Sustainable economic development doesn’t just take capital to get it going, it also takes planning.
With the federal government determined to improve Canadian Arctic sovereignty and pledging funding for development projects across the north, the University of Calgary’s school of Public Policy is busy considering the best ways to connect future infrastructure to the current Canadian grid.
This is where the Canadian Northern Corridor project comes in. It’s seeking input on what northern communities want and need in order to begin planning for committed infrastructure corridors going north and south.
“This is part of a longer running research program which we’ve been doing since about 2015,” said program director Dr. Kent Fellow. “We’re really trying to talk about people where they are and what does connectivity mean for that specific community, what are the potential benefits of a corridor or what the drawbacks may be.”
As part of a tour of 19 northern communities, the CNC project will host a community engagement night in Tuktoyaktuk on Oct. 26 from 6 to 8 p.m. at hamlet council chambers.
Engagement programs like this are key for the researchers, who are still piecing together what the North wants and needs.
”We don’t know what we don’t know about living in Tuktoyaktuk or Northern communities,” he said. “We have a notional map to get people thinking of where some of those pieces of connections might be, but at the beginning of our sessions I always tell people that we know our map is wrong, we want you to help us make it better.
“So we really want to hear from people in the community — what are the potential benefits and what are the costs? One of the themes we’ve heard is more development negatively impacts trap-lines, which are really important in some communities. We’re really keen to see what the community sees as benefits and what we should be thinking about when we talk about the corridor concept and improved connectivity.”
A northern corridor would essentially be a right-of-way from the Arctic coast to the southern part of Canada. It would be space set aside for roads, railways, pipelines, transmission lines for electricity and telecommunications.
Fellow noted that Canada is still enjoying the benefits of old school planning strategies that considered growth, the future and the long-term.
“There’s a large element of trying to do longer-term planning for transportation infrastructure,” he said. “This was something Canada used to do pre-1970s — there was more of a strategic vision of where infrastructure will go and how it all might link together. It’s really not something that we’ve done in the last half century, so we’re trying to get different levels of government thinking seriously and working together on this. Federal, provincial, territorial, municipal and First Nation governments, we’re hoping to bring all those together to plan.”
Also included in the project is expanding electrical grids, especially with climate change and as Canada and other industrial nations try to move away from a reliance on fossil fuels. On the heels of the pandemic, internet connectivity and ensuring people can communicate and work online, is another priority.
Fellow believes infrastructure planning that fits in a strategic framework will also give taxpayers more bang for their buck, shifting from one-off construction blitzes to projects with expanded scope.
“It’s not just setting up a corridor for future projects, it’s also thinking strategically about where we want those to go and where we can get economies of scale and scope,” he said. “The way it happens right now, one of the major drivers of roads further north is a natural resource project like a mine. They may decide they want to put a road in, and they’ll pick the route that’s best for the mine.
“But that might not be the route that’s best for the communities in the area. You might be missing linkages to communities or taking full advantage of the project. Thinking strategically these corridors can serve multiple goals instead of a single project.”