The Canadian Arctic is a cold and remote place, full of large hearts and even larger distances. We can draw many parallels to it with our little forgotten corner of Ontario. We also can learn a few lessons from it as well.
Like the Arctic, Northwestern Ontario has a large Aboriginal population. It is also dotted with small towns and tiny hamlets separated by huge distances and rough terrain, blanketed by the chilly fingers of the North. It is full of warm and resilient people who are hampered by economic neglect and lack of opportunity. Our situation is not too far away from what’s going on in the Arctic, if you really stop and think about it in terms of development, obstacles, demographics, and infrastructure.
How can these small Arctic hamlets of barely a few hundred people each support stores that provide essential services to the people who live there? After all, if a lone businessperson attempted to run one of these stores by themselves, they would quickly go broke. How can they possibly make this work? The short answer is co-operatives.
The operating principle behind co-operatives is that you have many, many small stores that, by themselves, cannot survive. What a co-operative does is split the ownership of that store among many entities who all profit from it. So essentially, all the stores under the co-operative are under “common” ownership and goods can be bought for cheaper in bulk and transportation can be less expensive, lowering the price of goods and services.
What I propose may sound a little crazy, but I think there’s some merit in it (otherwise I wouldn’t be writing about it). Why don’t we all invest in each other’s mutual development in Northwestern Ontario? Here is a practical example of what I am proposing:
Take the proposed multiplex, for instance. Instead of the City of Thunder Bay footing the bill for this expensive project, why don’t we get smaller towns in Northwestern Ontario to invest in it? Say Dryden, Kenora, Fort Frances, Ignace, Nipigon, Upsala, Terrace Bay, and Schreiber all want a piece of the pie. They can invest however much they are willing to risk in this enterprise. Let’s say, hypothetically, they all want to invest a combined $5 million in the multiplex project. The taxpayers of Thunder Bay save $5 million on this project and in return, the people of these towns benefit from the profit the multiplex would make. They would get a return on their investment from a stake in the ownership.
It would also foster a spirit of co-operation and mutual interest if our economic futures were more intertwined. This is using the same essential principle as co-operatives to foster mutual economic development in Northwestern Ontario.
The same can work the other way. Say if Kenora wanted to build an attraction to bring in tourists or create jobs, Thunder Bay (and other towns) might feel it worth investing in and put up some of the costs, getting a return on investment while the citizens of Kenora pay far less for their development.
This principle doesn’t just have to apply to economic development. First Nations communities up north, for example, can just as easily pool their resources to build a large high school on a reserve. Or put in a water system for a community that needs it. Or build a large housing complex. Other non-First Nations communities can give what they can spare to make this happen.
This spirit of co-operation trumps any individualistic ideals. We all benefit the greatest when we pool our resources and work together to achieve common goals. With this model, I think it would be relatively easy to get development going in Thunder Bay and the rest of Northwestern Ontario.
That is the lesson I take away from Arctic Canada and the spirit of co-operation that makes it resilient and survive through thick and thin.