Norway institute baffles cash strapped Canadian scientists

While the Canadian government builds an Arctic research centre in Norway, Canada's own northern researchers are being shown the door, says Yukon MP Larry Bagnell.

While the Canadian government builds an Arctic research centre in Norway, Canada’s own northern researchers are being shown the door, says Yukon MP Larry Bagnell.

The Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences received no new funding this year. By March 2010, the foundation will be bankrupt, and 24 research stations will close.

The world’s second most northern research station in Eureka, Nunavut, may also be on the way out, unable to recoup the $200,000 in yearly operating funds it usually gets from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council.

Last week, Foreign Affair Minister Lawrence Cannon announced the Canadian government is building an Arctic research centre in Oslo, Norway.

“We’ve cut all sorts of research in Canada, why would we be funding research in Oslo?” said Bagnell.

The US is investing in its own economic revival while Canada is “putting its scientists out of work,” said Liberal MP Marc Garneau, a former astronaut, in the House on March 5.

In 2008, Ottawa pledged $85 million to beef up northern research infrastructure.

It’s a neutron bomb strategy.

Research stations will be kept in top condition, but there won’t be any scientists left to staff them, said Bagnell.

The research funding cuts come as Russia, Canada, the United States and Denmark are all gearing up to extend their Arctic boundary claims before a United Nations deadline of 2013.

Research will be critical to those efforts, as land claims may depend largely on the territorial reach of a country’s continental shelf.

“There’s a claim to be made that we should be doing some science to determine if our continental shelf actually goes beyond the North Pole,” said

Robert Huebert, an expert on Arctic security and sovereignty based at the University of Calgary.

“It’s going to be interesting to see whether we do that science this year or next year.”

Norway and Canada are “quite similar” in their Arctic politics, making them “natural” partners in northern research, said Huebert. It’s also the only northern country not competing with Canada for the North Pole.

Norway has claimed a chunk of the Arctic three-quarters the size of its mainland, but two weeks ago it became the first northern country to withdraw its claims to the Pole.

Norway and Canada do share a common threat from across the Pole, added Huebert.

“The reality is, both of us are starting to face increased Russian assertiveness over our positions,” he said.

Already, Russia has begun actively sending naval vessels into Norway’s claim.

Canada is building the Oslo centre as part of a larger “diplomatic” effort, Cannon said in a recent speech at an Arctic council meeting in Tromso, Norway.

Diplomacy is important, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of domestic research, said Bagnell.

“I have no problem with a centre in Oslo because Europeans don’t understand, on occasion, Canadians and our aspirations,” said Bagnell, citing the recent ban on seal products.

Ottawa has promised to build “a world class, high-Arctic research station” in the last budget.

A $2-million feasibility study is underway to pin down a final Canadian location for that station.

Contact Tristin Hopper at