November 9, 2017
Honourable Senators, on Wednesday of next week, the 140 km all weather extension of the Dempster Highway from Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories on the Arctic Coast, will be officially opened. This four year project to replace the Tuktoyaktuk winter ice road is a major engineering feat: built on some of the most sensitive and challenging terrain in Canada on an elevated base to prevent thaw and soil migration. The Government of Canada pledged $200 million of the $300 million cost at a time of budgetary cutbacks, with the Government of the NWT contributing the balance, including engineering costs.
This is the first link to the Arctic Coast with the North American highway network. I am hopeful that our current federal government will support a second link of the North American Highway network to the Arctic Coast and a gateway to tidewater for rich mineral deposits in Nunavut– the Grays Bay Port and Road, which I have spoken about in this Chamber.
Today, I wish to pay tribute to two former Conservative Prime Ministers whose visions of a Canada of the North have inspired this project. The first was my hero the Rt. Hon. John George Diefenbaker whose “Roads to Resources” vision saw the construction of the Dempster Highway from Dawson City, Yukon to Inuvik on the MacKenzie Delta. In 1958, speaking of his northern vision, Diefenbaker said:
“Sir John A Macdonald…saw Canada from East to West. I see a new Canada – a Canada of the North. … We will open up [the] northland for development by improving transportation and communication and by … the building of access roads.”
I was with the Rt. Hon. Stephen Harper in Inuvik in January of 2014 to mark the beginning of construction on the Road to Tuk, when he said:
“Prime Minister Diefenbaker knew then what our government is undertaking today: construction of a highway will improve the lives of people living in the North for generations to come, facilitating economic development, creating jobs and enabling cost-effective, safe and reliable transportation of goods to and from northern communities.”
Sadly, the promise of developing an economy in the Beaufort Delta with the stimulus of this major new transportation artery has been shattered by the federal government’s arbitrary and unilateral decision to announce a moratorium on oil and gas development in the Arctic without any consultation with Indigenous people and northern governments. The current government’s priority on creating parks that few people except rich cruise ship passengers can afford to visit and more and more protected areas is scaring away investment in the north’s rich resource potential, leaving fewer and lesser-paying jobs in the territory. Premier Bob McLeod has called this a re-emergence of colonialism, saying the dreams of northerners are dying and “…we are left sitting here without jobs and basically no economy in the Beaufort Delta. Former Tuktoyaktuk Mayor and major Tuk employer Merv Greuben called this decision a “kick in the head” and said “…it’s just going to keep our people on social assistance.”
As we celebrate the opening of this major leap forward in closing the huge infrastructure gap in northern Canada, I endorse Premier McLeod’s call for Canada to reset its relationship with the north. I welcome and wish to participate actively, perhaps through the Special Committee on the Arctic, to assist the federal government to develop its proposed new Arctic Policy in a way which will not leave northern people and their priorities sitting out in the cold and will truly achieve the Trudeau Government’s stated goals of balancing environmental protection with economic development.