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Aims to boost development while avoiding ‘industrial strategy’
Stephen Harper is on his annual visit to the North this week, quoting Robert Service and boosting the region’s vast resource potential. “The North” holds a particular place in the Canadian psyche, somewhat similar to that of “The West” in the 19th-century U.S. One thing nobody wants to see, however, is a jurisdictional “Wild North.”
One reason why attention has moved north in recent years is the possibility of regular commercial passage through the Northwest Passage due to climate change. This has brought sovereignty to the fore, an issue given a new twist by the recent transit of a Chinese vessel. China wants Arctic waters to be international, an open approach that is remarkably different from the policy China pursues closer to home.
In fact, Mr. Harper’s visit this year is built around the North’s economic promise rather than the assertion of offshore rights. There is a reason for soft-peddling sovereignty and security. The bold measures Mr. Harper announced in previous years — from new ice-patrol vessels to new research facilities — have been frustratingly slow to materialize.
In some ways, Mr. Harper’s invocation of a grand Diefenbaker-ish Northern Vision might appear out of ideological character. However, Mr. Harper’s version of vision appears to be to facilitate development, not indulge in the kind of interventionist “industrial strategy” that has a dreadful historical record. His vision involves hatching responsible policies, in particular making sure that the regulatory system isn’t used by anti-development groups as a form of trench warfare.
Northern potential is undoubted on the mining front. This week, Mr. Harper said that as many as 30 new projects would be developed across the vast region in the coming decade. While the Northwest Territories’ diamond operations are now considered mature, the Yukon’s mining industry is booming, with a production increase of 31% projected for this year. Nunavut too is forecast to see double-digit mining growth within five years.
However, despite continued enthusiasm from Mr. Harper, the role of the North in Mr. Harper’s branding of Canada as an “energy superpower” is less certain, at least for the immediate future. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, following the huge petroleum find at Prudhoe Bay in Alaska, oil companies spent billions exploring on the Mackenzie Delta and in the Canadian Beaufort Sea. Much of it was subsidized by taxpayers under the National Energy Program. Enough natural gas had already been found to justify a pipeline down the Mackenzie Valley, or so it was thought at the time.
For the rest of this article, please go to the National Post website: http://opinion.financialpost.com/2012/08/21/peter-foster-harpers-%C2%ADnorthern-vision/