Northwest Territories Premier Bob McLeod says it is offensive and patronizing for southern Canadians to tell northerners they can't benefit from oil and gas development because it's time to save the planet.
In an unusual move, he sent out a news release Wednesday issuing a "red alert and calling for an urgent national debate on the future of the Northwest Territories."
"The promise of the North is fading and the dreams of northerners are dying as we see a re-emergence of colonialism."
McLeod is in Ottawa this week hoping to start a national debate about the future of the North, a year after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced at least a five-year ban on new oil and gas development in the Arctic because an oil spill in the region would be "cataclysmic."
McLeod has criticized the decision as one-sided and ill-informed from the start and says, with that one decision, "everything we have built is in jeopardy."
This week, he said southern Canada has benefited for years from resource development that polluted the air and is causing the North significant environmental grief and yet it now wants to tell the territories they can't develop their own fossil fuels while the South keeps pumping out oil and gas.
"The rest of Canada needs to realize we have people that live in the North as well, with dreams and aspirations and hope for a better future and we shouldn't be penalized because of where we live," he said.
"We shouldn't have to stop our own development so the rest of Canada can feel better."
Caribou dwindling, permafrost melting
McLeod said pollution from decades of developing oil and gas reserves in places like Alberta and British Columbia and the ensuing pollution from burning those fuels to drive cars and heat homes, has wreaked havoc on the North.
The Bathurst caribou herd has declined from about 450,000 in the mid-80s, to fewer than 20,000, which means almost no hunting happens anymore.
Permafrost is melting, affecting roads and buildings and rivers. The Beaufort Sea used to be ice-free for just five weeks a year, said McLeod and now it's ice-free for more than three times that, causing coastal erosion and more storms. Forest fires are more common and more devastating.
McLeod said $2.6 billion in planned investments in offshore exploration disappeared with the onset of Trudeau's moratorium and yet Canada hasn't come to the table with any aid to replace that.
He said welfare rolls grew in the time since and the population is declining as young people in particular head south to find jobs that don't exist in the Northwest Territories.
Resources and the energy sector account for about 40 per cent of the economy of the Northwest Territories, according to McLeod.
He said climate change has changed how the North lives and northerners deserve to be able to develop their resources if they can prove it can be done sustainably. Instead Alberta will continue to increase its oil production and the North has to sit it out without even getting a chance to be part of the discussion.
"We need jobs. We need work. You want us to leave the North because we can't work there. You want us to live in a large park. That's essentially what's happened."
A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that the Bathurst caribou herd had one million animals 15 years ago. In fact, there were about 450,000 animals in the mid-1980s.Nov 01, 2017 10:31 AM CT