Canada's new state-of-the-art Arctic icebreaker will be named after former Conservative prime minister John Diefenbaker, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced Thursday in Inuvik, N.W.T.

The $720-million John G. Diefenbaker, to be brought into service in 2017, will replace the current flagship icebreaker named for former prime minister Louis St-Laurent, a Liberal.

Standing in an Inuvik park, Harper invoked the memory Diefenbaker, who stood on the same spot to dedicate the newly built town in 1961.

"The building of Canada's new polar-class icebreaker — the largest, most powerful icebreaker Canada will ever have owned — will harness the energy and expertise of the coast guard, Canadian shipbuilders and all the communities that support these institutions," Harper said.

"I can think of no better name for the ship than the man who stood a few metres away from where I am standing today: John George Diefenbaker.

"He understood that to truly fulfill our national dream, we must accept the challenges and seize the opportunities presented by our North."

Harper is in the North this week to promote his Arctic sovereignty strategy. On Wednesday, he promised it will become mandatory for all large ships sailing into the Northwest Passage and Canada's other Arctic waterways to report to the Canadian Coast Guard.

Northerners hoped for infrastructure

He also said he wants to toughen environmental regulations in Arctic seas by expanding the range of the country's anti-pollution legislation.

Many northerners were disappointed that Harper did not announce funding for such things as roads and a port, feeling his announcements offered few benefits for people who live in the North.

Cece McCauley flew from Norman Wells to speak to Harper about what is needed in the North. She didn't get a chance to speak to him, after waiting in the park where the prime minister made his speech.

"I had to fly here. I spent almost $800 dollars to come here. I'm so disappointed," she said.

McCauley was amazed to learn that the general public was not invited to meet Harper at any of the events during his three-day tour.

"Well, at least we thought he'd have one town hall meeting where the average little person could ask a question. It's really disgusting," she said.

McCauley said she wanted to tell Harper that the Delta region needs a road from Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk, and a bigger military presence in the Arctic.

Inuvialuit Regional Corporation CEO Nellie Cournoyea did get to meet Harper.

She said she had hoped Harper's visit would focus more on the needs of northern communities.

"We would like to have had more definite support for infrastructure funding, like for roads or port facilities, or shore erosions. Anything that would help us immediately," Cournoyea said.

Mary Simon, head of the national Inuit group Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, said more attention needs to be paid to the people who live in the North.

"We're not saying we don't welcome more federal infrastructure military development," she said. But if the Conservatives want to see the North develop, she said, they have to look at "the human dimension.

"If we're not going to get our kids through school, the involvement of Inuit in economic development will continue to be slow," Simon said.

Harper will leave the North late Thursday.

With files from the Canadian Press