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Harper announces agriculture funding
Support for Northern Farm Training Institute dominates prime minister's stop in Fort Smith during ninth-annual Northern tour

Sarah Ladik
Northern News Services
Published Monday, August 25, 2014

Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced his government's support for Northern farming initiatives in the NWT's garden capital last Friday, pledging to fund the Northern Farm Training Institute (NFTI) in Hay River.

"This is the perfect place to talk about the agricultural revolution we are beginning to see in this region," Harper told a gym full of people at Joseph Burr Tyrrell School in Fort Smith Friday afternoon. "Our goal is now to take Northern food production to the next level."

After recognizing Hay River resident Jackie Milne, the driving force behind the agricultural training program, Harper affirmed his government would support the program in providing year-round courses on a new campus. A news release from the Prime Minister's Office indicated the federal government will contribute $2 million to the initiative.

Harper admitted there are hurdles to be overcome in creating a truly effective Northern food system, including training skilled farmers, extending the growing season with economically-justifiable technology and providing startup capital for new producers.

"People probably think about natural resources when they think about the NWT," said Premier Bob McLeod, one of several Northern politicians who attended the event. "But we're about more than natural resource wealth. This is a large and diverse territory."

The limited number of questions allowed from the media focused on the escalating situation in Ukraine as well as potential Russian incursions into the Arctic. Northerners not invited to the Prime Minister's speech, however, felt there were key issues missing from the conversation.

"What's really hitting home for me is that the cancer rates are skyrocketing because of the water being polluted," said Malina Dawn, a Fort Smith resident who organized a peaceful protest following the prime minister's event at the school. "There are elders in Fort Resolution who are afraid to hunt and fish, and so are eating crap food, and getting sick - and they're already sick."

Furthermore, Dawn said she was appalled that the subject of missing and murdered aboriginal women had not come up.

Harper did address the public call for a national inquest into missing and murdered aboriginal women during a stop in Whitehorse last Thursday.

"I think we should not view this as sociological phenomenon. We should view it as crime," Harper said at a public appearance at Yukon College.

Dawn said she organized the peaceful protest at the last minute, having only found out about the prime minister's visit on Tuesday. She also said she was pleased with the turnout and tone of the march throughout town.

"I think it's really important to bring out the children and the young people and get them involved," said Bev Chepelsky, who carried her daughter Yevah Chepelsky-Tetso on her back throughout the protest.

She said she is particularly concerned with the plight of aboriginal women in Canada, noting that while she herself is Ukrainian, her daughter is aboriginal.

NWT MP Dennis Bevington did not attend the day's events, despite their location in his home town.

Earlier in the week, the MP told News/North he had mixed feelings about the prime minister's trip to the North. He said he is never opposed to having the prime minister come to the territory, but hopes Harper learns something during his visit.

"He's going to Cambridge Bay to recognize the construction of another High Arctic research station, but we already have existing stations including one in Inuvik," Bevington said. "These stations aren't where the real scientific research is done. It's done out on the land."

Bevington noted Harper talks a good game on scientific research in the North but every time the Northern MP asks about the Conservatives science agenda, he gets stonewalled.

"They've never shown me what their scientific plans are. Germany has spent millions of dollars doing research in the Beaufort Sea. Our government pulled out of that project two or three years ago," he said.

Bevington said he's seen little research done on climate change in the North, including its impacts on flora and fauna in the North, including the subarctic boreal forest.

"As near as I can tell, the government's scientific research appears to be mainly about developing resources. In the North, because the cost of fuel is so high, we need work done on developing more forms of alternative energy," he said. "I see nothing coming from this government in that area,"

Bevington said he would be listening very closely to what the prime minister has to say throughout his annual tour.

-with files from John McFadden

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