Let's get started. Our guests have come in. They've travelled a long way, and we're fascinated to hear their stories.
You're at the Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs of the Parliament of Canada. Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2) we are doing a study on northern infrastructure projects and strategies.
Before we get started, we want to recognize that we are on the unceded territory of the Algonquin people. It is a process of recognition of our heritage, our history, and our goal of truth and reconciliation.
You'll have 10 minutes to present, whether you're the sole presenter or you're sharing time. That's up to you. I will give you signals when you're getting close to your limit. Try to keep it under 10 minutes so we don't have to get that close. After the presentations, we'll do rounds of questioning from members of Parliament.
First, I want to welcome a person I've worked with for many years, the mayor of the town of Churchill, Michael Spence.
Welcome to the committee.
Thank you. I am honoured to address the committee this afternoon.
As mayor of the town of Churchill, I am keenly aware of the importance of northern infrastructure projects and strategies. It is vitally important that infrastructure in the north be improved to meet the needs of residents, local governments, and business in the Arctic and sub-Arctic. We have been part of the emerging federal government Arctic policy framework. Actually, the first hearing in our community was held about a year ago. Later today, I'll be presenting to the Senate Special Committee on the Arctic. I am looking forward to that.
As you know, Churchill has had a long history of working with Inuit from the Keewatin, which is now the Kivalliq region of Canada. The Inuit have lived at and near Churchill for thousands of years, and continue to do so today. For us as a sub-Arctic community, this is an important part of our history and Canadian history.
Churchill was part of the Northwest Territories until 1911. Churchill itself was the administrative capital of the Keewatin district of the NWT until the early 1970s. In fact, students from the region came to Churchill for their high school. Our hospital continues to serve the region.
Resupply for the region came almost exclusively from Churchill through the Hudson Bay Railway and the port for several decades, a long-standing connection. As a sub-Arctic port, rail line terminal and airport, Churchill shares common goals with our Nunavut neighbours for developing Arctic infrastructure and a strong Arctic economy, while protecting the environment and preserving the Arctic biodiversity. Our infrastructure can continue to serve a regional purpose and contribute to a more prosperous Arctic. That's our goal.
As most committee members are aware, Churchill recently faced its most challenging time with the loss of the rail and the layoff of port workers. However, about a month ago, on August 31, the federal government announced a major investment to the Churchill port, marine tank farm, and railway.
I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge this significant and strategic investment by the federal government into our region. It allowed the transfer of these assets to the new ownership, called the Arctic Gateway Group, a joint local and private sector co-ownership group. This is a historic partnership that will truly lead to greater prosperity for our region.
Immediately following the acquisition, repairs to the rail line were initiated, and we are now in the final stages of finishing the repairs. We anticipate the first train into our community hopefully within two weeks. Our rail line and port can serve the broader Arctic community through resupply. They have in the past, and we look forward to re-establishing important relationships.
Along with the only rail line that reaches the Arctic, our marine tank farm and our port, the Churchill airport is a critical part of the supply chain and already has some major assets. It was built as a military airstrip and can handle the largest aircraft on the planet. Currently, it is underutilized, and it has great potential to serve as a seamless partner with the rail line to ship goods across the north.
We began discussions with the federal government over expanded use of the airport and tying it to the port and rail line as part of the efforts to create a true Arctic gateway. We will position the airport to take on an expanded mandate to serve the greater needs of the Arctic, and we look forward to discussions with leaders and residents of the north regarding the Churchill airport initiative.
We want to partner on further investments linking our airport to the existing infrastructure of our port and rail line. It only makes sense to maximize this infrastructure for the benefit of all Arctic communities. We see this as a new strategic investment. In this, you'll have climate-controlled warehousing; linking railway tracks directly to the tarmac, creating an integrated supply chain; and the installation of specialized off-loading equipment.
Churchill can play an important role in further reducing food insecurity in the north through investments to bring resupply costs down.
The Hudson Bay regional round table, which consists of the governments of Manitoba and Nunavut, the seven Kivalliq hamlets in Nunavut, the towns of Churchill and Gillam, the Sayisi Dene First Nation and the Fox Lake Cree Nation, has worked to promote regional interests and development. We have held meetings in Manitoba and Nunavut on a variety of joint initiatives.
One of the top priorities has been the need to replace diesel use in the Kivalliq communities. In 2014, following a Hudson Bay regional round table proposal, a scoping study was initiated for a hydroelectric transmission line from northern Manitoba to the communities and mines in the Kivalliq district. This followed the 1999 study by Manitoba Hydro. The scoping study found that there was a strong economic and environmental case to be made for the transmission line, which would bring clean, reliable and affordable energy and fibre optics to the Kivalliq region.
