In 2019, the Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs released a report titled A Path to Growth: Investing in the North. The committee developed the report to help Canada better understand what hinders socio-economic development across the Canadian Arctic, they also provided recommendations on how to better support infrastructure development in the North.
The report states, “Building and maintaining infrastructure in the North is about more than economic development, access to natural resources or Arctic sovereignty. First and foremost, it is about people and ensuring that all Canadians benefit from the same opportunities in life wherever they live.”
The priority of the Government of the Northwest Territories is people. We are focused on making sure all residents have what they need to thrive: a roof over their heads, a good-paying job, quality education, and strong, safe, thriving communities.
For decades, the Northwest Territories has lagged behind southern Canada when it comes to opportunity and access to housing, employment, and education. Many residents rely on winter roads to get in and out of their community. During the summer months, the only way into many communities is by air, and many residents can’t afford the thousands of dollars it costs for a round-trip ticket, due to the lack of decent-paying jobs.
Imagine living in a community that relies on the arrival of an annual barge for the delivery of certain goods that your family or business needs. Residents and business operators in the community of Sachs Harbour, located on Banks Island on the coast of the Beaufort Sea, get only one opportunity each year to have a new vehicle shipped into the community – at the cost of $4,657. And, like this year, when climate change and other unpredictable factors disrupt barging schedules, you may have to wait six to eight months to have essential supplies delivered.
These are the realities for many Northwest Territories residents. It is time for Canada to undertake bold new nation-building projects to strengthen Northern communities and close the gaps between the North and southern Canada.
We want to create connections that allow us to expand our green energy potential, connections that lead toward a net-zero future, allow us to access critical mineral opportunities, and increase access to education. We want to build communities that demonstrate security through sovereignty. To achieve these goals and contribute to the national economy, we need Canada to demonstrate a shared commitment to these priorities. Projects like the Taltson Hydro Expansion, the Mackenzie Valley Highway, and the creation of a Polytechnic University will be transformative for the Northwest Territories and for Canada.
We want to contribute to Canada’s economic future. These projects will develop our economic potential, support the transition to a green economy, and improve the quality of life of residents.
The Mackenzie Valley Highway, a long-talked-about 400-plus kilometre road through the Mackenzie Valley, requires a nation-building level of commitment to connect NWT communities and grow them stronger and more vibrant. This kind of investment will support local and northern business development, create jobs so people can support their families, and help Northerners build long-lasting, sustainable options for their future.
The Mackenzie Valley Highway project demonstrates a strong commitment to reconciliation and support for the majority Dene, Métis, and Inuit populations in the regions. It will support a lower cost of living, improve intercommunity mobility, and provide additional economic opportunities, including tourism, oil and gas exploration, development and remediation, and mineral resource exploration and development.
Canada’s ambitious goal of reaching Net-Zero emissions by 2050 requires a nationally developed critical mineral supply chain. The Northwest Territories is positioned to be at the heart of the shift to a low-carbon economy. The NWT currently contains 23 of the 31 minerals on Canada’s list of critical minerals and holds seven significant deposits – so far.
A Vancouver-based company will begin exploring, in 2023, what they feel could be one of North America’s largest hard rock lithium deposits. With the growing demand for critical minerals like lithium, used in developing electric vehicle batteries, we can be a leader in green mining and energy technologies needed to help grow Canada’s economy and achieve its objectives.
The Taltson Hydro Expansion project would provide 70% of the NWT population with more reliable, affordable energy, reduce Greenhouse Gas emissions by up to 240,000 tonnes annually, and provide clean energy to current and future critical mineral projects in the territory. It’s also about economic reconciliation.
The project would see full Indigenous government partnership and participation in decision-making through the process, creating opportunities that will benefit future generations of Indigenous residents. In May of this year, Infrastructure Minister Dominic Leblanc told Northern media there was a “very clear path” to funding this project – we hope he delivers on his promise.
Developing a Polytechnic University in the Northwest Territories supports Canada’s Arctic and Northern Policy Framework priority of closing the infrastructure and education gaps for Indigenous residents. By focusing on earth resources and environmental management training, the institution will ensure Canadians are ready to participate fully in the critical minerals energy value chain to support energy transition. The Polytechnic University will embody Northern values and aspirations while improving the quality of life for future generations.
These projects will mean transformational change for the Northwest Territories. A thriving Northern economy is key to the resilience of Northern communities, and the assertion of sovereignty in Canada’s arctic. This sovereignty can only be achieved and maintained by ensuring the people and communities of the Arctic are healthy and resilient. As the standing committee wrote in their 2019 report, “with the Arctic becoming more and more accessible, Canada is at a turning point and cannot afford to wait.”
It’s time Canada invests in the Northwest Territories.
Caroline Cochrane is the Premier of the Northwest Territories. She is the second female Premier in the territory’s history and the first female Métis Premier in Canada. She lives in Yellowknife with her partner Rory.