Op-Ed: Canada’s Shift to Northern ‘Development’

Canadian Aboriginal Festival

My July 13 GRI article, Effects of Liberal Economics on Canada’s Aboriginals, asked: Does economic development, and the involvement in liberal economics, inherently undermine traditions and thus identity of Canada’s aboriginals? As the follow-up commentary suggested it was indeed the case that development, within an economic understanding, does alter identity. This piece will focus on the the secondary component that sought to challenge ‘development’ as a conceptual tool that focuses on responsible investment in Canada’s North.

In a recent article in the Globe and Mail, Josh Wingrove highlighted Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper’s agenda on Northern development. In his piece, Wingrove discusses how Harper’s rhetoric on the North shifted focus from protecting Canadian sovereignty to encouraging development. Unintentionally, however, Wingrove also provides some obvious examples of what ‘development’ is, and how ‘improve’ the lives of those that live in the North.

Development as laid out by Wingrove focuses on Harper’s push as “[t]he federal government struck a deal with NWT (North West Territories) on devolution of power over resources, and overhauled the decades old food mail program to mixed review”. Furthermore, Wingrove highlights a Conference Board of Canada’s Centre for the North that is completing a report on the North’s communications challenges-ensuring reliable phone and Internet coverage. Or as the Centre’s director, Anja Jeffery, lays out, “[d]eveloping the North socially and economically, alongside territories and aboriginal leaders, will help unlock an economic powerhouse”.

This piece is meant to be theoretical and serve as groundwork for ‘stretching’ “the debate beyond us vs. them, tradition vs. developed dichotomies”. Moreover, it is meant to challenge development as a term synonymous with increasing a society’s ability to harness an economy that will in turn help create ‘the good life’.

What if development did not include a strategy that meant having resources, in this case Northern resources such as mining products, on the market? What if development did not mean “ensuring reliable phone and Internet coverage”? What if it meant not having access to cheap products? Can an alternative be conceived of? And is this not, at least in part, part of the problem, that development in a non-economic sense is difficult to imagine.

Investment in the North like any other place is of course important. Investment, however, in this part of Canada should be approached with caution, and responsible decision-making. Investment or development far too often coincides with undue growth, wealth, and exploitation. The investment path of the North has all too often altered life, and undermined traditional cultural practises.

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Categories: Economics, North America

Author:Matthew J. Harker

I am an independent researcher exploring issues such as humanitarian intervention, R2P (Responsibility to Protect), IR theory, critical theory, culture, and theorising on the impact of liberal economics on life. I have studied at Western University (London, Canada), Guelph University (Guelph, Canada), and recently received a Master of IR from McMaster University (Hamilton, Canada).

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