passage to the Pacific. But the ships, with a crew of 24 officers and 110 men, became trapped in ice. They were never heard from again.

Illustration for article titled The Real Story Behind Canadas Sudden Interest In Arctic Archaeology
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Finally, after 150 years of speculation and searches, sonar images from the waters of Victoria Strait revealed the wreckage of one of the ships on the ocean floor.

Illustration for article titled The Real Story Behind Canadas Sudden Interest In Arctic Archaeology

"For more than a century this has been a great Canadian story... It's been the subject of scientists and historians and writers and singers. And so I think we have a really important day in mapping together the history of our country," the prime minister said yesterday.

His use of the word "mapping" was very telling — because that's precisely what this is really about.

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For you see, this prime minister has been an ardent backer of this project for years. He's thrown millions of dollars at it and even participated in some of the archaeological expeditions. But let's not kid ourselves — it's not because this anti-science PM has suddenly seen the light. This is the same guy who's actively obstructing the right of the press and public to speak to government scientists, an unabashed effort to suppress information that would undermine work in the tar sands.

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It's also the same government that, in the words of a recent Globe and Mail editorial...

...cancelled the $2 million annual funding for the Experimental Lakes Area in 2012, a decision that led to the Ontario facility's temporary closure. The ELA had been a critical scientific research centre that, among other things, had helped show the world the dangers of phosphorus in effluent and the damage caused by acid rain. Its defunding was criticized by scientists around the world; the ELA and its decades of research were only saved when a non-profit group stepped in.

This is also the same Harper government that stopped funding to a foundation that supported a High Arctic atmospheric research laboratory doing critical long-term research on climate change. The defunding would have forced the station to close in 2012; only sustained public outcry resulted in new federal money.

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In reality, this pet project of the prime minister is an effort to show that Canada has a historic claim to this Arctic region. It's part of a territorial battle that's brewing between Canada and Russia; below the melting Arctic ice lies vast stockpiles of largely untapped natural resource reserves. It looks like Russia is going to use the military to enforce its claim, while Canada — with no real navy to speak of — will have to rely on its history. And also some cartography and geology — showing once again how selective this government can be when it comes to "supporting" science.

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Images: Government of Canada.

Follow me on Twitter: @dvorsky

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DISCUSSION

Kip Russell: Has Spacesuit, will babble

Um, we don't need to "make" a territorial claim on that part of the Arctic...it was generally recognized that Canada's sovereignty extended well into the Arctic Ocean - when there was no navigable passage for at least part of the year, and oil and gas exploration and exploitation were prohibitively expensive because of the ice cap.

But now that climate change has opened the "North-west Passage" for a useful period, and the area under ice has shrunk dramatically, then the oil and gas exploitation (and the polar shipping lanes) can commence...THIS is what Harper wants to secure. The Russians, the Finns, the Norwegians, and the USA are all rattling on about making Arctic claims, and this is what Stephen Harper wants to resist. Not as much to "prove" Canada's claim to that area (which should not be in dispute after all this time), but to secure drilling rights for his friends in Big Oil.

Other articles I've seen recently, however, suggest that our Inuit people knew where the ship was, but nobody bother to ask the indigenous locals... :/