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The Northwest Territories risks being left behind in the race to supply economies with vital minerals and energy supplies, unless Canada acts to invest in the North, says NWT premier Caroline Cochrane.Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Caroline Cochrane is Premier of the Northwest Territories.

We stand at a critical juncture for the Northwest Territories.

Throughout our history, the NWT has thrived on abundant mining activities, boasting a wealth of zinc, gold, diamonds and countless other valuable resources, including oil and gas. We are blessed with a land of immense potential, including being home to 23 of the 31 critical minerals essential for the green economy.

This should be cause for celebration, but instead, we are once again on the outside looking in.

The race to supply allied economies with these vital minerals is under way, and unless Canada acts swiftly to invest in transportation corridors, telecommunications infrastructure and cleaner, more affordable energy in the North, the NWT and our people risk being left behind.

Canada’s ambitious goal of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 presents an extraordinary opportunity for reconciliation and equitable access to affordable, reliable and secure energy sources from coast to coast to coast. However, if Canada truly wishes to realize this vision, it is time to look North and confront the glaring inadequacies in transportation, energy and communications infrastructure that plague our territory.

These deficiencies undermine our competitiveness in attracting investments while simultaneously hampering our ability to meet the needs of NWT residents, communities and businesses. The cost of living remains high, we are reliant on air travel between communities and our resources need help to reach the market.

It is not just the NWT that stands to gain from increased investments – all Canadians will see the benefits. The vibrancy and strength of northern communities is fundamental to the security of our entire nation. The global community’s growing attention to the Arctic region, driven by climate change, resource accessibility and geopolitical strife, should serve as a resounding wake-up call.

Modern transportation, energy and telecommunications infrastructure are essential to northerners’ ability to keep pace with our southern neighbours. This type of investment would support transformative projects that would change lives and enable NWT residents to dream of and attain financial stability.

Furthermore, such investment from Canada would foster continued resource development within the territory, yielding dividends for all Canadians, thanks to our profit-based royalty structure in the NWT.

The dire consequences of climate change loom over the NWT, directly affecting traditional activities vital to Indigenous communities – activities such as hunting, trapping and fishing. Compounded by the historical burden of Canada’s colonization policies, these communities now face the harsh reality of being deprived of even the basic necessities required for survival.

I have been in cabinet for nearly eight years, half of those as Premier. While the Government of Canada has invested in the NWT during this time, many promises have yet to be fulfilled. It is critical to recognize that a significant portion of Canada’s international border lies within the three northern territories, underscoring the strategic importance of maintaining access to this invaluable resource for advancing Arctic sovereignty.

Canada is well aware of the gaps between North and South, as they were detailed in the Arctic and Northern Policy Framework. Launched in 2019, it remains an unfulfilled promise with no implementation plan or funding dedicated to bridge these gaps.

The NWT and Canada’s North are on the cusp of great transformation, and we need a partner to ensure the future includes green energy and sustainable development. Premiers are calling on Prime Minister Trudeau to convene a first ministers’ meeting dedicated to the linked priorities of competitiveness and strategic infrastructure. Will this help the North finally get the attention we deserve? This time promises must be fulfilled.

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