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Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks to media on the Historic Kinsol Trestle a wooden railway north of Shawnigan Lake, B.C., on Jan. 7, 2014. (CHAD HIPOLITO/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks to media on the Historic Kinsol Trestle a wooden railway north of Shawnigan Lake, B.C., on Jan. 7, 2014. (CHAD HIPOLITO/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

The North

Q&A with Harper: No previous government has ‘delivered more in the North’ Add to ...

So the government ended up putting that into a larger, much more complex strategy. But in no way has the government backed off doing it. It’s important to note that in all of the areas – even those areas where there have been delays – there has been progress. Contracts have been let. Work is going on at the Nanisivik naval site. Design contracts have been let on these various ships. So the work is proceeding. So there should be no doubt about the fact that these things are going to happen. But in a couple cases they are going to take a bit longer than was originally anticipated.

When you came into office, right off the bat you made it clear the Arctic, the North was going to be part of your legacy. Where did you draw inspiration for that or what prompted you to make what was obviously a very determined decision?

We actually said it in the 2006 election campaign. That was a big event, in Winnipeg [where the Conservatives announced their northern strategy] as you recall. I think even the 2006 northern tour and 2007 we really started to flesh it out. Look, I will really go back. I have thought about this question.

When I was leader of the opposition I was increasingly concerned by the direction that had been happening in the country – I guess I will say the previous government – but the direction that had been happening with regard to our vision of Canadian nationhood. I thought it had been slipping away.

And what I mean by that is what I saw happening was … Canada is a fascinating country and for over 200 years has gone through crises that are quasi-existential, one would say. Maybe existential. But certainly along those lines. Or somewhat along those lines. And so Canadian nationhood has always had to be defined.

And what I saw happening in the decade or so that preceded our government coming to office was a kind of a notion of Canadian nationhood that was becoming nothing more than anti-Americanism.

Now look, in my judgment … being different from the Americans is actually on some level fairly fundamental to our notion of what it is to be Canadian and what Canada is all about.

But, given that the Americans are our best friends, closest neighbours and most crucial allies and customers, defining ourselves as anti-American is really in my judgment first of all is not a true Canadian nationalism and is something that not only sells this country short but frankly doesn’t reflect well on the country.

And so I had been concerned about how we really work to revive a robust and positive vision of Canadian nationalism. And one of the many things, not the only thing, one of the things we identified was a renewed … it’s in a sense going back to [former Progressive Conservative prime minister John] Diefenbaker – but a renewed emphasis on Canada’s fundamental northern nature. That’s a philosophical part. But not the least of which is to also remember there is in fact great economic opportunity opening up and in our judgment a great need to better serve the people in terms of infrastructure and supports and opportunities, to better serve the small number of Canadians who actually represent our presence and claim in that vast part of our country.

And so that was one thing we identified as kind of our view of a positive nationalism.

And then I will say quite bluntly what happened in 2006 and onward was when we started to broach these things – and put this out there – is Canadians responded so overwhelmingly positively that the government then developed a full-blown long-term strategy. Because, to be frank, we’ve spent a fair bit of money up there and no one ever says it’s not money well spent.

Because even if the northern population is small and the number of Canadians who even go North is small, they get the opportunity and they get the vision that is so fundamentally linked to our country’s history.

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