Prime Minister Stephen Harper kicked off his annual northern tour this morning with the launch of a new $17-million research plan that will draw in industry partners and focus on technology geared to the North.
The goals are practical, he said, with an emphasis on resource development, transportation and reducing the cost of living for northerners who face higher energy costs due to their remote location.
On top of the $2 million-plus the federal government plans to pour into the program annually, construction and transportation companies as well as technology firms are expected to chip in an additional $65 million for research and innovation by 2022.
The plan is the latest rollout in the government’s declared prioritization of the North, with Arctic research, resource extraction, shipping lanes, military investment and northern sovereignty all in the foreground.
In the bowels of the college’s Cold Climate Innovation hub at the Yukon Research Centre, the Prime Minister unveiled the National Research Council’s (NRC’s) Arctic program, an eight-year plan for North of 60 “where the cost of having a home represents a significant portion of anyone’s income.”
Harper said the Arctic program will build on small-scale NRC investment into research on things like high-efficiency home insulation, which has yielded the “vacuum insulation panel” to make buildings up to 10 times more energy-efficient.
“The Government of Canada is committed to harnessing science, technology and research to further develop Canada’s North and improve the lives of northerners,” Harper told the assembled crowd of nearly 100.
He said he is hoping for more “construction game-changers” that will serve as “a bridge between the laboratory and the marketplace.”
The NRC Arctic program has set its sights on four main targets: community development, resource development, northern transportation and shipping, and marine safety technologies.
While some of the money will go toward improving the durability of northern housing, much of it will end up in broader economic research initiatives.
Reducing damage to boats in northern waters, extending the number of days ice roads can be used, increasing “survivability rates” in lifeboats and improving immersion suits “in a cold and harsh ocean environment” are among the program’s goals, the Prime Minister’s Office stated.
“Our government recognizes the full potential of the North,” Harper said today.
“We will continue to support northern development by ensuring sustainable, low-impact, responsible resource development in the Arctic, while creating jobs and improving the quality of life for residents of
NRC president John R. McDougall, on hand for the event, cautioned that no mechanisms are in place to ensure partnerships with northern companies.
He added that efforts would be made to include local public and private sector partners.
“It’s improved energy efficiency, it’s new energy sources that don’t require these enormous volumes of fuel,” McDougall said of the program.
On Friday morning, Harper will continue his ninth annual northern tour by flying to Fort Smith, N.W.T., followed by four communities in Nunavut: Cambridge Bay, Pond Inlet, Iqaluit and York Sound.
Harper also plans to take part in the military’s Operation Nanook exercise aboard a naval vessel.
Four federal ministers are accompanying the Prime Minister: Bernard Valcourt, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development; Leona Aglukkaq, Environment, CanNOR, Arctic Council; James Moore, Industry; Ed Holder, Minister of State for Science and Technology.
On hand at today’s event at Yukon College were president Karen Barnes, who spoke briefly, Cold Climate Innovation director Stephen Mooney and MP Ryan Leef, who MC’d the launch.
Several territorial cabinet ministers were in attendance as well.