Canadian warships were sailing towards the Arctic yesterday in the latest act of gunboat diplomacy over control of the frozen wastes there.
Ottawa has launched a series of Arctic sovereignty patrols to assert its territorial claims and fend off rivals, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the United States.
The Canadian programme hit high gear yesterday as the frigate Fredricton sailed towards the contested Davis Strait separating Greenland and north-east Canada. Two coastal defence vessels, meanwhile, have visited the port of Churchill for the first time in 30 years and have set sail for the upper Hudson Bay.
"This is a demonstration of Canada's will to exercise sovereignty over our own back yard," said Cdre Bob Blakely, of the Royal Canadian Navy.
The military, meanwhile, is not ideally equipped for the brutal conditions of the far north. Although it is expanding its Arctic command base at Yellowknife, the navy lacks sufficient capacity to plough through the pack ice.
Critics say that this explains why the Canadian authorities have chosen the summer months to undertake their sovereignty patrols.
A military exercise in the Arctic last year was termed an "embarrassing debacle" by the Toronto Star newspaper because of harsh weather and poor equipment.
The defence of Canadian territory is not a seasonal job, unfortunately. Claimants to our Arctic waters know our military's weakness in this regard and will take advantage of it in the winter, now that we've made the first steps in asserting our claims.
At a minimum, the Canadian Navy should be able to sail a frigate with icebreaking capability through the thickest winter pack ice. The Army should be able to keep a couple dozen men on Hans Island and provision them year-round, if need be, to assert our rightful possession thereof.
We need enough hard power to show that we can and will defend our sovereignty over the Arctic against all comers, to back up the soft power that will allow us to prevail in the diplomatic realm.
Showing the flag is about more than hiring ad agencies to stick up a few billboards.