Arctic Policy Framework Roundtables Report, Extractive industries, Ottawa, February 5, 2018

The opinions and views set out in this report prepared by Stratos | BDO are not necessarily the opinions or views of the Government of Canada.



To inform the development of the new Arctic Policy Framework (framework) by gaining insight into the interests, priorities and desired outcomes of partners and stakeholders; and to identify possible areas for joint action to achieve shared goals.

Representatives from extractive industries across Canada participated in this roundtable, along with representatives from some of the framework’s co-development partners. To protect the privacy of participants, the names of individuals are not disclosed, except where permission to be quoted has been obtained.

About the report
This report synthesizes the input provided by participants across the 6 thematic areas:

  1. Comprehensive Arctic infrastructure
  2. Strong Arctic people and communities
  3. Strong, sustainable and diversified Arctic economies
  4. Arctic science and Indigenous knowledge
  5. Protecting the environment and conserving Arctic biodiversity
  6. The Arctic in a global context

The discussion within each theme was guided by a small set of discussion questions, which are provided below. Comments were shared by individual participants, unless otherwise noted.

Information gathered during this roundtable will be used as input to the development of the framework, along with information gathered at other national and regional multi-stakeholder roundtables, and through ongoing engagement with Indigenous governments and representatives and territorial and provincial governments directly involved in the co-development process.

Overarching themes and messages for the framework

Key themes and messages that were repeated throughout the day and often applied to multiple themes are listed below, in no particular order of importance.

"Infrastructure can drive the economy, and people and communities can benefit from economic development; economic development can and will drive social outcomes and in that sort of harmonious context, I think that’s the kind of virtuous circle that we would like to see come out of this" - Brendan Marshall, Mining Association of Canada

Comprehensive Arctic infrastructure

Discussion questions

  • What are the key infrastructure priorities for the Arctic?
  • What specific opportunities for partnership and joint action should be explored?

The need for infrastructure

  • There are many studies and reports documenting the infrastructure deficit in the North, (e.g. recent consultation on the Transportation Act, National Aboriginal Economic Development Board study, etc.)
  • Addressing infrastructure will likely improve the competitiveness of the Arctic as a region in Canada, and Canada’s competitiveness in the global economy
  • Lack of infrastructure is seen as a barrier to the retention of youth and skilled Northerners, as well as a barrier to resource development
  • The framework should result in a government program dedicated to Northern infrastructure

The importance of an integrated infrastructure development plan

  • There is a need for a comprehensive, long-term plan for infrastructure development, which will require champions and partnerships from all levels of government, as well as Indigenous and industry representatives
    • Infrastructure built by and for industry should be leveraged to also benefit nearby communities
    • Government should play a leadership role when there is a lack of consensus amongst communities on infrastructure priorities and/or "red tape" barriers preventing the formation of partnerships
  • There are many studies and reports on infrastructure corridors for transportation, connectivity, energy, etc.; these need to be examined together to develop an integrated plan
  • Participants shared examples of infrastructure projects where partnerships are being or should be pursued, including:
    • Grays Bay Port and Road Project, which is a positive example of a partnerships between governments, with third-party financing, which is moving forward
    • Indigenous regional development corporations are working together to pursue broadband connectivity, but do not have an obvious source of funding
    • Road and hydro power access in the Slave Geological Province would foster more competitive resource development projects

Climate change

  • The impact of climate change on infrastructure should be considered
  • A carbon tax could put the North at even more of a disadvantage for resource development than it already is (i.e. Northern energy costs are already much higher than the South)
  • To improve the competitiveness of the North, alternative and cleaner energy sources should be considered, which could be developed in partnership with industry

Current and future needs

  • It is important to consider how technology will continue to evolve (e.g. landlines to cell phones, transmission lines to decentralized energy distribution) when assessing infrastructure needs
  • The opening of the Northwest Passage will likely have implications for new resource and economic development opportunities in the near future
  • Infrastructure planning should be an ongoing process, with continual investment in both maintaining existing infrastructure and building new infrastructure

Strong Arctic people and communities

Discussion questions

  • What key actions could increase well-being within Arctic communities?
  • What specific opportunities for partnership and joint action should be explored?

