To the call to action toward Nunavut’s infrastructure needs, the federal government has answered. At least partially.
The federal government has signalled that it will help finance a $1.6 billion hydro link expansion from Manitoba, reaching up through Arviat and as far as Baker Lake.
This expansion is likely to take several years to finalize and implement. Early reports suggest that it could be delivering power by 2026, but this could be the single most important infrastructure expansion within the Kivalliq region in decades.
The hydro will connect from Gillam, Man. and supply a total of five Kivalliq communities and some mining activity in the region. The expansion will also include fibre-optic lines for high-speed internet.
This is a large step forward for getting isolated communities off of diesel-generated power and will prove to be the kind of expansion that concretely moves toward a greener future.
When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Liberals came North to discuss the future of Nunavut, then in a bid to garner the votes of Nunavummiut, there were grand promises that all communities in the North would be off diesel generators by 2030.
Should this deal go through there would be no doubt that progress is being made, but with a little less than a full decade to go and not much progress elsewhere in the North, the Liberal promise looks to be little more than a pipe-dream.
That being said there is a case to be made that this expansion will greatly increase the quality of life for those southern Nunavut communities that are getting the upgrade.
With reliable internet and reduced costs around electricity, communities such as Arviat or Rankin Inlet would be poised to become renewed business hubs for the region.
Simultaneously, job opportunities may arise with a reduced cost of living for families, who will also be increasingly connected to the world through fast and reliable internet.
The announcement of the infrastructure expansion comes hot off the heels of an expert panel submitting a report to the federal government, entitled Canada’s Communication Future, which illustrates how rural communities are falling further and further behind in terms of internet connectivity.
That increased connection to the larger world means opportunities for youth, for those looking for education, for the possibility of virtual health care and more.
And if the investments in the well being of citizens is not enough, which it should be, notable savings will arise.
The more communities that come off diesel, the less diesel will have to be shipped far and wide which, over time, could mean large savings for residents, businesses and government.
This project is long overdue for Nunavummiut. It will likely be a while before more Northern communities have the opportunity to get access to reliable, cheap energy, but should everything go well, this hydro line will be a pilot project to show that building up Nunavut and developing society as a whole, as well as building the nation as a whole, will be well worth the investment and effort.