With a new territorial government being sworn and a new federal government on its way in, resource infrastructure projects have been a large topic of discussion for Northerners casting their ballots.
Prominent conservative Preston Manning spoke to a packed house of business insiders at the NWT Chamber of Commerce’s yearly conference, Opportunities North.
Manning had plenty of advice on how infrastructure projects could and should be advocated for here in the North.
“Transportation infrastructure corridors are and will be key factors in the economic and social development of Northern Canada,” said Preston.
“The question is not whether but what infrastructure is needed and how to facilitate and accelerate its development.”
Manning made four main points about how to go about this:
- Transportation infrastructure corridors are needed to tie the north together and move resources to the global market.
- The federal government has the constitutional power to legislate rights of way for such corridors.
- Corridor coalitions are needed to push for a better balance between environmental protection and economic development.
- Indigenous Canadians need to be prominent participants in these coalitions from the start.
“(Being) the second largest nation in the world and hold(ing) the second largest stock of natural resources in the world, is something to be proud and not apologetic about,” said Preston.
Manning said the North should be better connected to the United States, that it may more easily move mineral and energy resources to our largest trading partner.
He said if the federal government stepped up and legislated these corridors, it would alleviate some of the political deadlock we see today.
“The fact we have difficulty moving resources from the second largest store of resources in the world, the fact we have difficulty moving them from interior to tide water, is something that has to be remedied and the federal government has the power to do so,” said Manning.
But to advocate and really push for the corridors would require nothing less than a “21st century political effort equivalent to confederation and building of the first CPR rail road.”
“Today I think what we need corridor coalitions which require governments, companies and citizens dedicated to created and maintaining these transportation corridors,” said Manning.
Manning admits that creating these wouldn’t be easy and would require the cooperation of people who may disagree on a lot of things, something not seen a lot it today’s politics.
This would include Indigenous partners.
“You have indigenous leaders and communities that have leaders who are just as dedicated to respecting the land and the environment as those elsewhere but I believe you have indigenous leadership who believe that has to go hand in hand with economic development.”
Manning said these coalitions could pressure the federal government to use its constitutional powers to establish corridors and create partnerships between the NWT and provinces who want to establish these corridors such as Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta.
But at the end of the day Manning says there needs to be a balance struck between economic development and environmental protection, something that has been lost.
“At one time Canadians were known for having a sense of balance … that was part of our national characteristic,” said Manning.
He spoke of times in the 1920s when economic development took precedent over environmental protection and how that has shifted to precedent being placed on environmental protection.
“In BC, for example, this imbalance has gone so far that for a resource developer to harm a fish is an unpardonable sin but for an environmental requirement to kill the job or income of a resource worker is actually cause for celebration.”
Restoring that balance is something Manning says could be pioneered in the North.
Taking questions from the crowd, Manning was asked about the current election and how to alleviate divisiveness in the modern political landscape.
“There is a lot of conflict and it’s amplified with social media these days and I think the one thing you can do as electors is analyse the parties and candidates and figure out, are they polarizers or are they are they trying to find some kind of consensus?” he responded.
He said said the ultimate goal of government should be to reconcile conflicting interests by non-coercive means.
“I’m supposed to stay away from politics, so I’ve got to be careful,” Manning laughed.
Manning was the leader of the Reform Party from 1987 to 2000, which evolved into the Canadian Alliance party which subsequently merged with the Progressive Conservatives to become today’s Conservative Party.