Arctic social, economic needs not overshadowed by military: Harper

Prime Minister Stephen Harper says the military commitment of his Conservative government to the Arctic is not overshadowing the region’s social and development needs.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks with sisters Suzie and Andre Dialla as he arrives in Pangnirtung

PANGNIRTUNG, Nunavut — Prime Minister Stephen Harper says the military commitment of his Conservative government to the Arctic is not overshadowing the region’s social and development needs.

He says he recognizes there are acute problems in the North, and they are being addressed by what he called his government’s unprecedented community and infrastructure investments.

The comments came Thursday as Harper announced $17 million to accelerate the construction of a harbour in Pangnirtung, Nunavut, a remote, tiny fishing hamlet on eastern Baffin Island.

Later, the prime minister was expected to make an announcement on labour development with the territories.

“The investments we’re making here, while they may not satisfy all of the demands, these on a per-capita basis vastly exceed what we’re doing in the southern part of the country,” he said outside of a community centre in the village of 1,500.

“So this is a series of investments and actions without precedent. I understand people can always criticize the balance, but these are actions without precedent in our history.”

Yet communities throughout the territory face a variety of social concerns, from high unemployment to youth homelessness.

Iqaluit and other communities face chronic power interruptions.

The territorial capital was hit with a two-hour power failure as Harper observed a military exercise from aboard HMCS Toronto in Frobisher Bay on Wednesday.

Harper dismissed some of the more scathing criticism as carping by opposition politicians.

“I know the opposition will criticize us for too much reliance on the military side but, let’s be clear, in every trip I’ve been here, we’ve emphasized not just military, but also the actions we’re taking in economic, social, environmental, development and on governance,” he said

“The Opposition when they were in office did none of these things. We are doing all of these things.”

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