Well, here’s a clear and present danger to Canadian sovereignty: Donald Trump wants to buy Greenland. At one stroke, he could put Canada in a pincer movement — Alaska to the northwest, Greenland to the northeast — and control our Arctic shores.
It’s not clear whether Trump is entirely serious about the idea, but let’s take the opportunity to consider our own Arctic security as the ice melts and Russian cruisers prepare to patrol our northern shores.
Greenland and its Inuit residents were “discovered” by Erik the Red, a rather Trumpian Norwegian, in the 10th century. Trump said he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and not lose any votes; Erik really did kill someone and was exiled to Iceland. Blown off course, he discovered the world’s largest island and sailed along some of its southern coast. Seeing a good business opportunity, he decided he could recruit more colonists with good branding and called his discovery Greenland.
Erik succeeded in building a couple of colonies on the island’s southwest coast, where it was just possible to grow a few crops and raise some cattle. His son Leif then led a further expedition to “explore” the land beyond, which we now call Newfoundland and Labrador. That led to the Viking settlement of L’Anse aux Meadows and the beginnings of a trade in lumber to Greenland and Iceland.
Leif and his settlers had no more skill in dealing with Indigenous peoples than we have shown, and their colony didn’t last. Still, the Vikings established a precedent as the first Europeans to stake a claim to Canada. So we could assert our Viking/Danish ties as giving us a reciprocal claim to Greenland. Inuit links to Greenland’s Indigenous people would strengthen our case.
A territory with the population of New Westminster
What would we get if we did obtain Greenland? It would certainly complete our set of Arctic islands. We would possess over two million square kilometres of land, almost all of it covered by an ice sheet with a volume of 2.8 million cubic kilometres.
Greenland has a population of 56,000, almost all of them Greenlandic Inuit — about the population of New Westminster, B.C. Almost a third of them live in the capital, Nuuk, a metropolis of 16,000. They, of course, would ultimately decide if a partnership with Canada makes more sense than their current association with Denmark.
Greenland has been self-governing for a decade as an autonomous country within the Kingdom of Denmark, which looks after its foreign affairs and defence.
But the Danes have reason to be embarrassed by their rule of the island: a program something like our residential schools obliged Greenlanders to go to Denmark for post-secondary, where they were often assimilated. Greenland has the world’s highest suicide rate, not to mention high rates of alcoholism and HIV. Denmark may be the second-happiest country in the world, but it has not exported that happiness to Greenland.
We might commit to supporting Greenlanders in addressing those social problems while addressing those of Indigenous peoples here. The Greenlandic Inuit would find new allies in their Canadian cousins, and vice versa.
Meanwhile, Canada would acquire an impressive new territory, whose population would likely rise as Canadians invested in its development. We would have a huge new fishery, and perhaps we wouldn’t screw it up this time. We could develop some of its mineral resources while discouraging Chinese ventures there and stopping all oil exploration. We could also jack up the rent the Americans pay for their airbase at Thule.
Saving a vast resource
That’s because Greenland’s real resource would be squandered by yet more burning of fossil fuels. Think about those 2.8 million cubic kilometres of ice. They are now melting at an increasing rate, so rapidly that they have their own website.
Freshwater has been flooding off the ice into Greenland’s fjords for years, transforming North Atlantic ecosystems. We know that great ice sheets have collapsed in the past, with catastrophic consequences. If Greenland’s whole ice sheet melted, sea levels around the world would rise by 7.2 metres.
Under Canadian control, however, we might slow down the collapse and make a fortune in the process.
Imagine major engineering projects, perhaps run by SNC-Lavalin, that would dam the great fjords of Greenland. As saltwater was pumped out, solar-powered, Canadian-built tankers would dock outside the dams to take on fresh, pure glacial water and then transport it around the world to thirsty nations in South Asia, Latin America, and Africa.
Canadians have been rightly reluctant to sell their own water south of the border (unless it’s packaged in grain, lentils, or beef). But Greenland’s water would only go to waste if we didn’t intercept and move it to where it’s needed.
Trump would treat Greenland as just another scam, as Erik the Red did. He’d maintain their airbase (renaming its airstrip Trump Field), ignore the Greenlanders, and ignore the meltwater as just another Chinese hoax. Before you know it, oil tankers from Alaska will be sailing east through the Arctic Ocean to European markets; Trump won’t care if some of it spills en route.
No matter how tongue-in-cheek we approached a Canadian Greenland, we could do better than Donald Trump.
*Story updated at 3 p.m. on Friday, August 16 to clarify that buying Greenland is a truly bad idea.
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