Rise of the North
NationalPost.com – Opinion – With the creation of a new think-tank, The Conference Board of Canada outlines an ambitious strategy to re-imagine our country’s Arctic region
Published: Tuesday, February 02, 2010. Anne Golden and Peter Wilson, National Post
Later this week, G7 finance ministers will travel to Iqaluit, Nunavut, in Canada’s Far North, to address some of the world’s most pressing economic problems: annual deficits in the hundreds of billions of dollars, national debt loads in the trillions and tens of millions of unemployed. They will meet in a small town just south of the Arctic Circle where the days are short and the wind is cold. And so they may be wondering, “What could this place have to do with the global economy, anyway?”
The answer is, “plenty.”
Nunavut can boast some amazing numbers, on a global scale. There are literally trillions of dollars worth of diamonds, gold, iron ore, uranium, and oil and gas in the ground. And at two million square kilometres in size, this one Canadian territory is larger than the home countries of all the G7 foreign finance ministers except Timothy Geithner’s. The remaining five countries combined (France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the U.K.) would all fit inside Nunavut with room to spare.
But while those five major industrialized nations are home to nearly 400-million people, only 35,000 live in Nunavut. On a per-capita basis, then, Nunavummiut could be very, very wealthy if the territory’s vast economic potential was realized and shared.
But very, very wealthy they are not. Crowded housing, expensive food, high unemployment and a lack of economic opportunities have all contributed over the years to poorer physical and mental health among residents of Nunavut than in any other part of the country. Addressing these problems will take a lot of money. (At about this time last year, the federal government announced another $100-million for social housing in Nunavut, for example.) It will also take a strategy.
The federal government’s Northern Strategy envisions self-reliant individuals who live in healthy, vital communities, manage their own affairs and shape their own destinies. The promotion of social and economic development in Canada’s North is a cornerstone of this approach.
It is now widely accepted that global warming is affecting the Arctic more than anywhere else on the planet. Northerners will face enormous challenges adapting
to it, but the melting of the Northwest Passage will also provide opportunities. Living along a trade route in the heart of the G7 — linking Japan with the eastern United States and Europe — will be a lot different than living in what is today one of the most remote places on Earth.
And living in a territory where vast natural resource wealth will be extracted by G7 corporations and shipped to G7 countries will be a lot different than living in a territory that will see its only operating mine start production this month, and is still without a single oil well, gas pipeline or much of the infrastructure required to link it to the world economy.
These are the challenges facing the federal and territorial governments, land-claims organizations, industry, Northerners in particular, and Canadians as a whole.
With interest in Canada’s North at an all-time high, The Conference Board of Canada recently launched its Centre for the North — a five-year program of research and dialogue aimed at achieving a shared vision of sustainable development in the North.
This month, the Centre released the first-ever independent territorial forecast for Nunavut, the Northwest Territories and Yukon. The forecast anticipates a return to growth in the economy of Nunavut in 2010 and beyond, following a downturn in 2009 that was caused by a reduction in mineral exploration activity linked to recession-induced drops in commodity prices.
The forecast also notes that Nunavut has one of the youngest populations in the world and that, while labour will be plentiful in the coming years, creating meaningful employment for Northerners will be a challenge that governments, industry and aboriginal groups must start to address right away through better living conditions, education, and other investments in human capital.
In the coming years, corporations and citizens from G7 countries will be active in the Canadian North, whether in transportation through the Northwest Passage, the extraction of natural resources for the benefit of G7 economies or just as cruise ship passengers who want to experience one of the most beautiful places on earth. Co-operation with Canada as a G7 partner will increasingly mean cooperation with Canada’s North.
-Anne Golden is president and CEO of The Conference Board of Canada. Peter Wilson is director of the Conference Board’s Centre for the North.
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