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Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan tours CFS Alert in Alert, Nunavut, during his recent tour of Canada’s northern military facilities. (Mario De Ciccio / Radio-Canada ) Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan’s Northern tour didn’t come with any new spending announcements. Instead he talked up the importance of projects nearing completion that he says will bolster Canada’s claim to Arctic sovereignty.

Sajjan spent a day at CFS Alert and visited the Nanisivik refuelling station, near Arctic Bay, Nunavut, last week. Those visits followed a stop in Yellowknife to deliver new rifles to the Canadian Rangers.

At Alert, Canada’s northernmost military base, he spoke about $10 million of ongoing infrastructure and equipment upgrades at the facility. Those include new firefighting systems, upgrades to fuel tanks and power generators.

"Arctic sovereignty is much more than national defence," he said. "These are Canadians, these are communities [of people] who actually live up in the North. Sovereignty is far more real because it’s making sure communities have support so they can live.

"But let’s also be very clear we want to ensure we have the national defence resources that we can equip the Canadian Armed Forces so we can protect our sovereignty." Sajjan looks on as a technician fires up a generator at CFS Alert. (Mario De Ciccio / Radio-Canada ) The government has committed to upgrades in the Arctic, Sajjan said, citing the purchase of new fixed-wing search and rescue planes and ongoing upgrades to the four Twin Otter aircraft stationed in Yellowknife, along with the upcoming launch of new Arctic patrol vessel, HMCS Harry DeWolf , and improvements to the radar systems.

"We need to do the proper research in the North to make sure we’re making the right decisions as a government," Sajjan said.

"From a national defence perspective, we’re going to be investing in research and development about what type of equipment is needed, what infrastructure’s in place to guarantee Canada’s sovereignty."

Construction continues at Nanisivik refuelling station, which is expected to open in 2019. Engineers had initially expected the station, which will service vessels with the Coast Guard and Royal Canadian Navy, to be open this year, but delays combined with a short construction season pushed that estimate back.

A small team will man the station during the summer shipping seasons once it is open and Rangers from Arctic Bay will patrol the site during the winter. ‘Most dynamic area of geopolitics’

These upgrades to Canada’s presence in the Arctic come as global interest focuses on the region. Russia, the United States, Denmark and Norway are all trying to assert their jurisdiction over parts of the Arctic as shrinking polar ice creates new opportunities for exploration.

Russian president Vladimir Putin has made the Arctic a high priority for his government. Over the past two years, Russia has launched two new nuclear-powered icebreakers and opened a military facility in the Arctic.

China also has expressed interest in expanding its presence in the Arctic, issuing its "Polar Silk Road" policy last year. That policy encourages building Arctic infrastructure and Chinese economic activity in the region.

"I would describe the Arctic as the most dynamic area of geopolitics in the last five years," said Rockford Weitz, a professor at the Fletcher School at Tufts University in Massachusetts.

Weitz previously worked as a consultant to the Singapore government on how a warming Arctic will affect global shipping.

He sees geopolitics in the Arctic as having two, simultaneous currents: One where countries wish to co-operate and one where they want to get the upper hand over each other.

"The dominant current is one of co-operation, but there is an undercurrent of competition," he said. "That is driven by […]

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