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The Future of Canada’s North

Anne Golden, President and CEO
The Conference Board of Canada
August 31, 2009

In the coming years, Canada’s North—as defined by the Northern Development Ministers’ Forum—will face tremendous challenges. Whether in terms of adapting to climate change, addressing major infrastructure needs, or developing effective policy for economic and social development, Canada’s North is at an important crossroads. Formidable as these challenges are, they also offer opportunities that, if approached creatively and collaboratively, can result in significant benefits for those living in the North—and for all Canadians.

Developing Northern resources will increase tensions between those who advocate keeping fragile ecosystems intact and those who want to maximize the region’s full economic potential. Adding to the tensions, Aboriginal communities, Northern municipalities, businesses, and governments at all levels will want what they believe is their fair share of the benefits of development.

It is in this context that the Conference Board is launching the most ambitious undertaking in its half-century history—a new and virtual Centre for the North.

A Substantial Agenda

This project is designed to provide viable policy options that promote desired outcomes, including strong economic development, vibrant communities, healthy populations, and environmental sustainability—the cornerstones of a prosperous and stable region that is responsive to Canadian interests and values.

Specific proposed deliverables for this wide-ranging program include the following:

  • an economic forecast and fiscal outlook for the three Northern territories;
  • a quantification of the economic contribution of the greater North;
  • economic impact assessments of major projects, such as pipelines, mines, oil and gas extraction projects, and infrastructure;
  • a strategic map that highlights economic development opportunities in the North, to be used to plan capacity-building activities;
  • a community-based development model that provides communities with a tool for designing local services, attracting and retaining economic investment, and safeguarding the environment;
  • a collaboration template that will give stakeholders a process and set of techniques for achieving mutual understanding and consensual solutions to disputes related to major projects; and
  • more than 50 studies on key crosscutting themes critical to the North’s sustainable prosperity.

Funding and Research

Of course, we need help to successfully launch a project of such magnitude. We are raising $5 million to support the centre’s work over its five-year lifespan, and we are well underway in generating significant financial support from top corporate, government, and Aboriginal leaders. Throughout the project, we will engage the broadest range of stakeholders and partners possible. A leaders’ roundtable of investors will advise us on research priorities. All of the research and activities will engage a very broad network, supported by interactive technology provided by Igloo, a Canadian software firm.

Developing Northern resources could increase tensions between those who advocate keeping fragile Northern ecosystems intact and untouched by resource development, and those who want to realize the region’s full economic potential.

One of the centre’s first research products is a report called Who’s Doing What in the Canadian North. This report reviews 101 organizations currently researching Northern issues. It confirms that The Conference Board of Canada’s focus on promoting collaboration among, and building the capacity of, various stakeholders in Canada’s North is unique. Furthermore, our centre is the only major research initiative taking a holistic and integrative approach: it will examine the full range of challenges and opportunities, and it will take account of the relationships among the various elements that affect sustainable prosperity.

The Conference Board of Canada is ideally positioned to undertake this ambitious project. As a neutral third party with an excellent track record for bringing stakeholders together to tackle challenging policy issues, the Conference Board also has the capacity to conduct rigorous and balanced research on topics important to Canada. The Conference Board looks forward to shaping the new conversation about Canada’s North.

Anne Golden Anne Golden
President and CEO
The Conference Board of Canada

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