Student Research In Canada's North
Proceedings of the National Student Conference on Northern
Association of Candian Universities for
Financial assistance towards the publication of these
The Association represents thirty-four Canadian universities active in northern studies, research and training. Founded at Churchill, Manitoba in 1977, it is a federally incorporated charitable organization.
The purpose of the Association is the advancement of northern scholarship through education, professional and scientific training and research.
L'Association universitaire canadienne d'Études nordiques représente trente-quatre universités canadiennes actives dans le domaine des études, de la recherche et de la formation sur le Nord. Fondée à Churchill, Manitoba en 1977, c'est une organization charitable, à but non lucratif et incorporée.
L'objectif de l'Association est l'avancement de l'érudition nordique, grâce à l'éducation, la formation professionnelle est scientifique, et la recherche.
Board of Directors/Conseil d'Administration 1987-89
University of Alberta - Brandon University - University
of British Columbia
Student Conference Proceedings - Actes de la conférence des étudiants
Attitudes About Sustainable Development
In June 1986 the Yukon Territorial Government (YTG) released a draft discussion paper on prospects for a more sustainable economic development policy entitled Yukon 2000. The ideas in that document and several other recent initiatives in the areas of renewable resource management and import substitution provided the inspiration for this research.
The aim of this study was to determine whether these recent policy initiatives were understood and supported by Yukoners. A questionnaire was designed and thirty policy-makers, opinion formers and "stakeholders" in government, industry, the native community and environmental groups were interviewed in July and August of 1986. This paper surveys some of the preliminary results obtained in the study.
The results suggest that respondents believe that Yukoners support measures such as import substitution. In addition, most of those interviewed believe that a slower pace of both economic development and population growth is preferable because this would allow Yukoners to maintain greater control over key decision-making processes and reduce the impact of the boom and bust cycle. However, it was also clear that a wide discrepancy existed over the interpretation of certain key aspects of the YTG initiatives and this, in turn, indicates that the YTG should increase public education activities to inform Yukoners about the different policy options related to the Yukon 2000 project specifically and sustainable development in more general terms.
En juin 1986, le gouvernement du Territoire du Yukon a publié la version préliminaire d'un document de travail intitulé Yukon 2000, au sujet des éléments d'un politique de développement économique plus régulier. L'auteur s'est inspiré, pour faire ses recherches, des idées directrices de ce document et de plusieres mesures récentes du gouvernement en matière do gestion des resources renouvables et de remplacement des produits d'importation.
Il s'est efforcé de déterminer si ces mesures prises récemment sont bien comprises par les Yukonais, et si ceux-ci les soutiennent. L'auteur a élaboré un questionnaire et a interrogé environ trente responsables de l'Administration, de l'industrie et dest collectivités autochtones au cours de juillet et d'août 1986. Dans sa communication, il passe en revue certains des résultats préliminaires de cette enquête. Ils indiquent que la polulation yukonaise soutient largement des mesures telles que le remplacement des produits importés. En outre, la plupart des personnes interrogées croient que le développement économique et la croissance demographique devraient progresser selon un rythme moins rapide, permittant aux Yukonais de garder la haute main sur les principaux processus décisionnels et de limiter les effets fâcheux des alternances de prospérité et de marasme économique. Cependant, l'auteur conclut aussi qu'il existe de grandes divergences d'interprétation de certains aspects des mesures cruciales prises par le gouvernement, et donc que celui-ci devrait s'efforcer de sensibiliser le public au sujet des différentes options décisionnelles envisagées pour le projet Yukon 2000 en particulier, et pour un développement économique régulier en général.
The issue of frontier resource development has preoccupied economic and political theorists in Canada for several decades (Page 1986). Prominent among the contributors to the debate on the issue has been Harold Adams Innis, the political economist who traced the history of staples development in the fur industry and the cod fisheries in the 1920s and 1930s. Innis was concerned about Canada's dependency on other industrial economies for capital, technology and markets. In his view, this dependency entrenched regional disparity in the Canadian economic fabric and has promoted a branch-plant mentality (Innis 1956; Page 1986).
