By Dr. Siomonn Pulla, Senior Research Associate, Centre for the North
Strong global demand for commodities—including gold, silver, copper, zinc, and diamonds-provides a unique opportunity for Canada’s North to stimulate development and expand infrastructure. Northern communities are poised to benefit greatly from major resource projects-which by their nature are large, location-specific, capital intensive and of finite duration. Success, however, must be measured by more than simply the number of jobs created and the degree of economic growth. Long-term sustainable prosperity in the North requires balancing profit-driven objectives of corporations and the economic growth of the region with respect for the people, the environment, and the quality of life that defines a northern lifestyle.
Efforts are being made to balance the needs of industry, government and northern communities in ways that enhance the benefits of major project developments while mitigating potential negative impacts. Major resource projects support the North’s unique mixed economy, enabling Northerners to cope with the high cost of living while allowing them to participate in traditional economic pursuits such as hunting, fishing and trapping. Corporations associated with the non-renewable resource industry in the North are aware of the importance of conducting environmentally and socially responsible industrial operations. These projects enhance community resilience through increased investments in communication, clean energy, and sustainable transportation infrastructure.
The resolution of various land claims in the North is building investor confidence across the country. These agreements continue to be a positive force that enables industry, government and Aboriginal communities to work together. Aboriginal peoples and communities are interested in more than jobs. They want to be, and increasingly are, sitting as members on the Boards of large resource development projects. At the same time, Aboriginal leaders and entrepreneurs face the challenges of balancing the social and environmental concerns of their communities with the benefits of many major development projects.
A recent Survey of Northerners’ Needs and Wants conducted for the Conference Board’s Centre for the North found that job creation was the number one priority for increasing quality of life in northern communities. The results indicate that there is “near unanimous support for further economic development across the North.” Northerners however, are skeptical about the extent to which economic development leads to job creation. They also are concerned that economic development is placing undue strain on the North’s fragile environment; encouraging unsustainable population growth in small towns and undeveloped areas, and resulting in a loss of their traditional ways of life.
Consultation processes and regulatory frameworks are seeking to balance the perspectives and interests of industry, Aboriginal Peoples, and various government departments across multiple jurisdictions. These practices, however, often lack consistency and clarity. Furthermore, not all organizations have the capacity to fulfill the mandates set out for them. New initiatives such as the federal government’s Major Projects Management Office and Northern Major Projects Management Office are intended to improve these regulatory processes, but issues of duplication and overlap remain to be addressed.
The Centre for the North will soon release a report, Balancing Act: The Impact of Major Resource Projects in the North. This briefing will provide a lens and background for the Centre for North’s detailed upcoming studies:
- The Future of Mining in Canada’s North;
- Lessons Learned: Achieving Positive Educational Outcomes in Northern Communities;
- Building Labour Force Capacity in Canada’s North; and
- Northern Assets: The Costs and Benefits of Transportation Infrastructure in Remote Communities.
The impact of major resource projects in the North is one of the first topics for discussion at Canada’s North Beyond 2011, hosted by The Conference Board of Canada in Edmonton, Alberta. The forum will be held from October 11th through the 13th, 2011.