Harper lands in Yukon for annual tour of the North
Published Monday, August 20, 2012 6:24AM EDT
Last Updated Monday, August 20, 2012 10:28PM EDT
Prime Minister Stephen Harper arrived in Yukon Monday afternoon for his seventh annual tour of Canada's north -- an initiative designed to promote the region and his “use it or lose it” philosophy.
During past trips Harper has used the opportunity to announce federal funding and development plans, and to meet northerners and take part in traditional dinners and events.
Following his arrival, the prime minister was scheduled to address Conservative Party supporters at a rally and barbecue in Carcross, near Whitehorse.
Harper is accompanied on the trip by his wife Laureen, as well as Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Minister John Duncan, and Yukon MP Ryan Leef and Senator Dan Lang.
The visit will wrap up on Friday in Churchill, Man.
In between, Harper plans to visit Cambridge Bay, the Minto copper and gold mine, and the gas and oil exploration hub of Norman Wells, N.W.T., where residents are pushing for a new all-season road.
The annual trip is typically considered a good news story for Harper, resulting in days of positive coverage in picturesque settings. And it is an opportunity for Harper to put into practice his belief that Ottawa risks losing the North if it neglects the region.
In 2007, Harper made it clear Canada's North would be a focus of his government.
"Canada has a choice when it comes to defending our sovereignty in the Arctic; either we use it or we lose it," Harper said, speaking at CFB Esquimalt. "And make no mistake this government intends to use it. Because Canada's Arctic is central to our identity as a northern nation. It is part of our history and it represents the tremendous potential of our future."
But there is controversy as well.
Many of the projects Harper has touted in the past as proving his commitment to the region and making the North more economically viable, are floundering.
A new Canadian High Arctic research station first announced in 2007 has so far failed to materialize, and a research station just outside the gates of Kluane National Park has had its funding cut.
And the Polar Environmental Atmospheric Research Laboratory, Canada's northernmost research lab which was used by scientists from around the world to study northern climates, has also been forced to shut its doors due to lack of funding.
The status of the Radarstat Constellation Mission, a satellite project announced in 2010, is currently unknown. And the deep water naval port announced in 2007 for Nanisivik has so far floundered. Construction was set to begin in 2010 but has now been pushed to next year at the earliest.
Harper's chief spokesperson Andrew MacDougall told The Canadian Press the projects are all important, but said development happens slowly in the North and is often fraught with delays and unanticipated hurdles.
He also said the Conservatives are dealing with the effects of years of northern neglect by previous governments.
"The North hadn't been paid much attention to for awhile," MacDougall said.
"These initiatives are all important, they are all worth doing but they are hard to do and as long as this prime minister is the prime minister the focus for the government will be the North and on completing these projects."
MacDougall said this year's trip will be a combination of making new commitments and announcing updates on previous projects.
With files from The Canadian Press