Magazine article Alternatives Journal

Punching Dummies in the North

Magazine article Alternatives Journal

Punching Dummies in the North

Article excerpt

Many of you will remember inflatable bottom-weighted punching dummies. You knock them over; they bounce back up and whonk you in the face. And they'll do it again and again if you're stupid enough to keep hitting them. Makes you wonder which one is the punching dummy.

There's something of this in media and government response to the anticipated mining boom in the north. Once again the north is seen as a treasure chest of resources - diamonds in the Northwest Territories and nickel in Labrador. There will be multibillion dollar investments in mining megaprojects. Economic salvation is at hand.

Twenty years ago it was oil. At the turn of the century it was gold and before that whales. Each time the big economic punch and then whonk in the face.

In each case, with the whales no less than with the oil, the economic rule was maximum immediate exploitation. When the resource was exhausted or the discoveries proved disappointing, a bust was inevitable. Virtually no one attempted to see beyond the rich times. Those who did -- usually the local aboriginal people who knew they would remain after the whales or the gold or the oil were gone -- had no power to influence the course of events.

Surely we can do better this time. The main lessons of northern boom-bust history are clear enough. Take the long view. Use non-renewable opportunities to strengthen communities and the renewable resource economy. Diversify. Protect the environment. Give local people a big role in decision making because they have the largest motivation to consider life after the boom.

In this issue of Alternatives, we find some promising steps to apply these lessons and some signs that the bad old days are still with us.

Heather Myers offers the first bit of good news. After the collapse of oil hopes in the mid 80s, she says, the Northwest Territories government rediscovered renewable resources and community-based economic initiatives. …

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