The three northern premiers are calling on the federal government to step up spending to address the amplified impacts of climate change in Canada’s North, which is warming up three to four times faster than the global rate.
Yukon Premier Sandy Silver, Northwest Territories Premier Caroline Cochrane and Nunavut Premier P.J. Akeeagok reunited in Whitehorse on May 8-9 to discuss common issues affecting the North.
It was the first in-person meeting of the Northern Premiers’ Forum since 2019 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Silver said that they went through a “variety of issues relevant to creating conditions for a stronger, more vibrant and resilient North.”
Arctic security, housing, health care and public safety are all topics on the agenda, with climate change thrust to the forefront.
“We’re not the ones that are the highest in emissions, but we are the ones that are faced, that are seeing the consequences of climate change,” Cochrane said, as the communities of Hay River, Kátł’odeeche First Nation, Jean Marie River and Fort Simpson in her territory are fighting against flooding in real time.
A 2017 auditor general of Canada’s report to the Yukon Legislative Assembly on climate change lists thawing permafrost, precipitation changes and the increased occurrence of extreme weather events such as fire and flooding as examples of climate change impacts in the Yukon.
The pan-northern leaders’ May 9 statement on climate change is calling for “federal attention, support and investment” in “climate-resilient infrastructure, renewable and alternative secure energy systems, emergency preparedness, northern research, knowledge and capacity building, supporting health and wellness, preservation of cultural identity and economic opportunities.”
Silver said the circumpolar North is looking at economic opportunities when it comes to Northwest passages.
“We need the federal government to put money into the Arctic and Northern Policy Framework,” he said.
The policy framework is described on the federal government’s website as a “profound change of direction” for the feds to close the gaps and create a “lasting legacy of sustainable economic development” for the North.
The trio also discussed clean energy and critical minerals given the possibilities in terms of strategic federal investments announced in the 2022-23 budget, which, for example, proposes to provide up to $3.8 billion in support over eight years to implement Canada’s first Critical Minerals Strategy.
“Everything that we do when we talk about infrastructure has to have a climate change lens attached to it,” Silver said.
Silver was unable to put a dollar figure on their demands.
“When we’re talking about critical infrastructure, highways, airports, energy, digital security and telecommunications, you know, all playing a role in supporting healthy and vibrant communities, whether we’re talking about things from a perspective of sovereignty or security or climate change, per capita spending is not enough,” he said.
“It’s not about a particular number, but it’s about base-plus funding.”
The premiers will bring their mutual concerns to the Western Premiers’ Conference and the Council of the Federation tables this summer.
Silver added that “hopefully” there will be a conversation with the federal government.
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