Harper wraps up election-style Arctic tour

Fri Aug 21, 2009 7:05pm EDT
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By Allan Dowd

WHITEHORSE, Yukon (Reuters) - Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper wrapped up an Arctic tour on an environmental note on Friday, denying that his campaign-style journey across Canada was a tune-up for a possible election campaign later this year.

Harper, who promoted sovereignty as well as military and economic themes in the five-day trip across the Far North, was in the Yukon to sign a deal for the federal government to help fund expansion of a dam and transmission line that will reduce the western territory's dependence on diesel generators.

But like all of the tour's earlier funding announcements, the hydroelectric upgrade, worth up to C$71 million ($66 million), was already in this year's federal budget, making the visit largely symbolic with a scenic background for photos.

Harper flew on a military transport plane to the tiny town of Mayo about 325 km (200 miles) north of Whitehorse where he toured the facility by air and pushed a button to briefly increase the flow of water through a dam spillway.

His northern journey has ostensibly been to emphasize Canada's Arctic sovereignty claims -- notably over the fabled Northwest Passage sea route. But its staged events and daily messages aimed at a domestic audience seemed more like a tune-up for a fall election.

Harper has said he does not want to have an election any time soon, but opposition Liberals have threatened a motion of non-confidence when Parliament returns next month, aiming to bring down the minority Conservative government.

"I travel constantly, have always traveled constantly... our focus is on governing this country," Harper said, denying

suggestions that this was a pre-election campaign tour.   Continued...

<p>Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper (R) meets with local Inuit along with the Premier of Nunavut Eva Aariak (C) after arriving in Pangnirtung, Nunavut in the Canadian Arctic August 20, 2009. REUTERS/Andy Clark</p>