A made-in-the-North strategy against the impacts of climate change

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I grew up on the banks of the beautiful Mackenzie River, spending many summer days at my favourite swimming holes and fishing
with my friends and brothers. Like many Northerners, my connection to the land has helped shape who I am and played a role in my political career as the first two-term Premier of the Northwest Territories.

As I have grown and changed since those days on the Mackenzie River without a care in the world, so has the environment we live in. The carefree days of childhood seem very far away given the very real impacts of climate change on the daily lives of northerners. From eroding shorelines of the Beaufort Sea, to melting permafrost, low water levels due to warm winters and dry summers, and devastating forest fire seasons — we are victims of climate change. The costs associated with climate change such as low water levels affecting our hydro production and intense forest fire seasons leave the Government of the Northwest Territories vulnerable to increased costs at a time when fiscal prudence is not only necessary but critical to our future.

Climate change in the Northwest Territories affects Northerners, our infrastructure and limits our economic growth and investment desirability. Changing environmental conditions affect our roads, airports, schools, health centres and homes. A lack of strategic infrastructure impedes responsible economic development, particularly when it comes to our biggest economic driver, the natural resource sector.

The NWT economy is small and heavily reliant on the natural resource sector, especially mining, which is extremely sensitive to global economic conditions. Unlike other jurisdictions in Canada, the NWT still has not recovered to the levels seen prior to the 2008 global recession. With diamond production set to decline as existing mines mature and oil and gas production unlikely in the near term, the economic outlook for the next five to 15 years is uncertain. This will, in turn, limit government revenues, meaning fewer financial resources and less flexibility when it comes to spending on programs and services or infrastructure investment.

There is no quick fix. Strategic spending on infrastructure and other projects is necessary to attract economic investment, resource development and jobs into the territory in the long-term, growing the NWT economy and potential revenues and lowering the cost of living. In order for future generations to build successful lives here in the NWT, we need to make strategic investments in infrastructure, in partnership with the Federal Government, along with a made-in-the-North regulatory regime that balances environmental responsibility with economic development, to build a prosperous foundation for the future while mitigating the impacts of climate change across the territory.

Northerners, whether we have descended from those who have lived on this land for millennia or chosen to make this our home, are resilient people. We pride ourselves on self-sufficiency but we cannot fight the impact of climate change on our environment without the help of Canada and the world. Northerners want responsible development and the opportunity to carve out a life in the North that provides for their families, communities, and future generations. We want our environment and land to be healthy for our children, grandchildren and beyond.

Bob McLeod

Premier of the Northwest Territories