New Year’s revelations, reservations and resolutions

New Year’s revelations, reservations and resolutions
Northwest Territories MP Michael McLeod was in the territorial legislature Dec. 16 to see his brother, Yellowknife South MLA Bob McLeod, elected premier by his peers.Photo: Joyce M McLeod

The wins by the brothers McLeod (MP Mike and Premier Bob), champions of the NWT like a Wrestlemania tag team, is a chapter of a bigger story that played out across Canada, a popular, almost romantic tale of a paradigm shift for a country that had apparently lost its way.

That slightly geeky country known for its Mounties, beaver, vast tracts of wilderness and “nice” people (eh) was shifting dramatically to the right, imbued with conservative values, if Stephen Harper (to many the villain in the story) had his way. A sleepy electorate awoke suddenly and decided otherwise. His little-bit-at-a-time dismantling of much of what the country holds dear worked for a decade, but when Canadians realized they had strayed too far from their traditional middle ground comfort zone, a feeling of resentment coalesced. The proverbial pendulum swung back with a vengeance. Led by the charisma and upbeat attitude of Justin Trudeau, the Liberals re-assumed their status as “the natural governing party of Canada,” sweeping the Harper decade into the dustbin of history along with his Conservative predecessors’ interludes of popularity (John Diefenbaker, 1957–1963, and Brian Mulroney, 1984–1993). Trudeaumania, the sequel, overtook the country.

The rays of optimism shine on in 2016, but all is not perfect. Even as the rapture continues, there is a disconcerting awareness that the country is sinking deep into deficit. Avoiding debt is another characteristic traditionally attractive to Canadians. Fiscal restraint is the Tory mantra and the Achilles Heel of the Liberals, as their spendthrift ways too often get out of hand.

There is also a pervasive worry the world is going to hell in a handbasket. Most Canadians, in addition to being socially liberal and fiscally conservative, are optimists, and so they should be. In spite of the litany of bad news engulfing us daily, the world has never been a more peaceful place. Terrorists at home, a bottomless pit of conflict in the Middle East fostering an endless stream of refugees, expansionism from Russia and China and the bizarre machinations of Kim Jong Un in North Korea are valid concerns, but in context and proportion. Such issues are sensationalized by those who would commandeer public opinion, including amoral politicians seeking shortcuts to power and sensationalist news media too lazy to provide quality journalism. In reality, fewer people are dying (as a percentage of populations) in armed conflicts in the world today than at any other time. Humanity has its issues, but compared to the past, we are enjoying good times.

Similarly, in spite of the Canadian dollar’s free fall as it partner-dives with the price of oil, the national economy remains strong. Canada is poised for recovery as the manufacturing sector spins up to advantage the low dollar in the awakening hunger of our massive southern neighbor.

During his ten-year tenure, Harper rode the oil industry like a rented mule, over-cooking it through stimulus, giving away legacy resource revenues and ignoring common sense environmental restrictions, all the while oblivious to the need for diversity. Canada’s economy has three pillars: manufacturing in Quebec and Ontario delivers wealth and jobs, and oil and resource extraction are the icing on the cake; but farming, fishing and timber harvest provide the foundation. Any federal government ignoring any element of that is foolish.

The big problem in Northern Canada is that only one of those pillars exists. There has long been an over dependence on resource mega-projects. Not only do they have a limited lifespan, they run counter to the traditional economy. The challenge for the brothers McLeod is to change that.

Their strong Liberal connection will be a boon in seeking an increased Northern allowance and facilitating land claim settlements, both of which require political will and unblocking bureaucratic entanglements. Direct connections to the backrooms of power in Ottawa should solve those. It is the problems that will follow, requiring made-in-the-North solutions that are their real challenge.

First Nations that finalize land claim settlements and then founder as their bank accounts are whittled away are all too common. Lasting, fruitful investment of those entitlements is critical if future generations are to benefit – what it is supposed to be all about. That should involve leadership at the territorial and provincial levels fostering a united effort among community, First Nations and upper levels of government in building a broader economy. Meaningful, productive jobs have to be constructed in communities as a part of a larger economy. Vision and leadership for broader based economic development are badly needed.

Food insecurity in the North will not be solved by subsidies alone. Small scale and greenhouse agriculture that feeds locals and builds economies are needed in every community. Problems with the high cost of diesel power and low water levels inhibiting hydro electricity production will never be solved by intransigent crown corporations or an entrenched bureaucracy. Those are challenging problems, but also a possible path to solutions. Stimulating innovation and initiative, putting bright minds to work at the local level is what is needed.

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