Community Future North Central Development manager and former Thompson mayor Tim Johnston provided an update on the Northern Values initiative to the Thompson Chamber of Commerce April 17.
Created after a provincial government–organized Boreal Summit in Opaskwayak Cree Nation (OCN) in February 2015, Northern Values is a declaration of common values in Northern Manitoba intended to help guide sustainable development in the region while respecting the rights and needs of the people who call its communities home.
Johnston admitted that when he was first invited to speak about the importance of economic development to the future of Northern Manitoba, he expected conflict, because the audience included industry representatives, Indigenous people, environmentalists and northern communities.
“I went into that thinking that I was going to see all kinds of conflict,” Johnston said. “It was the furthest thing from the truth. In fact, industry indigenous municipalities and environmental groups are far more advanced than we ever thought they were and that balance is absolutely huge because when you want to get to prosperity, we need that balance.”
The values that were hammered out at that initial meeting and through follow-up gatherings and revisions, included prosperity, balance, cooperation, community benefits, rights and respect, financial attractiveness, knowledge and clarity.
“No one’s going to be in this region if there are not opportunities for prosperity so that drove it,” said Johnston, but the common values also had to recognize existing obligations and responsibilities. “It’s a very important difference between a rights holder in Northern Manitoba – largely Indigenous, First Nations – versus stakeholders and we have to learn those things and we have to have respect because if you don’t have that, you’re not going very far.”
Another important value that communities in the north don’t always do well with is clarity, Johnston said.
“No one wants to come – whether it’s industry, whether it’s investors – if they don’t know what they’re coming to. It’s critical that we state clearly what we‘re going to do, how we’re going to do it and when we’re going to do it. Chuck Davidson president of the Manitoba Chamber [of Commerce] once told me that every time he sits down with government officials and takes a municipality in to see them, the mayor, council, the leaders of the day will say, ‘You should come to our community because we’re great. You should invest with us.’ Why? Clarity is everything.”
Following the creation of the values declaration, the Progressive Conservative government elected in April 2016 developed their own northern economic development strategy known as Look North, which caused the Northern Values initiative to step back, though the work they had done formed part of the Look North framework.
“In the Look North report, we were very pleased that those common values were identified and that’s not rocket science. Those things are critical and every session I go to now I continue to hear those same values.”
Given that the Northern Values initiative was started as a way for Northern Manitobans to take control of their own destiny and to push their own agenda, rather than have the federal or provincial government push one on them, Johnston says the declaration’s signatories and supporters – which include Thompson and The Pas, as well as their respective chambers of commerce, along with First Nations and the Mining Association of Manitoba – remain active in promoting their vision.
“We made sure we were front and centre at a number of different events, conferences, et cetera,” Johnston said. “We ensured that we hit each of those three different major governance structures in Northern Manitoba – First Nations, municipalities and Northern Affairs/Métis communities.”
The declaration is important because governments change but the needs of the region change slower.
“What has been a challenge for Northern Manitoba for many years has been having consistency for what the long-term vision for the north was and, more importantly, that that long-term vision was driven by Northern Manitoba and not Broadway in Winnipeg.”
Johnston concluded his presentation by presenting a poster of the declaration of common values to Thompson Chamber of Commerce president Raj Thethy. All Northern Values signatories will receive the same poster to keep the goals of the initiative at the top of their minds,
“Nothing conveys a message better than repeatedly seeing it,” Johnston said, citing a lesson learned from the development and promotion of the City of Thompson’s Aboriginal Accord. “We need to make sure people see this.”