As sea ice recedes, N.W.T. premier says more investment needed in Arctic ports

Drifting ice floes on Cape Ann Northwest Territories. (Photo by: Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Climate change has hurt the northern economy in ways few southern Canadians can appreciate, says Northwest Territories Premier Bob McLeod, but he also wants to make sure his territory benefits from increased shipping traffic as Arctic sea ice recedes.

“It’s getting harder to resupply our communities,” Bob McLeod said in an interview Tuesday from Saskatoon, where he spoke at the Pacific Northwest Economic Region summit.

“We rely a lot on ice roads. Their life span is getting shorter and shorter,” he said.

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McLeod noted fuel had to be flown in to three communities last year.

Declining rainfall meant reservoirs didn’t replenish enough for two hydroelectric facilities to run, meaning diesel generators had to be fired up.

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And disappearing wildlife has made it tougher to put food on the table.

“A lot of people can only afford to live in the Arctic because they’re able to harvest their food off the land,” McLeod said.

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At the same time, McLeod said he sees opportunities in another effect of climate change – the Beaufort Sea staying clear of ice for longer each year.

“It’s very timely now to do some strategic investing and planning.”

McLeod said he wants to see at least three ports in his territory support increased shipping traffic in the North, along with more icebreakers.

He has been urging Ottawa to take a stronger stand on asserting Arctic sovereignty, as China, Russia and other international players look to stake their claims to northern shipping routes.

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There should be a stronger military presence in the Arctic, an immigration policy that brings more newcomers to the region and investments in research facilities, McLeod said.

He also wants other regions shoulder their fair share of greenhouse gas emissions reductions. For the meagre amount the Northwest Territories emits, it suffers a disproportionate amount from climate change, he said.

“We’re not the problem. Southern Canada is the problem,” he said. “Southern Canadians don’t see the effects of climate change on a daily basis, so you just continue on your merry way doing whatever you’re doing.”

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The Northwest Territories has a carbon pricing regime coming in Sept. 1 that takes into account the high cost of heating and aviation fuel.

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But he stopped short of criticizing provinces – Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario among them – that have challenged Ottawa’s carbon tax in court.

“They’re their own jurisdictions,” he said. “I’m not going to tell them what to do.”

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