Prime Minister Stephen Harper signed three labour market agreements with Canada's three northern territories Thursday, in addition to announcing five major road projects in the Northwest Territories.

In Yellowknife late Thursday afternoon, Harper signed what he called "historic" labour market agreements with N.W.T. Premier Floyd Roland, Yukon Premier Dennis Fentie and Nunavut Premier Eva Aariak.

"Under these agreements, federal funding will be provided to ensure more northerners get the training and skills they need to obtain good, secure and high-paying jobs," Harper said at the Canadian Forces' northern headquarters in downtown Yellowknife.

The labour market agreements provide funding over five years to help boost the job skills of workers in the North, especially those who Harper said are often excluded from the labour force.

The federal government is spending more than $36.5 million over the next two years toward training and skills development programs in the North, according to a release.

Roland said the labour agreement gives his government more flexibility in how to spend federal employment training funding. As a result, people can take advantage of training opportunities even if they are not collecting employment insurance, he said.

Employers can also benefit by drawing on programs to pay for on-the-job training, Roland added.

Harper and Fentie also signed a labour market development pact, enabling the Yukon government to develop skills and employment training programs through its employment insurance system.

Similar agreements have already been signed with the N.W.T. and Nunavut, Harper said.

Facelift coming for Dempster

The federal government will also invest in five major highway improvement projects in the N.W.T., as part of the federal economic stimulus plan.

The largest of the five projects will be the reconstruction and rehabilitation of the Dempster Highway, which then prime minister John Diefenbaker launched in 1958 under his Roads to Resources program.

"By opening the Mackenzie Valley to resource development, the Dempster Highway created wealth and opportunity for the Northwest Territories and for all of Canada," Harper said.

"My government is committed to building on The Chief's legacy as part of our northern strategy to assert Canada's Arctic sovereignty and stimulate economic and social development right across the North," invoking Diefenbaker's nickname.

The 735-kilometre highway Dempster Highway runs from Dawson City, Yukon, to Inuvik, N.W.T., crossing the Arctic Circle along the way.

It was built between 1958 and 1979 on a gravel base that insulates the underlying permafrost. Most of the highway is unpaved, except for a section near Dawson City.

The announcement delighted Inuvik Mayor Derek Lindsay, whose local economy is struggling due to delays in regulatory reviews of the proposed Mackenzie Valley natural gas pipeline.

"There's contractors sitting, waiting for the [Mackenzie project], and they've got equipment sitting there waiting and they're making payments on them," Lindsay said.

"Now this is a route for them to bring in some revenue to make those payments."

The federal government will also contribute to roadwork projects on:

  • The Mackenzie Highway (Highway 1).
  • The Ingraham Trail (Highway 4).
  • The Liard Highway (Highway 7).
  • The Fort Resolution Highway (Highway 6).

The federal government is contributing toward $70 million in "roadway infrastructure initiatives" that have already been approved in the N.W.T. annual capital plan, according to a release.

4th consecutive northern tour

Harper arrived in Yellowknife late Thursday afternoon from Nunavut, where he began a five-day northern tour — the fourth in a row for the prime minister — featuring a series of announcements related to the military and economic development.

He arrived in Iqaluit on Monday, in part to observe Operation Nanook, the Canadian Forces' annual sovereignty exercise in the eastern Arctic.

Earlier Thursday, Harper visited the Baffin Island community of Pangnirtung, where he re-announced $17 million in funding toward the construction of a small-craft harbour there.

On Tuesday, Harper announced the headquarters for the new Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency will be based in Iqaluit, with satellite offices in Yellowknife and Whitehorse.

CanNor, the stand-alone regional economic development agency in Canada's North, will deliver federal funding for economic development, advocacy and research.