I recently attended a superb conference on the strengths of the northern people’s determination to do business in the harsh, unforgiving north. Appropriately the conference was called “Northern Lights” and centred on the growing momentum of northern development, big and small business and the future of the north in general. I had many interesting observations and I will highlight a few of them. Several of these points will surprise some people but like the land and environment, the truth is harsh too.
One of my main observations was that of the people of Nunavut and how they did business. It seemed that this new territory has its ducks in order when it comes down to getting business off the ground. Operating in unrealistic timeframes, like working during summer months 24/7 in the long summer days and then working during the winter during raging and under unbelievably cold conditions makes me believe that they must be superhuman, but really, it is cold hard cash that drives these workers. As for the government involvement, the territorial authorities really pull for the local businesses and economies, backing up large and small projects using every municipal and governmental effort to get the job done. It’s impressive to see politics and business work together.
Touching on every issue and development sector, it was the conversion of energy into electricity that caught my eye. To make it all simple, the most expensive way to make electricity is the most environmentally friendly using wind, up to the use of fossil fuels at a close second and hydro-generated power as being the most effective way to produce energy. Of course, nuclear power stations were brought up and the idea bandied about a bit. If a submarine can use it, why can’t we?
It seems that the energy problem of the north needs a lot more work soon, as many northern communities use diesel-generating stations to make their energy as expensive as possible. If you might recall, some extreme northern places can’t rely on burning wood to augment heating costs, since there are no trees to use in the first place, so I guess they’re really caught in a bind.
The Labrador Innu and Inuit made some impressive presentations, with the popular “Where in the world are we?” tourism commercials and amazingly enough, the Innu made a complete about face with their stance on development. Years ago, the Innu fought low-flying fighter aircrafts using human shields on the runways at Goose Bay to prevent the planes from disturbing the caribou in their traditional grounds and then progressed to becoming anti-everything. Today, the Innu are doing business with the province for a cool $400 million or so in work and contracts for the construction of a hydro dam. This change is quite the accomplishment.
The Inuit of Nunavik also had good presentations with the usual business going on in transport and construction, but it was their announcement on APTN about going into the cellphone business – just like Whapmagoostui does – was the cherry on the sundae. One day, maybe soon, we might just go the route of Nunavut and have politics, business and government all under one roof.