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Christopher Radojewski | Fulcrum Staff

THE CONSERVATIVES HAVE championed a focus on Canada’s Arctic. Prime Minister Harper and his Conservative government have made arguably one of the most significant efforts in this area of any Canadian government to date. He has made extensive funding to increase the military presence up north. This is not the first time the federal government has tackled issues of Arctic sovereignty, and with thawing ice, Arctic sovereignty will continue to be questioned in the future.

Enormous resources have been devoted to the north since Harper became Prime Minister in 2006. There has been additional funding to find the wreckage of the lost Franklin expedition, to map the sea floor of the Northwest Passage, and for an increased military capacity in the North. Since 2006, Prime Minister Harper has also made it a priority to take a yearly northern tour.

The government has also focused on the economic development of resources like minerals, in addition to creating a northern presence. This is all part of a Canada’s Northern Strategy released in 2007. It has targeted areas of sovereignty, governance, environmental heritage, and economic and social development. Finally, there is a set of clear priorities. Thank you, Mr. Harper.

Despite the Prime Minister’s strategy, northern citizens are ignored, and because people have the greatest sway in enforcing sovereignty, they should be the government’s focus.

In a Statement by Members before Thanksgiving, Romeo Saganash, the Member of Parliament (MP) for Abitibi-Baie-James-Nunavik-Eeyou, publicized the government’s lack of assistance in feeding northern citizens.

Food prices are extremely high in northern communities. Quality is questionable and selection is very limited. The XL Foods outbreak of E. coli didn’t even reach the Arctic, mainly because fresh food is expired by the time it arrives. Aren’t they lucky?

Transportation costs do increase prices, but they shouldn’t reach levels that hinder economic development. According to a Huffington Post article published in June 2012, a head of cabbage retails near $28 in northern Canada. Cases of bottled water sell for over $100. Development is imperative if poverty and malnutrition in the north is to be fixed.

The government initiated  Food Mail Program in an attempt to provide essential items for more than 70,000 people across many small Arctic communities. This program was cut by the Conservative government. The program wasn’t the most effective, but Saganash believes cancelling it without public consultation wasn’t right. The food mail program was replaced in 2011 with Nutrition North Canada, but prices still remain high.

“This government had an opportunity to re-design the [Food Mail Program] in consultation with the people that live in the North,” said Saganash. “They could have gathered all these stakeholders that are directly concerned by this issue…[and dealt] with this very serious issue. How can you have Arctic sovereignty if the people living there are hungry?”

Canada gives millions of dollars in foreign aid each year, but if our country plans to solve world poverty, it needs to start at home. With poor conditions existing in our own country, how can we give foreign aid to Senegal and other states, telling them they need our assistance? We need to solve our own problems first. And if social programs are a Canadian identity, we must ensure the whole country benefits from them. Healthcare and education exist at significantly lower levels in the north.

This won’t be an easy project, but it is a necessary one. With climate change and increased access to a Northwest Passage, the infrastructure needs to be there to support the people, provide search and rescue, and respond quickly to environmental catastrophes. Most importantly, we cannot forget to consult northern Canadians when fixing these issues. Just giving them a Tim Horton’s will not solve the starvation and malnutrition. We need a strategy by northern Canadians for northern Canadians.

Canada must step up and take care of our arctic—not just the underground resources, but also the people. Remember they are Canadians too!