LUNENBURG, N.S. - Canada will spend $4.9 million to help with the refit of the Bluenose II, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced Wednesday.

Billed as Nova Scotia's sailing ambassador, the schooner is being restored at a shipyard in Lunenburg.

Harper said the vessel is a national icon that needs to be preserved.

"Nearly 50 years of wind and water take their toll on the finest of woodwork and the strongest of ships," Harper told a news conference in Lunenburg.

"We are doing this because our government and our provincial partner believe Bluenose II should continue to promote Lunenburg, Nova Scotia and Canada to the world for decades to come."

Last month, the provincial government announced a $12.5-million contract to the Lunenburg Shipyard Alliance for a major overhaul of the vessel.

The refit is expected to be finished in March 2012.

Also yesterday, Harper was in Waterville at a Michelin tire plant where he announced the federal government and province would spend another $4 million towards a program aimed at helping unemployed older workers gain new skills.

Harper says the Targeted Initiative for Older Workers program, introduced in April 2009, helped Michelin avoid laying off 95 employees during the recent economic downturn.