The Kivalliq Inuit Association has taken that report to the next step and has made major progress in advancing that project. We support their efforts to get the transmission line and fibre optics project funded and built. This is a nation-building project that will contribute to economic growth and clean energy, as well as vastly improve Internet access to the Kivalliq region.
The federal government has taken a leadership role in efforts to reduce the use of fossil fuels.
Churchill is uniquely placed to contribute to Arctic and sub-Arctic science and to protecting our environment. The Churchill Northern Studies Centre has a strong reputation for its work on researching these issues. The Churchill marine observatory, for which construction will be completed next year, will be the only such project in the world carrying out specific studies on climate change. Churchill's other infrastructure, including the health centre, was built to serve the region and beyond.
We remain an international destination for tourism as the polar bear capital of the world, while expanding our markets for summer beluga and birding tours, and the winter northern lights.
In conclusion, we are proud to work with our Arctic partners on closing the infrastructure gaps in the north to promote clean growth and benefits to the Arctic and all of Canada.
I want to thank the committee for inviting me here this afternoon. I am confident that you will bring forward recommendations on northern infrastructure that will help advance economic development for the Arctic and Arctic communities. The federal government has the ability to unlock the potential of our region by supporting the power line and fibre optic project into Kivalliq, and by supporting our initiative to link our rail lines to the airport.
It's critically important to indicate that these assets are situated in our community, but they are assets that belong to the region. Let me be clear on that.
I'd like to thank you all for this opportunity to speak again on our cause. There are a couple of issues I wanted to address: our deep-sea port for our community of Tuk, and our natural gas location for the region. It's not necessarily just for Tuk. If you look at our community of Tuk, it's right on the Arctic Ocean.
First of all, sorry, I'm Merven Gruben, mayor of Tuktoyaktuk.
I'll go backwards here again. It's kind of déjà vu. In 2012, I was invited to come here and speak to a panel as well. I think it was just about the same people, or the same panel. We did such a good presentation in the fall of 2012, that in February 2013 our friend Mr. Flaherty—rest in peace—announced in the budget that we were going to get $199 million for our highway. That was the beginning of our Tuk-Inuvik highway. I don't know why we call it Tuk-Inuvik highway. I like to call it the highway to Tuk. It's just the finishing off of the Dempster Highway, the Diefenbaker highway. That's what it should be, the road to resources.
Anyway, we got this highway built, and unbelievably, this year we had 5,000 people come to Tuk—5,000 tourists. On a good year, we get maybe 2,500. You know, everybody wants to jump in the ocean, of course. It's just a total game-changer.
Yes, I hope to get the same response as we got in 2013 from the federal government here.
As you know—or you might not know—the Mackenzie River is continually lowering. The water level is getting lower and lower, and it's getting more unpredictable to ship. The times of the season when we can ship are getting later and later. You can't ship too late because the water goes down too low.
So we finished with the highway to Tuk, and then what I proposed to the GNWT and a lot of the powers that be was that you can truck anything from the south to Tuk all winter, stockpile all the material you need there. We have the infrastructure for storage and the fuel tank storage, and the land available, but we really need to develop our docking facilities and possibly dredge the entranceway a bit into the harbour.
One big advantage I propose is that, if we haul in the stuff all winter on the roads, then we can ship out a lot earlier to the communities. Paulatuk didn't get its sealift this year. They're flying everything in right now. Also Cambridge Bay and Kugluktuk, they didn't get all of their shipment. Paulatuk didn't get anything at all. They didn't get any of their fuel, none of their food. Now they're flying their stuff in, right now. Just imagine what that's going to cost at the end of the day, what the government is going to pay at the end of the day. It's going to be coming from us.
You know, it would make all the sense in the world to work along with it, but it's falling on deaf ears.
I was just in Anchorage, speaking to a similar panel on expanding the Tuk port and trying to get the Coast Guard presence, talking about building up a bigger Coast Guard presence. You know the Northwest Passage is right there. It's at our front door. You can see the ships coming and going along, and we have nothing in the north, in our region, that's there for support, should anything go wrong. We have increased cruise ships passing. We have increased pleasure boats back and forth, and yet we're not prepared. You look at Trump. He's trying to open up the ANWR, and that's right next door to us. If something happens, we're not prepared. We're not ready.
I've been calling on the Coast Guard for many years to develop our region, just in case something happens, and yet they don't do anything. Actually, they did. They built the Coast Guard office in Inuvik, which is 80 miles to the south, nowhere near the coast, and it doesn't help anybody. As I said, I was just in Anchorage, and none of the Canadian Coast Guard was there. We had Coast Guard U.S.A. and all the national defence from the Americas. Some people from Ottawa were there as well, and I met with them. We were all shaking our heads at why the Coast Guard was not there. They were invited.
Things like that have to change. You know, you're putting Coast Guard boats all over, in different parts of the eastern Arctic, that are too far to be effective, to be helping anybody. So they have to give their heads a shake and come to work with us before something really drastic happens.
