Pan-Territorial Growth Strategy — What We Heard


In April 2017, the Honourable Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science, and Economic Development, announced that Canada's six Regional Development Agencies would develop individual regional growth strategies to advance inclusive economic growth based on the unique strengths and opportunities of their respective regions.

The Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency (CanNor) is developing a Pan-Territorial Growth Strategy (PTGS). The purpose of this Strategy is to help stimulate economic growth, reflecting the unique advantages of each territory. The PTGS will help advance the Innovation and Skills Plan as well as the economic elements of the Arctic and Northern Policy Framework across the territories.

CanNor has proposed the following four action areas to focus its activities, in collaboration with its partners and stakeholders, over the next five years:

From January to March 2019, CanNor undertook a series of engagement activities to confirm whether these were the right areas of action. This report summarizes the broad range of views, considerations and ideas brought forward, and outlines some of the major themes that emerged during the engagement period. This information will help guide CanNor's strategic approach towards future investments and activities in the territories.

Engagement Snapshot


In-Person Participants

Online platform visits

Sessions Held In

  • Vancouver, BC
    (Association for Mineral Exploration's Roundup Conference)
  • Whitehorse, YT
  • Inuvik, NT
  • Yellowknife, NT
  • Iqaluit, NU
  • Ottawa, ON

Overarching Themes

Throughout the engagement period, participants emphasized the need to work with communities, the private sector and local organizations to build sustainable and diversified economies, and that the participation of Indigenous governments and organizations will be key to achieving success. Participants emphasized the need for Indigenous economic reconciliation. They stressed the need to close the economic gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Northerners. In addition, participants acknowledged the role that Indigenous peoples must play in shaping the economic future of the territories.

A key factor will also be getting the scale and scope of the opportunity right. In some cases, this may mean "scaling up" by expanding good ideas, reaching new markets, or servicing new areas. Though, in smaller, more remote operating environments, it may mean "scaling down" in order to suit a smaller, more remote, operating environment that may not have the capacity to support a large enterprise or multiple small competitors. In addition, it was recognized that the various economic sectors in the North do not operate in isolation and that it will be important to leverage current interdependencies present in the northern economy to achieve the appropriate scale. However, the lack of foundational assets (e.g. transportation and broadband infrastructure) and broader socio-economic challenges (e.g., food insecurity, housing) hinders economic growth and the ability of Northerners to fully participate in the economy.

Overall, there was a consensus that the four action areas presented were the right ones. Participants also recognized the potential for CanNor to amplify northern voices at the federal level. They felt that the Agency could provide a unified voice for the territories and act as a direct line of communication to the Government of Canada in regards to the action areas below.

Action Areas

Resource development

The mining and oil and gas industries have an important role in the viability and economic opportunities within the North. Participants expressed the need to focus on the entire resource development cycle from exploration to reclamation in order to maximize jobs and wealth within the territories. Participants mentioned that the tripartite (federal, territorial, Indigenous) nature of the territorial regulatory structures is progressive and something to be proud of and to continue to work to improve

Participants expressed the importance for resource companies and governments to work with nearby communities and people across the regions. Some participants expressed that they are seeking to modernize the Impact Benefit Agreements in order to derive greater financial, economic and environmental outcomes. Modernized agreements could help develop capacity for Indigenous people to compete for higher skilled jobs and compete more effectively for contracts. In addition, some groups are seeking more meaningful partnerships in major projects which could result in reduced economic leakage.

The higher cost of doing business in the North may also deter smaller companies from investing in resource development in the territories. In addition, concerns were expressed regarding the limited investments in mineral exploration in the North, and what that may mean for the future of the industry.

Participants mentioned that the government's emphasis on economic diversification sends mixed messages to the mining sector working in the territories. They stressed that the current framing of terms such as clean technology/growth and innovation can be perceived as a shift away from the mining industry, when in fact the mining industry is an essential part of the development of new technologies and is also a technologically advanced sector. Some participants felt there is continued need for government to publicly recognize the importance of the mining sector and to actively promote investment in the sector.

In addition, participants stressed the interconnectedness of resource development with other economic sectors. For example, participants mentioned the need for decision makers to consider how infrastructure associated with major resource development projects could be better leveraged to also meet community needs. Moreover, the participants emphasized the opportunity to harness skills training initiatives to help build a northern workforce for these sectors.

Economic diversification and innovation

Participants recognized that the tourism sector is a growing industry in the territories, particularly in the capitals. They emphasized various opportunities for future growth: from the opening up of the Northwest Passage to accommodate cruise ships, to experiential tourism, such as guided hunting tours on the land. However, participants stressed the lack of basic tourism products, services and amenities as a source of difficulty for smaller communities. They also mentioned the need to increase connectivity in the North in order to keep pace with evolving tourism industry standards. Nevertheless, there are opportunities to leverage the growth of tourism to support initiatives under the other areas of action. For example, visitors could tour mine sites, including historic ones; after they have gone through remediation.