Role of extractive sector

  • The extractive sector should be leveraged to support the attainment of broader regional economic and social development goals Footnote 1
  • Economic and social development conversations should be kept separate, to avoid delaying economic development opportunities
  • Education cannot support strong people and communities in the absence of economic development opportunities; education therefore should align with economic opportunities

Role of government

  • Governments at all levels should understand and address social impacts in communities from mining, as well as barriers to participating in the mining sector (e.g. access to daycare, post-secondary education)
    • An important part of this includes visiting communities and speaking with the youth
  • A barrier to strong communities is the lack of resources and plans for implementing land claim agreements in the North

Role of universities

  • Partnerships between universities Footnote 2 should be fostered to support education in the North
    • A participant cited an example from a region outside of the framework’s scope, where a research alliance of 4 universities and 6 community colleges in Northern Ontario has allowed better leverage of funds for common causes
  • Indigenous peoples need more accessible education programs
    • For example, Laurentian and Lakehead Universities provide practical medical training to a diverse mix of English, French and Indigenous peoples; graduates often stay in their communities after completing the course
  • A university in the North is not possible without connectivity/broadband access

Other comments

  • Basic needs should be met first and foremost (e.g. housing, physical and mental health, etc.)
  • Indigenous economic reconciliation is an important framework for all of the above-described efforts
  • Job opportunities and related training should be identified, developed and communicated early (e.g. pre-graduation for students)

Strong, sustainable and diversified Arctic economies

Discussion questions

  • What can be done to advance sustainable economic development, grow small-to-medium Arctic businesses, and diversify the Arctic economy?
  • What can be done to build capacity/expertise and increase the participation of Arctic residents in local economies?
  • What specific opportunities for partnership and joint action should be explored?

Recognizing the role of the extractive sector

  • The public sector and extractive sector are the two primary drivers for economic development in the North
  • Several participants agreed that the framework should acknowledge the role that the extractive sector has played in building a strong, sustainable and diversified economy that is less reliant on the public sector
  • Tourism is seen as significant opportunity (i.e. instead of extractive projects); it would be useful to study the economic opportunities available through tourism and compare this to the extractives sector

Barriers to economic development

  • The infrastructure deficit needs to be addressed to reduce the cost differential Footnote 3 of doing business in the North
    • The infrastructure deficit is well known and action is needed, rather than further studies
    • Infrastructure should support sustainable community development, versus boom and bust towns
  • Land claims need to be resolved to increase the clarity of rules for operating in the North
  • The environmental assessment process should consider both impacts and economic benefits
  • Inadequate housing is preventing Northerners from owning and operating businesses
    • For example, because most of the North consists of public housing, a house often cannot be used as collateral for business loans
  • The moratorium for offshore oil and gas exploration in the Arctic Ocean was unexpected and reduced industry’s confidence in the government
  • Indigenous economic development corporations find it difficult to find funding as they are neither a purely profit-driven organization, nor a non-profit organization

Training and capacity building

  • Indigenous Northerners are hired mostly in entry-level positions in the extractives sector; to change this will take generations (e.g. producing engineers, biologists, metallurgists) and will require partnerships with governments and long-term funding
    • For example, individual mining companies currently spend more on training than the Aboriginal Skills and Employment Training Strategy provides on an annual basis
    • Tax credits could further support private sector investment in training programs
  • Training programs should be run by Northerners for Northerners
  • A sustainable economy can be supported by Indigenous-owned and managed businesses

Funding programs

  • Funds are provided by multiple parties and it is challenging and complex to navigate and to understand who to go to for what funding
  • Funding programs should be tailored to the three territories separately, versus one Northern fund
  • Funding applications should be processed and approved in a timely manner, as time is of the essence when dealing with unpredictable commodity cycles

Arctic science and Indigenous knowledge

Discussion questions

  • What can be done to respond more effectively to local knowledge needs?
  • What can be done to increase the capacity of Arctic residents to participate in Arctic research initiatives and to better integrate Indigenous knowledge into decision-making?
  • What specific opportunities for partnership and joint action should be explored?


  • Participants acknowledged that "science" refers to natural, social, physical and applied sciences
  • Indigenous (or traditional) knowledge and local knowledge should be differentiated
    • Indigenous knowledge documents how the land was used historically, how this has changed over time, and what ecosystem components are valued, while local knowledge documents current land use

Use of Indigenous knowledge

  • Indigenous knowledge should act as a foundation for science research, rather than be integrated at the end
  • Indigenous knowledge is being lost over time; gathering this data is an urgent issue (e.g. Inuit are now 2 generations removed from the land)
  • Indigenous knowledge use should be expanded (e.g. to inform research and development, innovation, housing designs)
  • broader use of Indigenous knowledge will give it increased credibility

