Can resource development make communities like Happy Valley-Goose Bay healthy and sustainable? Have we been blessed or cursed along with the way? These are the questions that I regularly confront as a Mayor, and through my time in municipal government, it has become increasingly clear that an honest, holistic, and forthright dialogue about the pros and cons of these developments is needed. Indeed, these topics are complex, and there is much to reflect on as we decide what we want our future to look like.
Happy Valley-Goose Bay is Labrador central, and often referred to as a hub, the heart of Labrador, a basecamp, and/or a gateway. Personally, I see the community as more than this. It is also peoples’ home, and a place where people are deeply connected to land and history, both Indigenous and settlers. It’s also a main destination, a regional centre, and a capital in many respects. If you look at the map, it is clear that all roads lead in and out of Happy Valley-Goose Bay, and there are natural resources in all directions. So, if a natural resource is going to be developed in Labrador, Happy Valley-Goose Bay will be play a central role.
Happy Valley-Goose Bay is also located on traditional homelands of the Innu and Inuit, and is the largest Indigenous populated town in the province, with approximately half the population identifying as such. Three Indigenous governments are seated in the region – the Nunatsiavut Government, the NunatuKavut Community Council, and the Innu Nation – with their own unique priorities and protocols. The municipality also represents the diverse multicultural citizens of the area, and has jurisdiction over many aspects of development, planning, and research.
Our Town has taken the step of developing a strategic plan in hopes of seeing future benefits, and mitigating any curse that may come with resource developments. Through the public engagement of drafting this plan, residents were asked to pick their three top words that would describe their future vision, and this word cloud shows that people are hopeful, they see employment, sustainability, affordability, growth, culture, wellness, health, and expansion.
If you are a natural resource developer, do you see yourself in these words?
Do you see how and where you can contribute to our pathway forward? If so, we should be engaged, exploring ideas, and planning. If not, maybe we are not the place for you.
Our strategic plan will evolve as needed but in many interconnected ways, we will be striving for economic vibrancy, a quality of life second to none, inclusivity, infrastructure renewal, environmental stewardship, and municipal leadership. More than ever, municipal leadership is needed, as there are questions as to who’s hands are at the wheel in terms of economic development in Labrador, and in other parts of the Province. Researchers Hall, Vodden and Greenwood (2016) would argue that our economic development governance has moved from dysfunctional to destitute.
In this vacuum, local municipalities have to be enabled to play a leadership role and encouraged by all levels of Government as a new form of rural policy. Such a policy shift would be supported by the academic literature which has highlighted growing political power in the north since the mid-1990s (Angell and Parkins 2011). While there are experiences throughout the Canadian north to learn from, we need to strive to be a leader, and unfortunately in recent times we had taken one step forward with the Voisey’s Bay development, and two steps back, with Muskrat Falls development.
All was not perfect with Voisey’s Bay, but this development acted as a lever for land claims settlement, provided enduring employment, and supported strategic investments in health care delivery and education in our province. Juxtaposed, over the past few years we have all bared witness to the impacts of the Muskrat Falls development. Residents have seen their cost of living escalate, there is the impact on municipal infrastructure, the undeniable environmental impact, the socio-economic shifts that has marginalized many, and the mental health anguish we witnessed as people protested, marched, were put at risk, and arrested in their attempts to have authentic dialogue about losing connection to place, and a beloved ecosystem.
In the context of this week’s Northern Exposure Conference [Presentation] I am hopeful that the resource development industry sees themselves as having a role in community health and community-building, and through their journey in Labrador they leave healthy, and sustainable communities in their wake and, in so doing, they will be city building, nation building, and creating a legacy we can be proud of.
Angell, A. C., & Parkins, J. R. (2011). Resource development and aboriginal culture in the Canadian north. Polar Record, 47(1), 67-79. doi:10.1017/S0032247410000124
Hall, H. M., Vodden, K., & Greenwood, R. (2016). From dysfunctional to destitute: the governance of regional economic development in Newfoundland and Labrador. International Planning Studies, 1-19. doi:10.1080/13563475.2016.1167585
Parlee, B. L. (2015). Avoiding the Resource Curse: Indigenous Communities and Canada’s Oil Sands. World Development, 74, 425-436. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.worlddev.2015.03.004
Parlee, B., & Furgal, C. (2012). Well-being and environmental change in the arctic: a synthesis of selected research from Canada’s International Polar Year program. Climatic Change, 115(1), 13-34. doi:10.1007/s10584-012-0588-0
Southcott, C. (2015, 2015 Winter). Resource development and northern communities–an introduction. Northern Review, 3+.
Southcott, C. (2012). Can resource development help make Arctic communities sustainable? Northern Public Affairs, Spring.