Political business in great waters: When they that go down to the sea in ships are up to no good!

Posted on September 11, 2014, 1:17 am
9 mins

Prime Minister and First Lord of the Admiralty Stephen Harper. For all we know, actual Canadian prime ministers do appear in silk stockings and tri-corner hats exactly as illustrated. You know, in private. Below: The unlucky Sir John Franklin.

O Eternal Lord God, who alone rulest the raging of the sea; who has compassed the waters with bounds until day and night come to an end; be pleased to receive into Thy almighty and most gracious protection the persons of us Thy servants, and the Fleet in which we serve. Preserve us from the dangers of the sea, and from the violence of the enemy— The Navy Prayer, Book of Common Prayer, 1662

VICTORIA, B.C.

And preserve us all from belligerent clowns who would exploit ships of all kinds and the brave mariners that sail them to score the basest of political points.

Canadian ships are in the news these days – put there, apparently, by the Harper Government as part of its intensifying campaign for reelection, its cynical stratagems advanced without thought for consequences, to Canada or the world.

As is so often the case with the buffoonery of the Harper Regime – which always seems to operate, with just enough justification to be disheartening, on the assumption we are all imbeciles possessing neither memory nor a sense of irony – these latest maritime developments are both troubling and unintentionally hilarious.

So, first, there is the matter of HMCS Toronto, the apparently* corroded and ill-maintained Canadian frigate allegedly “buzzed” by a couple of geriatric Soviet-era SU-24 military aircraft in the Black Sea, leading to much huffing and blowing by Conservative Defence Minister Rob Nicholson, who called the Russian flight “unnecessarily provocative” and said it risked “escalating tensions even further.”

Never mind that the 40-year-old Russian jets seem only to have flown by in the general vicinity of the Canadian warship – leastways, apparently no one was able to procure any video that suggests they were even visible from Toronto’s bridge, odd since surely every able seaperson aboard must have an unauthorized iPhone in his or her pocket!

This lack of evidence, unsurprisingly, hasn’t stopped the proliferation of the unlikely story the Russians were picking on the Canadian ship because the Harper government has been so strident in its recent condemnation of President Vladimir Putin’s so-far quite successful ripostes to Western machinations in Ukraine.

Never mind that Mr. Nicholson is the same Canadian defence minister who was blustering triumphantly just four months ago about how Canadian fighters similarly buzzed propeller-driven Russian bombers outside Canadian airspace. That considerably closer encounter was also accompanied by self-serving theorizing about the Russian strategy of approaching Canadian airspace with ancient Bear bombers, relics from an even earlier Soviet period than that of the aged Su-24s glimpsed momentarily from HMCS Toronto on the Black Sea horizon.

For the hilarious part, to take this posturing seriously it is necessary to forget that the Black Sea, strategically speaking, is a Russian lake, where hostile or threatening incursions are bound to be viewed in Moscow with profound concern. In other words, the appearance of Canadian, U.S. and French warships in those waters is about as “unnecessarily provocative” as you can get, even if your actual objective is to “risk escalating tensions even further.”

Mr. Nicholson, unsurprisingly, groused about how the Black Sea is international waters, which is true enough. But let me ask you this, what do you think our American neighbours would do if a Russian cruiser, a Chinese frigate and a couple of destroyers, all armed with God only knows what, cruised cheerfully via Cuba into the international waters of the Gulf of Mexico?

I’m guessing a couple of U.S. aircraft considerably newer than the SU-24s would quickly make their presence known in an unmistakable way to such an unnecessary provocation in that particular large American lake!

Then there is the matter of the wreck of HMS Erebus, or perhaps it is the evocatively named HMS Terror, underneath the Arctic Sea where, even now, a nefarious Russian submarine bent on challenging our sovereignty could be lurking – although it would have to be a small sub, because the long-missing sailing ship appears to be only 11 metres beneath the surface.

Why we’re spending money discovering and recovering a 168-year-old wreck from the floor of Queen Maud Gulf when we’re allegedly in need of another painfully pleasurable dose of austerity would be a puzzlement if the political strategy of the Harper Government were not so obvious.

