I’ve recently taken to wiling away rainy afternoons by offering up snappy solutions to some of the pressing problems of the day, in hopes that the relevant politicians may someday stumble upon my humble blog and be galvanized into appropriate action.
The solutions all seem so simple when concocted from the comfort of my favourite armchair – why just last week I took a stab at vanquishing the current housing affordability crisis ttps://gentlemansrelish.ca/2022/04/25/down-to-the-sea-again/, so this week I thought I would offer up a”twofer’ and tackle two burning problems- climate change and indigenous rights, with a single stroke of the pen.
It is time, I suggest, to re-visit the long mothballed Mid Canada Corridor Project, the personal centennial project of Maj. Gen Richard Rohmer, soldier, lawyer, author, public figure, and passionately patriotic Canadian.
Rohmer’s plan was essentially to kickstart the development of the north by creating an infrastructure corridor across boreal Canada, anchored by large planned communities in locations such as Fort Smith, Flin Flon, Whitehorse, Timmins and Labrador City, and linked with road and rail corridors that would open up the ports of Churchill and Inuvik. Back in the sixties, no-one was paying a lot of attention to either climate change , or indigenous rights, so nationalism, and resource extraction were the real driving forces behind the plan. Rohmer was concerned that, in a vast, empty land, we all lived in a thin ribbon of population right along the border with a restless and unpredictable neighbour. Indeed he wrote several novels exploring the theme of the USA annexing Canada.
40 years on, our southern neighbour is even more volatile, climate change is top of mind everywhere, agriculture is creeping northward, and the north is starting to look a lot more hospitable than it did in the sixties when his grand scheme could never get beyond the fact that nobody actually wanted to live in Flin Flon or Labrador City.
If last summer’s heat dome here in the south is the harbinger of future summer weather, a temperate northern summer now seems almost alluring, and as crops wither and bake down here, agricultural opportunities expand to the north, where technology, ample water, and the midnight sun could combine for exciting possibilities.
Presently, most think of the north as a void of endless uninhabited acres of boreal forest, but of course , it isn’t. Not only has our north been inhabited by indigenous people for thousands of years, it remains so today – dotted with many small communities, albeit most on life support. Our First Nations remain anchored to their ancestral homelands, but no longer utilize them as their ancestors did. The result has been to create artificial communities that exist without any economic rationale.
Southerners shake their heads at reports of 90% unemployment rates in indigenous communities, and bridle at the astronomic and ever increasing cost of supplying them with services. Indeed some communities can only be accessed by air, so it is little wonder that they are unable to sustain a viable economy. Even those communities blessed with nearby natural resources can’t benefit from them without the infrastructure to move those resources to market, and those without resources have no economic advantages they can leverage. Who wants to set up shop in a remote location without access to the tools of commerce?
Surely a large part of the solution to “the First Nations Problem” is to integrate indigenous communities into the mainstream economy by providing the infrastructure that would enable them to participate fully in it. The North has the land, the resources, and the potential workforce- but it needs the roads, railway, and power grid that the Mid Canada Corridor envisions, in order to thrive. Welfare or infrastructure – we are going to pay either way, so we have little to lose.
Too glib a solution? probably- but a key component to beginning to address and improve our complex relationship with our indigenous peoples has to be economic empowerment, and that requires a bold vision, and a big plan (the sort of stuff Canada used to be built on). Some have called Rohmer’s vision grandiose and doomed, but serious thinkers, including the Northern Policy Institute, in 2014, and even the Senate of Canada’s Standing Committee on Trade and Commerce, as recently as 2017, have dusted off Rohmer’s detailed report.
Selfishly, I love the wilderness, and would love to keep the north empty and wild, but realistically, is it possible? or fair to our First Nations? It is time to start the conversation, so I can move on to armchair quarterbacking more solutions to the world’s problems.