Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper greets locals during a community feast in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut August 22, 2012.
Credits: REUTERS/Chris Wattie
CAMBRIDGE BAY, Nunavut - Federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq just got a promotion.
On Thursday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced she will serve as chair of the Arctic Council when Canada takes the helm of the intergovernmental forum between 2013-15.
She will also hold the title of Arctic Council minister in addition to her role as minister of health and northern economic development.
"She is a minister that represents Northern Canada and it is important Northern Canada be the one that really lead this exercise," Harper told the media during a news conference here Thursday.
Harper is in the Arctic for his annual northern summer tour.
Nunavut-born Aglukkaq said she is ready defend Canada's position at the table with the seven other Arctic states - Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the US - all with competing interests.
But she wasn't ready Thursday to address what hurdles Canada may face in asserting its position on issues like Arctic sovereignty.
"I've been in this job 10 minutes," she said. "But I'm really looking forward to it. I'm from the Arctic and I'll bring that knowledge to the table, as someone who's born and raised up here."
Harper also announced long-awaited funding for a new high Arctic research station (CHARS) in Cambridge Bay. It'll cost just under $200 million over six years to get the project up and running by 2017. It was initially announced in 2010.
Mayor Jeannie Ehaloak said her remote community welcomes the station and hopes it will help relieve some of the social problems in the town of 1,600, including its 40% unemployment rate.
"There are challenges that, hopefully, in the future, we'll get to solve. And with CHARS coming it will be a big opportunity for our community and for our youth."
Harper acknowledge the problems facing northern communities, like the high cost of living and the need to build lasting roads and houses in remote communities in inhospitable weather.
"Everything is so uphill in terms of development," he said, and added his government's solution was to drive economic development in the North.
The government halted funding this year for PEARL, another polar research station studying climate change in the Arctic.
CHARS researchers will study some aspects of the changing environment in the North, but their mandate will also include Arctic sovereignty and economic development.