CAMBRIDGE BAY, Nunavut - The federal health minister will lead the international Arctic Council next year as it grapples with whether to allow other countries at the table.
Canada assumes leadership of the eight-nation body in 2013, and the prime minister announced Thursday in Nunavut that Leona Aglukkaq is his choice as Canada's official ambassador.
Aglukkaq will remain as health minister as she also takes on responsibilities for developing and delivering the council's program between 2013 and 2015, Stephen Harper said.
"The North is an integral part of our heritage and holds tremendous promise for our country's future. I therefore welcome Canada's upcoming chairmanship of the Arctic Council where countries will be working together to advance their respective northern interests," Harper said in a statement.
"I am delighted that Leona, who has such a deep understanding of Canada's North and its peoples, has accepted to act as Canada’s Chair of the Arctic Council."
Aglukkaq is also the MP from Nunavut and banners welcoming her home hung at a community feast in the community at a welcome feast on Wednesday night.
Chairmanship of the council rotates through all member countries, and Canada's next turn marks the end of the first complete rotation since the council was founded in Ottawa in 1996.
Canada takes over from Sweden and the other members include Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, the Russian Federation and the United States.
But as melting ice and a global thirst for resources have made the Arctic a lucrative environment, other countries are angling for a seat at the table as official observers.
Key among them is China and the European Union, both countries that are high on Canada's list of trading partners.
Canada has nixed the EU's bid once before because of its ban on seal products.
Some aboriginal leaders are also worried that if other countries join, they will dilute the voices of the First Nations and Inuit groups who have permanent seats at the table, though no votes.
Canada is also likely to come under pressure to try to broaden the council's mandate to include security issues.
The announcement came as Harper visited Cambridge Bay, a community of about 1,500 people.
He had tried to visit two years ago on his annual Northern tour but the trip was called off because of bad weather.
On that tour, Harper announced Cambridge Bay as the site of a new Canadian High Arctic Research station.
The facility is behind schedule, but Harper announced Thursday that a Quebec-based design team has been selected.
Residents have also been waiting to see how much money has been allocated for the centre.
Harper committed $142.4 million over six years for the construction and fit-up of the station, and an additional $46.2 million for a science and technology program related to its work.
An additional $26.5 million per year has been set aside, as of 2018-19, for the continuing program and operations of the station.
"The North is a fundamental part of Canada's heritage, future and identity, and we must continue to assert our sovereignty over Canada’s Arctic," Harper said in a statement.
"This new station will undertake science and technology research that will support the responsible development of Canada's North, inform environmental stewardship, and enhance the quality of life of Northerners and all Canadians."
The centre is scheduled to open in 2017.
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