Innis acknowledged that this perception of development had been shaped, in part, by what he termed the "economic cyclone" of the Klondike (Innis 1930 cited in Page 1986:50). For this reason, it should not be surprising that his views continue to influence scholars interested in major development projects and current policy initiatives in Yukon and the Northwest Territories. Innis' approach to political economy has a great deal to offer theorists interested in the past and future development of Canada's northern territories (McRobert 1984; Watkins 1977; Usher 1981).
In view of the critique of staples development offered by Innis, one of the prescriptions that seems to arise from his thought is the need for more sustainable development. To this extent, considerable convergence is evident between Innis' economic nationalism and more recent critiques of market economics offered by environmental theorists (see, for example, Daly 1980). Like Innis, advocates of the "conserver society" reject the vulnerability and social dislocation caused by staples development. As an alternative, they advocate movement toward local control of production for local needs (Robinson and Ghostkeeper 1986; Schrecker 1983; Valaskasis et al. 1979). In the leading policy statement on conservation and development, this idea has been termed as sustainable development (International Union for the Conservation of Nature 1980).
Just what this cryptic term means is open to debate, as I have argued elsewhere (McRobert 1986). Moreover, it is unclear as to what it could mean in a northern context because it seems unlikely that northerners will be able to completely disavow their historical connection to staples production in the near future. Nevertheless, the prospect for alternative economic development and greater self-sufficiency based on these concepts is gaining legitimacy in many parts of the north. Underlying this shift are attitudes which support increasing local control over development, as the analysis below shows.
Accordingly, it is argued herein that sustainable development is a northern variation on the theme of self-sufficiency popularized by economists such as Fritz Schumacker in the 1970s. In Small is Beautiful Schumacker (1973:34) characterizes self-sufficient development in terms of decentralization, growth to planned objectives and environmental protection. Similarly, Herman Daly (1980) identifies self-sufficient economies as those which rely primarily on renewable resources and attempt to balance materials input and output through measures like recycling and energy conservation.
Another aspect of self-sufficiency is the reduction of reliance on goods produced elsewhere through import substitution. Schumacker (1973:34) describes this policy as "production from local resources for local needs."
Over the past few months, Yukon Territorial Government (YTG) has begun to promote these concepts of self-reliance in their search for a more coherent long-term economic development strategy. Accordingly, it could be argued that the YTG is at the leading edge of environmental and social policy-making in Canada today and their approach could serve as a model for other governments in Canada and the rest of the world.
The key element in this push to devise a new economic development strategy is a discussion paper entitled Yukon 2000: Building The Future. A draft of it was released in spring 1986 and subsequently was the subject of a conference in Faro at the end of June. After a rewriting during the following summer, the paper was published and distributed throughout the territory. It was also the subject of hearings undertaken in the Fall and Winter of 1987. In brief, Yukon 2000 outlines some of the options available to Yukoners over the next decade and contends that economic development should be guided by principles such as import substitution, equality of opportunity and renewable resource development (YTG 1986a).
Other recent initiatives of the Department of Renewable Resources also suggest a commitment to sustainable economic development. In December 1985 the Department released a discussion paper on renewable resource management (YTG 1985b) which acknowledges that environmental protection and economic development should be promoted simultaneously. In addition, the YTG has responded positively to the World Conservation Strategy (WCS). This document, which was produced in 1980 by the United Nations Environment Program and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), was the inspiration for a federal Task Force on Northern Conservation 1984). The task force recognized the need to integrate conservation and development in economic planning, contending that parks, mining and other land use activities can coexist if proper planning is undertaken. Based on the policies expressed by the YTG to date, it appears that the spirit of this recommendation has been adopted.
The Task Force also asserted that an important aspect of sustainable economic development policy is preservation of major areas in a relatively pristine form. In addition, current knowledge about renewable resource management and land use planning in Yukon would also seem to confirm that sustainable development must entail conservation programs which will set aside for the future large areas for parks and wilderness areas (Theberge et al. 1980). In passing it is noteworthy that the federal government announced the creation of the northern Yukon, shows that renewable resources such as caribou, fish, and wood continue to meet most of the basic needs of residents. Moreover, although there are numerous potential difficulties to overcome to ensure a sustainable future for the community, the study maintains these can be overcome through planning and management at the local level (Fuller and McTiernan 1987).
