Balancing Act: Major Resource Projects in Canada’s North
Strong global demand for commodities, including gold, silver, copper, zinc, and diamonds, provides a unique opportunity for Canada’s North to stimulate development and expand infrastructure. Northern communities are poised to benefit greatly from major resource projects, which by their nature are large, location-specific, capital intensive, and of finite duration. Success, however, must be measured by more than the number of jobs created and the degree of economic growth. Long-term sustainable prosperity in the North requires balancing the profit-driven objectives of corporations and the economic growth of the region with respect for the people, environment, and quality of life that define the Northern lifestyle
Efforts are being made to balance the needs of industry, government, and Northern communities in ways that enhance the benefits of major project developments while mitigating potential negative impacts. Major resource projects support the North’s unique mixed economy, enabling Northerners to cope with the high cost of living while allowing them to participate in traditional economic pursuits such as hunting, fishing, and trapping. Corporations associated with nonrenewable resource industries in the North are aware of the importance of conducting environmentally and socially responsible operations. These projects enhance community resilience through increased investment in communication, clean energy, and sustainable transportation infrastructure.
The resolution of various land claims in the North is building investor confidence across the country. These agreements continue to be a positive force that enables industry, government, and Indigenous communities to work together. Indigenous peoples and communities are interested in more than jobs: They want to be, and increasingly are, members on the boards of large resource development projects. At the same time, Aboriginal leaders and entrepreneurs face the challenge of balancing the social and environmental concerns of their communities with the benefits of major development projects.
A recent survey of Northerners’ needs and wants conducted for the Conference Board of Canada’s Centre for the North found that job creation was the number-one priority for increasing quality of life in Northern communities. This result indicates that there is “near unanimous support for further economic development across the North.” Northerners, however, are skeptical about the extent to which economic development leads to job creation. They are concerned that economic development is placing undue strain on the North’s fragile environment, encouraging unsustainable population growth in small towns and undeveloped areas and resulting in loss of their traditional ways of life.
Consultation processes and regulatory frameworks seek to balance the perspectives and interests of industry, Aboriginal peoples, and various government departments across multiple jurisdictions. However, these practices often lack consistency and clarity. Furthermore, not all organizations have the capacity to fulfill the mandates set out for them. New initiatives such as the federal government’s Major Projects Management Office and Northern Major Projects Management Office are intended to improve these regulatory processes, but issues of duplication and overlap are yet to be addressed.
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