Northerners hopeful after Canadian throne speech

Caroline Cochrane, the premier of Canada’s Northwest Territories, said she’s generally happy with what she heard from the speech from the throne on issues like housing, infrastructure and jobs. (Walter Strong/CBC)
The premier of the Northwest Territories says she is generally happy with the federal commitments identified in Wednesday’s throne speech, though it included only one reference to the North.

The speech was delivered by Governor General Julie Payette and layed out the federal government’s intentions for this session of Parliament.

Premier Caroline Cochrane said many of the initiatives outlined in it were identified by herself and her fellow premiers at their Council of the Federation meetings.

“For example, we know that our housing need is huge, that was in the speech from the throne. The need for infrastructure, we need jobs,” said Cochrane. “We don’t have roads to many of our communities, and climate change was an exciting [issue that was mentioned] as well.”

The federal government committed to increase efforts to address the housing shortage in Indigenous and northern communities; shortening up timelines to bring high speed internet to remote communities; ensuring Canadians in rural and remote communities have access to a family doctor; and working with First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities to address food insecurity.

It also committed to speeding up work on the calls to action in the reports of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Mining key to transition to greener economy

Cochrane said she had hoped to hear something about support for mining exploration in the North. She said she will be lobbying for more support for that in her next meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

“I think it’s about reinforcing that mining isn’t just about taking things from the earth,” said the premier. “Mining is an essential part of green energy and addressing climate change.”

Though there was no mention of mineral exploration in the speech, the executive director of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut Chamber of Mines said his organization continues to lobby for federal support for it.

“The agenda we’re looking at for federal support right now would be strengthening exploration through incentives, perhaps creating a mineral exploration tax credit just for north of 60 that’s much stronger than in southern Canada,” said Tom Hoefer.

They talked a lot about green energy, clean energy…. That’s all well and good but how do you do that up North?– Merven Gruben, Beaufort Delta businessperson

He noted the throne speech did include reference to the importance of mining. Payette said the country has the expertise and the resources that will give it a competitive edge in the transition to a greener economy.

“That was a powerful statement. In fact, it’s the North’s competitive edge as well,” said Hoefer. “So resource development is hopefully something that will be relied on as part of the emerging stronger [strategy].”

CERB being phased out

The federal government said it will be phasing out the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit in the coming months. The benefit, established to help people financially impacted by COVID-19, pays recipients $500 per week for up to six months. Though applicants have to reapply every four weeks, they don’t need to provide any proof they qualify for it.

Beaufort Delta businessperson Merven Gruben said he was glad to hear the program is being phased out. He said it has done more harm than good in the North.

Beaufort Delta businessperson Merven Gruben said he was glad to hear the CERB program is being phased out.(Mackenzie Scott/CBC)

He said another way the federal government could help the region’s faltering economy is to accelerate its cleanup of contaminated sites in the region.

“There’s a lot of people who have overdosed, drank themselves to death,” said Gruben, a former mayor of Tuktoyaktuk. “And it’s just made people lazy. Not only my company, a lot of companies have had a hard time hiring people.”

Gruben also said he was hoping to see support for resource development in his oil and gas-rich Beaufort Delta region.

“They talked a lot about green energy, clean energy,” said Gruben. “That’s all well and good but how do you do that up North? The closest thing we have to clean energy is the M-18 natural gas well, which we’re having a tough time getting going.”

The Inuvialuit are exploring the idea of setting up a liquified natural gas plant at the gas well near Tuktoyaktuk to fuel Inuvik, Tuk and other communities in the region.

Related stories around the North:

Canada: Two candidates to vie for presidency of Inuit gov in Atlantic Canada, CBC News

Denmark: COVID-19 could delay Kingdom of Denmark’s Arctic strategy, Eye on the Arctic

Finland: Sámi reconciliation process gains final approval in Finland, Yle News

Iceland: Iceland extends bar, nightclub COVID-19 closures in capital area until September 27, Eye on the Arctic

Norway: Are potential Arctic security threats eclipsing urgent action on climate? A new study makes its case, Eye on the Arctic

Russia: Russia removes critical voices ahead of Arctic Council chairmanship, claims Indigenous peoples expert, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Twenty-five Indigenous Sami remains returned by museum are reburied in northern Sweden, Radio Sweden

United States: Indigenous communities in Alaska harder hit by COVID-19, The Associated Press

Richard Gleeson, CBC News

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