Government promises to boost aid to Arctic economy

Tue Aug 18, 2009 12:56pm EDT
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By Allan Dowd

IQALUIT, Nunavut (Reuters) - Prime Minister Stephen Harper launched a tour to assert Canada's Arctic sovereignty claims on Tuesday, saying the government was not ignoring the vast but sparsely populated region's economic and social ills.

Harper pledged that a recently announced economic development agency for the Far North would be headquartered in Iqaluit, the capital of the Nunavut territory, not in the far away federal capital of Ottawa.

"Obviously, our sovereignty is far greatly enhanced if we have thriving indigenous communities, healthy communities, throughout the territory," Harper told an audience in Iqaluit, an isolated community of about 7,250 on Baffin Island, which is also Canada's northernmost capital.

It was the first in a series of announcement Harper is expected to make in a week-long cross-country tour to promote Canada's claims in the Arctic, some of which have been challenged by other countries, included the United States.

His Tuesday visit also included a symbolic defense of the region's seal-hunting industry, which has drawn the wrath of international animal rights groups, as he dined on seal meat as part of his lunch.

The prime minister's visit, which also involved key cabinet ministers, coincides with a Canadian military training exercise off Baffin Island, near the eastern entrance of the Northwest Passage, the sea route between the Atlantic to the Pacific through Canada's Arctic archipelago.

Harper will visit the exercise on Wednesday.

Canada, Russia, he United States and Denmark are among the northern nations that in recent years have been exerting sometimes competing sovereignty claims at the top of the world with an eye on the Arctic's rich natural resources.   Continued...

<p>Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper (R) gestures as he arrives in Iqaluit, Nunavut on Baffin Island August 17, 2009. REUTERS/Andy Clark</p>