Closing the Gap: The NIEDB urges the federal government to invest in Northern infrastructure

Op-Ed by Hilda Broomfield Letemplier, Member of the NIEDB _XC_8983

Increased spending on infrastructure can’t come soon enough for Northern and Indigenous communities, where infrastructure endowment is among the poorest in the country. The lack of adequate infrastructure in the North – including port facilities, runways, roads, bridges, telecommunications, housing, and energy infrastructure – creates what is arguably the most significant barrier to community and economic development in the region.

With this in mind, the National Indigenous Economic Development Board (NIEDB) welcomes the federal government’s stated commitment to increase infrastructure spending in Canada. In many Northern communities in Canada, critical infrastructure doesn’t exist and community infrastructure, like housing, is severely overcrowded and in need of major repairs.

On January 20th, the Board released its report entitled Recommendations on Northern Infrastructure to Support Economic Development. The recommendations urge the Government of Canada to support Northern infrastructure and economic development with a North-specific approach to increased investment, and by funding research and community planning to support Northern community capacity.

The Board firmly believes that investment in Northern infrastructure has the potential to result in significant positive benefits for not just Northern and Indigenous communities, but all Canadians. Our background studies identified that each dollar spent on Northern economic infrastructure has the potential, if invested wisely, to generate $11 of economic benefits for individuals and $11 of fiscal benefits for governments.

The conclusions in our report are echoed by others. In a survey conducted by GE Canada which involved Northern business and community leaders, 70% of those surveyed ranked infrastructure as “the single most important criteria” for attracting investment and facilitating business development in remote communities. The Canadian Chamber of Commerce and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, among others, have also signaled a critical deficit in Canada’s infrastructure.

An economically viable North with healthy communities is good for all of Canada. Indigenous people comprise the majority population in many places in the North, and settled land claims and local economic development corporations already create a strong base for economic development in the North. Our report clearly demonstrates the value of investing in Northern infrastructure as not only individuals and governments would benefit, but regional attractiveness to private investors would also increase. Our report concludes that strategic investment and enhancements in telecommunications, energy, and transportation infrastructure are critical for economic and social development in Indigenous communities.

As demonstrated by our Aboriginal Economic Progress Report, some progress has been made between 2006 and 2011; however Indigenous Peoples in Canada are currently not on track to achieving parity with non-Indigenous Canadians. Improved infrastructure can create conditions that support regional economic development and lower the investment costs of other infrastructure, like housing and health care.

The vision of the NIEDB is for Indigenous Peoples to be economically self-sufficient and full participants in the Canadian economy. For this to happen, we need to create conditions where Indigenous economies can grow and businesses flourish. Infrastructure investment is needed to create these conditions across Canada, especially in Northern and Indigenous communities.

Bold investment in northern infrastructure is needed now in Northern Indigenous communities to close the gap. The NIEDB urges the federal government to invest in the North while ensuring that Indigenous Peoples are engaged as true partners in the planning, decision-making, and business development opportunities along the away.

Established in 1990, our Board, comprised of First Nations, Inuit and Métis members, is a national, non-partisan body with a mandate to advise the Government of Canada on Indigenous economic development issues.