Economy before everything

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Few Northerners are more celebrated than Fred Carmichael, a member of the Order of Canada, former Gwich’in Tribal Council president, the first Indigenous person from Canada’s Arctic with a pilot’s license and recent inductee into the Order of the NWT.

The drum he’s banging on now is the need for an economic boost in the Beaufort Delta.

In the 1990s, former U.S. President Bill Clinton used the campaign slogan, “It’s the economy, stupid,” knowing that the economy trumps all.

Economics, which at its base describes interaction between people, is the foundation for everything and inseparable from other aspects of life.

There is no freedom without economic freedom. There is no social justice if we’re scratching in the dirt for worms. There are no hobbies if there’s no time to divert attention from staving off starvation. There is no progress if the engine of survival isn’t cranking.

A poor economy is not just a loss for would-be business owners, but a massive loss of human potential. Everyone can contribute and grow the world if opportunities to capitalize on skillsets are available.

Those reduced to a life of welfare or worse not only have their potential stripped from them – often leading to substance abuse or crime in a purposeless world – but make us all poorer. We’re robbed of both their ability to generate wealth and their unique, inherent skills.

The Beaufort Delta, and the entire North, is in dire need of economic stimulus in the absence of a booming mineral, oil or other industry.

Carmichael suggested the importance of finally building that Mackenzie Valley highway.

If the federal government wants the North to survive and not slowly atrophy, suffering of many of the people included, it needs to step in when there is a hole of support.

The current prevailing school of mainstream economic thought suggests spending yourself out of a hole, hoping to rev the economic “engine” and breathe life back into the country or region. The idea is then to pay down the deficit in good times when the economy is humming on its own. This idea is controversial but has taken hold in most Western countries.

Massive public work projects are not always economically sound. Many of them are make-work ventures that cost far more than they should and waste resources. From that perspective, it’s difficult to defend the Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk Highway, costing about $300,000 per resident of Tuk.

But one of the better industries to try this sort of project in is the country’s infrastructure, enhancements of which will no doubt bring some benefits at least down the line. In the case of the Tuk road, that means tourism opportunities and better access to natural resources, plus the support of pumping that money into local builders, contractors and workers.

Whether a Mackenzie Valley highway pays for itself with a much more capable economy in the NWT or not, maybe a make-work project is exactly what the territory needs to survive in the meantime anyway.

Its people must be put to work, money must be flowing and Northerners must feel that adrenaline rush of opportunity around them.

Canada not financially supporting the North calls into question the purpose of the North itself and whether this country wishes to truly stake its territory or do so meekly, paying people enough not to die in the meantime.