Northerners expected to live ‘in a giant park’ as southern Canada reaps oil, gas benefits: NWT premier

Click to play video: 'Government wants us to live in a large park: McLeod'
Government wants us to live in a large park: McLeod
ABOVE: Northwest Territories Premier Bob McLeod tells Vassy Kapelos the effects of the federal government's decision to place a moratorium on oil drilling in the north is costing his region financial and forcing more people to move south – Nov 5, 2017

The premier of the Northwest Territories says people living north of the 60th parallel are essentially being asked to make their home in a “giant park” devoid of job opportunities.

Bob McLeod told The West Block‘s Vassy Kapelos that his territory has, for a full year, been left to starve economically as the federal government moves to combat climate change.

“I think southern Canada has to realize that we have people up there … people struggling to make a living,” said the premier, who was in Ottawa for several days last week.

There are approximately 44,500 people living in the Northwest Territories on a permanent basis, according to the most recent data, an overall number that has fluctuated only a little since 2007 when there were 43,374 residents.

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About 11 months ago, Ottawa declared a unilateral moratorium on new oil and gas drilling in the Arctic — without, McLeod maintains, any consultation with either local government or the Indigenous population. While designed to be permanent, the moratorium is subject to a review after five years.

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The U.S., under former president Barack Obama, has also permanently banned oil and gas development in U.S. waters in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas.

But McLeod says there hasn’t been any real effort to identify a replacement industry that could help support local economies that have always relied on the resources sector.

“For about a year we haven’t produced one molecule of oil and gas in the Northwest Territories,” he said.

“We’re being asked to stop development, to essentially live in a large park … We need jobs, we have our own hopes and aspirations for ourselves and our families, and we need to be able to show that we can provide some good middle-class jobs for our people.”

McLeod took the unusual step of sending out a news release last week, calling for an urgent national debate on the future of the territory.

That future, he said, must include an end to unilateral decision-making by Ottawa that predominantly affects the North, and an increase in Indigenous participation in economic and resource development.

READ MORE: Climate change doubles size of lakes in Northwest Territories

McLeod has said he recognizes that oil and gas is not the only path forward economically for his territory, but it’s unfair to forcibly halt all resource development there while provinces like Alberta continue to benefit from the oil and gas industry.

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“We ask our children to stay in school so that they can get good jobs and business opportunities when they graduate,” McLeod said. “We’re having a hard time fulfilling our end of the bargain.”

When announcing the moratorium last winter, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau argued that it would protect the Arctic for generations to come from a devastating oil spill under sea ice.

At the same time, he promised investment in marine infrastructure and new opportunities for fishing, science and other economic activities.

The North has seen some of the most severe and noticeable effects of climate change in recent years.

The Bathurst caribou herd has declined from about 450,000 in the mid-1980s, to fewer than 20,000, which means almost no hunting happens anymore.

Permafrost is also melting, affecting roads, buildings and rivers. A rapid decline in sea ice cover is causing coastal erosion and more storms, and forest fires are becoming increasingly common and more devastating.

— Watch the full interview with NWT Premier Bob McLeod above.

— With files from The Canadian Press

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