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Brendan Bell joins praise for PM in Yellowknife

Adam Johnson
Northern News Services
Published Friday, August 10, 2007

YELLOWKNIFE - While Fort Simpson got the major announcement, Yellowknife was the site of another important event on Prime Minister Stephen Harper's latest northern tour - the declaration of a territorial cabinet minister's full support for the Conservatives.

NNSL Photo/Graphic

Prime Minister Stephen Harper addresses a crowd of Conservative Party members at the Baker Centre in Yellowknife on Wednesday. - Adam Johnson/NNSL photo

"The government of the Northwest Territories has had a wonderful relationship with Mr. Harper's government over the last 18 months," Industry, Tourism and Investment Minister Brendan Bell said as he introduced Harper at a gathering of the party faithful Wednesday night.

Bell's term as MLA for Yellowknife South ends this fall.

He is widely rumored to be considering a run for the Conservative nomination in the Western Arctic, but declined to reveal his plans.

"(My wife and I) agreed that we would sit down and talk about our future," he said later.

"We'll be coming out with an announcement in the next week or so."

Bell praised the Conservative minority government's budget for its leadership and vision for the North.

"We finally now have the amount of money to run programs and services for Northern people actively," he said.

Nearly 100 card-carrying Conservative Party members from around the North descended on the Baker Centre to hear the prime minister speak.

The last time Harper was in Yellowknife in August, 2006, he was forced to cross a gauntlet of angry protesters outside the legislative assembly, shouting "Stephen Harper won't face voters."

It was mostly only card-carrying Conservatives and the media that were invited to Tuesday's event. No protesters were seen outside the Baker Centre.

"We want to end the paternalistic policies of the past to make sure that Northerners have more control over their own economic and political destiny," Harper told the appreciative crowd.

Harper trumpeted his promise to expand Nahanni National Park, as the "most significant environmental preservation announcement in a generation."

He criticized northern MPs who voted against the Conservative budget that he labeled "good news for northerners."

"(There are) three opposition MPs in the North who voted against these benefits and who are going to have to explain why."

"Shame!" the crowd yelled in response.

On Tuesday, NDP Western Arctic MP Dennis Bevington criticized Harper's Nahanni Park announcement, calling it a "half-loaf" plan because the expansion doesn't cover the entire watershed.

Harper was joined by Environment Minister John Baird and northern Conservative Party president Duncan McNeil at the event, which did not include a question and answer period with the media.

It did, however, include a handshake and photo opportunity with Harper, which was popular with those in attendance, among them Kam Lake MLA David Ramsay, city councillor David Wind, Weledeh MLA hopeful Andy Wong and founding Inuvik Dene band chief Cece Hodgson-McCauley.

Afterwards, Bell said he was pleased to have Harper speak to party members in Yellowknife.

"It's important symbolically to have the Prime Minister in the North," he said.

"More important is the policy approach that he's taken that I think makes sense for the North."