Skip to main content

Irvin Studin is editor-in-chief and publisher of Global Brief Magazine, and president of the Institute for 21st Century Questions

To look West, Canada must first look North.

Paradoxical though it may seem, the most comprehensive, sustainable response to the growing anger and alienation of Alberta, Saskatchewan and other parts of the Canadian West consists not in a pipeline or a recalibration of our equalization arrangements.

Instead, the country needs a 50-year plan to address the vast Northern and Arctic region, which is fast melting – both at sea and through the northern permafrost. The national response to the irreversible transformation of the upper 40 per cent of Canada’s territory is, in my humble submission, the only serious climate-change imperative for Canada. Everything else is commentary or the Canadian south self-flagellating strictly for the consumption of the Canadian south.

Most of Canada’s three Northern territories – all told, as large as the entire European Union – are psychologically very close to the Canadian West. Yukon, which is as big as France, is a psychological and topographical extension of British Columbia. The Northwest Territories – as big as France, Germany and Ukraine combined – is a psychological and topographical extension of Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Here’s the decisive shift in national imagination and logic that unlocks both huge opportunities for our country and begins to solve the increasingly wicked national unity and governability pressures suggested by “Wexit” and associated centrifugal forces. Canada must not only unleash the enormous economic potential of the West, but it must unblock the West’s sense of being “boxed in” at the western flank by infrastructural and export bottlenecks and at the eastern flank by huge distances of space and understanding from Ottawa. How can this be done? Answer: Three key moves, as part of a wholesale national strategic and economic shift to the North and Arctic.

Move One. Declare the three Northern territories, in all their vastness, to be a “Special Economic and Environmental Zone” for Canada. This will provide a powerful legal and political aegis for the country to deploy a vast economic, infrastructural, environmental, scientific, demographic, cultural, educational and diplomatic agenda. This agenda would engage the energies of all of the West, the sophisticated territorial and Indigenous governments of the North, and indeed all of the provinces of the East in a decades-long national push to reckon with the opening of the massive Arctic theatre – the biggest in Canadian history since the opening of the West itself.

Move Two. Launch a Northern Migration Strategy. Canada currently has a total of 115,000 people spread across Yukon, NWT and Nunavut. How are we to get anything at all done, in the national and local interest alike, with such a tiny population amid the transformation-by-melt of this colossal territory and theatre?

Canada will need millions more people this century to survive and succeed, but we must immediately begin to place far more weight and urgency to a pro-Northern distribution of both immigration and internal migration. By mid-century, we will need at least several million people living “north of 60” if we are to meet the country’s changing economic, environmental and, yes, defence needs.

Move Three. Make Yellowknife, Whitehorse or Inuvik the “Singapore of the Arctic” by the year 2040. If Singapore was able to mould itself from a swamp-laden reject of the Malaysian Federation into the hub of Asia, then let us make one of our leading Arctic cities the leading international hub of an Arctic theatre that brings together – through Northern transport (starting with air transport), economic and people-to-people links – continental North America, Asia-Pacific, Russia and Eurasia, and Northern Europe and the European Union.

Consider that Whitehorse is closer to Beijing than is Sydney, Australia, Inuvik is closer to Moscow than Toronto is, and Yellowknife is closer to Oslo and Stockholm than Montreal is. A Canadian Arctic hub could place our country – and Canada’s West in particular – at the centre of a new international market of more than two billion people. That’s six times larger than the U.S. market alone, and an entire new world and century of opportunity.

Keep your Opinions sharp and informed. Get the Opinion newsletter. Sign up today.