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Opinion

Mackenzie Valley Highway a road to resources, jobs

By Liberal MP Michael McLeod      

The long-awaited road could improve quality of life for Northwest Territories residents.

Former MP David Emerson, pictured in 2008, chaired the review of the Canada Transportation Act between June 2014 and December 2015, which recommended that Canada focus on nation-building projects. The Hill Times file photo
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I am a huge proponent of investing in infrastructure, and for the Northwest Territories this means primarily investing in road infrastructure. It is hard to know where to start when explaining the importance of road access to those who take road travel for granted every day. Did you drive more than 25 kilometres to work today? This is generally unheard of in the North. Did you order your non-perishables months before you consume them, then await the barge to arrive before unloading and storing them for almost a year?

The benefits of completing a highway to the Beaufort Sea via the Mackenzie Valley corridor are many.

Let’s start with the benefits of training local residents in the construction field. We need this. Our smaller communities along the route have high unemployment rates and there are many people that could take advantage of the opportunity to pursue additional education, work on the construction of the road, and then go on to have further opportunities when the road is finished.

These further opportunities include the exploration and development of the North’s natural resources. Mining drives the N.W.T. economy. It is the largest private-sector contributor to GDP. Even though we know the N.W.T. is rich in resources, the costs for companies—many of which are junior operators—to explore, let alone develop projects is so much higher than south of the 60th parallel.

Andrew Cheatle, of the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada, has said that projects that are 500 kilometres or more from a supply route have costs that are almost 300 per cent of the cost of non-remote projects.

“If you build it they will come,” as they say, so if we help reduce these costs, there will be increased exploration activity to fuel increased development and all of the domino effects that would have in our remote territory: from more training and employment, increased activity for many, local small businesses to increased revenue for territorial governments—that have a small tax base, yet support programs and services, for example in the N.W.T., throughout an area larger than Alberta and Saskatchewan combined.

Now let’s look at what this highway will do for residents. It will open up of travel routes in between communities—connecting people and families like never before. The transport of everyday goods now becomes more affordable. Our cost of living is significantly higher than for other Canadians, the most important of which is food. While the great $7 cauliflower debate was raging on in southern Canada last year, I was thinking how lucky we would be if we could get $7 cauliflower in northern communities.

A Mackenzie Valley Highway will also lower the cost of fuel, another critical item, which is often hauled into communities over unpredictable ice-road conditions due to our climate changing.

From John Diefenbaker’s call to build under the Road to Resources program initiated in 1957 to the recently released Emerson Report, tabled in early 2016 (the Canada Transportation Act Review), that recommends Canada focus on nation-building projects specifically like this one, it is clear that the time to build the Mackenzie Valley Highway is now.

Liberal MP Michael McLeod represents the Northwest Territories.

The Hill Times

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