The Conservatives say a deepwater port in Tuktoyaktuk and a road connecting the NWT and Nunavut will be northern infrastructure priorities if Erin O’Toole’s party wins this month’s federal election.
In a Wednesday news release, the party said converting the Arctic coastal community’s harbour into a deepwater facility “will allow the town to benefit from natural resource exploration, extraction, and tourism.”
The party also pledged to fund the Grays Bay project, which would create a similar port in Nunavut then build a road south to the NWT border.
“This project will serve as the first road connecting Nunavut to the rest of Canada,” the party wrote, implying it envisaged completion of an NWT segment that would convert the current Tibbitt-Contwoyto winter road into an all-season road and extend it to the Nunavut border, linking Yellowknife and the south to Grays Bay.
“Once completed, it will connect the rich mineral resources from Nunavut and the Northwest Territories to arctic shipping routes,” the news release added.
Tuktoyaktuk has been accessible by road from southern Canada since a highway to the community opened in late 2017. A deepwater port in Tuk had been discussed earlier in the past decade but has not recently formed one of the territorial government’s infrastructure priorities, not least because of the Liberal government’s moratorium on Arctic oil and gas development, industries on which a deepwater port might be expected to rely.
Instead, the NWT has more recently pursued funding for its half of the road to Nunavut, alongside expanding its Taltson hydro system and finishing the Mackenzie Valley Highway.
Those projects cannot be completed without hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding, none of which is currently secured. The latter two were not mentioned in Wednesday’s Conservative news release.
O’Toole’s party said it would “immediately prioritize” funding for the Tuktoyaktuk port and Grays Bay project if elected, alongside money for renewable energy in Nunavut’s Kivalliq region and cleaner power in the Yukon.
“For too long, the Trudeau government has ignored northern priorities and made unilateral decisions impacting northerners from Ottawa without giving them a say,” O’Toole was quoted as saying in the party’s news release.
“A Conservative government will empower and support northerners while building the infrastructure needed to truly realize the potential of Canada’s North.”
Canada under Justin Trudeau has made some funding commitments to the NWT’s biggest infrastructure projects, though mostly to pay for preparatory work and not yet to the level that would allow the territory to finish any of them.
In a statement received after this article was first published, NWT Liberal candidate Michael McLeod said Trudeau had made “historic levels of investment to close the northern infrastructure gap.” McLeod listed Inuvik airport upgrades, Hay River’s fish plant, and the Whatì highway among projects recently receiving federal help.
McLeod said a re-elected Liberal government would invest $2 billion in Indigenous housing and achieve a “100-percent net-zero emitting electricity system” across Canada by 2035.
Kelvin Kotchilea, the NWT’s NDP candidate, welcomed Conservative efforts to address the northern infrastructure deficit but said O’Toole’s party offered “nothing about how they will address protecting the environment from increased economic activity.”
“The NDP’s Green New Deal will make major investments toward renewable energy and the transition off fossil fuels in the North,” said Kotchilea by email.
“It seems the Conservative Party still genuinely believes we have to pit climate and environmental priorities against economic growth. Northerners deserve a more sophisticated conversation than this.”
The Green Party’s NWT candidate, Roland Laufer, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Jane Groenewegen, the former NWT minister running as an independent, said the Conservatives’ plans were “a nice promise” but came with no associated costing for projects that, together, would cost into the billions of dollars to fully fund.
“In order for northerners to realize maximum benefits, these large infrastructure projects need to be carried out in an incremental way that provides for maximum participation and training for northerners,” Groenewegen wrote.