Harper rallies Nunavut faithful behind closed doors

Stephen Harper’s Iqaluit trip consisted of a private photo op at Sylvia Grinnell Park and a brief announcement at Tower Arctic Ltd. held behind a convoy of trucks that barricaded the site, shielding it from potential protesters.

Conservative leader promises expansion of Canadian Rangers, takes no questions

Neither the small crowd of cherry-picked supporters in attendance at the rally nor the media was given an opportunity to ask any questions of Stephen Harper during his Iqaluit visit. (Travis Burke/CBC)

Stephen Harper's Iqaluit campaign stop consisted of a private photo op at Sylvia Grinnell Park and a brief announcement at Tower Arctic Ltd. held behind a convoy of trucks that barricaded the site, shielding it from potential protesters.

Neither the small crowd of cherry-picked supporters in attendance at the rally, nor the media, was given an opportunity to ask any questions. The main focus of the event was praising Conservative Leona Aglukkaq's work in the North and stressing Harper's commitment to Arctic sovereignty. 

Harper devoted a significant part of his short statement to the Canadian Rangers. He talked about the Conservative Party's plan to expand the Junior Canadian Rangers by 15 per cent to 5,000. He also re-announced the Canadian Rangers rifle replacement program which will allow all Rangers to keep their current Lee Enfield rifles after they receive their C-19 rifles.

"The new C-19 rifles will ensure that the Canadian Rangers are properly equipped to safeguard northern communities and to defend Northern sovereignty," said Harper. "Their Lee-Enfield rifles will become a symbol of our nation's gratitude for their dedication and commitment."

The only other announcement was about the creation of the Franklin Centre in Gjoa Haven, which will be a cultural greeting centre.   

Protesters greet Harper 

Conservative leader Stephen Harper arrived in Iqaluit Friday, to be welcomed by both supporters and opponents.

As he stepped off the plane, Harper was greeted by a hand-picked group of placard holding supporters at Iqaluit airport. Minutes later, he's met with a different kind of welcome committee of Liberal opponents outside the gates.

Harper visited Hay River, N.W.T., in the morning and is spending the evening in Iqaluit. The trip coincides with the cross-examination of his former chief of staff at Senator Mike Duffy's fraud trial in Ottawa.

For true-blue Conservative supporters, Stephen Harper's visit is welcome news. 

"I feel awesome about it," gushes Mona Netser, a long-time Conservative supporter whose husband works for Conservative candidate Leona Aglukkaq's campaign. "He thinks of us Inuit. He thinks of Nunavut, and he supports Nunavut for sure."

Netser says Harper's visit has nothing to do with hiding from the Duffy trial.

Stephen Harper is greeted in Iqaluit by a hand-selected crowd of supporters including Nunavut's Conservative candidate Leona Aglukkaq.
"I don't believe he's hiding, he has visited Nunavut before, I'm sure he longs to go here to visit because he loves it."

Others are more critical of this short visit, particularly the fact, that it is only open to vetted party supporters.

"We pride ourselves in Nunavut on being warm and welcoming and open," says Charlotte Borg, a member of the Qulliit Nunavut Status of Women Council. "You may not always like what you hear, but generally, there's a tradition of openness."

Borg says a closed meeting and short stop-over on the campaign trail sends the wrong message to the people of Nunavut and flies in the face of Inuit tradition.

'The North is here'

Like many other community groups in Iqaluit, the Qulliit Nunavut Status of Women Council has yet to receive an invitation to meet with Stephen Harper. And they're not holding their breath, although Borg stresses the fact that her group was invited to meet with both the NDP's Tom Mulcair and the Liberal's Justin Trudeau, when they visited Iqaluit.

Regardless, Borg hopes the lack of an invite doesn't translate into issues affecting Inuit women being left off the agenda.

She says issues such as the ongoing work on missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls, domestic violence, the high cost of food and living in the North, access to childcare, housing and social services in the North have not been a priority on the campaign trail. 

"The North is here. We're not just a place to come visit and then forget about. We're here, we're part of Canada and we would like to feature prominently in the agenda for Canada and the future of Canada."

A group of Liberal Party supporters including Nunavut's candidate Hunter Tootoo greet Stephen Harper at the Iqaluit airport. (Sima Sahar Zerehi/CBC)
Borg says political leaders should have more respect for the North and not just come here when it's politically convenient.

"We're not just a place up there somewhere that you come to when it's convenient," she says. "If you remember us at election time. Make sure we're watching, we're listening we're paying attention. Remember us when you're in government. Whoever that is." 

Liberal challenges Aglukkaq to a debate

Nunavut's Liberal candidate, Hunter Tootoo, says he's extending a special welcome to both Harper and the Conservative incumbent, Leona Aglukkaq.

"It's typical that he's coming in and no one really knows," says Tootoo, who adds, "the same behaviour is also true for Leona Aglukkaq, who has been an MP here."

Tootoo says legitimate concerns in the North on issues such as food security, suicide prevention, the environment and infrastructure have not been addressed by the Conservatives.

"They organize so they can only meet with the elite," says Tootoo, "Nunavummiut have a right to have a voice. That's why I'm challenging Leona and all the other candidates running in Nunavut to a debate."

He adds, "Hopefully she's not like the PM running away from debate." 

Leona Aglukkaq was contacted for comment. Her office said, "She looks forward to a healthy debate." 

Spencer Rocchi is running for the Green Party. The NDP in Nunavut have yet to announce a candidate.


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