Our high cost of living
There is a silver lining to the North’s high cost-of-living, which dominates our daily lives, cripples our service industries and causes our population to stagnate.
It is no news food costs are through the roof. Inflation on food is estimated at five per cent in the North.
Energy costs (particularly fuel oil) have increased 300 to 400 per cent since the year 2000. Housing and utilities have followed suit, putting much pressure on homeowners, and renters. Public Housing utility costs drain government coffers.
The situation is dire; the need to change is great.
So where is the silver lining? With any challenge must come solutions. Across the North we see people, businesses and governments taking hold of this debilitating situation, documenting it and looking for answers.
Food security is an issue that is front and centre in northern communities and one that has attracted concern across Canada. In Nunavut, people have taken to the streets, first to protest, then to look for active solutions. The result has been Nunavut’s first “Food Security Action Plan,” a real effort to address the high cost of importing and relying on southern food stocks.
Across the North many local food markets are springing up. We have a northern agriculture training institution opening up in Hay river. In Inuvik, Fort Simpson, Norman Wells, Iqaluit, and Whitehorse the number of Northern green – houses is increasing.
Across Northern Canada fish populations are strong and the product is excellent. Great Slave Lake fishermen are turning away from sending all their catch to Winnipeg and have created their own micro processing business, marketing to Northerners. They find it hard to keep up with demand and the return on their labour is much better.
On Northern energy issues, a decade ago the theme was our need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Now, a program like the GNWT Biomass Conversion is focused on reducing costs of operation. This effort has been so successful that we now burn 10 per cent of Canadian produced wood pellets and are planning our own bio energy forest industry. Success breeds replication and the Yukon government has announced its own Bio Energy Strategy.
Solar energy use is increasing as well, with the cost of solar panels going down by 80 per cent in the past decade. The NWT now has a net metering policy, a GNWT Solar Strategy, and photovoltaic training tools at the Aurora College trades school in Fort Smith. In Sachs Harbour on Banks Island, solar panels are making a big saving for the community’s only B&B. In Colville Lake, a world class solar/battery system is being installed this year which, backed up by a new diesel plant, will make the community of 150 a leader in small grid energy use.
In some ways, we are going “back to the future”. Sustainability of communities and people in the North was a way of life for the indigenous peoples for thousands of years and for the early newcomers. Today, with the right attitude, using modern tools and techniques, we are seeing the renaissance of that Northern spirit.
No one suggests we turn our backs on the resource development economy — it is going to be a mainstay of the economy for many years. To be truly successful we need both: strong exports and a vibrant, exciting and people first local economy.
Dennis Bevington NDP M.P. Northwest Territories