Harper's northern tour continues at Yukon mine

Today Prime Minister Stephen Harper's annual summer tour of the North takes him to Captstone's copper gold Minto mine, about 240 kilometres north of Whitehorse.

'You ain't seen nothing yet' for northern resource development, Harper tells partisan crowd

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his wife Laureen play with a husky dog during a tour of Caribou Crossing, Yukon on Monday.

As the classic Canadian poem says, the Yukon is where people moil for gold.

And today Stephen Harper is off to see what a more modern day version of that work looks like.

On his first full day in the North, Harper was to tour Captstone's copper gold Minto mine, about 240 kilometres north of Whitehorse.

His visit comes after a speech to party faithful last night in the territorial capital where he extolled the development of the North's resources as the "great national dream."

The speech reiterated the priority the Conservatives say they've placed on the North since being elected in 2006.

"The North's time has come," Harper told a crowd of about 300 Conservative supporters at a rally Monday night.

"I tell people starting to see the activity here, you ain't seen nothing yet in terms of what's coming in the next decade."

Boosting resource development

Natural resources development has also become a renewed focus of the Harper government as countries the world express eagerness to receive a greater share.

The Conservatives have set about redrawing the process for approving natural resources projects, changing regulatory requirements, including environmental assessments to what they say will just help speed the projects up.

The government says there are currently 24 projects in the North representing $38 billion in potential new investment.

Changing the environmental assessment process to require fewer reviews and limiting their scope was one of the more contentious elements of the Conservatives' recently-passed budget. Others included changes being made to old age security and transfer payments for health care.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper rides an all terrain vehicle around sand dunes near Caribou Crossing, Yukon. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

"Not every one of these measures is easy or is popular with everybody," Harper said in a stump-style speech in a riding captured by the Tories in the 2011 federal election.

"But the reason we do them is they are all in the long-term best interests of this country."

Opposition critics say that's not the case and that local voices are being left out of the discussion of what measures are in fact in the best interests of Canada when it comes to the development of resources.

"Northerners deserve more than an annual photo op from their prime minister and hollow announcements that never materialize," said Liberal Aboriginal Affairs Critic Carolyn Bennett in a statement.

"It is time that the federal government listen to their concerns and serve as a true partner in addressing the serious challenges and opportunities in Canada's North."

First Nation protest

A group of protesters from the Carcross Tagish First Nation drummed and sang outside Harper's tour event on Monday evening, trying to capture the attention of visiting media and express their concerns about the level of government funding their self-governing First Nation receives.

There are 11 self-governing First Nations in the Yukon. The Carcross Tagish First Nation is refusing to sign its financial transfer agreement with the federal government because it believes it is funded about $1.6 million less per year than the others.

If it does not sign, funding and self-governing arrangements will end on Oct.1.

"They've suggested they will end funding... if we don't take a deal that provides us with less funding than other First Nations," Justin Ferbey, the CEO of Carcross/Tagish Management Corporation told CBC News. "We would get put back towards Indian Act-like [status] where we cannot actually manage for ourselves if they stop the funding."

"Fundamental to any economic development is stable governance," Ferbey said, adding that addressing the inequality between the self-governing First Nations in the Yukon would be the "fair thing to do."

Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan met with Chief Danny Cresswell in Whitehorse before attending Harper's partisan event on the First Nation's territory. Last month, Duncan's office offered the chief an interim agreement but the First Nation said an interim agreement is unacceptable

"[Duncan] listened and assured us that he would immediately look at [Carcross Tagish] funding and if it was unfair compared to other self-governing Yukon First Nations, he would fix it," Cresswell said in a press release after the meeting.

Cresswell also attended Harper's fundraiser and presented the prime minister with a letter explaining the funding disparity and asking for negotiations to resume. 

"Prime Minister Harper acknowledged that there was a funding issue, and that Minister Duncan would resolve it," said Cresswell's statement, adding that "coming from the Prime Minister, we trust that Minister Duncan will be true to his word and work towards a speedy resolution."

with files from Margo McDiarmid