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[pictobrowser type=”flickr” albumID=”72157625633545701″] Nunavut’s Emerging Economy

It was only last Spring that Nathan Vander-Klippe’s feature article, “The North Scrapes Bottom” (April 9, 2010) appeared in the Business Section of that weekend’s Globe and Mail; in its own right, an influential national newspaper.

It has always been the case of course, that the economic fortunes of Canada’s regions, not just those in the North, will at different times grow, only to ebb one day, only to rise again sometime in the future. A seemingly endless, somewhat warped ‘bell curve’ cycle, not entirely unfamiliar, that exists primarily in response to unpredictable or unanticipated shifts in domestic or global supply and demand, currency market upheavals, or when domestic and global needs for raw resources such as minerals, or oil and gas suddenly change, affecting then, overall productivity and hampering the ability of industries and businesses to respond.

While VanderKlippe’s article clearly focused on the inevitable decline of the Northwest Territories (NWT) diamond mining industry, an industry that had fueled that northern region’s economy since the mid-1990s, it was the overtly bleak “doom and gloom” broad brush headline reference to the “North” that took so many readers aback. His report was met, not only with some surprise at the time, but skepticism too. Northerners are seldom if ever, down for the count. It is simply not in their nature.

And, while, according to the Bank of Canada, current economic indicators still show weaknesses or point to diminishing economic fortunes in some of Canada’s regions, especially those sensitive to, or reliant upon, global or domestic forces and money markets beyond their immediate control — all regions in the North, the NWT very much included, have a sense of common purpose and continue to look forward with a great deal of optimism, that ways will be found to either sustain or expand current assets, or to develop new avenues of opportunity for their communities and citizens.

That is not to say that challenges don’t exist in virtually all sectors. They do! But these challenges represent only one aspect of the overall health and ever-changing economic face of the North.

Once easily overlooked, at least while the eyes of investors were so understandably diverted for a decade and a half to the brilliant sparkle of the NWT diamond rush, the economic resurgence of neighbouring territories in the North, such as the Yukon and Nunavut, and smaller more defined regions such as Inuit held Baffin and Kivalliq (both in Nunavut) hold the tangible promise that greater opportunity for their Inuit communities awaits, and that new and sustainable growth are both achievable and well within their grasp.

Ideally located at the virtual center of northern Canada, beginning some 1,100 kilometres due north of Winnipeg, Manitoba, all but one of the Kivalliq’s communities are coastal in nature, running along the western lowland coastline of Hudson Bay from Arviat in the south, to Repulse Bay in the North. The second-smallest Inuit community in Kivalliq, that of Coral Harbour, is situated on the southeastern coast of Southampton Island. Only Baker Lake, the Kivalliq’s current economic success story, is located inland, approximately 320 kilometres in — at the narrow point of land that defines the community where the famed Thelon and Kazan Rivers meet. Rankin Inlet, the region’s largest, serves as the well established and thriving infra-structure and transportation hub for this part of the North.

Noteworthy is the fact that the total population of the entire region, all communities combined, is still well shy of 10,000. A mark that the Kivalliq region is likely to reach, then exceed, relatively quickly over the next few years if the anticipated influx of resource sector workers, support services businesses and other spin-off opportunities materialize as expected.

Leaders from all key northern industries, Inuit organizations, all levels of government, schools and colleges, businesses large and small, continue to meet and work together to lobby on behalf of the many growing economic interests in the region. Their goal? To lay the groundwork and infra-structure that will be required to create new, better, and more sustainable opportunities for the people and communities they depend upon or serve.

Admirably, business and public and private sector leaders seem responsive and engaged in making the crucial intellectual and monetary investments through strategic partnerships with a renewed emphasis on being able to meet not only current, but also the future job demands of new industry, to effectively manage that opportunity, and provide relevant skills training and full-time, well paying jobs that will benefit the socio-economic future of a population that currently has the youngest median age in all of Canada.

New socio-economic models and initiatives are beginning to flow out of these new relationships. Implementation of innovative strategies such as the Mine Worker Training Program and the Kivalliq’s Mine Training Society, a partnership between the Government of Nunavut, Kivalliq Inuit Association and Agnico-Eagle, (owner of the Meadowbank Mine Project near Baker Lake), point directly to which economic sector currently seems to hold the most viable promise of growth, jobs and prosperity for the region. Early in 2010, the entire North shared in the elation when the Meadowbank Mine project poured its first bar of gold, propitiously, at a time when gold’s global market value was taking flight to record heights as a hedge against the effects of a lasting, very stubborn global economic downturn.

It is important to note that the Kivalliq region’s potential for jobs and prosperity however, does not solely depend upon the long-term success of resource sector businesses. The region’s substantial Inuit-based bread and butter renewable resources such as the Kivalliq’s char fishery, renowned Inuit Arts culture, and notably, more so in recent times, the Tourism sector, have together provided what some might argue, the most sustainable back bone to socio-economic well being in the area.

The fishery and tourism sectors in particular, are adjusting and planning for changes too. Some of the biggest challenges for natural resource harvesters and tourism suppliers are linked to their abilities to either adjust, adapt, or re-invent products, while manoeuvering carefully in the often difficult dance that naturally occurs in trying to meet the needs and aspirations of all Kivalliq families and accommodating the region’s right to realize the many benefits of a healthy, still emerging resource sector.

If the current levels of cooperation, enthusiastic actions and spirited optimism are indeed then indicative of the desire of all stakeholders to build a new and vibrant economy in the Kivalliq, the future bodes well for them, and for the entire North. And once again, as so many times in the past, the overly grim concept that “The North Scrapes Bottom” can be put to rest.

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