Prime Minister Stephen Harper was in Whitehorse yesterday to announce a new Arctic research program.
The government has committed $2.1 million annually for eight years for the National Research Council to undertake the project.
It has also committed to seek $65 million over that timeframe in additional investments from industry and government partners.
The first priority of the research program will be resource development.
Among the goals are to engineer ice roads that are better able to stand up against climate change, and to improve oil spill detections and clean-ups in sea ice.
Other priorities are northern transportation, marine safety and community infrastructure.
“The strong commercial interest in Arctic oil and gas exploration, mining, and tourism makes it imperative for Canada to develop safety benchmarks for Arctic operations,” said the news release.
The National Research Council will maintain a “strong collaborative relationship” with Yukon College’s Yukon Research Centre, according to the release.
The two groups will continue to develop cold climate housing technologies and techniques for building over permafrost.
In 2013 Harper announced that the National Research Council would shift focus to science with clear business and economic applications.
“Today, the NRC has a new life and a new vision,” said Harper in his speech at Yukon College yesterday. “One that is practical and profitable.
“It’s client-focused and demand-driven. It will produce solutions for today, while also looking toward the future.”
Critics have argued that this shift away from basic experimental science could hurt Canada in the long run by curtailing the sort of fundamental research that could eventually lead to major scientific breakthroughs.
When scientists rallied across the country last fall to protest the Harper government, changes to the mandate of the research council were among their complaints.
The National Research Council is the federal government’s research arm. It reports to Parliament through the minister of industry.
It currently has no offices in the North, but has been developing Arctic technologies for 60 years, according to the news release.
“Work has included studies of many ice engineering issues, such as predicting the ice loads and ice failure patterns around bridge piers and offshore platforms in the Caspian and Beaufort seas, resulting in the development of safe evacuation procedures from offshore structures.”
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