Harper reacts as his wife Laureen pets a husky in Caribou Crossing, Yukon on the first day of his annual tour of northern Canada August 20, 2012.
Credits: REUTERS/Chris Wattie
MINTO, Yukon - Prime Minister Stephen Harper says Canada's North is open for business - and the benefits will be a boon to northerners, aboriginals and all Canadians.
Speaking during a stop at a copper and gold mine on his annual Arctic trek, Harper said Canadians should expect "unprecedented economic development in the next five years" in the northern territories.
"Indeed, such is the magnitude of the North's resource wealth that we are only, quite literally, just scratching the surface."
Nationwide, new resource investments will be worth more than half a trillion dollars within a decade, he added.
"In every case, there are beneficiaries and in many of the cases the predominant beneficiaries are in this part of the country," he said.
"Does that mean there aren't still enormous social challenges that need to be addressed? There are, but look those things become so much simpler if we get economic development driving some wealth accumulation here."
The new mining, oil and gas rush is placing pressure on local infrastructure, including housing , communications, energy and the health system.
But an agreement signed Tuesday between the federal government and the territory, promising Yukoners a greater share of resource wealth, will go a long way to addressing those issues, said Yukon Premier Darrell Pasloski.
The Yukon has become one of the world's mining exploration hotspots, with three mines currently in production. There are 24 major mining projects in various stages of development across Canada's three territories.
Critics have raised concerns over the speed of development in the North. Environmentalists say the federal government's desire for resource development led them to gut environmental protections.
But Harper said his controversial new "one project, one review" legislation may find its way north of 60.
"This is a more complex environment, particularly because of the nature of the aboriginal land claims settlements. But those things will very much be taken into account in anything we do moving forward."
Whatever the concerns, Selkirk First Nations Chief Kevin McGinty said the relationship with the Capstone mining and its mine, which sits on their land, has benefited his community with royalties, jobs and infrastructure.
If the right company makes an offer to other First Nations, McGinty "would recommend they get on board."
Following the visit to Minto Mine, the prime minister intends to travel to Norman Wells, N.W.T.