Bob McLeod: AME Roundup - Indigenous Partners Breakfast Opening Remarks

Delivered on January 24, 2018

Good morning everyone. I want to thank you all for being in Vancouver this week at Roundup.

Reconciliation with Indigenous people has become a popular topic in the national conversation over the past couple of years. I think this is a positive development and should be welcomed by the Indigenous people of the Northwest Territories as an opportunity.

The GNWT believes that Indigenous Canadians deserve to be full members of Canadian society – on their own terms.

We also believe that Indigenous Canadians have the right to enjoy the same kind of benefits their fellow Canadians enjoy, including freedom from poverty, a first world standard of living, good physical and mental health, and access to middle class jobs and economic opportunities in their home communities and regions.

The way I see it, true reconciliation and the path to improved outcomes for Indigenous people rests on political and economic self-determination. Indigenous people must have the power to make decisions for themselves, and they must have the financial and legal means to implement those decisions.

One of the reasons we are here today is because we want to work together to ensure that Indigenous people and governments in the Northwest Territories are able to share equally in the benefits and opportunities of a strong territorial economy.

It’s no secret that the Northwest Territories economy is deeply connected to the resource development sector. With a contribution of over $900 million to territorial GDP in 2016, resource development continues to be the single biggest sector of the Northwest Territories economy. Diamond mining contributed over $650 million of that – almost 70 percent of the sector.

That fact alone should tell us how important mining is to the economy of the Northwest Territories and to the people who depend on it for jobs and business opportunities. But we also know that we can’t take the strength and success of the industry for granted.

The Northwest Territories does not exist in isolation. We have a small open economy that is subject to external pressures like the global financial crisis ten years ago and weak commodity prices. Between 2007 and 2016, the territorial economy declined from $4.5 billion to $3.7 billion.

A smaller economy means fewer jobs and lower incomes in virtually every sector, including mining and resource development. We need to reverse that trend.

That is one of the reasons I issued a red alert last November. We need to grow and diversify the territorial economy – especially in communities and regions – so more people can have good middle class jobs and incomes. But economies don’t grow themselves and we can’t simply carry on in the hopes that it will manage itself to success.

We need a plan for growing the Northwest Territories economy that is developed by Northerners, for Northerners. Indigenous governments will play a critical role in developing and implementing that plan, and your people and businesses stand to reap the benefits of it.

Our guest speaker this morning, Skeena MLA Ellis Ross, understands the important role resource development plays in ensuring economic health and prosperity, and we are honoured to have him here today.

Ellis was elected MLA for Skeena in 2017 and is a former Chief Councillor of the Haisla Nation. He currently serves as the Official Opposition Critic for Natural Gas and Petroleum Resources.

Ellis served as the Minister of Natural Gas Development and Minister Responsible for Housing and has worked in both the private and public sectors, and has business experience in hand logging, beachcombing, construction and as a taxi boat operator.

He has been recognized as a business leader by both BC Business magazine and Canadian Business magazine. In 2012, Ellis was appointed the inaugural chair of the Aboriginal Business and Investment Council. In 2014, he was the only First Nations leader among 25 Canadians invited by then-Finance Minister Jim Flaherty to a public policy and budget retreat.

He believes passionately in continuous learning and the rights of First Nations to have an economic base to sustain themselves. As a highly successful basketball coach he knows how to motivate people to work together for the win.  I look forward to hearing his words today.

Please welcome Ellis Ross.