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Centre for the North Making Headway

Anne Golden, President and CEO
The Conference Board of Canada
June 21, 2010

“An unparalleled opportunity.” That’s how Gary Goldberg, a member of the Centre for the North Roundtable, describes The Conference Board of Canada’s biggest-ever initiative. His clever play on words reminds us that Canada’s North covers much more than just the territory north of the 60th parallel.

The Centre for the North’s definition of Canada’s North–South line closely matches that of the Northern Development Ministers Forum. According to this division, Canada’s North:

  • comprises 83 per cent of the country’s landmass (including all three territories and the northern extents of seven provinces);
  • holds the vast majority of Canada’s natural resource wealth; and
  • is home to only 7 per cent of the country’s population (see map).

Gary Goldberg’s “unparalleled opportunity” also refers to the importance of the Centre for the North’s mandate: to work with Aboriginal groups, governments, businesses, and communities to achieve a shared vision of sustainable prosperity in Canada’s North.

Changing the Conversation

The Centre for the North’s work is intended to change the conversation about Canada’s North. A National Post commentary on the occasion of the G7 Finance Ministers’ meeting in Iqaluit, which I wrote with Peter Wilson, called for Northerners to have greater involvement in the economic development of the region as new opportunities emerge.

Recognizing the truth in the maxim “you can’t manage it if you can’t measure it,” the Centre is using state-of-the-art geographic information systems and online mapping programs to study Northern communities and Northern regions—a first at The Conference Board of Canada.

A map series called Here, the North illustrates the similarities and differences between Canada’s North and South and among Northern regions. Every socio-economic indicator mapped reinforces the gap between North and South, making this divide one of the most meaningful lines in the country. The map below clearly illustrates the population imbalance between Canada's North and South.

Here, the North: Where We Live

North-South landmass and population distribution

In the North, few issues evoke as much passion as land-use planning. Three leading scholars—Thomas Berger, Steven Kennett, and Hayden King— put forward three divergent perspectives on this crucial issue at the 2010 CIBC Scholar-in-Residence Lecture, Canada’s North—What’s the Plan? The Centre for the North co-hosted the televised event, held in Whitehorse in May. As a follow-up to the lecture, a book on this important topic will be published this autumn.

Early Success

The Centre for the North was launched in Yellowknife last September and held a second successful meeting in Whitehorse in mid-May. In only a few short months, the Centre has already brought new insights and perspectives to the discussion about the North.

In its first year, the Centre is carrying out three foundational research projects: Thriving Communities, Mapping the Economic Potential of Canada’s North, and Northern Security and Arctic Sovereignty. All three projects are scoping exercises that will provide data, information, tools, and insights that will help us develop theme-specific research projects in the following years.

For the first time, The Conference Board of Canada is producing independent economic forecasts for Canada’s three territories. Using a custom-built forecasting model, the Territorial Outlook provides a 10-year forecast for each territory based on its specific demographic, cultural, and resource-based realities. We have also, for the first time, estimated the gross domestic product by major sector for the Northern regions of the seven provinces.

Early Centre for the North research has also examined the challenges and opportunities for Aboriginal communities and businesses. Last fall, the Centre published True to Their Visions: An Account of 10 Successful Aboriginal Businesses. A recently completed study of e-learning for Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, Optimizing the Effectiveness of E-Learning for First Nations, examines how e-learning affects First Nations educational outcomes and what is required to achieve successful results.

In such a short period of time, we have made tremendous progress, but a lot more is to come. In late August, I will be giving the keynote address at the next meeting of the Northern Development Ministers Forum in Thunder Bay. At that time, I will have even more positive news to report about this exciting initiative.

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

Related Publications
True to Their Visions: An Account of 10 Successful Aboriginal Businesses
Optimizing the Effectiveness of E-Learning for First Nations
Territorial Outlook: January 2010

Related Executive Networks
Centre for the North