Canada's Harper aims to bolster Arctic sovereignty
By Randall Palmer
OTTAWA (Reuters) - Prime Minister Stephen Harper will travel to Canada's far north in late August in a bid to bolster claims to Arctic sovereignty and to paint the opposition as weak on foreign policy and defense issues ahead of a possible election this fall.
Harper will fly to the small coastal town of Tuktoyaktuk on the Arctic Ocean and will even chair a meeting of top cabinet ministers in Inuvik in the Mackenzie River Delta region of the Northwest Territories.
With increased international focus on the Arctic and the Northwest Passage through Canada opening up as ice melts, Ottawa has made it a priority to assert the country's claims over its northern waterways.
"It now has a geopolitical importance that a few years ago wasn't obvious," a senior Conservative official said, noting the region's potential as a new source of oil and gas, and also its strategic and environmental risks.
Harper's minority Conservative government, keeping an eye on a possible election campaign, has pledged to buy new Arctic patrol ships, expand aerial surveillance and bolster the numbers and capabilities of the Canadian Rangers northern military unit.
The Conservative source said Stephane Dion, leader of the main opposition Liberal Party, had said parks were needed more than ships but this naively ignored strategic realities.
"It's real focus, boots on the ground, (that is needed) ... to actively assert Canadian sovereignty," he said.
Dion spokesman Mark Dunn, reacting to the comments, turned the argument towards global warming. Continued...