I was talking to Michael McLeod, our MP for the western Arctic, and he said, “Yes, Merven, we should be doing something. We should be helping you guys.”
I agree the Liberals should be helping us. They shut down our offshore gasification and put a moratorium right across the whole freaking Arctic without even consulting us. They never said a word to us.
We're proud people who like to work for a living. We're not used to getting social assistance and that kind of stuff. Now we're getting tourists coming up, but that's small change compared to when you work in oil and gas and you're used to that kind of living. Our people are used to that. We're not used to selling trinkets and T-shirts and that kind of stuff. But oil and gas is going to come back, I think, if you guys help us build this port and make it more attractive and help us build it up a little better and safer.
Years ago, there were very good ports from old Dome and Canmar, Gulf and Imperial. They were good and they were very usable, but they've been slowly deteriorating over the years. There are three ports in Tuk, one of them owned by MTS, which is the Government of NWT. It's part of Bob's navy.
We need some help with that infrastructure.
The second part is about our natural gas. We're sitting on trillions of cubic feet of natural gas. It's right under our feet, yet we're shipping diesel and gasoline from far away. And in Inuvik they're getting their natural gas from Delta, B.C. They're paying $35 a gigajoule, and it's totally nuts.
Up in Tuk, we're still burning diesel, and yet 13 kilometres out of town we have trillions of cubic feet of natural gas sitting there. We just need a production well, and then we turn on the valve into the LNG plant and away we go.
Some of the stuff is simple for us, but again, it's so hard for the government to fathom and get around. It's so much easier for them to keep on doing what they're doing and shipping their dirty fuel up north. Everybody wants to go with the freaking fans or the wind turbines and pipe stuff, but that stuff never works up there. They've tried it in different areas and it just doesn't work.
I'm speaking too much. I have to let Jackie say a few words here, if I may.
Thank you, Mr. Mayor, and thank you, Madam Chair.
Just in regard to what my mayor brings forward, we're resource-rich and cash-poor. That's where we are now in my home community of Tuktoyaktuk.
I'm a former Speaker of the Northwest Territories and a former MLA. For the last three years, I've seen it getting worse and worse in regard to our relying too much on government handouts. The stuff that we are getting is not enough to do anything with.
The biggest thing we have to do is try to work together to make Tuk a deep-sea port, doing it privately with another country, and that's the way it's looking right now. We've had the Chinese—the CCCC, the harbour company out of China—come in to look at Tuk harbour, looking at a deep-sea port.
As my mayor said, we have 33 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, and yet we bring it from Delta, B.C., which is clogging up our highways right through the Yukon, coming all the way up through the Yukon and doing a 48-hour shot from Delta to bring it up. How dangerous is that?
It's not only safety. As my mayor said, we're a proud people. We want to do it ourselves and we are going to get it done, with or without any assistance. We're working toward that. We want to make sure that my Inuvialuit people, my people of Tuk and all my youth, are taken care of because they are the lost ones.
Everyone has to graduate and leave town. Two of my kids are living in the Yukon. No jobs.... That's one thing you guys have to think about.
It's so easy to sit down here and make judgments on people and lives that are 3,500 klicks away, and make decisions on our behalf, especially with that moratorium on the Beaufort. That should be taken away, lifted, please and thank you. That is going to open up and give jobs to our people—training and all the stuff we're wishing for.
Our territorial government is not coming up to the plate right now.
Thank you for listening, and I look forward to any questions.
In regard to what the mayor is saying, there has been no help whatsoever since this moratorium. We have the road built now. There's no funding for a restaurant to buy coffee and no hotels in Tuk. It's all B & Bs. We've had over 5,000 visitors. When I was driving out of Tuk, the day before yesterday, there was a 40-foot camper that was still trying to come to Tuk in -15°C and it's all whiteout now.
That being said, getting back to that moratorium, you basically handcuffed us in regard to anything that's going to go on—or no, sorry, whoever did it. I'm just saying it has to be lifted. We want to work. We want to be able to do good for our people.
In regard to the offshore, as the mayor said, we've been doing it since.... We were doing it in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. We were doing it before the east coast. That's where the action was happening in the 1980s, in Tuktoyaktuk. All the ice technology was done in Tuk. Now, all the icebreaker technology has been all over; that same hull is being designed now.
There are so many pieces to the puzzle. You can go back and say, “this, this and this”, but at the end of the day, we just need that moratorium lifted, to give our opportunity to us. You may not hear our territorial government beating the drum for us, saying that we need that lifted, but we do need it lifted for the people we represent, the people of Tuktoyaktuk. If you get the oil and gas going there, you're going to affect nine communities that surround Tuk.
