North

NDP blasts Harper for ignoring real northern issues

On the day before Prime Minister Stephen Harper was set to make his latest trip north of 60, NDP Leader Jack Layton criticized Harper's government for focusing heavily on military measures to secure Canada's claim to the Arctic.

Tories put military strength ahead of communities: Layton

On the day before Prime Minister Stephen Harper was set to make his latest trip north of 60, NDP Leader Jack Layton criticized Harper's government for focusing heavily on military measures to secure Canada's claim to the Arctic.

Speaking by phone at a news conference Monday in Yellowknife, Layton called on Harper's government to focus instead on more pressing issues facing the people who live in the North, from a lack of housing to building a deep-sea port in Iqaluit.

"We all recall the time [Harper] came to talk about the North and he said you got to use it or lose it," Layton said, referring to Harper's August 2007 visit to Resolute Bay, Nunavut, to announce military facilities would be built there and at the former Nanisivik lead-zinc mine near Arctic Bay.

Layton, who said he was in Nunavut at the time of Harper's announcement, remarked that "the people who were living there were asking themselves, 'What does he think we've been doing all these thousands of years?'"

Harper will visit the Northwest Territories and the Yukon this week, starting in Inuvik, N.W.T., on Tuesday. He is scheduled to make at least two announcements in Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T., and Dawson City, Yukon, later in the week.

Layton said Harper has a "wonderful opportunity for Canada to build on our sovereign claims" by supporting communities and investing in much-needed northern roads and ports.

Also taking part in the news conference were Western Arctic NDP MP Dennis Bevington and Arctic sovereignty expert Michael Byers of the University of British Columbia. Byers is also the NDP's candidate in the Vancouver Centre riding.

Byers noted "a complete lack of seriousness on the part of the Harper government in dealing with the crisis of climate change, which is having such a devastating impact across Canada's Arctic."

"If you don't deal with climate change, if you're not serious about becoming a world leader on climate change, you are directly failing the people of the North," Byers said.

In addition to addressing climate change, Byers said the federal government should reinvest in literacy and housing programs, two nationwide issues that are of particular importance in the North.

All three New Democrats said theHarper government is fixated on military might to assert Canada's sovereignty in the North, while neglecting to cooperate with other Arctic nations on the issue.

Byers also called on Ottawa to do a better job of implementing the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement. Inuit organization Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. launched a lawsuit against the federal government in 2006, claiming the government has breached its responsibilities in implementing the land claim.

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