Co-generation of data

  • Industry can help address gaps in community social and economic data, although one participant noted that not all data may be shared due to competitiveness factors
  • Communities should lead the development and implementation of project impact mitigation plans for the industry’s review and consideration
    • In Nunavut, this could be led by the hunters and trappers organizations
    • This promotes involvement of knowledge holders rather than opinion holders
  • Completed research sometimes cannot be accessed by communities, although one participant noted that Library and Archives Canada has been more co-operative in providing communities access to land occupancy studies
  • Government funding is needed to support community-based gathering and management of Indigenous knowledge
    • For example, environmental technician graduates from Cambridge Bay cannot find local employment due to lack of local funds to hire environmental monitoring staff
    • Industry and government could pay communities for data access to support the system’s operations and maintenance
  • Data gathering opportunities should be exploited to maximize use for future needs
  • Better communication is needed between data gatherers and data analysers

Protecting the environment and conserving Arctic biodiversity

Discussion questions

  • How can Indigenous and local experience/knowledge be incorporated into action on climate change and biodiversity?
  • What specific opportunities for partnership and joint action should be explored?

Assess probable rather than possible benefits and impacts

  • The environmental assessment process focuses on impacts more than benefits, which may encourage reactive rather than proactive thinking
  • In particular, the environmental assessment process often does not distinguish between probabilities of impact occurring (i.e. the credibility of the scenario)
  • For example, a resource project could bring the benefit of greater funding for environmental data

Use of Indigenous knowledge

  • The government should clarify whose role it is to obtain scientific and Indigenous knowledge data for the environmental assessment process
    • For example, the federal government could fund data gathering for strategic environmental assessments to inform future projects
    • There is an opportunity to create a centralized database with data from government and industry
  • Funding to support community-based gathering and management of Indigenous knowledge should be prioritized based on areas of need (e.g. where future projects may occur)
  • Most policymakers and regulators do not receive training on the use of Indigenous knowledge
    • For example, caribou migratory patterns and calving grounds data from the Kitikmeot Inuit Association’s traditional knowledge database has not been reflected in the Nunavut land use plan
  • Universities may act as neutral parties to help reconcile science and Indigenous knowledge
  • Remediation planning meetings should be conducted on the land with Elders, youth, business owners, etc. to start the conversation from an Indigenous knowledge perspective

Environmental assessment challenges

  • The environmental assessment process is complex and sometimes unclear in the Northwest Territories
  • There is a lack of government funding for community participation in the environmental assessment process
  • Some environmental assessment reviews take too long, which results in investment leaving the North


  • Term "protecting" implies there is a need for defense; can we change terminology to focus on what we would like to promote rather than defend?
  • Term "fragile" Arctic environment is misleading; it is also a harsh, resilient ecosystem

Other comments

  • The Canadian North is effectively protected by its remoteness and the infrastructure gap
  • There is a concern that the 17% protected areas goal will predominantly impact the North
  • The environmental assessment process should assess impacts to future and planned land use, in addition to present use (e.g. building traplines in areas that are not currently used, but there may be plans to use it or it has been used in the past)

The Arctic in a global context

Discussion questions

  1. What domestic interests and priorities should the Government of Canada pursue internationally?
  2. What do you see as the main challenges and opportunities for Canada's Arctic foreign and defence policy in the next 10-20 years?

Increasing the global and regional competitiveness of the Arctic

  • Long-term and short-term (e.g. exploration) foreign investment should be supported and welcomed
  • Land use planning is viewed as a barrier to foreign investment, because it takes a long time
    • The federal government could advocate for the value of land use planning internationally
  • Predictability and clarity on engagement, permitting, etc. is essential for foreign investors, who may not be familiar with the context of Indigenous peoples in Canada; there are also some conflicting government policies in the North
  • Removing infrastructure in the North (even if it is old or outdated) sends the wrong message internationally about Canada’s commitment to addressing the lack of infrastructure.
  • The Canadian government should increase its advocacy internationally for the export of domestic products (e.g. polar bear tooth, seal fur, etc.)
  • The short tenure of trade commissioners (i.e. 2-year terms in each location) often prevents the development of relationships and networks that can support businesses abroad

Sovereignty of the North

  • Strategic investments should be considered that both advance northern economic development and sovereignty (e.g. deep sea ports)
    • Existing infrastructure should also be maintained (e.g. airstrip in the Slave Geological Province is being removed by the government as part of remediation efforts)
  • The presence of both Northerners and industry supports sovereignty claims
    • Canada should promote our experience in responsible resource development, rather than a "fragile" Arctic

Other comments

  • The federal government should advocate for treaty rights internationally
    • For example, this applies to the decision by the United States government to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for development, which could impact the Porcupine caribou herd in Yukon
  • Regional partnerships should be encouraged, such as the Pacific Northwest Economic Region which involves collaboration with Alaska, and the eastern Arctic partnership with Greenland
  • Canada’s standing internationally suffers from inaction on domestic development in the Arctic

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