OTTAWA, Dec. 15 /CNW/ - Thriving communities - wherever they are located in Canada - have four components in common: they are secure, self-reliant, sustainable, and socially developed. Canadians living in southern communities may take these conditions for granted. Northerners may not be so fortunate; based on this definition, many Northern Canadian communities are not thriving.  

Compared to Southern Canada, many Northern communities fare poorly in measures such as educational achievement, population health, crime rates (especially in the three territories), and economic diversity and development. The report, Toward Thriving Northern Communities - part of The Conference Board of Canada's five-year Centre for the North project - is intended to bring the well-being of communities to the forefront of Canada's discussion about Northern issues.

"While the future of the North is largely discussed in terms of economic development or sovereignty, ultimately its destiny will depend on the well-being of its residents," said Derrick Hynes, Director, Centre for the North. "When the indicators are taken together, the picture of Northern communities is grim. But there is some cause for optimism."

Reasons for Optimism

Provincial and territorial governments across Canada are developing plans and programs that enhance community vitality in Northern regions and take Northern perspectives into account.

Many Northern communities have taken leadership roles in piloting new technologies (particularly for health-care and education delivery) and launching programs to deal with mental health and violence issues, as well as in community-based health research.

The Northern regions, especially the territories, are investing in training and development to address skill shortages, increase local employment, attract skilled workers, and generally improve community wellness.  However, there is a need for major infrastructure investment to facilitate future development, such as broadband communication, transportation and housing.

And, perhaps most important, tremendous progress has been made in the settlement of land claims across Northern Canada over the past few decades. These agreements recognize Aboriginal inherent land rights, bring increased opportunity for Aboriginal self-determination, and create greater certainty for stakeholder relations in Northern development.

A Northern Profile

Although Northern communities are different than each other and their Southern Canadian counterparts, they have common attributes. In general, Northern communities are remote - the North, as defined for the Centre for the North, is 80 per cent of Canada's land mass but just under seven per cent of its population. These communities are also smaller, younger, and have more Aboriginal peoples than those in the South.

The North is often considered ethno-culturally homogenous. But the Shannon Diversity Index indicates that Northern communities are much closer to their Southern counterparts in levels of diversity. On a scale of 0 to 2.5, the North scored a 1.54; the South scored 1.8. The Yellowknife community, for example, comprises 115 nationalities and 15 First Nations.

Economic Diversity Lacking in North

Three types of local economies prevail in the North:  public service-based, resource-based, and Aboriginal-based (mixed economies consisting of wages, government transfers, and land subsistence). Most Northern communities have some combination of each. Nevertheless, Northern communities are, in general, less economically diverse and have lower employment rates than communities in the South, according to Robert M. Bone's northern economy typology.

On Friday, December 17, The Conference Board will release a foundational study elaborating on the outlook for Northern industries. This study, Mapping the Economic Potential of Canada's North, looks at seven key industries in the North, which include:

  • oil and gas, mining, forestry, and fishing - primary industries that drive economic growth;
  • utilities and construction - enabling industries that support the primary industries in growing the economy; and
  • tourism - an emerging industry that has the potential to contribute to the Northern economy in the future.

The public sector (including government, health care and educational institutions) is also a major player in Northern economies, is not assessed in this economic report.

Lower Education Levels

Compared to Southern Canada, lower employment rates in many Northern communities are an indication of skill shortages just as much as (or more than) they are of job shortages. Educational outcomes are generally lower in Northern communities, due to resistance to leaving the community for schooling, resistance to education due to the legacy of residential schools, a lack of local educational resources and lack of alignment between training and local job shortages. Training programs are offered in many Northern communities but they sometimes fail to prepare students for jobs available locally.

Poor Health Outcomes

The health and wellness challenges among Northerners are well documented. For example, average life expectancy in Nunavut is 10 years below the national average. In the Northwest Territories, the incidence of sexually transmitted infections is up to 12 times the national average. Northern communities generally use technological advancements (such as e-health) ahead of Southerners, but the effectiveness of these technologies can be limited by language barriers.

High Crime Rates

In 2006, violent crime rates in Nunavut (6,764 per 100,000 population), Northwest Territories (6,448 per 100,000), and Yukon were (3,007 per 100,000) far surpassed the national average of 951 per 100,000 population.

The study concludes that a thriving Northern community must be, first and foremost, secure - it has to meet the basic needs of its residents, such as providing adequate food, water and shelter. Second, its economy needs to create local wealth and be self-reliant. Third, communities have to be sustainable, with a diverse economy and a balance between local economic development and environmental protection. Fourth, residents must enjoy good health and quality of life, and have a general sense of well-being and belonging to their communities.

This publication is one of three foundational reports for the Centre for the North, which is a Conference Board of Canada program of research and dialogue. Its main purpose is to work with Aboriginal leaders, businesses, governments, communities, educational institutions, and other organizations to provide insights into how sustainable prosperity can be achieved in the North. Over its five-year mandate, the Centre for the North will help define strategies, policies and practices to transform that vision into reality.

SOURCE Conference Board of Canada

For further information: For further information:

Brent Dowdall, Media Relations, Tel.: 613- 526-3090 ext. 448

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