A new policy review from The Conference Board of Canada’s Centre for the North’s Building a Resilient and Prosperous North recommends three high-priority areas for decision makers to consider when planning for growth in Canada’s North: Investments in Aboriginal youth wellness, physical and telecommunications infrastructure, and good governance to steer growth.
“Building the resilience of Northern communities is vital to achieving national goals of sovereignty, security, and economic prosperity. The North is changing fast – politically, socially, and economically – and we should be promoting the economic potential without compromising the integrity of traditional ways of living,” said Anja Jeffrey, Director, Northern and Aboriginal Policy. “The salient question is not if the North will grow, but how that growth will happen. In our policy review we outline and recommend approaches that are sustainable and beneficial to the peoples of the North – today and in the future.”
Canada’s North — which includes the territories and the Northern regions of seven provinces —has reshaped itself over the last five years, due to greater focus on climate change and the economic potential in the Arctic. Recent land claims decisions, conflicts around the industrialization of Northern regions, and new modes of Northern governance involving Aboriginal self determination all have had and continue to have an impact on Northern development.
The North’s natural resource endowments and global demand for minerals, oil and gas, lumber, and fish ensure that growth will happen. The Conference Board’s economic forecasts show that the mining and resource development outlook in the North remains good despite a sluggish world economy and difficulties securing project financing.
The policy review focuses on three priority areas for sustainable Northern development:
Investing in Aboriginal Youth
While the North will face additional workforce pressures as development proceeds, many Northern and Aboriginal people lack the education and training needed to meet the skill requirements of industrial positions. Moreover, tackling unique life and health and wellness challenges faced by Northern Aboriginal youth involves an enormously complex range of interdependent issues, including social, cultural, educational, and infrastructure. Early childhood intervention programs and family services to cultivate protective factors will be essential.
Upgrading Northern Infrastructure
Upgrading infrastructure of many kinds is imperative both for economic and human development in the North. This critical infrastructure includes roads, ports, telecommunications, electrical grids, and housing as well as educational, cultural, and sports facilities – many of which are aging, inadequate, or simply non-existent. Public and private decisions on infrastructure financing will be pivotal in shaping the North’s future.
Good Governance to Steer Growth
Due to the relatively small size of the Northern public service and the pressing demands on its time, public policy development in the North may be weaker than expected. Northern governments are busy implementing commitments made decades ago – such as addressing basic infrastructure needs, building affordable housing, and improving health care and education services – as well as addressing contemporary issues. Communities – Aboriginal communities in particular – must be enabled to be effective partners with the private and public sectors in collaborative Northern governance.
Launched in 2009, The Conference Board of Canada’s Centre for the North has sought to raise awareness and understanding of the North’s contribution to our national economy and its geo-political significance to Canada as a whole. Our vision of Northern development has been one that reflects the aspirations of Northerners and the economic and social realities of the North. It seeks to build a better understanding amongst Canadians of how the North matters to us all. This policy review situates the Centre’s position on Northern issues and opportunities, and consolidates the main findings of its research program.
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