For those of you who don’t know, the NWT is a territory larger that Germany and France combined, with 45,000 people living in 33 communities, the capital of which is Yellowknife, a city of 20,000.
Half the population is Indigenous – Dene, Metis and Inuvialuit. The other half is non-Indigenous settlers from Southern Canada and increasingly around the world.
My campaign platform is based upon three issues – community-based treatment facilities, housing, education. First glance, my platform appears specifically social but I assure you it’s economic-based.
The Dene, Metis, Inuvialuit landbank is giant by global proportions. Germany is only 357,021 km2 while France is 643,801 km2, which combined are less than the NWT’s 1,171,918 km2. Countless lakes (Great Bear lake #7, Great Slave Lake #9 largest freshwater lakes in the world), endless ocean shore, abundant marine, wild life and forests.
A bit of history
In economic terms, before the arrival of the Canadian government, the Dene, Metis and Inuvialuit had their own economy. They enjoyed vast land banks the size of the larger European countries, holdings that paid significant dividends in food, shelter and all life’s necessities.
As with all banking systems, there were ups and downs for the Dene, Metis, Inuvialuit people. Sometimes the dividends shrunk or disappeared, the consumer base suffered hunger and stress just as people do when their economy collapses around the world.
The Canadian government came over 100 years ago and has been building a different economy in the NWT, using a different banking system, but using the same land banks. It began in partnership with the Dene, Metis and Inuvialuit who supplied the European, Canadian fur traders and American whalers. The business model made sense and benefited both parties.
Trading economy transforms to resources development
This trading economy transformed into a resource development economy, again based upon the Dene, Metis, Inuvialuit land banks. The Dene Metis and Inuvialuit, lacking administration experience required for industry, were sidelined by the takeover of their lands, laws and economy. Certain talented individuals bridged the cultural gap but most people chose to remain tied to the land, family and tradition.
Attempts were made by church and state to bring all the Dene, Metis and Inuvialuit into the new economy but the right investments weren’t made in education and training. The focus was on control and exploitation of resources rather than building capacity in Dene, Metis, Inuvialuit communities.
No economic planning for communities outside the capital
The investments that were made were undermined by misguided centralized government management, first in Ottawa, then in Yellowknife. Government services were and are still based upon an economic model of business powered by a trained workforce which the Dene, Metis and Inuvialuit are not.
In the NWT today, the Dene, Metis, Inuvialuit workforce is supplanted by trained Southerners. Between 2007 and 2017, non-resident workers were about one-third of the NWT workforce, siphoning off hundreds of millions of dollars every year to the south. Consequently, the consumer base and local community economies are stunted. In truth, we new Northerners have failed to replace the land based economy of the Dene, Metis and Inuvialuit with a functioning business and consumer-based economy.
Northern business thrives largely on servicing the operations and staff of the Government of the Northwest Territories, the mainstay of the NWT economy. People might be surprised to learn the Government of The NWT has 6,200 workers and an annual budget of $2.1 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, 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.
Dene, Metis, Inuvialuit values suited to community market economy
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 remain rooted in stagnant economies. Individuals succeed but the majority of the population is held back. That has to change.
The values of the Dene, Metis, Inuvialuit land-based economy are identical to an enterprise economy. Both rely on individual effort – if one works hard, works smart, they will live well, both require public investment to stimulate growth. 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. Go to nwt2023.ca to view my platform.