Secure North depends on better infrastructure, premiers say

By David Lochead, Nunatsiaq News - May 10, 2024
Territorial premiers were in Iqaluit on Thursday after spending the week in Pond Inlet for their annual Northern Premiers Forum. From left are Northwest Territories Premier R.J. Simpson, Yukon Premier Ranj Pillai and Nunavut Premier P.J. Akeeagok. (Photo by David Lochead)

To strengthen sovereignty and security in Canada’s North, the federal government needs to invest in infrastructure that can also benefit northern communities, Premier P.J. Akeeagok said Thursday.

“For many years, as northern premiers, we’ve been voicing the importance that Arctic security and sovereignty [means] seeing our communities vibrant,” he said in Iqaluit.

Akeeagok spoke during a press conference with the premiers of Yukon and Northwest Territories, following their annual Northern Premiers’ Forum where their territories’ shared interests are discussed.

Akeeagok chaired this year’s forum held from May 6 to 9 in Pond Inlet, known as Mittimatalik in Inuktitut.

The start of this year’s forum coincided with a visit by three federal cabinet ministers to Iqaluit to discuss the Canadian government’s defence policy, Our North, Strong and Free.

On May 5 in Iqaluit, Defence Minister Bill Blair said having northern operational hubs for the Canadian Armed Forces that can also be used as resources by local communities is a pillar of the defence policy.

On Thursday, Akeeagok echoed Blair’s sentiment, noting the importance of federal infrastructure in Nunavut having multiple uses for communities.

It’s a theme Akeeagok has stressed numerous times previously in discussing Arctic security.

On Thursday, he specifically mentioned a planned deepsea port in Qikiqtarjuaq that could be used during oil spill cleanups and also to help with expansion of the fisheries industry in the area.

Akeeagok said improved telecommunication systems would have similar dual benefits.

“It’s essential to see those investments come,” he said.

For infrastructure that could be shared between territories, Akeeagok pointed to the Grays Bay Port and Road project — a proposed 230-kilometre all-season road and deepsea port that would link western Nunavut’s mineral-rich region to the rest of Canada. The mining infrastructure initiative is being led by West Kitikmeot Gold Corp.

Akeeagok, Yukon Premier Ranj Pillai and Northwest Territories Premier R.J. Simpson also spoke about climate change and emergency preparedness for the North.

With the N.W.T. enduring a record-setting wildfire season last year, Simpson noted the importance of emergency preparedness to protect people and property.

“I talked emergency preparedness, wildfires and floods probably more than people would like, but it is because it is so important to us,” Simpson said.

Akeeagok said that co-ordination between territories on emergency preparedness is important, adding there were Nunavummiut in Yellowknife last year when the city had to be evacuated because of wildfires.

“I think it’s important, from the lessons learned last year, about the strong co-ordination and co-operation we have when fires are happening,” he said.

Located in Iqaluit, Nunavut, Canada, Nunatsiaq News is dedicated to covering affairs in Nunavut and the Nunavik territory of Quebec since 1973. It has been a partner to ArcticToday and its predecessors since 2016.