With these initiatives in the background, two students, the author and Chris Smit, an undergraduate at Ryerson decided it would be interesting to examine the attitudes of Yukoners towards self-sufficiency during the summer of 1986. The goals were to examine the new attitudes about economic development and population growth that motivated these initiatives and to test the hypothesis in Yukon 2000 that the time is right to build a new consensus on economic development in the territory.
The economic history of Yukon: an overview
Before setting out the hypothesis and method that guided our study, the recent economic history in Yukon must be reviewed.
The present situation in Yukon stems from a steady progression of staple exploitation which began with fur trading and eventually led to whaling based on Herschel Island in the late nineteenth century (McCandless 1985). These activities were modest in their impact compared with the first major intrusion into the Territory by metropolitan forces during the Gold Rush in the late 1890s (Zaslow 1971). It was a dynamic period in Canadian history and one might wonder what kind of ruckus modern environmentalists would raise if a similar kind of development scheme was proposed today. However, while it was exciting, this frenzied outburst could hardly be termed sustainable.
Since this initial period, primary resource extraction has remained the foundation of the Yukon economy. (Rea 1968; Hamelin 1979). Throughout the early part of this century, the fur industry and mining continued to flourish. There were shifts to silver, zinc, copper, asbestos and other metals in the mining sector and the prices of furs varied but the overall pattern has been fairly consistent; staples development has dominated the economy.
Undoubtedly the present desire on the part of many residents to move Yukon's economy towards sustainability has roots in this pattern of dependency on outside markets. But in Yukon today it is probably most clearly traced to the boom and bust fluctuations of 1970s and the early 1980s. Possible pipeline construction through the territory to southern markets stimulated an economic boom of significant impact in the 1970s. However, another crucial event which stimulated the emergence of an embryonic consensus about future economic development was the closure of seven major mines, including Faro, in 1982.
The experience of 1982 had a devastating impact on many businesses in Yukon and once again confirmed the argument made above that staples economies are vulnerable to outside influences and this can produce serious social dislocation. These are themes that were picked up by former B.C. Supreme Court Justice, Thomas Berger (1977), in his classic report on the MacKenzie Valley pipeline. The message was elegant, yet simple. In essence it boils down to the proposition that megaproject staples development is not sustainable and should be avoided as a linchpin in future northern economic planning (Rees 1978).
Yukoners seem to be galvanizing around this simple message today. Many of them believe that the whims of world markets should no longer dictate the strength and resilience of their socioeconomic fabric. New attitudes are developing and, arguably, these new attitudes support the desirability of a sustainable economy in the territory. In theory such an economy will be more diverse -- a mixture of primary material extraction, cultural industries, manufacturing and service provision rather than one based on megaprojects or dominant single industries such as mining.
These new attitudes were reflected in the recent territorial election in Yukon, which put a minority New Democratic government in place. The NDP campaigned on a platform that they would promote more sustainable development if they were elected and their continued legitimacy rests on their capacity to implement this platform through initiatives such as import substitution. However, as argued below, implementation could prove difficult for numerous reasons.
Among the most significant of those reasons is the fact that the concept of sustainable development and the policies which support it are difficult to define and sound like political rhetoric (McRobert 1986). In addition, it is far from clear what sectors of the economy can be stimulated to achieve sustainable development.
If one studies economic history in any detail, particularly the major transitions between hunter-gatherer, early agricultural, and various industrial configurations, one finds that economic growth is not a purely economic phenomenon (Braudel 1977). It is the result of a combination of factors including demography, culture, availability of capital, technology, geography, and politics to name only a few. Two of the key actors that must be taken into account are attitudes and values because they shape individual behavior patterns and in turn, constrain the efforts of planners to devise solutions to certain perceived social or environmental problems (Cone and Hayes 1984). Since individual attitudes about economic development in Yukon seemed to be a "wild card" in the current government initiatives, we set out to study them with this multidisciplinary perspective at the forefront of investigation.
Our general hypothesis was that Yukoners would probably indicate support for certain "motherhood" policy initiatives such as import substitution. However, we also suspected that the "nuts and bolts" of implementation would pose problems and flare ideological differences. For example, we felt that the importance of certain philosophical elements in the frontier psyche (for example, the free market) would make it difficult to identify a consensus on how to promote self-sufficiency in the territory. In addition to these genera hypotheses, there were numerous others, discussed more fully in the results section.
