This year marks Canada’s 150th anniversary, and a special anniversary for the Yukon as well. Yukon’s economy and infrastructure have experienced three major transitions since Confederation: the end of the fur trade, the lure of the Klondike Gold Rush, and the construction of the Alaska Highway during the Second World War.
After decades of trial and error, successful partnerships with Indigenous communities have been forged across all three territories, the North has been strengthened by devolution, and economic development has taken hold. Natural resources are abundant in the territories and with the right vision and plan, Canada’s North will once again become a major economic engine.
But under the Trudeau government, Canada’s economic future hangs in the balance. The Liberals are forecasting a decade of job churn and amassing more debt, and telling young Canadians: get used to it. But I have a vision for a prosperous Canada, and a plan that will change the course of our economy. The North is ready to play an important role in that.
This fall will mark the 75th anniversary of the completion of the Alaska Highway. At the same time, the extension of the Dempster Highway to Tuktoyaktuk is scheduled to open.
While the need for military security during Second World War inspired the Alaska Highway, the past 75 years have proven that if you build it, they will come. It is that promise, one of economic development, that inspired an all-season road to Tuk. This road is a promise of a brighter future for the region. Development will now be possible where it had previously been limited. A better connection with Northern communities will now be possible where they had previously felt isolated. But we must not stop there. Infrastructure is critical for the territories to spur their economies and support their communities by attracting more investment.
Potential major projects in the Yukon such as Coffee gold, Eagle gold and Kudz Ze Kayah will result in substantial employment opportunities and benefits for Yukoners. Government can facilitate major projects like these through investments in strategic infrastructure that make them more feasible. The benefits go beyond direct employment and support everything from our communities to investments in healthcare.
In the coming years, the North will need more skilled labour than ever before, but it will also need professionals to support the developments in the region. That’s why an O’Toole government will support the territories and their colleges as they educate, train and develop the next generation of Northerners. With the right mix of skills, education and ambition, the opportunities for Canada’s young women, men and Aboriginal peoples will be limitless in the North.
The North has an infrastructure deficit, and I will correct that. These investments will support projects such as expansions to electrical infrastructure, the resource roads proposal of the Yukon government, and more reliable internet and cell service across the North.
This undertaking will not be easy. The geography and climate of Canada’s North require significant innovation and adaptation to complete these necessary infrastructure projects. The last Conservative government made significant investments in Canada’s North and ensured the territories had a strong voice in cabinet and at the national table.
In contrast, the Trudeau government has neglected the North. There is no cabinet representation from either of the three territories. Despite his childhood visit to the Arctic with his father, Trudeau passed on his first opportunity to attend Operation Nanook military exercise. And, the Liberals unilaterally put a moratorium on offshore development without so much as a courtesy discussion with Territorial or Indigenous leaders.
I will ensure that the Territorial Formula Financing transfers are predictable and not unexpectedly reduced due to unilateral federal decisions as they were under Trudeau in 2016. Further, I will bring Yukon to the table when it comes to trade negotiations with the United States given the importance of its shared border with Alaska.
An O’Toole government will prioritize Arctic security by completing the Nansivik Naval Facility on Baffin Island. I will reinvest in the Canadian Rangers, re-establish a Yukon-based Reserve Force, better utilize the Resolute Bay CAF Arctic Training Centre, and launch an RCAF northern surveillance drone pilot project across the territories.
I have a vision for a stronger North that doesn’t just stand on its own two feet, but drives the Canadian economy. Our North defines our nation and will be critical to our future, but realizing this potential requires vision and a relationship with Northerners built on respect. Our true North can only be strong and free when it is respected and encouraged to chart its own future.
Erin Michael O’Toole is the MP for Durham and served as Minister of Veterans Affairs. He is a retired Royal Canadian Air Force officer, lawyer and candidate for Leader of the Conservative Party of Canada.