A new report suggests that the key to revitalizing the economy in the Northwest Territories' struggling Sahtu region is investing locally, rather than relying on the volatile global oil and gas market.
The report, titled "Economic Futures in the Sahtu region," was prepared for N.W.T. social justice group Alternatives North. It suggests that reliance on the boom and bust oil and gas industry has negative social impacts on the region, and suggests that growing local economies is key to creating economic and social stability in the region.
The report also says that the oil and gas sector creates just 0.5 jobs per $1 million invested, the lowest multiplier of 22 sectors included in the report.
"Fracking was held up as a big solution for jobs, an economic driver, and that just evaporated when the price went low," said Diana Gibson, the report's lead author.
"So we're saying there is no silver bullet. It's going to be about pulling up your sleeves and doing some hard work around local development."
Oil and gas has long been a staple of economic planning in the Northwest Territories' Sahtu region, which includes the communities of Norman Wells, Deline, Tulita, Colville Lake, and Fort Good Hope. A motion to ban fracking was defeated in the Legislative Assembly in June of this year.
- N.W.T. MLAs extinguish hopes for fracking ban, plebiscite
- BLOG | Life on the road: Five days on a fracking tour through the Sahtu
Gibson says that the smaller the business, the more money circulates through local economies, and suggests investing in local infrastructure, technology, and entrepreneurship, rather than mega-projects driven by foreign investment. That includes shifting territorial policy, subsidies, and incentives away from the industry.
"There is a place for mining in the region and for the people who have those jobs, they are important," she said.
"But it's not going to be a magic solution for unemployment in the territory. Local ownership creates more jobs. Local ownership circulates more money locally."
'They take everything with them'
Newly-appointed Sahtu Grand Chief Wilfred McNeely Jr. agrees with Gibson's assessment, saying that the region's economy sits at a crossroads as resource prices remain low and exploration remains slow.
"When the oil companies decide to go home, they take everything with them," he said. "It's a hard pill to swallow. We're here all the time. We don't boom and bust.
"We have to take that into consideration. Talking about how funds are distributed, a lot of it going into oil and gas and mining, that sort of thing. It has to be balanced out between the traditional economy, also."
Tom Hoefer, the executive director for the N.W.T. and Nunavut Chamber of Mines, says that what he believes Alternatives North is proposing with the report is not an "either-or situation," adding that the mining industry creates higher-paying jobs than renewable industries, which is felt across the economy.
"It's not like 'throw the non-renewable resource industries out, and replace them with potato farms and hunting and trapping,'" he said. "We need to try to have both. Continue to try and diversify the economy into the renewable resource area, but keep the non-renewable resources strong, as well."