Prime Minister Harper announces the John G. Diefenbaker icebreaker project

Inuvik, NT
28 August 2008


Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Masi cho. Thank you, Peter MacKay, for that generous introduction, and for all the hard work and travelling you've been doing as our Minister of National Defence.  Greetings also to all the dignitaries who are here today, Aboriginal elders, Mayor Lindsay, and of course Premier Roland.  Thank all of you for your Northern hospitality.  Premier, this is your hometown.  I'm delighted to be here in, as I mentioned earlier, the first, I believe the first ever, cabinet gathering in one of Canada's territories.

Let me begin by congratulating you on behalf of all Canadians on the occasion of this year's 50th anniversary of the founding of Inuvik.  That was in 1958, one year before I was born, and it was here three years later that Prime Minister Diefenbaker stood at this very place to officially dedicate the birth of this community, a new and permanent home for the many families who had inhabited this region for millennia.  Now, Premier, you were born just about that time, one of the first people actually born here, I think. 

That visit by Mr. Diefenbaker was historic, not just for Inuvik, but for the country, for it was the first time, as I say, that a sitting Canadian Prime Minister had ever travelled north of the Arctic Circle, to a place so far north that to see the Northern Lights, you must actually look south.  Prime Minister Diefenbaker was very much aware of the historic significance of his visit.  In a poetic and powerful speech, he invoked the memory of our founding Prime Minister Sir John A MacDonald, recalling how he had achieved Canada's national dream by building the transcontinental railway.  "I cannot help thinking," Diefenbaker said, "how MacDonald would have relished this moment, his coast to coast dream immeasurably enlarged by this North-South dimension."

John George Diefenbaker, like Sir John A. MacDonald, was a Prime Minister with a dream, not just seeing the great expanse of the country, but the greatness that Canada and Canadians should aspire to. But he understood that to truly fulfill our national dream, we must accept the challenges and seize the opportunities presented by our North.  Besides helping to build the Arctic community of Inuvik, Prime Minister Diefenbaker undertook a massive northern infrastructure development program called Roads to Resources.  Over 1400 miles of roads were built across the territories, including the Dempster Highway, linking Inuvik to southern Canada.  The program also included airports, ice roads for winter transport, and massive icebreakers.  "For too long, we have forgotten the Arctic," Prime Minister Diefenbaker said that day in Inuvik as he unveiled the striking bronze sculpture behind me, a symbol, he said, “of the friendship and mutual aid of the federal and territorial governments and the people of the wide community of the Mackenzie Delta.”

Prime Minister Diefenbaker is no longer with us, but the geopolitical importance of the Arctic and Canada's interests in it have never been greater.  This is why our government has launched an ambitious Northern Agenda based on the timeless responsibility imposed by our national anthem, to keep the True North strong and free.  To this end, we will encourage responsible development of the North's abundant economic resources, we will ensure jobs and opportunity and the health and good governance of Northern communities.  We will protect the unique and fragile Arctic ecosystem for the generations yet to come.  And of course, we will assert and defend Canada's sovereignty and security in this region.

This week I've made three announcements that underscore our commitment to economic development and environmental protection in the North.  Just before leaving Ottawa on Tuesday, I announced the Geo-mapping for Energy and Mineral Resources Program.  This program will map the geology of our northern territories to help prospectors and producers find the vast stores of gas, oil, gold, diamonds and other wealth buried beneath the tundra.  On Wednesday in Tuktoyaktuk, I announced our Government's intention to amend the Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act and to double our jurisdiction in the Arctic Ocean to 200 nautical miles off our shore.  To give Canada true control over these waters, I also announced our intention to pass legislation that will allow us to require foreign vessels to report to the Canadian Coast Guard.  These initiatives are real, tangible expressions of our determination to develop and protect our True North.

Today I'm pleased to formally announce the commencement of a major Arctic sovereignty project, the building of Canada's new polar class icebreaker, the largest, most powerful icebreaker Canada will ever have owned.  This will harness the energy and expertise of the Coast Guard, Canadian shipbuilders and all the communities that support these institutions.  I can think of no better name for the ship than the name of the man who stood a few metres away from where I'm standing today, John George Diefenbaker. 

When it launches for the first time into the frigid Canadian waters, the Diefenbaker, as it is almost certain to be nicknamed, will be a crowning achievement for our country.  One day it will sail the Northwest Passage, symbolically following the dream of all the brave Arctic mariners who envisioned a northern route from Atlantic to Pacific.  The ghosts of Hudson, Franklin, Amundsen, Larson, Bernier and all the rest will watch as the Diefenbaker crashes through the pack ice, and they will hear the echo of the words of the late, great Canadian folk singer Stan Rogers:

"Ah, for just one time, I would take the Northwest Passage,  to find the hand of Franklin reaching for the Beaufort Sea,
tracing one warm line through a land so wild and savage,  and make a Northwest Passage to the sea."

The search for this passage has defined our recorded history, literally from its inception.  In exercising our sovereignty over these waters, we are not only fulfilling our duty to the people who called this northern frontier home, and to the generations that will follow; we are also being faithful to all who came before us, who through great hardship and sacrifice made a quest for knowledge of the North.  Today we are searching for Franklin, both literally and symbolically.

Because we are a northern country.  The True North is our destiny, for our explorers, for our entrepreneurs, for our artists.  And to not embrace its promise now at the dawn of its ascendancy would be to turn our backs on what it is to be Canadian.  Now, friends, I hope in the not-so-distant future to return here with Brendan Bell and to see the long-dreamed-of Beaufort Mackenzie Valley gas development finally come to fruition, a project that will open the northern frontier as it has never been opened before.  Because as Prime Minister Diefenbaker said when he stood here in 1961, "There is a new world emerging above the Arctic Circle."  It is this world, a new world for all the people of the Arctic regions that we in Canada are working to build. Thank you very much for your hospitality, and God bless the True North.