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PM to spread the wealth in Arctic
Description: Northern Expedition; Harper To Bolster Canada's Territorial Claims During Trip
Date: 07 August 2007
Author: Norma Greenaway
Source: CanWest News

OTTAWA - Stephen Harper is expected to announce fresh spending and building initiatives to bolster Canada's territorial claims in the Arctic as he hop-scotches across the North this week.

Among other things, the Prime Minister will presumably end the suspense and name the site for a long-promised deep-water port in the region, and possibly a military training centre as well.

The plan for a trip on Friday to the Nunavut community of Nanisivik, site of an abandoned lead-zinc mine that still boasts an airport and an aged dock, has heightened speculation it could end up a winner.

Mr. Harper also will visit the nearby Northwest Passage community of Resolute Bay, a scientific research centre and another contender for fresh federal investments.

Mr. Harper's expedition opens tomorrow and involves stops in half a dozen spots in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut before wrapping up on Friday in Iqaluit.

The first official stop is Fort Simpson, N.W.T., followed by a flying visit to nearby Nahanni National Park Reserve, home to a storied collection of wildlife, mountain ranges, hot springs, waterfalls and canyons, to illustrate the development challenges in the Arctic.

"The protection and enhancement of the environment along with sustainable development is something we must factor into any activity in the North," Carolyn Stewart Olsen, a spokeswoman for the Prime Minister, wrote in an e-mail.

Although planned for weeks, the trip has proved more timely than anticipated. It will give Mr. Harper the opportunity to counter the Russian government's latest bid to assert its sovereignty over a vast, potentially energy-rich stretch of the Arctic by planting a Russian flag -- which was encased in titanium -- on the North Pole seabed.

Since the Kremlin-backed expedition came to light late last month, Mr. Harper has faced stepped up calls from politicians and a leading Canadian expert on Arctic sovereignty to fight back diplomatically and also on the ground by changing course and purchasing full-fledged, year-round icebreakers capable of going anywhere, including the area the Russians are claiming.

Mr. Harper announced plans last month to spend about $7-billion on the construction, retrofitting and maintenance of up to eight specially reinforced Arctic patrol vessels capable of operating in ice up to a metre thick.

"Canada has a choice when it comes to defending our sovereignty over the Arctic," Mr. Harper said at the time. "We either use it or lose it. And make no mistake, this government intends to use it."

Mr. Harper also promised anew that a deep-water port would be built in the Arctic to service the vessels.

The announcement of patrol vessels fell short, however, of the Conservatives' election promise to build three armed icebreakers capable of crashing through six-metre thick ice.

Michael Byers, Canada Research Chair in global politics and international law at the University of British Columbia, has advocated purchasing two heavy icebreakers and putting more money into mapping Canada's northern continental shelf in support of future territorial claims.

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