First of all, I'd like to thank you for the invitation to appear before the committee today.
My comments today will focus on what we're learning about the priorities of Arctic residents, as we continue to work toward a new Arctic and northern policy framework.
On December 21, 2016, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that Canada would be developing a new Arctic policy framework, together with Northerners, territorial and provincial governments, the First Nations, Inuit and Métis people.
The development of the new framework and the co-development process drew from the work of Mary Simon, the minister's special representative on participation, and from advice for a new approach to leadership in the Canadian Arctic. Closing infrastructure gaps in the Arctic was a key theme of the report.
Since 2016, we've been holding consultations and working with residents and leaders in the North and with other stakeholders to support the development of the framework.
We're working directly with the territorial and provincial governments involved, with representatives of Nunavut, lnuvialuit, Nunavik and Nunatsiavut, and with other partners to draft a vision and common goals that will guide the federal government's activities to 2030. More than 30 departments and agencies have participated in the process.
The balance of my comments today will focus on what we heard and learned through this process. To support engagement, a discussion guide was co-developed with partners who identified six themes as a starting point for conversations on the future of the Canadian Arctic and northern policy, including comprehensive Arctic infrastructure. The discussion guide, and our conversations at round tables and other engagements, started with an acknowledgement of the gaps and challenges. These acknowledgements were, and remain, important for our co-development partners who live with these challenges daily.
The harsh environment, changing weather patterns, short construction and shipping seasons, lack of building resources and a small tax base create significant challenges and risks to building and maintaining infrastructure in the Canadian Arctic. We acknowledge that Canada's Arctic has a significant infrastructure deficit, one that is posing significant challenges to socio-economic growth, emergency management, resource development and the fundamental safety and quality of life of Arctic residents.
Climate change is also accelerating threats to existing infrastructure. Thawing permafrost is directly impacting the integrity of building foundations, roads, runways, pipelines and coastal infrastructure.
However, we agree that investments and improvement in infrastructure are linked to improved outcomes across many other sectors. For example, improving connectivity would help bridge the digital divide and provide new and enhanced opportunities for Arctic residents to access telehealth, e-health, and e-learning services and increase their potential to be engaged in the digital economy and support economic development.
Most importantly, we asked people what the key priorities for their region were. Throughout the engagement, we heard that infrastructure concerns were a common theme, including the need for transformative investments in Arctic and northern infrastructure, rather than the remedial approach that only perpetuates a state of crisis.
Almost everyone who spoke about infrastructure mentioned reliable broadband Internet access as a priority, enabling business, research, education and access to health services. Other infrastructure needs included navigation aids, better port facilities, better airport facilities, reliable rail networks and roads to access mineral resources and communities.
Northern communities and organizations emphasized their desire for partnership and opportunities to play a constructive role in infrastructure. Territorial governments, through their participation in the co-development process, and in strategic documents such as “Pan-Territorial Vision for Sustainable Development”, have pointed to large-scale infrastructure investments as foundational to creating economic opportunity and prosperity for northerners.
Through the ongoing co-development and co-drafting process, partners have a shared ambition for infrastructure to 2030 and beyond, and for a strengthened Arctic infrastructure that meets local, regional and national needs. Proposed infrastructure objectives are wide-ranging and include transportation, energy, connectivity, housing, community infrastructure, mapping, navigation and waste management.
Significantly, work is focused not only on the “what” of infrastructure priorities in the north and in the Arctic, but also on the “how”. Co-development partners are seeking policy commitments to explore new approaches to infrastructure development, including funding models, leveraging partnerships for financing and operations, and combining infrastructure projects to achieve multiple outcomes—for example, corridors and community infrastructure for food production.
They are also focused on innovations to increase the sustainability and resiliency of infrastructure, in relation to climate change and also given past experiences with shortages of material and expertise to support maintenance on a long-term basis.
The local element is key in the area of infrastructure, as in other themes. Northerners are seeking a framework with people at its core.
In closing, our discussions with partners started from immediate challenges and gaps, but quickly moved to the need for long-term approaches to meeting those challenges and addressing those gaps together. Nowhere is this need for a long-term, partnership-based approach more evident than in discussions on infrastructure.
I look forward to your questions and ongoing discussions on this. I want to thank you. Merci and mahsi.