In order to do our study in a short period of time, we decided to concentrate on the attitudes and perceptions of a fairly small sample of Yukon residents. Those interviewed ranged from government officials in YTG who had been involved with formulation of the Yukon 2000 document to local entrepreneurs who had attended the Faro conference in June.
In the end, our sample included the views of 30 individuals, who lived mainly in the Whitehorse area. It was assumed that problems posed by using this small sample would be offset by relatively detailed interviews of "stakeholders" and the fact that most of the people we interviewed held special positions as opinion-formers and policy-makers in the territory. According to certain theorists, research carried out this way can reveal interesting and relevant exploratory information (Morley 1983; Trist 1976).
Two students (Chris Smit and the author) did the interview work. Interviews generally lasted between an hour and two hours, depending on time constraints. Some of the respondents who were unable to meet with us were provided with questionnaires and responded with short written answers.
The questionnaire itself was divided into five main sections. The first and second sections dealt with perceptions about population futures in Yukon and knowledge of previous studies on economic development. In order to obtain some kind of comparative and reliable basis for assessment of the various attitudes on population growth, five different scenarios were plotted on a graph. These scenarios included high, medium, low, no, and negative growth forecasts for Yukon over the next twenty years. Respondents were asked to identify: (1) which one they believed would be desirable and (2) which one they felt to be likely.
No other similar data were collected; in the balance of the questionnaire we asked respondents open-ended or multiple-choice type questions. The third section focussed on attitudes about the prospect for a sustainable economy in Yukon. The last two sections examined northern provincehood and aboriginal self-government respectively. In addition, some basic personal information was collected.
In presentation of the results, the data derived in the third section of the questionnaire (on Sustainable Development) are concentrated on, as indicated above. However, a few relevant highlights from other parts of the study will put the comments on sustainable development in context.
Perceptions about population growth
Of the five scenarios plotted on rates of population growth to 2025, the majority of respondents felt the low growth scenario was both desirable and likely. The most frequently mentioned reason why low growth was desirable is that Yukoners could retain greater control over development. Similarly, low growth was felt to be likely because of constraints on economic growth due to weak metal markets and limited opportunities in other sectors.
Since the Yukon 2000 discussion paper attempts to address the problems related to the transient nature of the white population, we thought it would be relevant to enquire as to attitudes toward this issue. Some of the consequences of the constant turnover, especially among young people and recent immigrants who are attracted to the north by high wages, include loss of political and social integrity in the communities and higher costs for constant retraining. Those people we spoke to suggested that they did not perceive the constant turnover in the population to be a significant problem now. This perception may reflect the fact that the break point between those who leave Yukon, which was determined to be 4 years by Duerden (1983) using data collected in the 1970s, has now increased to about six years (YTG 1985a).
Another issue which was examined is decentralization. As most people who have visited Yukon realize quickly, the vast majority of residents live in the major centres -- Whitehorse, Dawson, Watson Lake and Faro. Collectively, these cities contain about 85% of the population on the Territory (Duerden 1981).
The question that arises from this population distribution is whether it might be appropriate for government to encourage decentralization of certain services. To the extent that sustainable development could be based on local resources, we felt this was a relevant matter to pursue. Consequently we asked respondents for their views on decentralization and government plans to relocate certain offices to more remote locations. Generally most people agreed that Yukon's population is too centralized but they did not perceive centralism as a problem. Moreover, even if they did acknowledge centralization as a problem, respondents doubted that anything could be done about it. It should be kept in mind that our sample was primarily made up of Whitehorse residents and it is likely we would have obtained different results if we had interviewed Yukoners in Watson Lake and Dawson who would benefit from decentralization.
We also asked respondents about their perceptions on sectoral growth in the next decade. Of the options that we listed, tourism proved most popular by a wide margin. However, many respondents also identified increased wilderness activity, the outfitting industry, land claims and energy development as potential sources of future economic growth. The results for each of the sectors on this analysis and should be briefly reviewed here.
We had anticipated that many people would have a healthy degree of skepticism about the future of mining in the territory given recent history and other factors such as Third World competition (Fischer 1986). Instead we found that most respondents believe mining has a good future in Yukon. However, their optimism probably reflects the recent reopening of Faro (see Lourie 1986) and contradicts other trends in mineral recycling and conservation identified and described by futurists such as Naisbitt (1984).
