Saturday, October 6, 2007

Harper plays down talk of an election

Interesting that Harper, who stresses Canadian sovereignty, in cahoots with the supposedly leftist premier of Manitoba Gary Doer are helping out a US firm that has bought out the railway to Churchill and the Port facilities! In turn the Colorado firm complains to Harper that if the Wheat Board Monopoly is ended his firm will be screwed because grain exports are the bread and butter of the line and port. Of course Harper is bound and determined to end the Wheat Board monopoly!

Harper plays down talk of election

October 6, 2007

CHURCHILL, MAN. -- On a chilly, windswept day in Churchill, Manitoba, Prime Minister Stephen Harper came face to face with a polar bear and emerged bullish about his government's prospects.

After meeting a bear from the safety of a tundra buggy, a wide-tired elevated bus used by polar bear tour companies, Mr. Harper issued a challenge to his opponents.

"I'm putting forward a plan to govern," Mr. Harper said. "If the opposition wants an election, they'll have to force an election."

Earlier, Mr. Harper gave a glimpse of the uncertainties that come with leading a minority government. A keen student of history, he said he was disappointed not to have been able to visit York Factory, a 17th-century Hudson's Bay Company trading post not far from Churchill.

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Manitoba Premier Gary Doer, who was walking alongside Mr. Harper, quickly offered to bring the Prime Minister back for a tour of York Factory in the summer. Mr. Harper chuckled and said unfortunately he couldn't guarantee anything, given the current political situation.

In many ways, though, the machinations of election-obsessed Ottawa seemed a long way from the Prime Minister's mind yesterday as he spoke with conviction about the North and Canada's claim to sovereignty in the Arctic.

He and Mr. Doer were in Churchill to announce $68-million in funding for scientific research into the effects of climate change in the Arctic, as well as major upgrades to the Port of Churchill and the rail line that connects it to the south.

"Scientific inquiry and development are absolutely essential to Canada's defence of its North," Mr. Harper said. "They enhance our knowledge of and presence in the region and as I've said so many times before about our Arctic: Use it or lose it is the first principle of sovereignty."

The Port of Churchill, a deep-water port with access to the Arctic and impressive air and rail links, was overlooked by the federal government when it was deciding where to build military infrastructure to assert Canada's claim to the Northwest Passage - much to the dismay of Mr. Doer.

Yesterday, Mr. Doer, an NDP Premier, praised Mr. Harper adding: "At the last premiers meeting, we all spoke in favour of the strong and determined stand to not just talk about Arctic sovereignty but to demonstrate it by our presence throughout northern Canada."

The two governments hope that the added infrastructure funding will help OmniTRAX, the Colorado-based company that bought the port and rail line in 1997, to expand and diversify its business. At the moment the port, which employs about one-third of the town's work force, is used almost exclusively by the Canadian Wheat Board to ship grain overseas, and OmniTRAX has said it believes the port won't be economically viable if the government follows through on a promise to end the wheat board monopoly on grain sales. But yesterday Mr. Harper said that whatever happens with the wheat board, the port will have customers.

"The government of Canada will ensure this port is used and that there are shipments," Mr. Harper said.

Later this month, for the first time, a ship from the Russian-based Murmansk shipping company will arrive in Churchill carrying cargo for import. Many here hope it's the beginning of stronger links and flourishing trade between the two Arctic neighbours.

As the climate changes, and the water in the Far North becomes easier to navigate, they believe Churchill could become an alternative to congested coastal ports, part of a mid-continent trade corridor linked by rail and road to the U.S. Midwest.

The Prime Minister also announced funding for 26 scientific research projects as part of $150-million in funding for the International Polar Year, including money for studies on how polar bears and seals are adapting to climate change.

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