Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Arctic science

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Prime Minister Stephen Harper is back in what seems to be his favourite place in Canada -- the Arctic -- but unlike previous trips that focused on questions of sovereignty, this tour is raising some troubling questions about whether the polar frontier is ready for an influx of new development.

Mr. Harper used a gold mine in Baker Lake as the backdrop for an announcement touting the economic potential and development opportunities emerging in the Arctic. The mine, which opened just four years ago and already employs 760 people, has been a bonanza for the tiny remote community in Nunavut.

Another company is building an even bigger mine in Rankin Inlet as global warming spurs more resource development and exploration in the region.

The problem, as scientists have pointed out, is new developments are taxing the region's minimal infrastructure, particularly roads and electrical power.

Northern development experts have said the federal government needs to fund more baseline research on weather patterns, seismic activity and the impact of climate change on ice roads, power plants and housing. The ecologically sensitive region needs a better understanding of how to prepare for global warming and cooling to get a better grasp on the risks and opportunities, as well as the adaptations that must be made.

Budget cuts at Environment Canada, including to the Canadian Ice Service, are probably not a good start if the federal government wants a sustainable plan for future development in the Arctic.

Mr. Harper, however, is the first prime minister since John Diefenbaker in the 1950s to show such intense interest in Arctic potential. It's a worthwhile and necessary endeavour, but it must be accompanied by sound science and research.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 26, 2011 A12

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