Thursday, December 29, 2016



That early Christmas present by the leaders of Canada and the U.S. to ban drilling for oil from great expanses of ocean is a great idea.
After all, we have just discovered we have more than enough oil and gas for now under our land.
And then there's the sun.
But it did prompt me to consider again just how vast are those oceans, and even in this wondrous age of GPS and satellites that can photograph the name on a golf ball from space, we often don't know just what's going on in the waters that cover most of the planet.
And I'm not just considering those eternal searches that went on in recent years for the wreckage of airliners.
 I once was perched behind the RCAF pilot on a surveillance patrol as we swooped low in our converted Lockeed CP-140 Aurora over the Beaufort Sea north of Canada.
There beneath us was a drilling platform that no one knew about. It was on no chart or map of Canada and apparently, as I listed to the radio chatter, it was a mystery to our U.S. partners in the venerable NORAD defence pact that guarded the skies over North America.
It was, I suppose, in international waters because no one seemed to think it was a big deal. Including Canada's defence minister, Perrin Beatty, who was behind me peering over the shoulders of some air force personnel at the screens that lined one side of the $25 million plane developed for anti-submarine warfare.
It was an adventure of a diversion 28 years ago that took me away from the Editor's Desk and the task of saving the world for democracy to being fitted with Arctic survival gear at the Downsview base and then flights by a Challenger government jet to Yellowknife and then Inuvik which is on the southern edge of nothingness.
Beatty made a congenial travelling companion. He handled about nine different ministries before he went off to head the CBC. The Sun liked him so much that I proposed him to be the next PM in an editorial. Beatty phoned to plead with me not to write that again because Brian Mulroney glared at him at the next cabinet meeting and no other minister would speak to him.
Even though I once had a taste of the north as the kid editor of The Whitehorse Star, I quickly discovered that any survival gear that the RCAF loaned me for this northern visit was not just for show when it's February north of the Arctic Circle.
I left a midnight beer party in Inuvik to walk back to the lodgings on the edge of town and found that my beard had frozen and I was skidding on the snow road? because it was 35 or 40 below (Fahrenheit.)
Stupidly, I didn't think I needed Arctic gear just to go for a beer. It was so cold that I needed to pee but I wasn't sure I wanted to risk exposure of a tender part.
I didn't think I would last long if I slipped into one of the deep ditches on either side. So I took baby steps. It certainly sobers one in a hurry into being able to pass any breathalyzer.
Before university, I had been in the RCAF Reserve as a radar operator so I was fascinated by the modern electronic guts of the Aurora as the flight droned on and on as we headed north and north and north.
(I was told that the history of such patrol flights by Canada and the U.S. had the Soviets often probing NORAD response by flying what we called their Bears directly at us and the Canadian and U.S. fighters and patrols would not veer away. At the last minute of the aerial game of chicken, the giant Russian planes would drop a wing and head for home.)
Hours had passed and we were flying in a swirling mix of snow and fog and cloud. Then technicians reported there was "something" far below us on the ice.  Probably they could have described
exactly what it was but civilians were aboard.
So we turned and kept turning in a laborious descent. Finally we found a large oil drilling platform, complete with mounds of equipment and gear piled all around it. Not only that, a goliath civilian  transport was just off the ice landing beside the only human sign that could be seen in vast expanses of white, as its pilot informed the "heavy" invading "his air space" in terse wotinhellisgoingon tones.
 Not exactly a welcoming party, perhaps because we opened our bomb bay doors and photographed the site in case they were making a mess of it. Northern pollution is eternal pollution that ruins the landscape as it poisons the seas, even if they were, perhaps, in international waters.
My story seemed to go unnoticed later by everyone but it certainly made a lasting impression on me, that hundreds of millions of dollars were being spent by some giant international corporation in frigid waters on the edge of nowhere and the nearest governments didn't seem to know.
 Or maybe they did.
Promising to protect our waters from billion-dollar entrepreneurs is easy. Actually doing it well will be hard.

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