Deep Port moving closer to reality?

Hope grows in Iqaluit that Tories will deliver



A deep-water port, three naval icebreakers and 500 Canadian Forces troops: these are the big promises Stephen Harper made for Iqaluit this federal election.

If they become reality, it could mean a lower cost of living in Nunavut’s capital, and an economic boost for the city and other Baffin communities.

That’s still a big “if.” But it’s enough to bring cheers from Iqaluit’s city officials and resident politicians, who say a Conservative government could be a good thing for Nunavut.

Even MLA Ed Picco, a federal Liberal for more than 23 years, is cautiously optimistic that a Conservative government could be a good thing for Iqaluit.

He said he was reassured to hear Harper rebuke the U.S. ambassador to Canada, David Wilkins, for criticizing the Conservatives’ Arctic sovereignty plan.

“It sounds to me like he’s reiterating his commitment,” said Picco, who has been a vocal proponent of building a deep-water port for the city.

He plans to put in a phone call soon to the new minister of national defence about building a port, after Harper announces his cabinet on Feb. 6.

Iqaluit’s mayor, Elisapee Sheutiapik, plans to write a letter to the new prime minister congratulating him on his victory. Attached, Harper will also find a copy of a study commissioned by the city on the feasibility of building a port.

“I think it’s something everyone sees as a need,” she said.

A port in Iqaluit would dramatically reduce time spent unloading cargo and fuel, leading to savings for shipping companies that could be passed along to residents.

And if a warehouse were built in Iqaluit, shipped goods could then be flown around the Baffin at a discounted cost, Picco said.

But benefits that come with a port go far beyond faster unloading times.

Cruise ships could visit town safely, boosting the number of tourists. That means more business for restaurants and hotels, and a bigger market for local arts and crafts. Currently, many cruise ships avoid Iqaluit because unloading passengers by small boat and refueling are both risky operations.

Fishing vessels could also unload their catch of shrimp and turbot in Iqaluit, rather than make a 12-day return voyage to Newfoundland, as they do now. Resupplying in Iqaluit would only take three of four days, leaving far more time to fish.

Oil spills would also become less likely. Currently a floating pipeline is used, which makes preparing for spills and leaks impossible. That would be replaced with a wharf plugged directly into the city’s petroleum pipes.

The Conservatives have promised that Iqaluit’s port would be built entirely with federal funding. The city’s report pegs that cost at $49 million. That’s far less than previous estimates, which range from $97 million to as much as $250 million.

City officials estimate the port could be built by October 2009, if there’s the political will.

The proposed port is part of the Conservatives’ $5.3 billion plan to strengthen Canada’s claim to Arctic sovereignty. Interest in building a port for Iqaluit was likely stirred up when Gordon O’Connor, the Conservative’s defence critic, visited Iqaluit in August.

Whether Harper’s fragile minority government is able to deliver on the goods they’ve promised is unclear. But if they do, Nunavut can also expect:

* A new military training centre in Cambridge Bay. That centre will be staffed by about 100 regular forces personel, who will train soldiers using new equipment, “such as cross snow/tundra troop carriers.”
* New gear for Rangers. The Conservatives want to boost the number of Canadian Rangers across the North by 500, along with providing more training and exercises, and improved equipment. That likely includes new rifles — when O’Connor visited Iqaluit over the summer, he said the Rangers’ current rifle, which dates back to the Second World War, should be replaced with a modern gun.

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