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Nunavut Premier Eva Aariak. (DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Nunavut Premier Eva Aariak. (DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

EVA AARIAK

Why a national energy strategy must look north Add to ...

While decision-makers across the country mull over the importance of a national energy strategy, the full potential of Canada’s energy sector is quietly sitting untapped.

Nunavut, a territory that makes up one-fifth of Canada, is estimated to have 20 per cent to 25 per cent of Canada’s total oil and gas resources. We are the future of the Canadian energy sector.

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First, though, the people of Nunavut have to be convinced that the benefits of oil and gas development in the Arctic outweigh the risks to our environment.

In Nunavut, we travel, hunt and fish on the waters of the Arctic as we have for millenniums. This runs much deeper than an emotional connection. For us, the relationship with the Arctic environment is fundamentally about survival. While we prepare for a future with oil, we insist on the highest levels of safety and emergency preparedness.

The people of Nunavut must be full partners in developing oil and gas within our boundaries and our offshore. Just like in Newfoundland and Labrador, oil and gas must first and foremost be about building economically self-reliant communities in a remote part of the country.

Second, we will need a way to get Nunavut’s oil and gas resources to global markets. A national energy strategy will require a more expansive vision that goes beyond new pipelines in the West. It’s time to turn our eyes north to build an energy network that stretches from coast to coast to coast.

Many people are surprised to learn that there isn’t a single road or railway that connects any of Nunavut’s 25 communities to the rest of the country. Despite having Canada’s longest coastline, Nunavut has no deep-water ports. Right now, the only way to get people and goods in and out of our territory is by air and, once a year, by boat.

Unlocking the billions of dollars of potential will demand leadership and forward thinking. New investments are needed to bridge the divide between North and South.

The Canadian Chamber of Commerce has added its voice to those calling for governments to work with the private sector in building the transportation and telecommunications infrastructure that will enable remote communities to contribute to the wealth of the nation.

Finally, a national energy strategy must bridge the energy divide that exists in this country. There are 300 communities that are off the electricity grid in Canada that are held back economically because they depend on an aging, dirty and expensive fleet of diesel generators for their electricity. If we want remote communities in Canada that can flourish without government handouts, we need to invest in more local and affordable sources of power.

Nunavut’s potential for oil and gas development is matched only by that of our renewable energy resources. This energy flows through fast-running rivers, in our 30,000 megawatt tides, in our winds, and in our endless Arctic summer sunshine. Right now, this power just slips through our fingers – uncaptured – day after day.

A national energy strategy could bring together Canada’s growing renewable energy producers with remote communities and the investors needed to produce local, clean and affordable energy that will sustain economic development in the long term.

I am heartened by the calls for a national energy strategy. A national strategy will shine a light on the bold actions required to complete the map of Canada, from coast to coast to coast.

Eva Aariak is the Premier of Nunavut. She is delivering the keynote address at the Arctic Oil & Gas Symposium on March 14 in Calgary.

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