In essence, the promise of benefits from major new developments has placed the cart before the horse for local communities. Should the federal government offer to transfer all the money acquired from exploratory licenses and royalties to the territorial governments and Makivik to upgrade the infrastructure needs of each community and accelerate learning opportunities for all ages, northern communities would have a far better chance of gaining benefits. Even then, the catch-up time needed will be considerable.
One cannot and should not ignore the potential economic benefits of new mineral and energy developments in northern Canada, but local communities must be a priority. A tendency to push for speedy development should be replaced with a policy of restraint to allow time for the northern communities to develop sufficient basic infrastructure and education in skilled trades to allow the inhabitants to fully participate in the new economy. Investment in mineral and fossil fuel extraction will not foster local independence on its own – investment in the needs of northerners must come first.
As in the past, Canada suffers from being responsible for an enormous territory with a small tax base and a relatively small population. As a result, successive governments since 1930 have catered to the wishes of the majority in hopes of being re-elected, rather than doing what is in the best interest of country as a whole. We have heard endless promises of how the government planned to invest in the North, but rarely (if ever) is there sufficient money to deliver on the promises after the meeting the demands of southern Canadians.
Dare I suggest that what Canada needs is a leader who can convince all Canadians that it is in their best interest to make an extraordinary investment in the infrastructure and educational opportunities in the Far North to ensure that the future prosperity of our country. Otherwise northern Canada risks becoming an abandoned sandbox after the large corporations have extracted all the treasures of any value.
Mary Simon: Yes, it is very clear as you travel in the North today that there are unprecedented resource development opportunities. All the work Inuit put into successfully negotiating land claims agreements in the last 30 years was designed to prepare us for the resource management decisions we would face. So now we are facing a different set of challenges – how we can participate in resource development in a way that contributes to the overall health of our communities and safeguards our environment. The approach must be thoughtful and precautionary rather than strictly exploitative. Shelagh brought up the example of the Raglan Mine in my home region of Nunavik. After many years of cooperative training agreements with the adjacent communities the mine has struggled to reach Inuit employment targets. There are many reasons, but in my opinion one issue undermines all resource development job predictions – and that is the low educational outcomes in our communities. Close to 60 per cent of the Inuit population of Canada is under the age of 25 and currently fewer than 25 per cent of our youth are graduating from high school – in some regions less. We have to graduate more of our children to take advantage of the many jobs that emerge from these opportunities. That’s why my focus has been on closing the gaps in our Kindergarten-to-Grade-12 systems. I believe that the greatest social policy challenge of our time in northern Canada is to improve educational outcomes for Inuit and other aboriginal peoples.
Wade Davis: In all resource issues there are no enemies, only solutions. The issue in the North as elsewhere in Canada is not mines or no mines. It’s how many mines, in what places, at what pace, at what cost to the environment – and, critically, for whose benefit. The notion that economic development, the construction of mines and the offer of industrial jobs to local people, native and non-native alike, is only for the good of all Canadians needs to be challenged.