Since the 1982 slump in mining, tourism has been touted as one of the largest potential sources of economic growth in Yukon's future. Currently tourism continues to play an important role but our study suggests the "bloom is coming off the rose." Most people endorsed the notion that tourism could provide economic growth but about half a dozen suggested there was a need to recognize some sort of ceiling to growth in the industry, otherwise the quality of life for Yukoners could be adversely affected.
Some of these respondents also acknowledged that this ceiling might have been reached already and it would be necessary to take a new approach to this industry in the future. This conclusion is also supported by recent experience in the industry. In 1985, close to 450,000 people visited Yukon and these visitors spent approximately $87 million (YTG 1986b: 14). However, many of these visitors now merely stop briefly in Whitehorse in their way to Alaska. Ironically, road improvements in the territory have served to facilitate more rapid passage through Yukon communities. Visitors who previously spent a day or a couple of days in Whitehorse now spend hours, snacking at a McDonalds rather than taking a room and a more substantial meal. Thus the key issue in terms of a sustainable perspective is not how to attract more visitors to stay in communities like Whitehorse and Dawson for a longer period.
In terms of most of the theoretical objectives for a sustainable economy, it would be difficult to imagine sectors that a re more ecologically-appropriate than those relying on wildlife. Whether the activities are traditional or based on the sports hunting and fishing industry, they should be considered as the foundation of a more sustainable economy in the north (Dacks 1981; Dickinson and Herman 1979).
Regarding the first sector, it is undeniable that wildlife harvesting continues to inject many hundreds of thousands into Yukon economy. Duerden (1986) has recently completed research on the Teslin community which shows substantial reliance on traditional foods. However, there are also signs of a decline because skills are not being passed on between generations. Similarly, fur trapping continues to contribute to the Yukon economy even through the anti-trapping movement that has cast an ominous shadow over the future of this industry. Respondents generally reflected these perceptions in their opinions on the economic importance and viability of traditional activities in the next decade.
Respondents were much more optimistic about the potential for growth in the established outfitting industry and the opportunity to link traditional native land skills to other wilderness activities such as whitewater rafting. The outfitting industry is a million dollar enterprise (see Oshtashek 1982) and has been for man years. The past decade has also seen expansion of interest in wilderness activities in Yukon. Some respondents believe both these industries will continue to expand in the future. However, it it unclear whether expansion will pose land use conflicts and if it does, how these can be satisfactorily resolved (Jull 1986).
Another perception of certain respondents was that the settlement of the Yukon Indian land claim would bring a boom to the territory of considerable magnitude. While no respondents felt that it would match that experienced in Alaska in the 1970s when the settlement was concluded there (Berger 1886; Thomas 1986), many did think that numerous businesses would prosper. However, it also should be noted that an equal number of respondents doubted that much land claims cash would be available and what would be invested locally could have much of a socioeconomic impact.
The potential for forestry in Yukon is restricted by the amount of suitable area available for harvesting and rates of forest growth. While the Liard Valley has provided a basis for a limited industry in the past, most lumber in the territory is imported (DPA Group Inc. 1986). In fact, only 3 per cent of the estimated amount available for cutting on a sustainable basis is now harvested. Despite this, few respondents identified this sector as an important contributor to economic growth in the future.
One resource which was mentioned frequently as an untapped source of future energy for Yukon was hydroelectric power. At present approximately 250,000 MWH are generated each year. It has been estimated that up to 13.5 million MW of hydro power are available in Yukon, primarily on the Yukon River. However, it is unlikely that most of this capacity will be tapped because large scale damming would require flooding river valleys. Nevertheless, numerous respondents suggested that the potential for micro-hydro was considerable and some noted that are recent report by Boreal Engineering Services (1985) has confirmed this fact.
Other potential sources of economic growth in the territory that were listed in our questionnaire included government, commercial harvesting of fish and wildlife and small businesses. Of these, government was indicated by a handful of people as a potential source of growth. Moreover, small business was supported by many respondents, a reflection of the current conventional wisdom about the importance of small business in economic growth. However, respondents were not optimistic about the prospects for water or electricity exports and did not feel that commercial harvesting of wildlife and fish was going to become an engine of economic growth in the next decade.
