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Why the North Will Become Canada's Most Diverse Economy

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"Go West, young man, go West and grow up with the country," was one of the most commonly quoted expressions of the 19th century. At the time, westward expansion for agricultural development was a major source of opportunity for young, hard-working North Americans. In the great cycle of things, Canadians are now seeing the adage repurposed for Alberta's oil boom. But a great shift in Canada's economic future is afoot, one that may dramatically change the course of the next generation of young Canadians seeking employment and opportunity. Enter the True North.

Long viewed as the "have-nots," the hard-working folk of Labrador, Nunatsiavut, Nunavut, and Quebec's northern region of Nunavik are now becoming the "haves." After decades of trial and error, successful partnerships with Innu and Inuit communities have been forged and a hunger for economic development has taken hold. An abundance of valuable natural resources will feed that hunger and promises to make the North and eastern Arctic the next major economic engine of Canada.

The traditional knowledge of the Innu and Inuit has forged resilient communities adept at extracting every ounce of potential value from scarce resources. As if hunting whales by hand was not impressive enough, building hunt cabins out of the ribcages of whales emphasizes that in the North, nothing goes to waste. It is from that industrious ingenuity that our northern businesses were born. For thousands of years these skills were used for survival, and now they are transcending into powerful and shrewd business models. The recent successful negotiations between industry and Aboriginal communities in the North have brought us to a tipping point. At long last, we have a model for economic development that does more than just attain social licence. In the North and eastern Arctic, Aboriginal joint ventures and equity partnerships have become the norm, and unique governance structures have created environmental regulatory frameworks that are rigorous and inclusive. Together, this unique approach gives the North a competitive advantage of certainty for investors and makes the North ready for an economic renaissance.

Some of the largest natural resource projects in all of North America are now sprouting up in the North and eastern Arctic with major companies taking risks alongside northerners. Together, companies and communities are reaping incredible rewards. Labrador's Muskrat Falls project has accelerated the completion of a paved highway and fibre optic line from Goose Bay to Labrador City. One could easily argue that the highway would still be made of gravel if not for the project. Baffinland Iron Mines' Mary River project in Nunavut has resulted in substantial employment opportunities and new regional infrastructure, with even more on the horizon when commodity prices improve. This new infrastructure is a promise of a brighter future for the region. Development will now be possible where it was so limited before.

These opportunities are just the beginning. Soon, this northern economic powerhouse will compete with the flow of labour currently pouring into the West, and struggle to attract professionals and skilled labourers to the North. This will present Canada with even more challenges in meeting employment demands than already exist. But it's more important than ever for Canadian youth to prepare for the opportunities of northern jobs. The Northern economy is unique in its partnerships and regulatory framework, and it is unique in its approach to diversity. In the coming years, the North will need a great deal of skilled labour, but it will also need countless professionals to not only support the developments in the region, but to improve social welfare. With more young women than men graduating from university and college, and a rapidly growing demographic of young Aboriginal peoples, the eastern Arctic and North is set to become Canada's most diverse economy. With the right education and ambitions, the opportunities for Canada's young women and Aboriginal peoples will be limitless in the regions of Labrador, Nunatsiavut, Nunavut and Nunavik.

The North is not without its challenges. The geography and climate require feats of modern engineering at great expenses for even the simplest of infrastructure projects. While the Federal government's investments in Canada's north have been of tremendous help, there is still a long way to go in terms of infrastructure needs. From telecommunications to roads to shipping ports, we have urgent needs for additional investment in order to see the full potential of the North manifested. It is essential that Canadians take notice of the wealth of opportunities in the North so that more government and industry investments are made. Events like the Northern Lights 2014 Business and Cultural Show help to bridge that gap by bringing the North and eastern Arctic to Ottawa to showcase our vibrant cultures, warm communities and bright business opportunities.

The North and eastern Arctic have been called many things: frozen, harsh, and challenging. Now, Canadians can add a new descriptor: ready.

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