AIR RONGE, Sask. – The federal government committed $2.5 million Wednesday to help train miners in northern Saskatchewan.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper made the announcement at a training college in Air Ronge, a several-hour drive northeast of Prince Albert.
Later in the day at a Conservative party event in Saskatoon, Harper said the mining announcement is another signpost of a revitalized Saskatchewan.
“What’s happening in Saskatchewan today is a genuine economic success story,” Harper told about 900 cheering supporters in a campaign-style speech.
“The province’s gross domestic product is nearly 80 per cent greater than when we took office in 2006. Unemployment today is half the national average, and this province is no longer — as it was under the NDP and the federal Liberals — ‘next year country.’
“This is now where things are happening.”
Northlands College will use the money to purchase and house training simulators.
The simulators, akin to flight simulators, will allow students to virtually learn how to operate heavy mining equipment and how to react to emergencies.
The college plans to recruit northern Saskatchewan residents and aboriginals for the training.
Most mining activity in the region involves uranium. Saskatchewan is the world’s second-largest producer of the radioactive metal after Kazakhstan. The province has 16 per cent of the world’s primary production.
There is also a gold mine in the region and a copper and zinc operation near Creighton on the Manitoba boundary.
Both of Harper’s engagements in Saskatchewan drew Idle No More protesters. In Air Ronge, about 100 people held up signs urging him to do more to fight native poverty and environmental degradation.
Many were carrying signs and wore T-shirts with anti-Harper slogans while others were singing and beating drums.
Organizer Kirstin Scanson said they didn’t expect to change Harper’s mind but hoped the protest would get the public thinking about their concerns.
“What I would love to have happen from events like this is that we create a critical consciousness in the community and we start having critical dialogue,” she said.
“I really don’t think that Harper is going to listen. But it’s important to just stand in our power, stand on our grounds, on our truths, on our home territory and say: ‘You’re not welcome here.'”
— with files from CJLR