The mayor of Churchill said we're going to affect nine communities. Even in Nunavut, from Kugluktuk on this side, they always came to Tuk to work because we had fly-in, fly-out. Yellowknife is just like a big vacuum. Yellowknife got their diamond mine, so everything is okay for them. They're okay. They have jobs. People in the smaller rural communities, in the Nunakput area and the coastline communities, they're the ones who are hurting. Our youth are hurting.
You guys have it pretty cushy down here, in regard to living. If you come up to Tuk and come visit, you'll see our youth. We need help from this government to lift that moratorium.
What was really required was.... The infrastructure we had was getting tired. The previous owner didn't reinvest.
We put together a group of Bay Line communities, along with communities north of us in the Kivalliq district, and we were introduced to Fairfax and AGT in terms of coming up with a plan, so that the plan would be long-term, and making sure that regional ownership is key and critical reinvestment continues to happen.
By doing all of that.... It doesn't take long to think big and go big. We have to remember, again, that the assets that were invested into Churchill going back to the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s and 1970s weren't designed for Churchill alone. They were designed for moving agricultural products from the Prairies out to the world: Mexico, Brazil, Europe, Russia, places like that.
Today, we will look that way again. Our strategic partners have the wherewithal.... They're in the industry and will look north.
What's really critical here is that we have the infrastructure. It just needed some attention, and we're getting it that attention. We have a huge runway. In fact, we have two runways, which were designed by the U.S. military going back to the 1940s and 1950s. Those assets serviced the north. What happens is that at times there are duplications. It's hard with infrastructure; if you don't reinvest, it gets tired. Strategically, we have partners and we're prepared to be partners and reinvest in our infrastructure.
I'll tell you that nutrition north is a challenge, with the high cost....
Let's utilize the regions of Canada and use key regions like ours and Tuk so that we can help the regions that we're responsible for.
Thank you so much to the standing committee for the invitation to come before you.
I just want to say, for the record, that I'm also the president of the Nunavut Association of Municipalities and the vice-chair of the northern forum for the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, as well as a board member of the same organization.
I'm very pleased to come before you to speak about the important issue of infrastructure in our north. I'm sure this committee has heard and knows quite well that there is a deficit of infrastructure in our northern region, especially in Nunavut. There hasn't really ever been a comprehensive northern infrastructure strategy in our north until recently.
There's now one for Nunavut on housing and homelessness, but I'd like to state that, while these regional strategies were done by our territorial government, they did not effectively include the municipalities in the development of that process, even though at that point in time the minister responsible had made the commitment to reach out to our municipalities to provide much-needed data for their inclusion. As well, the Nunavut Association of Municipalities, unfortunately, was not reached out to and did not participate, either.
Nonetheless, those reports, interestingly enough, do include recommendations that the municipalities, and the Nunavut Association of Municipalities, be responsible for implementing some of those recommendations. Ideally, that's not the way that we develop strategies.
There is no northern energy strategy and no northern telecommunications strategy. While recently northern transportation corridors were announced, they do not include the eastern Arctic.
Most municipalities, of course, are very pleased with the fact that the federal government has committed billions of dollars to infrastructure for this country. Nunavut did sign our integrated bilateral agreement. It provides our region with $566 million over a period of approximately 10 years. That sounds like a good amount of money, but $566 million is nowhere near what we require.
The integrated bilateral agreement contains the words “fair balance”, which, of course, we tend to interpret at the municipal level as fair share and fair say, we hope, especially as it relates to municipal infrastructure.
You are probably also aware that Canadian municipalities receive approximately 9¢ to 10¢ of the Canadian taxpayer dollar. In the southern portions of Canada, 60% of public infrastructure is in the cities. In Nunavut, this is closer to 100%, because there are no roads, no rail and no transmission lines; therefore, the infrastructure is in our communities.
Iqaluit, the capital of Nunavut, is the only community that receives property taxes, whereas the other 24 communities are 100% dependent on the territorial government for their O and M, as well as their capital projects. Iqaluit has approximately 8,000 residents and 1,000 non-residents, who are not residing or considered residents in our community but are nonetheless there. That's primarily because we have the hospital and all the patients coming from the region for medical travel; we have four correctional institutions; the only courthouse; the RCMP headquarters; the largest of the Nunavut Arctic College campuses, which is about to expand almost 100%; the legislative assembly; the majority of Government of Nunavut jobs; and, even with decentralization, we also have the majority of the federal jobs. Yet we have only 2,000 ratepayers. That is not very many to help the municipality with capital projects to build much-needed infrastructure.
We have a budget of approximately $45 million a year, with 85% coming from property taxes and user fees. Therefore, the Government of Nunavut provides only about 15% grants-in-lieu.
We're very appreciative of the gas tax funding we receive. It's around $12 million over a period of five years. It is the most flexible. They are the easiest infrastructure dollars we have. The eligibility criteria have recently expanded. We also receive a nominal amount of capital block funding from our territorial government.
