WHITEHORSE — Prime Minister Stephen Harper says this week’s northern tour wasn’t about political gain, but rather nation-building.
Harper, closing out the tour in Whitehorse, said his five days of photo-ops and announcements won’t win elections in a vast region that holds only three parliamentary seats.
“We’re not going to win or lose an election in the North,” Harper said after his final speech of the tour.
“We’re doing it because this is about nation-building, this is the frontier, this is the place that defines our country.”
Opposition critics have lambasted Harper for staging a lavish photo-op this week, complete with scuba divers, icebreakers and aircraft during an annual northern military exercise.
But Harper defended his stop at Operation Nanook as a way to draw positive attention to the work of the military.
“It’s unfortunate when we highlight the great work that the military is doing that people criticize that,” he said.
Military historian Whitney Lackenbauer, who just returned from two weeks embedded as part of Operation Nanook, said there’s no mistaking that part of Harper’s trip was about optics.
“It’s of course about optics, it’s of course about image,” said Lackenbauer in an interview.
“But I think it’s a reminder and a reaffirmation for northerners that he’s interested and that’s key.”
Lackenbauer said that while Harper’s photoshoot with the military might make good pictures, it was actually his announcement of the new High Arctic Research Station that might mean more in terms of advancing the government’s sovereignty strategy in the North.
“This is what allows us, as much as anything, to be a player internationally,” said Lackenbauer.
“It’s the science that helps inform our position on the Arctic Council, it’s our science that allows us to get a sense of what dynamics are at play in the North.”
As for his star turn as part of an Inuit community dance and his spin on an all-terrain vehicle, Harper says he does like to have fun from time to time.
“Even my mother approves,” he said.