Amid widespread speculation of an impending federal election, Prime Minister Stephen Harper arrived in Inuvik, N.W.T., on Tuesday evening for his latest tour of Canada's North.
During his three-day trip through the Northwest Territories and the Yukon, Harper will meet with the three territorial premiers and aboriginal leaders as well as hold a federal cabinet meeting.
He is also expected to make two announcements with regard to northern infrastructure. One of those announcements is set for Wednesday, when he travels to Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T. He will also be stopping in Dawson City, Yukon.
Inuvik elder Lillian Elias was one of several Inuvialuit dancers who greeted Harper when he stepped off his jet at the Inuvik airport. "Well, I've never seen him come here before. I saw the Queen coming in," said Elias.
"Just to have him here is a very good thing because a lot of people never heard of this before … yeah, just to know that he came here."
String of northern announcements
Harper's tour adds to a recent string of federal announcements and ministerial visits relating to Arctic sovereignty.
Before he left Ottawa on Tuesday, Harper announced plans to spend $100 million over five years to map oil, gas and mineral resources in the North.
He said the geomapping program would not only determine the potential for future development, but also assert the country's claim over the Arctic.
But Western Arctic NDP MP Dennis Bevington, whose riding encompasses the Northwest Territories, said the initiative has more to do with economic development than sovereignty.
"It will be a boon to industry," Bevington said.
"It will give them more information about the location of resources, mostly on land for economic development purposes. These types of programs are carried out in the past, and I think it's part of government business to get this sort of thing done."
Last week, Defence Minister Peter MacKay toured Nunavut to launch the military's Arctic sovereignty exercise Nanook, visit the federal base at Alert and see the Canadian Forces' deep-sea port at the former Nanisivik mine near Arctic Bay.
The same week, a team led by Parks Canada began a six-week mission to find the lost ships of Sir John Franklin, the British explorer whose doomed 1845 journey to the Northwest Passage has long fascinated historians.
Invest more in northerners, leaders urge Harper
Environment Minister John Baird, who announced $75,000 in government funding for the Franklin search, acknowledged that it would also help Canada assert its Arctic sovereignty.
But Mary Simon, president of the national Inuit organization Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, said she wants Harper to focus more on the needs of northerners, not on boosting Canada's military presence in the region.
"We need a healthy body, a healthy mind, a roof over our heads, good food on our table, and a level of education that allows them to enter the workforce or further develop the skills necessary," Simon said.
It's a point that was also raised earlier this week by Bevington and by federal NDP Leader Jack Layton, both of whom called on the government to focus more on the social and economic needs of northern residents.
Election speculation abounds
While Harper embarks on his three-day trip, speculation continues to swirl that he may call a federal election soon after he gets back.
The prime minister has said he is continuing to think over whether an election needs to be called.
Senior Conservatives have suggested Harper could pull the plug on his current minority government as early as Sept. 2.