August 20, 2009 / 6:09 PM / in 8 years

Harper vows better times for Arctic residents

PANGNIRTUNG, Nunavut (Reuters) - As Canada asserts sovereignty claims in the Arctic it must also do a better job of ensuring the region’s residents share in its resources, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Thursday.

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

Harper made his comments in the coastal hamlet of Pangnirtung on Baffin Island in Nunavut, as he continued his tour of Canada’s Far North, mixing military muscle-flexing with infrastructure spending announcements that he says will boost the region’s struggling economy.

Canada, Russia, Denmark and United States are among the nations that have stepped up their claims to territories in the Arctic, which may hold vast reserves of oil and gas and other resources.

Many residents of Canada’s Far North, where a large portion of the population is aboriginal, say they have too often been left behind in the rush to exploit the natural resources beneath their feet.

“We are very concerned that as development occurs here in the territory local people don’t just share in the wealth generated from the development, but that they (also) share in the development itself,” Harper told reporters.

“To be frank, there’s not enough of that happening.”

In Pangnirtung, a community of about 1,400 that is closer Greenland than to Canada’s major cities, Harper outlined Ottawa’s plan to spend C$17 million ($15.6 million) to improve the local harbor for fishermen.

The nearby waters are rich in turbot and arctic char, but the lack of a good dock forces fishermen to wait until high tide to unload their catches, a process that can force them to remain on the water in small boats in bad weather.

“It’s unsafe,” said Sim Akpalialuk, the community’s economic development officer, who said he hopes that some larger boats that now deliver their catches to Greenland will use Pangnirtung instead.

While residents watching Harper’s announcement said they were pleased with the government’s help, some worried about the emphasis on resource development, such as fishing, and that it would only benefit “outsiders.”

“If they use it properly, it will be good,” said Moe Akapalialuk, who is Sim’s brother, and worries that economic development has come at the cost of the traditional ways of the local Inuit people.

Wednesday, Harper emphasized the military aspect of Canada’s sovereignty push, by visiting a submarine that is participating in a training exercise in the region.

He dismissed criticism that his government has put too much emphasis on the military component, while not doing enough to address infrastructure problems such as aging electricity facilities in the region.

“I recognize that people can always criticize the balance, but these (spending announcements) are actions really without precedent,” Harper said.

After spending three day days in Nunavut in northeastern Canada, Harper jetted off to Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories for more infrastructure announcements and was scheduled to spend Friday in the Yukon territory in the west.

($1=$1.10 Canadian)

Editing by Peter Galloway

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