Prime Minister Stephen Harper
The Northern Farm Training Institute (NFTI) is receiving $2 million in funding from the federal government in its support of Northern farming initiatives, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced while in Fort Smith last week.
“This is the perfect place to talk about the agricultural revolution we are beginning to see in this region,” he told a gym-full of people at Joseph Burr Tyrell School Friday afternoon. “Our goal is now to take Northern food production to the next level.”
After recognizing Hay River resident Jackie Milne, the driving force behind NFTI – a training program now in its second summer of travelling workshops – Harper affirmed his government would support creating a Hay River-based campus and year-round programs for the organization.
Harper admitted that there are hurdles to overcome in creating a truly effective Northern food system, including training skilled farmers, extending the growing season with economically-justifiable technology and providing startup capital for new producers.
“People probably think about natural resources when they think about the NWT,” said Premier Bob McLeod, one of several Northern politicians who attended the event. “But we’re about more than natural resource wealth. This is a large and diverse territory.”
BREAKER: Limited questions for PM
The limited number of questions allowed by the media focused on the escalating situation in Ukraine as well as potential Russian incursions into the Arctic. At least one Northerner not in attendance at the invite-only prime minister’s speech, however, felt there were key issues missing from the conversation.
“What’s really hitting home for me is that the cancer rates are skyrocketing because of the water being polluted,” said Malina Dawn, a Fort Smith resident who organized a peaceful protest following Harper’s event at the school. “There are elders in Fort Resolution who are afraid to hunt and fish, and so are eating crap food and getting sick – and they’re already sick,” she said.
Dawn said she was appalled the subject of missing and murdered aboriginal women had not come up.
Although the topic wasn’t broached in Fort Smith, Harper did address the public call for a national inquest into missing and murdered aboriginal women during a stop in Whitehorse, Yukon last Thursday.
Dawn said she organized the peaceful protest at the last minute, having only found out about the prime minister’s visit on Tuesday. She also said she was pleased with the turn-out and tone of the march through town.
“I think it’s really important to bring out the children and the young people and get them involved,” said Bev Chepelsky, a mother who marched with her baby on her back.
She said she is particularly concerned with the plight of aboriginal women in Canada, noting that while she herself is Ukrainian, her daughter Yevah is Aboriginal.
Member of parliament for the NWT Dennis Bevington did not attend the day’s events, despite their location in his home town.
The MP said he has mixed feelings about Harper’s trip to the North, adding that although he is never opposed to having the prime minister come to the territory, he hopes Harper learns something.
“He going to Cambridge Bay to recognize the construction of another high Arctic research station. But we already have existing stations including one in Inuvik,” Bevington said. “These stations aren’t where the real scientific research is done. It’s done out on the land.”
Bevington noted Harper talks a good game on scientific research in the North but that every time the Northern MP asks about the Conservatives’ science agenda, he gets stonewalled.
“They’ve never shown me what their scientific plans are. Germany has spent millions of dollars doing research in the Beaufort Sea. Our government pulled out of that project two or three years ago,” he said.
Bevington said he’s seen little research done on climate change in the North and very little on the flora and fauna in the North, including the sub Arctic boreal forest.
“As near as I can tell, the government’s scientific research appears to be mainly about developing resources. In the North, because the cost of fuel is so high, we need work done on developing more forms of alternative energy,” he said. “I see nothing coming from this government in that area.”
Bevington said he’ll be listening very closely to what the prime minister has to say on his annual trip North.
-By Sarah Ladik with files from John McFadden