Stephen Harper heralded the enlistment of the 5,000th Canadian Ranger during a visit to an Arctic hamlet where he slept out on the tundra and joined the part-time soldier force as it conducted a “sovereignty patrol” by water.
Mr. Harper is on the fourth day of his annual summer tour of northern Canada, an effort to promote resource development with jobs for locals and champion Canadian sovereignty in the remote region.
Several years ago the Prime Minister had promised an expansion of the lightly-armed Ranger force that acts as Canada’s eyes and ears across this country’s sparsely populated North.
On Wednesday, he announced an additional 1,000 Rangers have been hired, bringing the total to 5,000.
Mr. Harper welcomed Private Nigel Nakoolak, from Coral Harbour, Nunavut, as the 5,000th Ranger.
The prime minister conducted target shooting with the Rangers, using the First World War vintage Lee Enfield rifles before sleeping out on the tundra in tents with the soldiers.
“It was an honour to patrol with the Rangers ... as they work to defend our territory from potential threats and emergencies and keep our North strong, secure and free,” Mr. Harper said.
The patrol he joined was part of Operation Nanook, an annual Canadian Armed Forces exercise in Northern Canada.
Gjoa Haven, on King William Island, has a population of about 1,300 people, mostly Inuit. Mr. Harper appeared to relish target practice with the Rangers, shooting a gravel berm in standing, crouching and prone positions.
After shooting, an Inuit elder and Ranger, dressed in traditional animal skins, taught him how to build an inukshuk, an iconic stone figure in northern Canada. They later erected a traditional animal skin shelter. Mr. Harper set up the pole inside the structure under direction from his wife, Laureen Harper.
He crawled out of the opening and said: “There’s not a lot of room in there.”
There was a full moon Tuesday night and Laureen suggested she and her husband take a romantic walk on the Arctic beach.
“It’s a lot like the moon,” the prime minister said as he surveyed the flat and desolate landscape.
He proceeded to imitate astronauts moonwalking for a few steps.
The prime minister was instructed how to light a traditional carved bowl lamp – which traditionally use seal oil – but he was unable to set it afire.
Mr. Harper remarked, wryly, “I guess I’d die in the wilderness.”
He ended Tuesday evening with a bonfire on an Arctic beach. There are no trees on King William Island, so the wood had to be flown in from Yellowknife.
Mr. Harper, his wife, Defence Minister Rob Nicholson and Chief of the Defence Staff Tom Lawson all slept in white tents guarded by Rangers, and the PMO’s close protection detail.