We use these funds for our infrastructure projects. Recently, we used them for upgrading our waste-water treatment plant. We received approximately $19 million from the federal government, out of a $26-million project. We are receiving $26 million to close down our dump and open up new sorting and recycling and a new landfill. That is approximately a $35-million project.
When we had visit in May 2017, when he was the minister responsible for community infrastructure, we were just opening up our new airport—a gorgeous facility that cost the territorial government about $300 million. The road to and from that airport was in horrendous condition. Instead of meeting with the minister in my office, I suggested that we do a town tour. In the month of May, I can tell you that the road was in one of the worst conditions ever, so the minister got to experience first-hand how desperately we needed to pave that road, which would have cost only 1% of that $300 million for the airport.
Part of the problem with a lot of these infrastructure projects that are done by our territorial government, even when they're funded with federal funds, is that a requirement to do a municipal infrastructure assessment—let alone a municipal service assessment—of those projects is not included at this point in time. While we are really appreciative that we're getting a deep-sea port, again, the road to and from the port is inadequate; it's unsafe.
The minister said we can put in a funding application. Ideally, it should be part of that whole infrastructure assessment. It means that the road had to wait. I don't like to use political embarrassment as a tool. It shouldn't be the way we convince our federal or territorial politicians to help.
Similarly, when came to Iqaluit, as part of the territorial-federal government with that deep-sea port, we ensured that every visiting minister went to the site. None of them had realized that it was next to our dump. One rationale for the new port would be that when tourists come off the cruise ships and enter into our beautiful capital, the first sight they see is not a big pile of waste and garbage. I think that probably helped our business case in getting the funding we needed to ensure that the dump is closed and capped and doesn't look like a dump by the time the deep-sea port opens in 2020.
We also received about $4 million for our aquatic centre. That is about 10% of what the aquatic centre cost us, unfortunately. At that time, we weren't able to get more assistance from the federal government. They hadn't yet rolled out the big billions of dollars for infrastructure, and our territorial government was only able to help out with approximately $100,000 of gym equipment. The taxpayers and user fees are paying for that.
I would be remiss if I didn't speak to the fact that climate change is absolutely happening. One of the issues for us is that our pipes are breaking. We've been spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to repair every pipe, and I can tell you that it is a temporary fix. It is nowhere near what is needed, which would be millions of dollars.
Those are my initial comments, but I'm definitely open to lots of questions, I hope.
On the sheet that I sent in today, I put all the points. My presentation is on paper, what I'm going to speak about today.
In terms of Manitoba, the highest population of isolated communities is in our northeast region of Manitoba, which you see in the corner of the map here: St. Theresa Point, Garden Hill, Wasagamack, Red Sucker Lake, Manto Sipi, Bunibonibee, Oxford House, and the road leading out to Cross Lake. If you look at the sheet, the population of that area is listed there for all reserves: St. Theresa Point, 4,300; Garden Hill First Nation, 4,800; and the rest of them are listed there.
My point here today is to make the case for connecting the all-weather road from Berens River up to St. Theresa Point as the highest infrastructure need in our area. I present that proposal here today on behalf of Chief Hartley Everett of Berens River and Chief David McDougall of St. Theresa Point. My chief, Hartley Everett, and the chief from St. Theresa Point have a great desire for presenting today as a proposal the red line that you see there going from Berens River up to St. Theresa Point.
Today, 20,000 or 30,000 people live in this isolated corner of Manitoba. It's the highest concentration of first nation communities living in isolation in the 21st century. This population represents the future hub in northern Manitoba. Thompson, Manitoba was the hub at one point, but the mine is shutting down in 2020. The 20,000 people living here are shut off from the outside world.
In my paper, I have a statement from when I was chief. What I say is that isolation kills. By that I mean that the high suicide rates we see in our northern isolated reserves are a result of isolation, poverty, and no hope for the future.
In Berens River, we announced the road project in 2009 and we finished hooking up the road in 2017, and we haven't had a suicide, because the youth of our community were very excited that a road was coming.
The same kind of situation exists here. We're asking the committee to place a high priority on this area. This area is the riding in Canada with the highest child poverty rates. This area has the highest child and family services apprehensions.
Everything hooks back to isolation and poverty. That's what we're looking at here. We're asking you to consider this proposal for a $400-million road construction project under a hybrid P3 model to construct this piece of road from Berens River to St. Theresa Point. It's 270 kilometres of road.
We're also asking for a connection into Poplar River First Nation. On the map, it's identified as P4. That's 95 kilometres. We're asking for $140 million for that project.
We have the experience in terms of building the road into Berens River. Both communities have the infrastructure and the capacity for rock blasting, drilling and hauling all the rock to build it. The terrain and the topography are no different in Hollow Water First Nation up to Berens River and to Poplar River, and to St. Theresa Point.
