New Arctic park on agenda for Canadian PM’s northern tour

Prime Minister Stephen Harper stands by the Nahanni River in Nahanni National Park Reserve, Northwest Territories, during a trip in 2007. Harper is set to announce a new reserve or park along the river during his latest visit. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)Making 7th trip to the North as prime minister

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper will announce the creation of a massive new national park in the country’s Northwest Territories during his summer tour of the Canadian Arctic, CBC News has learned.

Harper began the five-day tour Monday, his seventh such trip as prime minister.

The park, called Naats’ihch’oh (pronounced nat-TSEEn-cho), is to be located on a huge piece of land just north and alongside of the existing Nahanni National Park Reserve. The area includes the headwaters of the world-famous Nahanni River.

It’s possible Naats’ihch’oh will also be a reserve — or partly a reserve — entitled to somewhat less protection than a full national park. But either way it seems thousands of square kilometres of land will be set apart.

Harper’s spokesman, Andrew MacDougall, says the Arctic is key part of the prime minister’s agenda — one he has been focused on since taking office in 2006.

“Part of the purpose of this exercise every year is to demonstrate progress, and to update [Canadians] on where we are on certain projects,” said MacDougall.

The trip is a kind of PR tour for what the government refers to as its northern strategy: a package of ideas that guides its engagement in the North.

Over the years, Harper has made a series of promises focused on the North but has had trouble keeping some of them.

The government has for six years now been promising to build Arctic patrol ships, but construction has yet to begin. It has also planned a deepwater port, but work on that base in Nanisivik has barely begun.

“These initiatives are all important, they’re all worth doing, but they are hard to do,” said MacDougall.

The government has also promised to build a high-Arctic research station in the community of Cambridge Bay in Canada’s eastern Arctic Nunavut territory and money was set aside in 2007. More news on that project is expected later this week.

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