Other participants saw the potential for increasing the knowledge economy in the North. By leveraging the unique landscape, the history, and the environment, the North can strengthen its ability to be a leader in areas such as cold climate research innovation. Yukon College's evolution to a hybrid university and the Government of the Northwest Territories' exploring the possibility of a polytechnic university are examples of initiatives to support the knowledge economy. However, challenges remain with regard to obtaining socio-economic information to support decision-making. Specifically, access to regularly updated information on population wellbeing and implementing appropriate measures for the economic health of communities remains difficult.

In measuring a business's success, there was a strong desire to include its contribution to the broader health of the community. With this in mind, participants highlighted the need for greater support for social enterprises and recognition of the important role they play within the overall economic ecosystem. For example some Indigenous organizations are teaching their people how to create traditional Indigenous products, which helps preserve their culture while generating income. Participants noted that Indigenous Development Corporations and community co-operatives contribute to building strong communities, while also providing necessary business services.

Participants emphasized the need for strengthening, developing and diversifying the fisheries industry for inshore and offshore production. They mentioned difficulties in obtaining the appropriate licenses to harvest the fish in adjacent waters. They also raised the need for additional fisheries research to determine quotas for new fisheries and to track and monitor harvested stocks.

Participants noted that by having greater access to country food, they could avoid the high costs of shipping food to the North. Investments in local agricultural production could also contribute to lowering the cost of food. For instance some northern agriculture producers are using new technology to extend the growing season, increasing access to local foods. However, some producers noted a shortage of labour has prevented them from expanding their operations.

Participants repeatedly brought up the entrepreneurial and resourceful determination of Northerners. They referenced the art and cultural economy, and the fur industry as key components of the entrepreneurial sector in smaller communities. For example, Inuvik has developed an arts and crafts-focused micro-manufacturing facility that provides access to laser engraving, silk screening, and 3D printing equipment for local artists. Due to growing demand for Northern products (e.g. fur-lined coats), participants identified opportunities to expand into southern markets. However, the lack of basic infrastructure and the high cost of shipping limits access to markets, which prevents communities from growing these industries.

Participants indicated that southern models for success may not work in the North because northern sectors are much more reliant on one another's success. Projects such as incubators have resonated as an opportunity to support the interdependency between business sectors within the northern economy and northern entrepreneurship. For example, a Whitehorse-based non-profit organization, though the completion of their NorthLight Innovation building, is providing access to space, tools, expertise and a collaborative environment to help entrepreneurs in the Yukon develop and grow their business. Participants expressed a desire to replicate a similar model in other communities across the territories.

Infrastructure investments and development

Throughout all engagement activities, participants repeatedly expressed the need for significant investments in infrastructure across the territories. They also brought up concerns of being left behind southern Canada and its circumpolar neighbors. Infrastructure investments are needed for transportation, energy generation and transmission, and telecommunications, but also for community-level infrastructure, such as housing, water and waste management facilities, and local healthcare. Participants also highlighted the importance of investing in the maintenance and upgrading of existing infrastructure.

Participants emphasized that there is a need for the development of a coordinated and integrated approach to infrastructure investment across the territories. This can be reflected by aligning the needs and resources of stakeholders (private, public, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), etc.) to develop a strategic approach which fosters economic growth and enhances northern sovereignty. Participants recognized that the Government of Canada could play the role of convener for the development of a coordinated infrastructure plan across the territories.

Skilled workforce

Participants identified several barriers to workforce participation. Lack of transportation, equipment, and access to affordable child care can lead to a shortage of workers at all levels (not just skilled) and prevent some businesses from operating at their full potential, resulting in reduced economic growth potential.

The lack of training opportunities contributes to the persistence of a skills gap in certain communities. This skills gap represents a barrier to advancement and job mobility for Northerners. In some cases, it is less expensive to fly skilled employees in and out of the North than it is to train local employees. This limits access to local jobs and contributes to economic leakage as transitory employees spend their salaries in southern economies. Participants also mentioned that certain licenses and professional certifications can only be obtained in southern parts of the country, which requires Northerners to leave their communities to obtain the necessary qualifications and in some cases not returning. Participants mentioned a desire to explore customized certification schemes that are better adapted to the needs and requirements of the North. This approach could allow more individuals to acquire the necessary skills through mentorships and apprenticeships in their own communities, thus contributing to greater community readiness.

Participants proposed several solutions to better adapt the educational opportunities to the realities of the North. They noted that sectorial coordination among businesses to work collaboratively and the development of a sustainable workforce strategy could be beneficial. Such a plan could include exposing youth to the careers of today and tomorrow, providing prospective courses tailored to regional needs and providing workshops that have progressive modules as opposed to isolated skills development. Proper implementation would require close collaboration with all educational institutions, territorial governments and private sector stakeholders as well as the presence of effective broadband infrastructure.

Finally, participants mentioned that it can be difficult for communities, regions and organizations to identify which specific skills are currently needed and which ones will be in future demand. However, organizations and communities identified entrepreneurship and resource development as key areas of interest. Multipurpose training facilities and community mentorship programs were identified as potential pathways to developing the workplace skills and knowledge required for long term employment.

Next Steps

The feedback received through CanNor's in person engagement activities and through the online forum was helpful, and we sincerely thank all those who participated. The final strategy will be developed and launched in 2019.

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