We're looking at setting this up as a project that can be financed through a P3 model and getting the communities involved in shaping the project and so forth. We would like to ask the committee to support us in terms of all the points you see on our map here, and in terms of the bulletin that we've presented here.
We want to say to the people who don't live in isolation today that isolation is worse today than it was 50 years ago in terms of the social impact on our people, because everybody has Internet and everybody has Wi-Fi. Our youth face it in these communities and they feel shut out from the world because they can't access anything. Once you have a highway in place, you can get access to the south and access to hope, hope for a better future. That's what the youth are looking for. In our communities, over 45% of the population is under 45 years of age.
I can't stress enough that, yes, this is a road, but it's also a way out, a way out of a present situation that is intolerable for the people living in northeast Manitoba. This concentrated population will be accessed tremendously by this one route, and you can see the route is directly going south.
You can see a hookup of roads to the north of that, which are basically winter roads. That is to go through Thompson and then down Highway 6. Well, it's 16 hours to go that way right now to Winnipeg, versus going south to Berens River, which is eight hours. The quickest route into Berens River is as you see it, between St. Theresa Point and Berens River, to access south, because the road is already at Berens River.
The road impacts everything in these communities. We've seen positive change in our community, in Berens River, since we've had the road in there. As I said, we have no more suicide problems as we had before, touch wood. Thank God for that. However, we also want to stress that the change our people have seen in getting the road has been tremendous. It has been night and day. The people are happy. They're happy that they have a road now.
The people in Poplar River want a road. They want a road bad, because we're next-door neighbours and they see the benefits of the road to Berens River.
Just on Friday, the provincial government here announced that they're cutting $2 million from the airport maintenance budgets in all northern communities. There were a chief and council trying to fly into Tadoule Lake, to Barren Lands First Nation. They got there and they had to turn back. They couldn't land because the pilot said there was too much snow on the runway. They turned back and ended up back in Thompson.
We've experienced as first nations in this country that every time we have a PC government in place, we go down to the bottom of the totem pole. We see this as an opportunity for the Liberal government to help our region.
We've put down on our paper here that the cheapest time to build this road is now, with cheap interest rates, with the cheap gas rates, and so forth. If you wait until 30 years from now, the cost of this road will be just tremendous. We're looking at this as an opportunity in time, an opportunity in history for the Liberal government to step in and end this isolation here, because we know and we see as first nation people what goes on in this province when we have a PC government sitting in the provincial legislature. We get nowhere. All we do is face cutbacks.
Right now, there's tremendous concern in the north over cutbacks to airport maintenance. The sale of six airports is up in the air right now in terms of privatization.
These are services that our people depend on. The government is in place to provide services to our people, not to privatize things in the north. That does not make sense in remote communities.
Therefore, we ask you to consider the road proposal as one of the most important things you can do to have an impact on all aspects of our people's lives in this region of Canada.
Thank you to the member for the question.
The deep-sea port in Iqaluit will effectively help reduce the number of days to unload the cargo from the number of ships that we get from early July to approximately the middle or the end of October. It's not a year-round deep-sea port. Quite a number of our territorial or federal politicians did not realize that. We're appreciative of that. It should save the shipping companies approximately $75,000 a day that they spend when it takes longer to unload. Ideally, we could have, and probably should have, looked at a year-round deep-sea port, which would have required a road. It would have been transformative for not only Iqaluit but the entire region.
Nuuk, which is our sister community in Greenland, has a year-round port. They're able to bring in construction materials, office equipment and goods, and of course food, including perishable food year-round. Then it could have been flown to the smaller communities in our region after that. We're appreciative because it's better than not having the deep-sea port that's going to be coming, but I would like to see that we move away from the smaller investments to the more transformative ones that would make a difference, not just for shortening the days for the unloading of the ships, but actually something that would transform our infrastructure, our services and cost of living for decades and centuries, like what we see in other Arctic nations.
It's really important that we get all the right people into the same room and talk about the short-term, the medium-term and the long-term investment that's required in our infrastructure.
The problem I've seen, including the work I did with the Qikiqtani Truth Commission in doing historical inquiry, is that there have not ever been proper strategies in any particular infrastructure.
As a result, things are very politically driven, in four-year terms, and not always what the communities need. We should have the federal government, the provincial and territorial governments, the municipal governments, indigenous governments, our development corporations—and even those who are interested in the private sector and want to invest in this country and in our nation-building—come and actually do an infrastructure assessment. What exists? What is the age and condition? What is actually needed? Where are the gaps? Then we should have a proper strategy in place, so that we don't see certain things being funded that are not the priorities and we don't just look at one region but at the pan-territorial, pan-northern provincial regions because, as you heard earlier, some projects are inter-regional. Yet, the funding doesn't work that way.
