Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

A national dream

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Canada's first prime minister, John A. Macdonald, had a national dream. He wanted to forge a nation that stretched from coast to coast. We need a government today that wants to include our northern coast in that vision.

It is worthwhile to compare the challenges facing Macdonald and those of Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Following Confederation in 1867, the residents of British Columbia were divided in their loyalties, with some favouring the new government in Ottawa, while others preferred union with the great republic to the south.

Macdonald's vision was at stake, so he built a railway to link the two coasts, the most significant infrastructure project in Canadian history. It was enough for British Columbia, which joined Confederation in 1871, forever ending the American threat.

Today, Canadian sovereignty in the north is facing challenges from several countries, including the United States. The Northwest Passage in particular, a phrase that is almost synonymous with the discovery of Canada, is a contested area. Mr. Harper is on a tour of the Canadian North to emphasize the government's commitment to the Arctic. He has promised to beef up our military presence and to support the northern governments and their aboriginal residents. It's all good, but it falls short.

Canada needs a new national dream for the Arctic. It doesn't have to be a northern railway or superhighway -- although that wouldn't hurt -- but there must be a more potent commitment to people who call the Arctic home. They are the most important representatives of Canadian sovereignty, but their voices might not be heard when the time comes if they do not feel part of the national experience.

As author Marie Wadden said recently: "Instead of soldiers guarding our Arctic borders, we should have Inuit citizens who feel truly part of this country, who are respected and given the necessary tools to succeed in the 21st century." The people of the North are the backbone of any plan to assert our sovereignty. Without them, there can be no national dream from coast to coast to coast.

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 20, 2009 A10

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