Building in northern directions

Road connecting Manitoba and Nunavut an important key to economic growth, according to Axworthy

A proposed all-season highway that would connect Manitoba to Nunavut year-round might present opportunities and challenges. Cindy Titus

Part 1 in a two-part series.

With climate change rapidly increasing and changing arctic territory boundaries, new developments are in place to build stronger ties between Manitoba and Nunavut.

One major proposal is an all-seasons road, which according to Gaile Whelan-Enns, director of Manitoba Wildlands, does not seem realistic. The favoured route is a 1,200 km road that connects Gillam, Man. to Rankin Inlet, Nunavut.

Whelan-Enns and her non-profit environmental organization think the cost of the project, at an estimated $1.2 billion, is a problem.

“It works out to almost $1 million per kilometre,” she said. “Who is going to pay for that?” Whelan-Enns believes that part of the high cost is due to the acceleration of global warming and its effects in the north.

Conditions like permafrost and melting ice play a major role in research and development that would need to be done before the road could be built.

Another issue is the development of mines in the North. She explained that new mines in the Northwest Territories are accessible by winter roads which have short seasons and often cause maintenance problems – which could happen in both Manitoba and Nunavut.

There are some people, however, who see the road as a key piece in the economic growth puzzle.

“My question is, what happens if you don’t do it?” said Dr. Lloyd Axworthy, president of the University of Winnipeg.

It works out to almost $1 million dollars per kilometre. Who is going to pay for that?

Gaile Whelan-Enns, director of Manitoba Wildlands

Axworthy has teamed up with Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger to present research at the Gateway Summit 2010 – Northern Directions being held at the U of W from Nov. 8 to Nov. 10.

As part of the event, Axworthy hopes discussion of the road can open up and plans can be made to put it in motion. He sees the road as an important key to our economic growth as a province and country as well as a step forward in the Arctic gateway model, formed for the Port of Churchill.

But the road is not just about economic developments.

“You’ve got to open up the North in terms of the ability of Canada to continue to protect its interests,” Axworthy said.

He feels that to help the North, the rest of Canada first needs to get to there. Axworthy has always had big dreams for the university, for the country, and definitely for the Arctic gateway.

“As far as the road is concerned, the technology is certainly there,” he said. “We built roads up to the Arctic Ocean in the times when this country had big visions.

”Dorothy Dobbie, former president of CentrePort Canada, an inland port named as Canada’s first Foreign Trade Zone, could not agree more. Dobbie said that from a business perspective, this is one of the most exciting projects to come along in a long time.

“Think of all the jobs that will be attached to such a major development,” she said. She believes that people who are in industry training now will have a great advantage in the next few years to start developing their careers with the construction of the road.

Watch for Part 2 in next week’s issue of The Uniter: Examining the ideas that will be discussed at the Arctic Gateway Summit.

Published in Volume 65, Number 3 of The Uniter (September 16, 2010)

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