Care, Cooperation and Activism in Canada’s Northern Social Economy. Edited by Frances Abele and Chris Southcott. (2016). Edmonton: University of Alberta Press.
Not long ago, a national magazine columnist proposed that it was time to “stop pretending that the North is ours and that it defines us.” The truth, he wrote, is that, political rhetoric aside, “[w]e stopped trying to develop it generations ago.” Compared with other circumpolar countries, Canadian governments have shown little inclination to protect sovereignty or to build the infrastructure necessary to exploit the region’s “vast mineral wealth.” As a result, the North remains underpopulated (“empty”), undeveloped, and prone to a long list of social problems (violent crime, suicide, unemployment, and poor health).
Whatever value there is in calling out hypocrisy, the column’s main presumptions are more telling. The first is that it is somehow up to southern Canadians to decide whether the North is truly “ours” – whether “we” are a Northern country. The second is that resource extraction, highways, pipelines, and wage labour are the measures of a real economy. Development, in other words, is what governments enable southern capital and expertise to do.