Prospects for sustainable development
As a point of departure in analyzing attitudes about sustainable development, we felt it was necessary to find out how respondents defined sustainability.
The results of our attempt to have respondents define sustainability reflect many of the ideas about self-sufficiency that were described above, as Table 1 shows. What is surprising however, was the fact many respondents had no idea what sustainable development is. Some people see sustainable development as renewable-resource based production while others perceive it as insulation from the boom and bust cycle. Presumably this latter characterization would qualify expansion of government services as a basis for a more sustainable economy, an approach which would seem to defy the spirit of Schumacker's thesis in Small is Beautiful.
We also inquired as to the respondents perceptions of the extent of public support for self sufficient development in Yukon. Not surprisingly, the majority of respondents were not sure whether the public supports the move toward self-sufficiency and the majority of respondents expressed doubt as to whether the public understands the policy.
The most visible policy initiative of the YTG with respect to sustainable development is import substitution. This initiative has special appeal to northerners because of the high cost of transporting goods to markets and the massive leakages of capital that take place as a result of this phenomenon (Huskey 1984).
To see whether or not support for import substitution existed, we asked respondents whether they supported the principle. Apart from two individuals, every respondent gave the policy their vote of approval.
We also asked about the problems perceived with the policy initiative. The barriers to import substitution that our respondents identified are summarized in Table 2. Most frequently identified barriers included: (1) higher prices and (2) lower quality of goods and services. However, some respondents felt that these barriers could be overcome if the YTG undertakes careful planning and identifies which sectors should be stressed in plans for import substitution. This planning process has already begun. Last year a Calgary-based consulting firm was hired to prepare a preliminary study. Their report was released this past summer and it suggested that import substitution is feasible in numerous sectors (DPA Group Inc. 1986). The report was most enthusiastic about the potential for cottage industries and renewable resource development in the energy, forestry and agriculture sectors.
A more difficult issue is the extent to which government intervention could disrupt the market. Arising from Table 2 are results which support the hypothesis that many people fear import substitution will disrupt free market processes by making goods more expensive and reducing their quality. Given the ideological adherence to freedom in the marketplace evidenced in Yukon historically, implementation of the policy will no doubt prove contentious.
We also asked respondents what they thought about the steps taken by the YTG to date. More than one third of the respondents felt no meaningful steps had been taken by July 1986. Eight people felt that the steps that had been taken were positive, while nine people either did not know or refused to respond. Finally, a handful of people said that the actual steps taken to date had a negative impact on public perceptions.
In the view of many people who support import substitution, the sector most likely to provide a basis for sustainable development in Yukon is agriculture. In fact, one of the greatest ironies for many Yukoners is that farming was a far more important part of the territory's economy eighty years ago than it is today (MacKinnon 1982). Respondents felt that interest in local farming has declined because of high costs, low profits, poor soil quality, climactic restrictions and improved transportation networks (Agriculture Canada 1984; DPA Group Inc. 1984).
Of those people we interviewed, over eighty percent of respondents felt agriculture should be promoted. Dissenting voices argued that agriculture could displace wildlife and that anything more than "hobby-farming" should not be supported.
To conclude, it must be stressed that the results reported here are only preliminary. Nevertheless, this study suggests that Yukoners want greater control over their economy. Moreover, they generally view the recent efforts of the YTG in the areas of import substitution and renewable resource management favourably. However, there is no consensus on how to encourage greater self-sufficiency in Yukon or what sectors should lead the movement toward sustainability.
Future interpretation of the data will no doubt reveal interesting implications for policy forthcoming from the study. However, the present results show that the YTG has much more work to do in both disseminating information and clarifying the costs and benefits of the policy initiatives they are undertaking. Otherwise it is possible that the initiatives will be perceived as merely rhetorical devices to gain votes and lacking in substance. Nevertheless, I commend the YTG for undertaking Yukon 2000 and look forward to future results of this and other related initiatives.
The author gratefully acknowledges the technical support of Mr. Tony Hodge, Department of Economic Development: Mines and Small Business, Yukon Territorial Government in helping him to carry out this study.
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