Iqaluit continues to lobby hard for port prize

Arctic waits for Harper's port announcement


When Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced July 9 that the federal government would build a deep water port in the Arctic, he didn't say exactly where, but promised to do so "in the not-too-distant future."

The delayed decision on a port location was overshadowed by news the government will spend $3.1 billion on ice-strengthened patrol ships that will spend part of the year plying Arctic waters.

"Obviously it will serve as a forward operating base for the new patrol ships, but it will have important civilian and commercial applications as well," Harper said during the announcement in Esquimault, B.C.

A spokesman with the Department of National Defence in Ottawa, who didn't want his name used, wasn't giving any further clues about where the port will go, saying officials don't want to pre-empt the prime ministerial announcement that's coming soon.

Defence officials are likely keeping a tight lid on possible locations to protect the bidding process, because any contract to build the port would be worth many tens of millions of dollars.

It's still not clear if Harper will visit Nunavut in connection with Operation Nanook, a naval exercise planned for the Hudson Strait this August.

There's also speculation that Harper may visit Kuujjuaq for the signing of an agreement-in-principle for a new form of regional government in Nunavik at an event that overlaps with Operation Nanook.

Iqaluit mayor Elisapee Sheutiapik said Ottawa should pick a location for the port that create economic benefits for Nunavut.

She says dock in Iqaluit that's accessible to the public would be good for more than just the capital, she said.

"It wouldn't just be Iqaluit [to benefit]," Sheutiapik said. "I'm thinking of communities like Pangnirtung, Lake Harbour. When it comes to a fishing industry, there'd be more opportunities for smaller vessels."

Iqaluit has been lobbying for a port for years, going so far as to commission a proposal in 2005 for a $47 million single-berth deepwater port, which city representatives pitched to Lawrence Cannon, the federal transport minister, last May. They haven't heard from his office since.

Methusalah Kunuk, the Government of Nunavut's assistant deputy minister for transportation, said the GN would be happy with a port anywhere in the territory.

"We need it badly, especially for the mining companies," Kunuk said.

He added that while Iqaluit might make a good port location for civilian use, he wondered if Ottawa will opt to put the port in a more strategic location.

Some media reports have mentioned Resolute Bay and Cambridge Bay as sites well suited for protecting the Northwest Passage.

"I assume [DND] will want to put it in a more strategic location," Kunuk said. "That's their decision."

In 2003, what was then the department of Community Government and Transportation proposed a deepwater port for Kimmirut, connected to the capital by an all-weather road across the Meta Incognita Peninsula.

While thought by many to be prohibitively expensive, Olayuk Akesuk, then minister of Economic Development and Transportation, whose South Baffin riding includes Kimmirut, pitched the Kimmirut proposal to federal officials last year.

At the time he also said he'd be happy with a port anywhere in Nunavut.

Kunuk said the Kimmirut proposal is on the back burner, now that Ottawa has taken the lead on the port issue.

He also acknowledged the Kimmirut road and port might be too expensive for the GN to build on its own.

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