Two Tuktoyaktuk leaders were in Ottawa last week to make the case for federal investment in the community’s port infrastructure.
“BP, Imperial – they are going to be coming back,” said Tuk Mayor Merven Gruben, referencing the oil and gas companies that have explored offshore in the Arctic in the past.
“We fix up our infrastructure, get things ready, then it’ll be more accessible and easier for the industry to come back.”
Gruben was joined by former Nunakput MLA Jackie Jacobson, who also served as speaker in the last legislative assembly, as witnesses at a Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs meeting in Ottawa on Oct. 22.
Their main ask was that the government invest in docking facilities for the community and dredge the entrance to its harbour.
Both Gruben and Jacobson took the opportunity to rally against the five-year moratorium on offshore oil and gas development which began in 2016 and was imposed, “without even talking to us.”
“We’re a proud people who like to work for a living,” said Gruben. “We’re not used to getting social assistance and stuff.”
The Tuktoyaktuk mayor said tourism has been a boon, but is “small change” compared to oil and gas work.
“We’re resource rich and cash poor,” said Jacobson, adding that he’s seen the job market get worse over the past three years.
Liberal MP Don Rusnak pushed back on the moratorium point, saying the oil and gas activity that once populated the waters outside Tuk back in the 1980s hasn’t returned because the price of oil doesn’t make it economically viable.
He also noted the government’s commitment, made earlier this month, to budge on the moratorium and work with Northern partners to co-develop a governance framework and revenue-sharing agreements for the industry.
Gruben also mentioned potential to make Tuktoyaktuk a shipping hub if it had the port infrastructure, using its all-season road to truck up goods rather than barging them up the Mackenzie River to service the GNWT’s barging customers on the Arctic Ocean.
He mentioned that this would be a better option than the current system for servicing communities like Paulatuk, Cambridge Bay and Kugluktuk, which couldn’t get vital resupplies this year.
“We have the infrastructure for storage, fuel tank storage and the land available,” said Gruben, adding that goods could be trucked up and stored in the winter and shipped out as soon as the ice melts.
“In 2012, I was invited to come here and speak to the panel as well and we did such a good presentation, I believe … that in the next budget we got $129 million for our highway,” said Gruben, referencing the previous government’s investment in the Inuvik-Tuk Highway and saying that he’s hoping for a similar response.