Liberals urge Harper not to play 'tourist' in Northern visit

Liberal MP Yvonne Jones held a press conference in Ottawa today where she called on the government to make life more affordable for people in the North.
Liberal MP Yvonne Jones, pictured in the House of Commons, held a news conference Thursday calling on the government to make life more affordable in Canada's North. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Liberal MP Yvonne Jones called on Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his government to help make life more affordable for people in Canada's North.

She held a news conference in Ottawa Thursday and challenged the government to explain how it is meeting the needs for better housing, health services, transportation and other infrastructure.

Jones, her party's northern development critic, said when Harper visits the North this summer, an annual tradition for the prime minister, he should take the time to truly engage with people who live there so he can better understand what life is like for them.

"It's not good enough to just go visit a national park or just go and visit a remote region. You have to be engaged with the people who live there," she said. "I think it's important that if you are going to make the trip that you at least make the time to engage with these people and to understand what their challenges are and how you can work more effectively as a government to help them meet those challenges."

Jones said the Conservatives need to invest money in housing, affordable food, health, education and internet in northern communities. Infrastructure is needed to support economic growth, she said.

"I hope he'll prove me wrong but right now I'm just seeing him as a tourist," she said of Harper's upcoming trip."If he was going as the prime minister of the country I would hope that he is going to respond to the needs of the people in this region of Canada's North and not come back and look at another budget that is only going to cut programs and services."

Leona Aglukkaq, the minister of the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency, responded to Jones by saying the Conservative government is committed to the North.

"Every year, the prime minister goes up North to meet with the people and hear directly from Northerners. Since we formed government in 2006, our government has made the North a priority," she said in an emailed statement.

Aglukkaq said her government created a strategy for the North, is making investments in housing and other infrastructure and has taken other measures in the interests of people in the North.

"The Liberal government had 13 years to recognize the importance of the North, they should stop playing politics and start supporting investments that will help Northerners.

Jones was just elected in May 2013 in the byelection forced by the resignation of former Conservative MP and cabinet member Peter Penashue.