Arctic Policy Framework Regional Roundtable Session: Thompson, Manitoba, March 15, 2018

This is a summary of the Arctic Policy Framework regional roundtable in Thompson, Manitoba, on March 15, 2018.

The views raised in the discussion are those of various participants and do not necessarily represent the views of the Government of Canada.

Participants

Representatives of:

Overarching themes and messages for the Framework

Comprehensive Arctic Infrastructure

Transportation

  • Participants discussed whether governments should focus on the proposal for an all-weather road to Churchill or repair of the Hudson Bay Rail Line
    • Both are heavily impacted by the cold temperatures, but some people feel rail is the more stable option in the long term
  • An all-weather road to Churchill would negatively impact local wildlife, which would be of particular detriment to the eco-tourism industry, 1 participant felt
  • The Hudson Bay Rail Line is a major enabler of the region's tourism industry
    • Tourists play a major role in supporting local restaurants, gift shops and eco-tourism businesses
  • Churchill now experiences an increased reliance on sealifts due to the damage to the rail line
    • The cost of bringing goods in by sealift is substantially more expensive than by rail
  • Some participants felt that the quality and network of roads in northern Manitoba is not on par with other western provinces such as Alberta and Saskatchewan
  • The lack of infrastructure leads to high costs to travel for services that are only available outside of region, such as medical, dental, education
  • Coordinating infrastructure projects for both industry and communities could be beneficial
    • For instance, building roads that connect with communities and mineral sites could both reduce costs of living as well as costs of doing business

Connectivity

  • Technological innovation, such as. self-driving cars, solar power, could have major implications for northern infrastructure
  • Participants highlighted the importance of broadband, and the positive effects it could have on issues ranging from education to small business participation in the global economy
  • Increased levels of bandwidth are needed for advancements in software
    • The delivery of online is also subject to increasing costs as software is updated
      • It is difficult for northern educational institutions to keep pace

Strong Arctic Peoples and Communities

Education and Child Care

  • Inadequate funding for childcare was highlighted as a significant issue
    • Northern communities are not able to offer competitive wages when compared to provincial childcare workers
  • Access to childcare is an issue across the North
    • Infrastructure dedicated to child care is difficult to find
  • Access to education in Indigenous communities was highlighted as a significant problem in northern Manitoba and a significant priority for regional Indigenous groups
    • In many cases, children are forced to leave their homes to finish their high school education
  • More resources are needed to realize the goal of an educated North
    • Education in the north is an opportunity that needs to be seized as it is one of the fastest growing regions of the province

Social Programming and Funding Models

  • In some cases, funding relationships create interdependent relationships with higher levels of government
    • Participants indicated that Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada can often act paternalistically and that layers of bureaucracy can inhibit effective relationships, including access to funding
    • Inconsistent and undependable funding models create struggles for some northern First Nations
  • Federal allocation of resources does not take into account with the needs of northern communities, including high levels of suicide, sexual assault and other forms of crime
  • Devolving responsibilities for  of social services needs to be undertaken carefully
    • Simply "downloading" responsibilities without providing appropriate resources will not address social policy challenges

Mental Health

  • High suicide rates in Indigenous communities were identified as a major priority for the region's Indigenous organizations
    • Suicides in small communities can create a tragic "chain-reaction" among youth
  • Participants highlighted the mental health crises faced by northern Indigenous communities, including suicide
    • Potential solutions include the mobile crisis unit‎ initiative developed by Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Incorporated

Reconciliation

  • The framework should take into consideration the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission
    • Many non-Indigenous people do not know that they need to be part of reconciliation
  • It can be difficult for Indigenous communities to make progress when they have to fight to have an opportunity to be at the table with other levels of government
  • Attention should be paid to avoiding situations in which third-party financial management is necessary
    • It can take years to emerge from third-party management

Strong, Sustainable and Diversified Arctic Economies

The Northern Labour Market

  • If northerners could fill all the jobs currently available in the North, it would have a huge effect on the economy
    • Improved access to education would play a big role in making that possible
  • Northern people are 1 of the North's greatest assets
    • Improved education could lead to a huge opportunity for the northern economy
  • More job opportunities can act as the best solution to a lot of social problems facing communities
    • Jobs can be a source of purpose for a lot of individuals
  • Existing metrics do not always capture the realities of northern communities.
    • Participants highlighted particular problems with unemployment statistics and a prevalence of seasonal work in the extractive sector
  • Participants discussed the concept of "economic leakage," noting that in many cases wealth generated in the north does not stay in the region, even in larger hubs such as Thompson or Churchill
    • In many cases, services are provided by professionals who fly in and out of communities

Local Business

  • There is increasing pressure posed by online shopping for local businesses.
    • Platforms like Amazon and Etsy dominate the market, participants said
    • Thompson could serve as a shipping hub for online retailers
  • Thus far, attracting southern companies to the North has not been a successful approach to economic development
    • Supporting and growing existing northern businesses could be a better approach
  • Look North, the Government of Manitoba's northern development strategy, is exploring the creation of an 'entrepreneur pathway' to help aspiring business owners grow their business and receive information
  • Poor broadband infrastructure provides a significant impediment to growing local businesses
    • Lack of broadband access is a barrier to marketing and to businesses' ability to reach a critical mass of customers
  • Eco-tourism is a potential growth sector, particularly in the Churchill area, participants said

Resource Extraction

  • Mining projects often require very large up front investments before any profit is seen
    • This entails a big risk for the companies involved
    • Mining companies need to be confident that there will be a return on their investment
  • Some participants expressed a desire to move beyond Impact Benefit Agreements in terms of Indigenous involvement in major projects
    • Participants highlighted examples in which other Indigenous groups became part owners of resource projects
  • Changes in political leadership can occasionally derail investment in resource extraction projects
  • In many cases, Indigenous peoples are the best stewards of land and many communities are skeptical of companies' ability to implement environmental safeguards
  • Resource development can go hand-in-hand with sustainability
  • The natural resource development will always play a major role in the economy of northern Manitoba

A Northern view

  • Northern hubs such as Churchill, Manitoba often seen themselves as a "gateway to the North" for southern goods and services
    • Northerners want to reverse that perspective by developing a northern-centric business view that sees the south as a market for northern goods and services

Partnerships and the role of regional economic development corporations

  • Communities need to take proactive steps to advance economic development, including the creation of community economic plans and the hiring of economic development officers
    • Seminars and workshop led by Community Futures on how to start a business have had positive results
    • Typically, economic development officers, who play a major role in the community, are underpaid and overworked
  • Communities have to be ready for economic development and have adequate economic development plans in place
    • The 2013 Thompson Economic Diversification Plan was identified as an example

Arctic Science and Indigenous Knowledge

Protecting the environment and conserving Arctic biodiversity

Arctic in a Global Context

Arctic sovereignty and Canadian Arctic leadership

  • The debate around northern sovereignty and the involvement of foreign governments and investors is largely driven by fear, participants said
  • Some participants felt that Canada's focus on its international standing as an Arctic leader is not very relevant to the needs of northern Manitoba communities,
    • Participants did recognize that international issues, through the presence of international mining corporations in northern Manitoba, for example, do affect northern Manitobans

Trade

  • In some cases, international agreements can pose unintended barriers, such as bans on the import or export of marine mammal products, such as seal skin
    • These barriers adversely impact Northerners
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