Thank you to both of our guests here today.
I was in Iqaluit in February, and it does get very cold there, despite the last person saying it doesn't get to -40°C. It was -53°C for the entire week, so it does.
Anyway, that airport is a game-changer. It is marvellous. Your community, because of the airport, is the gateway to the north now, especially Nunavut. I want to congratulate you on that. At the same time, I did check out the port, or what was to be the port. You've had a few explosions this past summer trying to get it going.
Where are we on that? Many up there do not feel they have been properly consulted about the port, so I want you to talk about that and about the consultations that really have not taken place. Some have, but I read a lot from your newspapers and I understand your community felt a little left out, knowing what the port is going to bring.
As I said, I spent about eight or nine days up there, and there was a lot of excitement. The telecommunications.... You're absolutely right. There is no northern telecommunications plan. There is no northern energy plan. There is no transportation plan. Your housing is deplorable up there, and it's something that has to be addressed by every government, not just the current one, from what I saw. I went to seven or eight communities. I talked to mining executives. They're pumping in billions of dollars—not millions, billions. Unfortunately.... Well, your airport is seeing it now because they're coming in first from Quebec, landing and then moving forward to Baker Lake or wherever.
I should move on, because we also have another guest. Elder Kemp, your website is very nice. I've been looking at it. The road looks fantastic. I see it was $200 million. That certainly has opened up your area.
I don't see a lot of jobs or employment opportunities. The last one on the website here is from September 7, 2018, although I see that you're really trying to get your young people engaged in finishing school. I want to compliment you on that, but you have to get job opportunities in that area, as you said. There are 20,000 or 30,000 people who are in isolation, and when you're bored, you get into trouble.
Maybe you could just talk about the infrastructure. You mentioned that the Internet is barely available, if at all, and that's part of this report.
I sat on the heritage committee before I came here. We tried to get every community connected by 2020. I know it won't happen, definitely not up north, but how about your area? Is there a chance with this road that we're actually going to see some telecommunications companies there? Now that Bell Media has taken over MTS—they bought it a year and a half ago—is there a chance that they're going to service your area?
Thank you very much to our witnesses today. Mayor Redfern, thank you for your presentation. Elder Kemp, thank you for joining us here today to talk about your work, both the work that you've done for many years and the work that needs to be done going forward, and for your clear recommendations to our committee. I certainly appreciate that.
As somebody who's been on the winter road to Berens River many times, I can only imagine what a huge difference the new all-weather road has made. I certainly appreciate the various points you raised, and most importantly, the question of life and death, as you pointed out. Nobody can deny that when you hear something like, “There have been no suicides since the road was open or even leading up to its opening”, I think it's very clear why we need to be building all-weather roads in northeastern Manitoba.
I'm wondering if you might also reflect on how critical it is to build this all-weather road system when it comes to issues like forest fires. This summer, we dealt of course with the very stressful situation in Little Grand Rapids, another community that was supposed to be part of the all-weather road system, where people were truly abandoned until the last minute, when the army was finally able to come in. It was made very clear to me by the leadership that if there had been an all-weather road, people could have left in their own time. Obviously, we'd still need an emergency evacuation plan, but access to a road would have made a big difference.
I think these are realities that anybody living in an urban centre or a rural community that's connected by road cannot understand.
Could you speak a bit to how it would make a difference on that front as well?
You saw what happened last year when Wasagamack had to be evacuated. They didn't even have a road connecting their community to the airport. The airport up there is built on an island. In the middle of the night they had to evacuate out of the airport by St. Theresa Point. In emergencies, all-weather roads go a long way in helping reduce the impact and the need to use air traffic and airlifts and so forth. It's not only to get people out. As you saw at Little Grand Rapids, once a fire does occur and damages a community like that, how do you get hydro crews in there? How do you get 1,200 fridges and stoves back in there that were spoiled because they sat with food that rotted in them? A whole bunch of other impacts come to light after the fire as well. Those are the kinds of things that go on.
Looking at our region north of Berens River and the Island Lake area in terms of airlifts, back in 1997, when the winter roads failed because of climate change, a huge airlift was needed to get the food supplies and the fuel and so forth in there. Every year that risk increases. We haven't had anything nearly like 1997 recently, but the day is coming when we won't get winter roads in.
Also, nowadays you can't trust ice. We make our winter roads across many lakes and rivers. An environmental disaster is waiting to happen when tanker trucks start going through the ice and into our rivers and lakes.
All-weather roads impact in many different ways that people don't normally think of because they don't live there. They don't understand all the things that go on in our communities because we are isolated. Two days ago, a 15-year-old committed suicide in St. Theresa Point. That goes on quietly. You don't hear about it, but when you look at the suicide stats in Manitoba and the rest of Canada, we have the highest; there's no question about that. You look at the stats in child and family services, and in the Churchill—Keewatinook riding they are the highest in Canada. There's a reason for that.
