08/20/2012 11:07 EDT | Updated 10/20/2012 05:12 EDT

Harper to announce new national park during northern tour

Prime Minister Stephen Harper will announce the creation of a massive new national park in the Northwest Territories during his summer tour of the Canadian Arctic, CBC News has learned.

Harper began the five-day tour Monday, his seventh such trip as prime minister.

The new park, called Naats'ihch'oh (pronounced nat-TSEEN-cho), is to be located on a huge piece of land just north and alongside of the existing Nahanni National Park Reserve. The area includes the headwaters of the world-famous Nahanni River.

It's possible Naats'ihch'oh will also be a reserve — or partly a reserve — entitled to somewhat less protection than a full national park. But either way it seems thousands of square kilometres of land will be set apart.

Harper's spokesman, Andrew MacDougall, says the Arctic is key part of the prime minister's agenda — one he has been focused on since taking office in 2006.

"Part of the purpose of this exercise every year is to demonstrate progress, and to update [Canadians] on where we are on certain projects," said MacDougall.

Northern strategy

The trip is a kind of PR tour for what the government refers to as its northern strategy: a package of ideas that guides its engagement in the North.

Over the years, Harper has made a series of promises focused on the North but has had trouble keeping some of them.

The government has for six years now been promising to build Arctic patrol ships, but construction has yet to begin. It has also planned a deepwater port, but work on that base in Nanisivik has barely begun.

"These initiatives are all important, they're all worth doing, but they are hard to do," said MacDougall.

Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae said Harper's trip was worthwhile, but questioned the government's commitment to the North, during a press conference in Ottawa Monday.

"The kinds of cutbacks that we’ve seen on the environment, on providing basic investments for communities, on looking at the human challenges that face northerners, the government's actions belie any rhetoric which might flow from various announcements that the prime minister will make this week," Rae said.

Rae pointed to what he called the government's failure to deal with the impact of climate change in the North.

"The effect of climate change is more dramatically felt in northern Canada than any other part of the country. It's affecting housing, it's affecting hunting, it's affecting health, it's affecting every aspect of northern life. The changes in permafrost is causing serious damage to housing in a great many communities," Rae said.

"I don't see a serious response on climate change from this government. And I think the people who feel that more than anyone else right now are the people living in northern Canada."

The government has promised to build a high-Arctic research station in Cambridge Bay and money was set aside in 2007. More news on that project is expected later this week.