PM echoes Diefenbaker’s “northern vision”

“I think that a northern vision is an essential part of the Canadian vision”


Paul Martin bade farewell to Nunavut last Saturday, sparking new hopes for better relations between Ottawa and northern governments, more federal money to pay for northern public services, and a rejigged “northern vision.”

“It is not a coincidence that I am up here. I have, over my life, spent a lot of time in the North. I think that a northern vision is an essential part of the Canadian vision,” Martin told reporters in Iqaluit Aug. 12, the third day of his five-day, 7,500-mile tour of the three territories last week.

Martin’s reference to a northern vision was actually triggered by a question from Andrea Mandel-Campbell, a writer from Toronto’s Walrus magazine, who asked Martin how his government’s treatment of northern issues compared with the late John Diefenbaker’s government in the late 1950s.

In 1957, Diefenbaker’s once-famous “northern vision” policy inspired the nation and helped get him elected as prime minister.

Alluding to the 25th anniversary of Diefenbaker’s death on Aug. 16, Martin said his northern vision combines environmental protection with sustainable economic development.

And he said his vision of Canadian sovereignty in the North involves more than just military exercises, such as Operation Narwhal near Panniqtuuq this weekend. Canadian sovereignty is “manifested in a multitude of ways,” Martin said, including “the quality of life that people who live there have.”

But Martin made no specific commitments on such longstanding issues as health care funding or economic development.

Although Canada’s provincial and territorial premiers now back the idea that Ottawa should pay for 100 per cent of Nunavut’s medical travel costs, Martin acknowledged the issue, but did not say exactly what he supports.

“We’re certainly prepared to do our share,” Martin said, but he didn’t outline what that means, except to say that “it’s the kind of issue that will involve bilateral discussions between the government of Nunavut and the Canadian government.”

He did say, though, that he discussed the idea of more support to train Inuit in the health professions. While in Pond Inlet, Martin visited the nursing station and talked with Dr. Patty DeMaio, one of only a handful of resident doctors based in a community outside of Iqaluit.

And when a CBC reporter asked Martin about Nunavut’s rate of one suicide every 10 days, he responded by saying that “we all have a responsibility to make sure that the people of Nunavut, especially the young people, have hope for the future.”

But Martin did promise more support for northern scientific research. In recent years, many major scientific projects in the North have been conducted by non-Canadian researchers, and funded by foreign governments.

“If we default on it, either nobody is going to do it, in which case there’s going to be a huge gap, or others will do it, and that’s our responsibility. I’m not going to allow somebody to step in and fill that gap,” Martin said.

Martin returned to his northern vision theme later that evening, in an impromptu speech given to about 350 adoring Iqalungmiut gathered in Iqaluit’s cadet hall for a meet-and-greet event.

He won a loud round of applause for saying that it is Canada’s “responsibility to the world” to protect the northern environment, and that Canadian sovereignty would not exist without the work of Nunavut’s Inuit Rangers.

After a meeting with Martin that lasted much longer than the 15 minutes originally allocated for it, Okalik said Martin has been “quite active” on northern issues.

“Before Mr. Martin came to office, devolution was not on the table. It’s now back on the table,” Okalik said.

Devolution was one of many items that Okalik brought up in his meeting with Martin. The two leaders also talked about health care, Nunavut’s fishery, economic development, and relations between Ottawa and Nunavut.

After departing Iqaluit, Martin flew on to Inuvik, Tuktoyaktuk, Whitehorse, and Watson Lake, then returned via Rankin Inlet, where he stopped off for a community event.

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