This whole idea that we have modern facilities and Internet, asking when we're going to get Internet and so forth.... That's all fine and dandy, but all it does is make our young people wish for more, wish for a better life. And you can't do that living in isolation. You can't provide any economic opportunities. We got the road at Berens last year, and now we have a chance to work on different things, our commercial fishing industry, our forestry industry. There's a new UNESCO world heritage park in place in our area.
Poplar River doesn't even have a road. In 2016, the environmental licence was issued for the road from Berens River to Pop River. When the PC government got in, they shut it down. Everything is approved. That's a shovel-ready project to go from Berens River to Pop River. The people in Pop River are asking when they are going to get hooked up to the road. By the looks of things, if we don't do something now with a government friendlier to first nations, I can't see that road to Pop River happening in the next 30 to 40 years. I can't, not with the climate right now in Manitoba.
We have a government here that said they had a billion-dollar deficit. The auditor just came out and said it was only $345 million. Yes, it's a debt, but the whole idea of "cut, cut, cut" is being borne by our communities up north now. The whole East Side Road project was shut down. Two months ago, we had a big announcement out of Red Sucker Lake, which is just north. On the map, you see Red Sucker Lake. There's a gold discovery and exploration project going on there now. They're estimating there's over $4 billion worth of gold there.
Every time we've seen development of all-weather roads and so forth, it's always about extracting the resources. What about us as people? We're there. Look at us. There are 20,000 people in one concentrated area who are suffering. There's no need for that. Let's end that type of thinking in this country today.
For the municipality, I would have to say that our water infrastructure is a priority, as well as ensuring that we address climate change issues with respect to permafrost and the breaking of pipes.
For our capital city—which we happen to be—I would prioritize telecommunications and the fibre optic line between Iqaluit and Nuuk. We consume 70% to 75% of the broadband for the entire territory, even though we're only one of 25 communities and we have 25% of the population. It's getting to the point where you can't run any level of government, organization or business with the state of telecommunications, even with the nominal increase that we just got with the boost of funding. It's still satellite.
The other one, I would say, for a capital city, is energy. We need affordable, stable energy. With De Beers recently buying the mine near us, there's an opportunity for us to find an energy solution. It's not going to be wind, and it's not going to be solar. That's the reality in our area. It might be hydro or it might be SMR, small modular reactors. We need to look at that.
The last one, I would say, which would be beneficial for the entire region, is a university. We need to develop that capacity, the human capacity. We need people who have that education to be able to run our government and to fulfill their obligations in the government as senior management or middle management. A tremendous amount of Arctic research is done, but not because we have a northern university. It's done in southern universities in Alberta, Manitoba or Ontario. As a result, I would have to say that some of it is not always the best research that it could be and should be.
It's a huge economic factor, but it also develops a really important civil society, a civic-minded society. People are much more inclined to care about the different levels of government and democracy, and to participate. Can you imagine what your regions—Ontario, Manitoba or Quebec—would look like without a university? Just imagine the state of governance, the state of business, the state of innovation, the state of everything. That's what we find ourselves, that without a northern university, we are not going to address that really important investment in the people.
Yes. Thank you, Honourable Amos.
In our area in the northeast section of Manitoba, we look at all-weather road access ending isolation as a top priority for our region. Everything else you want to do in terms of improving, upgrading, rebuilding, or building new infrastructure is hooked to access. We have only fly-in communities north of us now. When you go to build new schools, when you go to do sewer and water projects and all those kinds of things, you're tied to a 30- or 40-day window of a winter road. Everything is tripled in cost when it comes to a winter road, whether it be construction costs or delays. In the first nation communities that are isolated in northern Manitoba, we can't help but get into cost overruns with every project we do.
These things present tremendous burdens on our first nation chiefs and councils, because you're always behind the eight ball. When you take on a big project, which you don't want to say no to—you know you need the infrastructure—you can't help but go in the hole on all these projects because of isolation. There is no proper road to get stuff in there.
There's a lot of waste. A lot of concrete that is shipped up north from Winnipeg comes in big, round concrete bags, three or four feet around and three or four feet high. We have no storage up north, and concrete is humidity-sensitive. It comes in on a winter road in March and gets dumped on the ground, because we have no infrastructure for warehousing or humidity or that kind of stuff. By the time you're ready to build in May, when the frost is out of the ground, those things are all hard. Then you wait until next year to get another shipment in.
On and on it goes. All of these things are tremendously wasteful in terms of trying to do infrastructure in the north. Without access, we can't build properly. That's why I say that roads are number one. The next priority is in terms of our communities—our community roads, sewer and water, and infrastructure like that. We need access.