Robyn Benson, PSAC

Harper visits the North

North .jpg

It’s a good time for the Prime Minister to flee, perhaps, what with the Duffy trial in full swing. But he may have his hands full as he trolls for votes north of sixty.

Combine the effects of global warming with an on-going food crisis, add one of the worst Cabinet Ministers in the past thirty years (our climate change-denying Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq, MP for Nunavut), and yet another climate-change “skeptic’ from the Yukon, and you may not have a winning electoral formula.

So serious is the food situation that people have been seen scavenging for food in a Rankin Inlet dump. The response of Aglukkaq was reportedly to demand an apology from the mayor of Rankin Inlet for daring to bring that inconvenient matter up. She was caught reading a newspaper in the House of Commons while the crisis was being discussed.

Aglukkaq insisted that the mayor tell the world that the Conservatives’ Nutrition North program, introduced in 2011, is working. But it’s not—according to the Auditor General, anyway. The mayor is standing his ground, and her constituents are still foraging in dumps, visiting food banks in greater numbers than ever, and receiving food parcels from the South. Meanwhile, reported price-gouging by northern food stores has led to protests and social media campaigns, while Aglukkaq tells the gullible that the Inuit get what they need from hunting—again, not so.

But what does the Auditor General, who spent months reviewing the Nutrition North program, know? For that matter, what would climate scientists know? Don’t bother Harper’s Minister of the Environment with facts. They just get in the way.

Then there was the infamous “Dumpcano” in Iqaluit. The toxic fumes from this burning dump forced schools to close. The fire’s out now, at a cost of $2.75 million. The federal government’s response was, “not our problem.” So the city was forced to use up its own reserves, which had been earmarked for such luxuries as roads and children’s playgrounds.

The discovery of a Franklin Expedition ship, the HMS Erebus, was turned into yet another Harper photo-op. He was awarded a medal, as though he’d led the diving team himself. (The site had actually been known to the Inuit for generations.) But somehow even this happy historical news managed to blossom into a scandal.

Supporting the Harper government does have its rewards for a few, of course. A lucrative contract to build an Arctic research station has been awarded—to Leona Aglukkaq’s election campaign strategist.

So much, then, for Harper’s “Northern Strategy.” His government’s interest in Arctic sovereignty is not matched by any obvious concern for the people who live there. The reverse, in fact.

I’ll be visiting Nunavut shortly myself to meet with PSAC members, but I doubt that I’ll bump into Stephen Harper. Sounds like he’ll be busy on a salvage operation.

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This page contains a single entry by Robyn Benson, PSAC published on August 14, 2015 8:00 AM.

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