In moving forward with development, the Yukon should be careful not to follow Alberta, said Senator Tommy Banks on a recent fact-finding sweep of the North.
And Banks should know. He’s from Alberta.
A balance between development and environmental stewardship is often hard to find, said Banks.
“And Alberta hasn’t done a good job of finding it,” he said.
“The trick is to do it in a way that won’t create a mess that nobody can afford to clean up.”
Banks was in Whitehorse Friday as chair of the Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources.
The committee was on a weeklong fact-finding mission of the Northwest Territories and the Yukon.
“We are looking at the impacts of climate change upon the North; upon development, upon the people, upon trade … and vice versa, ” said Banks.
The committee met with representatives of the scientific and business communities as well as government officials in a bid to study how “Canada’s Arctic communities are adapting to climate change and the environmental impacts of economic development in the Arctic.”
“We decided we should come here, see it for ourselves and talk to people closer to the ground in the North than we usually are.”
The committee has drawn no specific conclusions, but it has identified recommendations.
“(Development) should happen in a way that’s not going to place undue pressures on everything else,” he said.
The Klondike Gold Rush remains a potent example of the kind of frantic development the Yukon should seek to avoid.
“We all know how long the gold rush lasted – not very,” said Banks.
Over the past few years, Alberta has seen explosive development in its Athabasca tarsands, a region estimated to hold more crude oil than Saudi Arabia.
“Alberta’s resource development has gone almost unabated, the results upon labour shortages and housing prices and cost-of-living prices wouldn’t be as great as they are if the development had been a bit more carefully spaced.”
“Do the same amount of development, but do it over a longer period of time — don’t be in such a hurry.”
The North provided hard evidence of climate change.
Northern ice roads, for one, have seen a dramatic reduction in lifespan, said Banks.
Previously lasting up to five months, many ice roads now only last 3.5 months.
“The only other way to get in supplies is to fly them in, and the prices just go nuts,” he said.
When accounting for the ice-road needs of major industry, the repercussions can have “major effects on international trade.”
The North needs better infrastructure, the committee learned.
Its residents also need training, said Banks.
Roads need to be built, industries need to be expanded and Yukoners will need the knowledge to do it, he said.
The effects of climate change will increasingly demand focused attention, in the North as much as anywhere else.
“It bumps into sovereignty, health, trade, export, import, everything — everything’s interrelated.”
The rest of Canada could also stand to learn from the environmental perspectives of northerners, he said.
“People have a greater awareness here than they do in the rest of the country about the facts of climate change,” said Banks.
“Never mind how it’s caused — we know we have to deal with it.”