Though a Privy Council briefing note says Arctic security is "more important than ever," Ottawa has only assigned 300 soldiers, sailors and aircrew to cover the vast region.
"Geopolitical competition, rapid technological changes and the changing Arctic landscape make defending this strategically important region, its people and our interests more important than ever," said the April 26 note, Arctic Security.
In January, Ottawa committed upgrades to a northern military airstrip in Inuvik, Northwest Territories to bolster its presence amid escalating threats from China and Russia.
First announced in 2019, officials estimate the airport upgrades will be complete in 2027. Despite the delays, the federal government says the price increase won't stop them from addressing Arctic security and 'climate change.'
"The Arctic faces unique safety […] concerns because of climate change," said then-Defence Minister Anita Anand. "It is our responsibility to provide our military personnel with the infrastructure they require to be well-prepared to defend the North."
In March, the Canadian Press accessed an April 2021 CSIS brief through an access to information request, claiming 'climate change' presents "a complex, long-term threat to Canada's safety, security and prosperity outcomes."
The brief notes the Arctic's receding ice coverage permits routine navigation of the Northwest Passage and extraction of resource deposits in the region that might become more economically viable.
"Great power competition for Arctic access, influence and control will likely intensify," added Will Greaves, a political scientist at the University of Victoria. "There will be an escalating risk from significant Russian military activity and a growing China presence in this vital region."
"Put simply, climate change compounds all other known human security issues and accelerates negative security outcomes," reads the brief. "No country will be immune from climate change or associated risks."
According to the Arctic Security briefing note, Canada has only 300 full-time military personnel in the North, located across Whitehorse, Yellowknife and Iqaluit, reported Blacklock's Reporter. In contrast, part-time Canadian Rangers numbered 1,700 across the three territories.
While other military personnel "flow in and out" for yearly exercises, the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) engage in surveillance exercises to ultimately control the region.
Officials said the $230 million investment at the Inuvik Airport would better equip the runway for larger, heavier aircraft as Canada modernizes its air-force presence in the Arctic.
The federal government hopes to mitigate foreign threats to Canadian sovereignty by extending the airport's 6,000-foot runway by 3,000 feet and modernizing its navigation technology, lighting, and landing gear.
Dr. Robert Huebert, a University of Calgary political scientist and renowned Arctic security expert, said upgrading the airstrip, amid a $19 billion purchase of 88 F-35 fighter jets, gives Canada the military capability to defend itself from military advances by Russia and China.
Ottawa controversially sent Ukraine $406 million in air defence measures despite the Canadian military operating without similar air defence capabilities since 2012.
Army officers estimate the costs at between $500 million and $1 billion, with a contract expected for 2026 and the first anti-air defence systems in Canada a year later.
Moreover, Anand said the F-35 jets can operate in the "unique environment of Canada, specifically the Arctic, with its cold weather and short, icy, wet runways," while helping them meet their "NATO and NORAD obligations in the face of current and emerging threats."
Disclosure of the briefing note follows a June 28 report of the Senate defence committee that described Arctic defence as crucial. "We must keep an eye on this," said committee chair Senator Tony Dean.
"In the past ten years, Russia has reopened or rebuilt a number of Cold War-era military bases in the Arctic," he said. "More than ten are operational. Nuclear-powered submarines are stationed there."
According to Blacklock's Reporter, MPs at the Commons Indigenous Affairs Committee wrote that security is about "addressing potential threats and harms," including conventional military threats.
In its June 21 report, Arctic Security And Sovereignty, the committee recommended that the cabinet "strengthen the capabilities of the Canadian Armed Forces" in the Arctic against "global interest in the Arctic's natural resources and the buildup of Russia's Arctic military."
"The committee [also] heard about the unlikely but real possibility of a limited nuclear exchange," said the report.
In a 2022 testimony, Huebert said nuclear war remained a valid concern. "Putin has not only threatened nuclear war, he has built the necessary weapon delivery systems and weapons to carry it out," he said.
"We used to have plans during the Cold War when we recognized a similar threat. In 2022, most plans are either non-existent or too old to be practical."
Earlier this month, internal public safety documents uncovered that the feds are updating emergency protocols, should a nuclear armageddon become a reality.
A closed-door meeting in August 2022 revealed paranoia had quickly spread within the ranks of Public Safety Canada on the possibility of either a tactical nuclear exchange between Russia and Ukraine or a nuclear meltdown caused by compromising Ukraine's Zaporizhzhya atomic power plant.
Russia's invasion of Ukraine prompted talks with the Privy Council on bolstering Canada's preparedness against a live nuclear threat.
"Ongoing military activities have eroded safety systems, disrupted routine maintenance, weakened emergency response capabilities and impacted operating staff, increasing the risk of a severe accident," the notes read.
As a result, Public Safety Canada and the Privy Council are updating a 'highly secret plan' to ensure the continuity of the federal government in the event of an unprecedented crisis.
They are also finalizing a public alert system for incoming ballistic missiles, with initial consultations with the provinces and territories in the works.