Whether it was a pre-election promise or not, the Conservative government's announcement late last week that it would put a military reserve unit in Canada's North was a step in the right direction, a retired northern colonel said.
Pierre Leblanc praised Defence Minister Peter MacKay's announcement Friday — just two days before the federal election writ was issued — that the government would establish a permanent army reserve in Yellowknife, in addition to Canadian Ranger units that already exist in the northern territories.
"I think the present government has been doing for the North, in terms of its security, a lot more than the previous governments have done," Leblanc, who was the Canadian Forces' commander in the North from 1995 to 2000, told CBC News Monday in an interview.
Leblanc noted northern-related announcements by the Conservative government in the last year, from the establishment of a deep-sea military port and a training facility in Nunavut, to more support for Canadian Rangers.
"The announcement of another reserve army unit in the North is yet one more asset that will be added now north of 60, so I see this as a positive development," he said.
About 100 reserve soldiers will be trained and stationed in Yellowknife as part of the government's plan.
The northern territories currently have the Canadian Rangers, a specialized reserve unit that is involved in sovereignty patrols. However, the North does not have a traditional military reserve unit.
Leblanc said having a reserve unit in Yellowknife will give more people there the opportunity to serve Canada. As well, he said northerners will also gain much from having a reserve in the area.
"This would add a readily available pool of manpower that has been trained to assist, for example, in search and rescue operations in the North," he said.
"And if a Ranger patrol has to go out and do some search and rescue, and needs some assistance, obviously this reserve unit could be called upon to do that."
There was no word on what exactly the soldiers would be doing in the N.W.T. capital, or when they would be based there, as MacKay said that depends on how long it would take to recruit and train them.