Two provincial ministers and one federal one met in Churchill this week to discuss issues related to northern development and Indigenous reconciliation.
The first northern development ministers forum since 2019 saw Manitoba Natural Resources and Northern Development Minister Greg Nesbitt, Newfoundland and Labrador Indigenous Affairs and Reconciliation Minister Lisa Dempster and federal Northern Affairs Minister Dan Vandal gather in Northern Manitoba’s Hudson Bay port town for discussions centred around the theme of economic reconciliation through action.
Among the topics the ministers covered at the forum were advancing northern and Indigenous youth leadership, planning to address remediation of contaminated sites in the north, and developing tools and models to help northern jurisdictions advance economic reconciliation with their largely Indigenous populations.
During the forum, Vandal announced that the federal government is putting $3.75 million over three years towards developing Indigenous partnerships in the area of critical mineral development in Manitoba, which has deposits of nine of 31 critical minerals, which are used in various products, including mobile phones and electric vehicle batteries, that are expected to play key roles in a more connected and greener future economy.
At a virtual press conference that concluded the forum, the ministers agreed that infrastructure and access are keys to enhancing northern Indigenous economic development.
“We heard loud and clear from Churchill officials this week that access is so important,” said Nesbitt. “Having plenty of air flights to the community, getting the railway back up and running again is the only thing limiting potential for tourism and development in the north. We’re very encouraged with the Arctic Gateway Group [that owns the Hudson Bay Railway and the Port of Churchill], how they’re proceeding on the railway here with the work that’s undergoing this summer and next summer and hopefully more frequency of trains moving forward, moving freight up here to the port and perhaps moving goods to the south as well.”
On the subject of labour shortages, which were an issue in Northern Manitoba and many other regions of Canada’s north long before they became a countrywide phenomenon, Vandal said they are partly due to the number of jobs that have been created in the country since the end of severe economic disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Part of the reason for there being a lack of workers is that there’s a lot of jobs that have been created post-pandemic,” he said.
Manitoba’s northern minister said addressing worker shortages requires a two-pronged approach of making the province attractive to people so that they will move here and building on the capabilities of the people that are already here.
“That’s our strategy moving forward is to encourage more immigration to the province and also to increase the training opportunities, especially in the north,” Nesbitt said. “If the people are from the north, there’s a much better chance they’re going to stay here.”
Although there are differences between the geography and economies in Northern Manitoba and Labrador, which will host the 2024 northern ministers forum, Dempster said all northern regions have much in common.
“When you represent the north, you represent regions that are resource-rich, that hold tremendous opportunity, but we also have challenges that other parts of our beautiful country do not experience,” she said. “We will continue those conversations of how we grapple with some of the challenges that are in the north and how we build on the tremendous potential that that north holds.”