Harper points North for economic growth

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Prime Minister Stephen Harper is vowing Canada will continue to hold a spot at the top of the global economy’s food chain – powered there by the wealth hidden below the northern permafrost.

Speaking to party faithful near Carcross – an hour southeast of Whitehorse – Harper said he’s determined Canada’s economy "will continue to outperform Europe, the United States and Japan" in the future.

"We will not just be one of the world’s older economic powers," he said. "We are determined Canada will be one of the world’s next generation of economic powers as well."

Harper landed in the Yukon on Monday afternoon, the first stop on his annual multi-day trip through the Far North. His arrival coincided with a statutory holiday in the Yukon commemorating the beginning of the Klondike gold rush in 1896.

The prime minister said the North is now ushering in a 21st century resource and commodity rush that could drive Canada’s economic engine – pointing to mining exploration in the region reaching "unprecedented levels."

"Those who want to see the future of this country should look North," he told the crowd of Conservatives at a rally to shore up support for Yukon MP Ryan Leef, who won the riding in last general election by a 132-vote margin over the Liberal incumbent.

The Yukon is among the world’s mining exploration hot spots, with the Conference Board of Canada predicting mining output in the westernmost territory to jump 31% over 2011 levels this year alone.

Still, the Yukon’s population growth – the highest in the country between 2006 and 2011 – has created a housing crisis in the capital, which has witnessed skyrocketing rents and house prices, and near zero vacancy rates.

In his budget speech in March, Yukon Premier Darrell Pasloski pointed to growing pressures on the territory’s health care, energy and communications as development has boomed.

And conservationists are also raising concerns over the speed of development and mining exploration, and its impact on the Yukon’s environment.

Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae pointed to recent cutbacks at a polar atmospheric research facility on Ellesmere Island and the need for more investments in northern communities, and suggested that some of the announcements expected to be made in the coming days may be little more than political rhetoric.

"I think the real issue for the prime minister is, is he walking the talk?" he said during a news conference in Ottawa.

On Tuesday, Harper travels to the Capstone Mining’s open-pit copper, gold and silver Minto Mine, 240 km north of Whitehorse – one of three mines currently operating in the Yukon.