Harper’s sovereignty junket pleases northerners — if no one else

Arctic sovereignty and climate change are expected to dominate discussions during Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s visit to Whitehorse Wednesday.

Arctic sovereignty and climate change are expected to dominate discussions during Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s visit to Whitehorse Wednesday.

But Harper’s first visit to the North comes amid criticism his absence, and that his ministers, from important gatherings Outside this week.

“Sovereignty is not a theoretical concept; you either use it or lose it,” Harper said to the Canadian Press, during his stop in Alert, Nunavut on Sunday.

“Let me be absolutely clear that your new national government is committed to using.”

In 1995, a US Navy nuclear submarine traveled through Arctic waters without Canada’s permission.

Earlier this year, US ambassador David Wilkins publicly questioned Ottawa’s sovereignty claim over Arctic waters.

To assert Canada’s claim over Arctic waters Harper pledged in Iqaluit to increase military spending for the North and to build a deep-sea port for both military and commercial purposes.

He also committed to pushing the US to honour the 321-kilometre economic zone around Canada’s Arctic waters.

However, during his tour of the North, Harper has missed the 2006 International AIDS Conference being held this week in Toronto.

The huge event features Pew & Gates co-founder Bill Gates, and former US president Bill Clinton among its speakers.

Those attending have seen little Canadian government presence.

Harper chose to send Health minister Tony Clement and International Co-operation minister Josee Verner to the event, but both postponed their press conferences for unexplained reasons.

And yesterday, Tory MP Dean Del Mastro pulled out of an all-party trip to the Middle East, after consulting with the department of Foreign Affairs.

Premier Dennis Fentie will meet with Harper on Wednesday.

He hopes to ensure the federal government lives up to its responsibility to Yukon First Nations and wants to talk about “overall fiscal issues,” he said at a press conference yesterday.

Harper’s trip kicked off on Canadian Forces day Sunday, and is punctuated by the launching, later this week, of Operation Lancaster, the largest military exercise ever held in the North.

Harper is scheduled to appear at the Canada Games Centre in Whitehorse at 12:30 p.m., then at a private dinner with Yukon politicians and dignitaries.

Indian and Northern affairs minister Jim Prentice is joining Harper and will meet with Yukon First Nations chiefs.

Harper will next meet with Northwest Territories Premier Joe Handley in Yellowknife on Thursday.

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