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Northern Leaders Like That Harper Has Expanded View of Arctic Sovereignty
Description: Northern leaders and observers say the view of Arctic sovereignty expressed in the Conservative government's speech from the throne has finally moved beyond its military focus.
Date: 16 October 2007
Author: Bob Weber
Source: The Canadian Press

YELLOWKNIFE - Northern leaders and observers say the view of Arctic sovereignty expressed in the Conservative government's speech from the throne has finally moved beyond its military focus.

"Mr. Harper is expanding his conception of sovereignty to include the Inuit and I think that's right," said Michael Byers, Arctic sovereignty expert at the University of British Columbia.

"They've gone beyond what they've said in the past," said Mary Simon, head of head of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, Canada's national Inuit group.

After last summer's promises of military ships and training facilities in the North, the Arctic was the first major topic covered in Tuesday's speech.

"The North needs new attention," said Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean in Ottawa.

"Our government will bring forward an integrated northern strategy focused on strengthening Canada's sovereignty, protecting our environmental heritage, promoting economic and social development, and improving and devolving governance, so that northerners have greater control over their destinies.

"Our government will work to continue to improve living conditions in the North for First Nations and Inuit through better housing."

The throne speech also promised a new Arctic research station.

Joe Handley, outgoing premier of the Northwest Territories, called the promise to give northerners more control over their resources "very encouraging."

"I expect the new premier will be able to pick this up and make this happen."

N.W.T. legislative members elected in a recent ballot will choose a new premier from among themselves on Wednesday.

Simon welcomed the mention of housing, considered to be at the root of many of Nunavut's social problems.

"If you start to address the shortage of housing, you can address some of the bigger issues around it," she said.

However, all had reservations about the speech.

Handley said Ottawa will have to move past previous negotiating positions that would have capped all future resource revenues to the N.W.T. at a fixed amount.

"Any territorial government would be nuts to accept that," he said.

Simon said the government also needs to focus more on fully implementing the treaties it already has with northerners. One Inuit group has already taken Ottawa to court over what it says are unfulfilled promises in the Nunavut Land Claim.

"I just wish there would be a bit more detail," she said.

Byers said more details are also needed on the research station. He also said the speech made it sound like a land-based station is envisioned, when Canada's most useful research platform is the icebreaker Amundsen.

"I would have been more excited if the Prime Minister had announced we were going to get a purpose-built research icebreaker," he said.

Byers suggested that Harper has been influenced by the many voices - including NDP leader Jack Layton - calling for a more balanced approach to the Arctic, spending on the social, scientific and economic sides as well as military infrastructure.

"That hasn't been part of Harper's lexicon," said Byers.

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