Maps of Canada's Arctic will boost sovereignty: Harper

The federal government will map out the oil, gas and mineral resources in Canada's North in an attempt to boost the economy and defend arctic sovereignty, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced Tuesday.

The federal government will map out the oil, gas and mineral resources in Canada's North in an attempt to boost the economy and defend Arctic sovereignty, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced Tuesday.

The geomapping program will cost $100 million over five years but is expected to generate $500 million from private companies that wish to do exploration work in the region.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks at the National Archives in Ottawa Tuesday. ((Sean Kilpatrick/ Canadian Press))

Harper said oil, natural gas, gold and diamonds have already been discovered throughout Canada's northern territories.

"What we've found so far is merely the tip of the proverbial iceberg," he told reporters in Ottawa before launching a three-day tour of the North. "It is estimated that a quarter of the world's undiscovered oil and gas lies under the Arctic.

"Managed properly, Canada's share of this incredible endowment will fuel the prosperity of our country for generations."

He said the program, which was partially outlined in the 2008 federal budget, will send researchers and specialized aircraft into the field to collect data and create geological models and subterranean maps. These tools will ultimately help companies "find the treasures buried there."

'Use it or lose it'

At the same time, the program will bolster Canada's claims on the Arctic by carefully charting the region and encouraging development there, Harper said.

"Use it or lose it is the first principle of Arctic sovereignty," the prime minister said.   

The geomapping program will help define Canada's undersea perimeter or continental shelf, said Arctic sovereignty expert Rob Huebert of the Centre for Military and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary.

"You can determine you have a continental shelf to extend your right over the soil and sub-soil," Huebert said. "Given the fact that the Russians have shown that they're very serious about it, I think we have to be."

Last year, Russian scientists planted their national flag on the seabed at the North Pole, drawing protest from Canadians.

Russia claims a large portion of the area, saying the Arctic seabed and Siberia are linked by the same continental shelf. The United Nations has rejected the claim, citing lack of evidence, but the country is set to resubmit the application in 2009.

The United States, Denmark and Norway are also seeking claims to the potentially oil-rich area. All the countries agreed in May to reach a decision about control of the area in an orderly manner.

A UN panel is supposed to decide on Arctic control by 2020.

Canada, meanwhile, plans to spend $7.5 billion to build and operate up to eight Arctic patrol ships in a bid to help protect its sovereignty.

Cabinet meeting part of three-day northern tour

Harper is scheduled to arrive Tuesday evening in Inuvik, N.W.T., where he will meet with the territorial premiers and aboriginal leaders.

The prime minister is expected to make an infrastructure announcement Wednesday in Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T., and another announcement Thursday in Dawson City, Yukon.

Harper also plans to hold a cabinet meeting in Inuvik during his three-day tour — the first federal cabinet ever to be held north of 60.

"I look forward to going north, because I see some of Canada's most spectacular landscapes and I meet some of Canada's most hardy and dynamic people," Harper told reporters.

He said he's made a point of touring the North every year since he became prime minister in 2006. In past trips he said he enjoyed riding on a dog sled, viewing polar bears, visiting icy water falls, touring an Arctic military base and dipping his toe into the Arctic Ocean.

"I come back to Ottawa inspired," he said.