An Arctic Gateway Strategy will be developed as a result of Manitoba's Arctic Summit last week at the University of Winnipeg, says Premier Greg Selinger. That’s good news for all of us here in Northern Manitoba.
The three-day summit, part of Manitoba's Northern Development Strategy, attracted about 200 Canadian and international government, private-sector and other stakeholders including representatives from air, marine and land modalities, community economic development organizations, aboriginal groups and Northern communities.
It included the signing of an agreement between Manitoba and Nunavut to improve co-operation on a series of issues, including health services, economic development, transportation and tourism initiatives.
Through the new master agreement, the framework is in place for co-operation between the two governments on a number of issues, notably including the commencement of initial consultations for a cost-benefit study on a $1.2- billion Manitoba-Nunavut 1,100-kilometre all-weather road. Construction could begin by 2014.
The preferred alignment for the “Eastern Alternative” route would connect to the existing Manitoba highway network and start in Gillam and run north to Churchill and then up to the Kivalliq region communities of Arviat, Whale Cove and Rankin Inlet in Nunavut.
The Nunavut-Manitoba Route Selection Study, undertaken by Nishi-Khon/SNC-Lavalin consultants on behalf of the Governments of Manitoba and Nunavut and the Kivalliq Inuit Association (KIA) was completed in December 2007.
In addition to connecting to the existing North American road system, this new road would also enhance opportunities for resource development such as mining and tourism; benefit employment, small business development and standard of living; and reduce the cost of transporting people and goods between the Kivalliq Region and urban centres in Manitoba.
The study included an assessment of social, economic, environmental and financial impacts of road development for each of the three potential corridors (Western via Lynn Lake, Central via Thompson and Eastern via Gillam) that were examined and included extensive community, stakeholder and public consultation.
Three years ago, when he was community economic development officer for the Town of Lynn Lake, Mark Matiasek, now general manager of Thompson Unlimited, made an argument with some merit that the Western preferred road route to Nunavut, through Lynn Lake and possibly linking the communities of Brochet, Lac Brochet and Tadoule Lake, made the most sense.
Matiasek also noted former grand chief Sydney Garrioch of Manitoba Keewatinook Ininew Okimowin (MKO) and Chief Joe Dantouze of the Northlands Dënesuliné First Nation at Lac Brochet had also pointed out significant shortcomings in the study, in particular their interpretations of analyses and the applicability of the analyses selected.
“As taxpayers, what sense does it make to construct a road linking Churchill when significant sums of public tax dollars will be invested into upgrading and maintaining the rail line and port?” Matiasek asked.
“It appears to me that the process followed to identify the preferred route to Nunavut through Gillam was skewed because of the need to link Churchill. Why a link to Churchill when there is a rail line and one that has received a large amount of money to maintain?”
While we still think Matiasek’s argument in his admittedly more parochial role speaking for Lynn Lake’s interests made good sense, the Eastern Alternative was the route chosen and we think it makes good long-term economic sense, even with the inclusion of Churchill, to get on with the project, given the glacial pace development often moves at in Northern Manitoba.