WHITEHORSE – The Conservative government’s overall effort to tame the Far North has often lacked political will and direction, warns a blunt new National Defence study that explores how the Canadian military fits in to the strategy.
The 72-page assessment, obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act, paints a picture of good intentions that have ground to a halt amid bureaucratic red tape and turf wars in Ottawa.
It is a splash of cold water that comes just as Prime Minister Stephen Harper stumps around the Arctic this week, touting his government’s achievements and meeting with community leaders, as well as aboriginal reserve soldiers.
The review, written by the Defence Science Advisory Board at National Defence, looks at everything from military and public safety issues to the economy of the North and the implications of dealing with local culture.
Intergovernmental committees have been formed, but the plan lacks a “champion” at the political level to provide direction and build consensus among departments, said the review, dated April 2012.
There are many thorny “resource and jurisdictional issues” to be managed, it noted.
“Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development has responsibility for the Northern Strategy, but this is not being developed and overseen at a sufficiently high level,” wrote the defence scientists, whose wide-ranging research was not restricted to the military aspects of the government’s plan.
“A high-level co-ordinating panel at the (deputy minister) level has been established. However, at the lower levels, frustration is the predominant emotion as there is no clear flow of governance and responsibility down to the working level.”
The federal government can often be described by its “stove pipes” that limit the flow of information and produce a reluctance to co-operate, said the report.
“This prevailing culture is bolstered by a set of rules, which can stymie well-meaning attempts to progress initiatives through logical co-operation,” defence researchers wrote.
“As a result efforts to make operational aspects of the government’s northern strategy are not seen by local residents as progressing as rapidly as possible.”
The Conservatives, on the other hand, insist they have made “tremendous strides” forward and that economic development in the region is progressing like never before.
Speaking to supporters at the start of his tour, Harper said his government has maintained an unprecedented focus on the region, noting he had visited the Yukon nine times.
“And as Conservatives, we have pledged that northern development will mean northern prosperity,” he said.
There have been investments in science have led to resource discoveries and the commercialization of deposits, Harper said Monday while re-announcing a federal budget commitment towards the creation of a new Centre for Northern Innovation in Mining at Yukon College.
“Our government’s investment in this new centre will address critical skills shortages facing the region, while providing the citizens of Yukon and the North with better access to the education and training that can lead to high quality jobs.”
The announcement came just weeks after Alexco Resources announced it would shut down silver mining operations at its site in Keno City, Yukon, during the winter and possibly beyond.
Harper said the mining industry is at the mercy of resource prices, but that the innovation centre will create the necessary labour pool for the region.
The most recent federal budget also poured $200 million for the construction of an all-season gravel road from Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk in the Northwest Territories.
The Conservatives also underscore the $241 million spent over the last five years to connect First Nations youth with skills training and jobs.