Harper to embark on annual Arctic tour

Prime Minister Stephen Harper will be packing his bags this weekend before embarking on a tour of the Arctic, with stops in Yukon, the Northwest Territories, Nunavut and northern Manitoba.

PM will visit Yukon, the Northwest Territories, Nunavut and northern Manitoba

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, seen here visiting Yukon's Kluane National Park in 2011, has made visiting Northern Canada an annual ritual. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Stephen Harper will be packing his bags this weekend before embarking on a tour of the Arctic.

Making a swing through the North has become an annual ritual for the prime minister; next week's trip is his seventh multi-day visit.

He leaves on Monday for stops in Yukon, the Northwest Territories, Nunavut and northern Manitoba, where he'll be observing part of Operation Nanook, the military's annual Arctic summer exercise.

The prime minister's trip is expected to be a mix of new announcements and reminders about old contributions.

"Every year we go up, we do try to highlight all the areas the government is trying to do work in," said Harper's chief spokesman Andrew MacDougall.

The ramp-up of economic and military activity in the North has been a signature element of the Conservative government’s strategy since it came into power in 2006.

In 2007, Harper laid out a Northern Canada strategy which divided the government's approach to the North into four categories: sovereignty, economic and social development, environmental heritage and governance.

That plan was followed in 2010 by an Arctic foreign policy statement.

Harper's annual trips are meant to ensure progress on those strategies, said MacDougall.

"[It] demonstrates our government's continued commitment to ensuring that a strong and prosperous North helps shape the future of our nation."

Harper last visited the North in February when he announced money for adult education.

Escalating cost of food an issue

But the Opposition NDP says the Conservatives haven't gone far enough when it comes to helping the North cope with the cost of living and resource development.

"They have yet to deal with many of the issues that have been in front of the North for a long time," said the NDP's Dennis Bevington, who is the MP for Western Arctic.

"And they're not giving us the tools that we need to make a difference up here, and that's a problem as well."

Bevington pointed to the escalating cost of food in the North as a major issue.

Protests against the high price of food have been ongoing for months, including a Facebook group called Feeding my Family that includes a chart comparing the cost of foods in the North with the rest of Canada.

In Iqaluit, four litres of milk sells for $10.39, compared to $4.40 in Ottawa.

Harper will be accompanied on the trip by Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq and Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan.

Harper's trip last year was bookended by tragedy. It was delayed and his itinerary later amended after 12 people died in a plane crash near the airport in Resolute; upon his return, he went straight to the funeral for NDP Leader Jack Layton.