Infrastructure is 'inadequate to respond to environmental emergencies, natural disasters, non-en
North needs $2.5 billion for transportation: report
Canada won't secure its economic and strategic needs in the North without spending billions of dollars on new transportation infrastructure, says a new study released this past week by the three territorial governments.
Booming interest in northern resources, such as minerals, oil and natural gas, combined with the region's growing political importance and the high cost of living – especially in Nunavut – means Ottawa needs to pony up at least $2.5 billion, says the report, entitled "Northern Connections."
"Immediate financial investment in northern transportation is critical," the report states.
The document envisions an Arctic transportation grid that would better connect Nunavut to the other territories and the South.
Nunavut would finally be connected to the national highway system with roads to Bathurst Inlet and the Kivalliq as far as Baker Lake.
Bathurst Inlet, Rankin Inlet and Iqaluit would each get deep-sea ports, while Iqaluit, Rankin and Cambridge Bay would serve as air travel gateways to the rest of Canada, with upgraded airports.
The report warns that without significant improvements, the North's existing infrastructure, some of which is already crumbling thanks to melting permafrost caused by climate change, will be stretched beyond its capacity. That could cause mining companies to pack up and leave.
It also says that infrastructure is so sparse it's "completely inadequate to respond to environmental emergencies, natural disasters, non-environmental accidents and increasing threats to Canada's sovereignty."
Airport infrastructure in smaller Nunavut communities, much of which hasn't been upgraded since it was first built in the 1970s, also needs to improved, the report says.
The document suggests Nunavut should also receive:
- relocated airports in Pangnirtung and Kimmirut;
- new roads connecting communities and resources; and
- harbours, breakwater, and marshalling areas to make sealifts easier.
But the territories can't afford to pay for all these capital projects, especially because, as the report notes, while they make up 40 per cent of Canada's land mass, the 100,000 or so residents of the three territories account for only 0.3 per cent of Canada's population.
"As such, limited ability exists in the North to assume the tremendous financial burden posed by the transportation system, particularly if funding programs are based on per-capita calculations," the report states. Most federal funding programs distribute money to the provinces and territories based on population.
The $2.5 billion in spending the report seeks for the North falls short of the "tens of billions" of dollars in new infrastructure Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. has been seeking for Nunavut.
NTI has been pushing the Arctic Gateway Council, a body that's been lobbying for upgrades to air and marine facilities in Nunavut communities.
Monica Ell, NTI's director of business and economic development, said that such new infrastructure would create cheaper connections to the southern supply chain, lowering the cost of living.
"Better marine and air transportation would only mean it would drive costs down for everyone, not just for the mining companies," Ell said.