Thank you, Mayor Buckway.
As remote local governments across Canada can attest, economic development also requires conditions that attract and retain people with the needed knowledge and skills. On average, 84.6% of Canadians have access to a regular doctor, compared to 77.8% in the Yukon, 38.7% in the Northwest Territories, and 11.8% in Nunavut. Access to quality education is often limited in remote communities. Often many young people must leave their communities for higher education, and sometimes even for secondary education.
Finally, in many remote communities there is inadequate housing, with as many as twenty people living in one cramped home. This has led many employers to construct their own dormitory housing for workers. The net effect is twofold: First, businesses in remote communities often require skills the local residents do not have, causing local residents to lose out on the direct benefits of new opportunities; and second, living conditions are such that workers may not want to raise their families in remote communities, resulting in high turnover, workforce instability, and loss of corporate memory. This is bad for business, bad for communities, and particularly bad for Canada's north, where many new opportunities exist.
Many remote communities’ economies are resource-driven and face unique challenges in planning for diversification. Last year, in my own city of Thompson, Manitoba, we received news that our largest employer, a mining company, was scheduled to close its smelting and refining operations there by 2015. Our community faced the prospect of losing 500 jobs in a community of 15,000, a sudden and significant loss of property value and, ultimately, unpredictability as to our community’s sustainability.
Fortunately, we have risen to the challenge and, led by the municipality, Thompson has formed an economic diversification working group. The working group brings together stakeholders from all sectors, including the mining company and aboriginal organizations, to build a new future for Thompson.
We have done this on our own, but communities like Thompson and future resource-based communities could do more in partnership with the federal government. The federal government needs a strategy for partnership with resource-based communities to support economic diversification. It has an important role to play in supporting local efforts to attract new business, such as investments in core infrastructure, business development grants and tax incentives, education and skills training, and finally, capacity-building tools, particularly to assess diversification options in a given community.