Desperate to be seen to be doing something – and preferably something that won’t be as expensive as actually building and maintaining a harbour or other infrastructure – to preserve Canada’s Artic sovereignty, the Harper Government has hit upon the historical oddity of the reappearance of the doomed ship from Sir John Franklin’s effort to find an unfrozen Northwest Passage, which began in 1845.

Indeed, His Nibs, Prime Minister Stephen Harper scrambled to mount the podium himself to make the rather tendentious claim, given the relatively southern location of the wreck, that discovery of the ship strengthens Canada’s claims to the Arctic. Well, perhaps it also allowed him to bask enjoyably in the reflected glory of the imperialism of old as he advocates for the New Imperialism of unregulated capital. One is almost surprised, given all this, that Mr. Harper didn’t don the garb of a 19th Century sea captain for the occasion!

Which leads us to the unintended hilarity in this maritime news story. Mr. Harper was quick to pour loads of dough into his pet science project and to tout the “commitment, dedication and the perseverance of the many partners and explorers involved.”

It is ironic, of course, that the same government actively pursues a policy of science denial and science suppression, especially when the science in question runs counter to the quasi-religious ideological nostrums of the Harper Government.

Indeed, global warming – denied and disparaged by the Harperites – may have contributed to the discovery after all these years of the unlucky Royal Navy vessel.

Well, at least the Harperites can argue they’re helping solve the problem of too much ice in the Northwest Passage, which seems to have been the undoing of Commander Franklin’s ill-fated expedition.

This seems an appropriately nautical note on which to end my short sojourn adjacent to salt water, which was required by some urgent family business on Vancouver Island. I will not have a regular Internet connection for the next couple of days, and will return to commentary on the state of Alberta politics next week in Edmonton. This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

* Or so it looks in several recent news pictures. Perhaps the Canadian Navy, royal or otherwise, has in the Harper Era forgotten the useful naval dictum: “If it moves, salute it. If it doesn’t move, move it. If it won’t move, paint it.”

6 Comments to: Political business in great waters: When they that go down to the sea in ships are up to no good!

  1. Filostrato

    September 11th, 2014

    “Why we’re spending money discovering and recovering a 168-year-old wreck from the floor of Queen Maud Gulf when we’re allegedly in need of another painfully pleasurable dose of austerity would be a puzzlement if the political strategy of the Harper Government were not so obvious.”

    Thank you for this, and the whole post. This whole thing of messing around in other people’s back yards and expecting them not to object is hypocritical. But, like George W. Bush who stated that it’s not wrong when the president does it, and Steve “I Make the Rules” Harper, these sword wagglers, including Fogh-of-War Rasmussen, seem to think that somebody died and made them gods. Unfortunately, when they make the stupid mistakes, it’s someone else that pays – as usual.

    I remember a film made for Expo 67- Terre des hommes/Man and his world – in Montreal (that’s dating me) called “Man and the Polar Regions”. The Franklin Expedition was shown as a complete and unmitigated disaster – not enough food, though there are rumours it was carrying gold, an attempt to navigate through sea ice with wooden ships, the death of everyone on on board. Hardly an example to be followed by Steady-Hand-on-the-Tiller Harper. They also said that Inuit in the area testified to where they had seen the ships. As it turns out, they were exactly right – but what would they know? They only live there. (Sarcasm off.) So? Why did it take so long to find it in only eleven meters of water? Why didn’t anyone listen to them?

    And let us not forget that it was British expedition, lost eight years before Canada even became a country. But hey – why let the facts get in the way of a good story?

    Reply
    • Tom in Ontario

      September 11th, 2014

      Excellent analyses by both Climenhaga and Filostrato. You guys get it right.

      Reply
      • Expat Albertan

        September 12th, 2014

        I’ll go even further on the money angle; according to conservatives, the distinguishing characteristic of liberals and social dems is that they spend other people’s money (ignoring, of course, the lapse in logic, given that any government, regardless of it’s political stripes, spends other people’s money). Of course, several millions of dollars worth of other people’s money spent by a Conservative is apparently a great nationalistic moment.

        Reply
  2. Liza

    September 11th, 2014

    The Franklin fiasco is a farce not only because Harper ignores science but also because of the hammering that Parks Canada has taken except presumably for those lucky enough to be involved in this search.
    One can only hope that some version of a curse can be visited upon Harper for his role in unearthing the wreck (no such misfortune is wished upon anyone else involved).

    Reply

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