Resource development in the north

It’s time to crack the whip!

Lifestyles 55 issues in the news
Dorothy Dobbie Issues in the news

Manitoba’s resource industries have been under attack for too many years. This is not accidental. Since the early 1990s, attempts have been underway to keep Manitoba a pristine wilderness. It was this thinking that led to changing the Bipole III route and added a billion or two to the Hydro debt. It is time to change this and allow these and related industries to regain their production to support local economies.

In this day of reconciliation, the best way to overcome the inequities of the past is to present opportunities right now and into the future.


Forestry was nearly dead and is just now beginning to resume its place in the north with the investments by Canadian Kraft Paper at The Pas. The February 2019 agreement with a consortium of First Nations on the east side of the lake, allows the consortium to manage, harvest and renew the forest in a 5,000 square km area. This agreement is good news since there has been nothing happening in the area since Tembec closed in 2009. The closure contributed to disaster for the town of Pine Falls and its surrounding communities, where there have been no jobs and little hope for the future. 

Commercial fishing

While things started looking bright in the fishing industry with the changes to the Freshwater Fish Marketing Board, relationships have since deteriorated because departmental staff have been putting the squeeze on commercial fishing, insisting on ever-more stringent rules to manage the fishery, which they say, is in danger. Commercial fishers don’t agree and have vowed to do their own science. Meanwhile, the department has been buying up licences to reduce the activity.


The mining industry has been slowly disappearing in Manitoba. Six operations have closed since 2012 and output has fallen to a minuscule 3.8 percent of the Canadian production. This limits opportunities for northerners, keeping smart young Indigenous kids from learning and earning so they can create a better future for their own offspring.

Mining industry investors have lost faith in our province and are investing their funds in riskier regimes simply because they feel too helplessly hand-tied here in this province – yet they want to invest. They see the potential and are willing to partner with Indigenous communities and to guarantee environmental mitigation for any disturbance to the environment.

However, they can’t get permits to explore, let alone develop. And when they do, the permits are only good for a year. In some cases, Indigenous communities are being blamed by officials for the hold ups. 

Wilderness tourism

In spite of good injections of cash to the Manitoba tourism industry, development of wilderness tourism, the most valuable asset we have in this industry, is again being severely inhibited by permit requirements, which are basically not being issued. In the Churchill area, only one company and a pseudo-eco organization have access to the so-called Wildlife Management Area where the polar bears hang out on land. No new permits have been handed out for years. 

Meanwhile, taxi drivers and other untrained individuals freely take tourists on to the property without proper protection or precautions, yet established and properly equipped tourism outlets in the town are not allowed on the WMA. Not only is this is a disaster waiting to happen, the permitting is discriminatory and arbitrary, stifling the tourism industry that the government is trying to encourage.

There could be an industry developed by Indigenous communities, but they are also shut out of obtaining permits to guide wilderness tours and hunting and fishing expeditions.

Practice counter to government policies

The Premier and his ministers want to open up opportunities. In an attempt to make this happen, they have set up several committees over the past three years to recommend action, the latest one a committee on mining and exploration. Most recently, ministerial responsibilities have been changed which should allow a more concentrated focus on removing the systemic roadblocks that seem to be the cause.

But dozens of hurdles remain, the most critical of them being delays in receiving the “permits” that seem to pervade every attempt to do anything in the north. In mining, these “work permits” (originally issued simply to let foresters and firefighters know that there were people working in a given area) that will allow exploration and operations to begin, are good for only one year at a time. Research has shown that permits could be extended without further legislation. 

Licensing has always been part of the fishery, both for commercial fishers and anglers. The industry doesn’t agree that fish stock are at threat – and they should know – and the buyout of commercial licenses paves the way for a corporation to displace the many entrepreneurial small commercial fishers that make a living on the lakes – or to stop commercial fishing altogether.

Wilderness tourism now benefits only a privileged few, and most of the lodge operators are from the United States. They don’t spend any money here, bringing in their own supplies and barely stopping even in Winnipeg, but lack of development is exactly what they crave.

A couple of years ago, I was hearing Canadian Kraft Paper had expansion plans for their operation at The Pas. That seems to have died away. Why?

Solving the problem

Many fine words have been written about how to solve the problems of the north and I am sure many more are on their way as committees report. But in the final analysis, only strong decision making will solve the problems. With three years of study under its belt, our government should be poised to crack the whip and make all the artificial barriers to progress disappear.

It is time to crack that whip!