Canada: Second Northern Policy Hackathon focuses on growing businesses

Eric Doiron, Heather Callaghan, and Brenda Dragon were among the participants at this year’s hackathon in Iqaluit (left to right) (Photo: Chickweed Arts / Jamie Griffiths)
Following the success of the first Northern Policy Hackathon in Nain, Nunatsiavut, the second iteration took place in Iqaluit and tackled the question of how to support small and medium sized enterprises in the North.

After the success of the inaugural Northern Policy Hackathon in Nain, Nunatsiavut, representatives from across Northern Canada once again came together in Iqaluit, Nunavut, for its second iteration. Unlike last year’s event, which focused on food security, the 2018 hackathon’s focus was on how governments can support the growth of small and medium sized businesses.

Participants came from across Canada’s three territories - Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut - as well as Nunavik and Nunatsiavut in Québec and Labrador respectively. Representatives from Indigenous, federal, territorial, and municipal governments were all present among the approximately 25 participants, as were business owners, chambers of commerce, and development corporations.

Engaging with those living in the North and allowing them to interface with policy decisions that affect them was one of the key aims of the event.

According to Sherry Campbell, the CEO and President of The Gordon Foundation, "The aim of the Northern Policy Hackathon is to ensure that northerners voices are heard and inform policy decisions that affect them."

Barriers to growth in Northern Canada

Despite a wealth of natural resources and human potential, Northern Canada faces several important barriers to growth.

One of the major barriers is the lack of infrastructure in connecting communities within the North, as well as the high cost of doing business with Southern Canada.

One study, which looked at the benefits of improving infrastructure along "northern corridors," reckoned that the northern territories could dramatically increase their collective GDP by roughly 50% simply be reducing the cost of transporting goods.

Another barrier is the lack of economic diversity. Statistics compiled by the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency (CanNor) revealed that the three northern territories are among the least diversified segments of the Canadian market. In particular, they are highly reliant on jobs in public administration and the natural resource sector.


Recent trends are less promising

The Northern Economic Index produced by CanNor shows that, while the northern economy recovered well from the global recession, things began to slow down by 2012 with the lower commodity prices.

By 2015 (the most recent available data) things were looking less promising. The territories saw an increase in their unemployment rates, a decrease in the growth rate of weekly earnings, and a decline in the development of the resource sector (despite a slight increase in spending on exploration).

There was also a decrease in own-source revenues generated by the territorial governments. This means that the territorial governments—Yukon, the Northwest Territories, and Nunavut—were able to cover less of their expenditures and relied on larger transfer payments from the federal government to cover costs.


Hackathon provides informed insights

The topics broached—which ranged from skills development to financing to data management—reflected both the diversity of backgrounds and concerns of the contributors. Despite the acknowledged challenges of doing business in the North, the hackathon was seen by participants as a valuable venue in which to share best practices, gain inspiration, and brainstorm solutions.

Ultimately the goal of the hackathon was to help inform policy and decision making at various levels of government. Vivien Carli, Program Director of The Gordon Foundation, highlighted this in an emailed statement to HNN: "These recommendations will provide informed insight and guidance to the federal government from experts and leaders across the North."