Canada's diamond rush and South America's wished-for folding money.
There are no traffic lights in Iqaluit, Canada’s northernmost capital city, and just 20km of roads, mostly unpaved. The only way to get there for much of the year is by plane, although there’s a small window from July to September when supply ships can manoeuvre through the ice-encrusted bay. “If you miss the boat, that’s the season,” says Iqaluit’s mayor, Elisapee Sheutiapik.
This wind-swept frontier town on the southern end of Baffin Island is one of Canada’s fastest-growing communities, thanks to its status as the new government and business centre of Nunavut, a territory the size of western Europe that was created in 1999 as part of a land-claims agreement between the Inuit and the Federal Government.
Iqaluit’s population has jumped 18 per cent to 6,200 in the past five years, with the wage-based economy expanding rapidly after the opening of new hotels, restaurants and retail businesses to accommodate the influx of bureaucrats and speculators from southern Canada.
Signs of Iqaluit’s transformation abound. SUV and car sales have skyrocketed, causing a previously unknown phenomenon: traffic. Upmarket lodges and bed-and-breakfasts are booked solid in the summer months with adventure travellers, while salons offer massages and tanning beds to ward off depression in the winter when temperatures hover around -25C and the sun is up for just five hours a day. Coffee shops are the all the rage; Iqaluit has four now, Sheutiapik says, including her own.
Iqaluit’s real boomtown days may be on the way. Nunavut is rich in iron ore, zinc, uranium, copper and gold, luring mining companies that once thought the Canadian Arctic too expensive for development. There’s been a diamond rush in recent years, prompted by the rising global demand for “clean”, or non-conflict, diamonds of which Canada has an abundance. The fever hit Iqaluit in 2004 when 1,518 prospecting permits were issued, a spike from only 190 the year before. Nunavut’s first diamond mine followed in 2006, and numerous exploration projects are under way.
Meanwhile, Iqaluit residents retain an unhurried pace. Sealskins dry on porches and community feasts are a big draw. “I can walk for two minutes and be in the middle of nowhere,” Sheutiapik says. “You can’t get that down south.”
On the up
South Carolina governor Mark Sanford wants to make his state the “Chinese gateway to America”. He’s well on the way: appliance maker Haier opened its first US plant there in 1999 and the state then launched a trade office in Shanghai. Exports to China rose 12.5 per cent last year to $869m (€644m), following an increase of 21 per cent the year before. This has partially offset years of job losses in the textile industry, due – ironically – to Chinese competition. What’s next? The state plans a trade mission to Vietnam this autumn.
On the down
Massachusetts’ population growth is stagnant, its jobless rate above the national average and home foreclosures in February were up 85 per cent from the past year. Many blame former governor Mitt Romney for failing to invigorate the economy. He kept a lid on taxes and signed two economic stimulus bills during his term but job growth remains slow and high housing costs are also a grave concern.
Bolivian President Evo Morales wants the South American Union of Nations to mint its own currency and suggests calling it Pacha (“earth”, in Morales’s indigenous Quechua). Odds are Chávez or Castro will put up a fight for their face on the notes. Could we soon be trading the Chávez? Or asking: “How many Euros in a Castro?”