At first glance, my platform appears specifically social, but I assure you it’s economically based. Northern business largely exists on servicing operations and staff of the Government of the Northwest Territories, the mainstay of the NWT economy. The Government of The NWT has over 6,200 workers and an annual budget of $2.5 billion for 45,000 people. Less than 10 percent of the whole workforce is in the mining industry, which is set to shrink with announced mine closures.
The largest municipality, Yellowknife, once a company town with a gold mine at each end of town, has half the population of the territory and most of the businesses.
Yellowknife’s economy is tied to and limited by government expenditures, mainly the $900 million payroll. This is why its population growth is flat.
What is the Problem?
The problem with all activity being in YK, it’s holding back the Territory, it’s costing YK voters through supports for regions, limiting tax base due to no population increases (and potential decreases). Solutions start with the campaign items listed – Healing, Hosing, Education. These need to be in place before regions can take advantage of their economic activities. Communities can’t think in terms of economic development and prosperity until they find a way to meet basic needs.
Yellowknife’s strength is also its weakness, dependency on a single revenue stream – government. Now is the time to diversify, build the business economy through public investment in the communities to generate more business opportunities and revenue for the whole NWT.
Replace old economy with new
To progress, we must replace the original NWT land-based economy with a modern business economy in the communities. A trained local workforce with proper housing is required to grow our community economies. Right now, government housing and social policies punish personal initiative and discourage individual equity growth in our smaller communities. The community education system suffers from a lack of Dene, Metis and Inuvialuit teachers, graduation rates remain very low. Social ills fostered by a history of residential school trauma remain rooted in stagnant economies. Individuals succeed but the majority of the population is held back. That has to change.
The values of the traditional Dene, Metis, Inuvialuit land-based economy are identical to an enterprise economy. Both rely on individual effort – if a family works hard, works smart, they will live well. GNWT decision-makers have yet to learn employing local knowledge offers greater returns than ignoring local knowledge.
We must refocus our present robust government resources and investment in putting these community values to work if we want the economic future of the NWT to be bright. In truth, rather than pray for people in distant boardrooms to come to our rescue again as the diamond mining industry did, we have to focus on building our own economy. Instead of thinking big, which is what we have been doing, we should think small to grow big.
Economic Benefits of providing healing options in small communities:
- On-The-Land infrastructure – traditional structures, sanitation, security – can be built by people in the communities where such building is still common in family and hunting camps.
- Takes the pressures off regional centers and Yellowknife which can lessen costs in policing, courts and corrections. Hospital stays, emergency room visits and emergency first responders are markedly increased by addictions-related health problems, straining an already stressed health staff.
- Creates permanent positions for maintenance, wood, water and sewer services, management and counselling staff, most of which can be based and recruited in the community. Facilities can evolve as GNWT adapts services and funding to lock in financial efficiencies.
Economic Benefits of investing in community housing:
- There are construction entrepreneurs in most communities and certainly all regional centers. In contrast to the high-value resource development projects, housing expertise is well established in the North. Providing multi-year projects and maintenance will allow investment in staff development and equipment.
- The health benefits of proper housing are proven to reduce demands on the health care system.
- Injection of wages and revenues from small businesses servicing an increased workforce will provide much-needed economic growth, which will feed into regional center economies and the larger economies of Inuvik, Hay River and Yellowknife.
Economic Benefits for Investing In Education:
- Divisional Education Boards outside Yellowknife, especially in smaller communities are reporting difficulty recruiting and properly housing teachers for their schools. Providing proper housing will help in recruitment and retention. In 2016, NWT Housing undertook a contract to build 45 houses for 45 RCMP families so the model is there for teachers.
- As the investments in healing and housing take effect in the communities, education outcomes will improve, creating greater capacity in community and territorial workforces, keeping valuable investment returns in the North.
As stated, Healing, Housing and Education investment, neglected to date, will set the stage for a brighter economic future for the NWT.