Calls for Arctic university revived by PM's tour

The Canadian government's recent effort to assert its sovereignty in the Arctic has reignited calls for a university to be created in the North.

The Canadian government's recent effort to assert its sovereignty in the Arctic has reignited calls for a university to be created in the North.

Canada is the only circumpolar nation that does not have its own Arctic-based university, said Frances Abele, a professor of public policy and administration at Carleton University in Ottawa.

Currently, there is no university in Canada's North. Colleges in Nunavut, the Northwest Territories and Yukon have teamed up with universities elsewhere to offer select degree programs, but in many cases, northern students must travel far from home to pursue their post-secondary education.

"In order for us to have a globally credible claim, we need healthy communities, we need a well-educated northern population and we need a certain degree of social and economic stability in the North," Abele told CBC News.

"All of those things would be advanced by the existence of a northern university."

Abele said federal money would be required to create a northern university. As well, she said there will have to be a debate over whether a northern university should have one campus or many campuses across the region.

"There's no easy answer to it," she said. "Maybe there should be a campus or a university in each territory.

"Obviously, with the population size of the North, we'd have to look at the cost of that and how you could do it in a way that was economically feasible."

Sovereignty tour

The idea of establishing a northern university is not new, but the topic has been renewed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper's tour of the North last month — the fifth such tour in as many years.

During the tour, Harper observed the Canadian Forces' annual summer Arctic sovereignty exercise, dubbed Operation Nanook.

The prime minister also announced that the western Nunavut community of Cambridge Bay will be the site of a world-class Arctic research station.

But Nelson Wiseman, a political science professor at the University of Toronto, said Harper is more interested in building his image than he is in developing the North.

"You get better visuals in the North because the landscape is so dramatically different," Wiseman said.

"He's got the military at his fingertips. They escort him around, and he's photographed with military people and also locals. You know, he sees that as boosting his image, and the major target is southern Canada."

Wiseman said Harper has been slow to deliver on promises of Arctic patrol vessels and icebreakers.

But Conservatives in the Western Arctic riding, which encompasses the Northwest Territories, argue that nothing symbolizes Harper's commitment to Arctic sovereignty better than his physical presence in the region.

"The prime minister sees the North as the next frontier for development for Canada, as a great asset for Canada," said Bill Aho, executive secretary of the Western Arctic Conservative party association.

"He sees the potential there, and he wants to have the North contributing to our federal economy as a partner in Canada."

Aho pointed to the creation of CanNor, an economic development agency in the North, as a symbol of the Conservative government's commitment there. As well, he noted that Harper has elevated a northern MP, Leona Aglukkaq of Nunavut, to a senior cabinet position — that of minister of health.