Bob McLeod: Opening Remarks to Standing Committee on Transportation, Infrastructure and Communities

Delivered on November 22, 2016

Thank you for meeting with the Government of the Northwest Territories this afternoon.

We are in Ottawa this week to speak with the Prime Minister, Cabinet Ministers and Standing Committees about some of the most significant challenges facing the people of the Northwest Territories today.

Before we get to that presentation, I would like to take a few minutes to talk a little bit about our territory.

Community sustainability is a huge challenge for the people of the Northwest Territories.

Our 44,000 residents live in 33 communities that stretch from the southern border with the provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta to Banks Island in the Arctic Ocean.

Our biggest community is Yellowknife, with approximately 21,000 people, while our smallest community is Kakisa with fewer than 50. Twenty-seven of our communities have fewer than 1,000 people and 16 of these have fewer than 500 people.

Small populations, large distances and long winters make living in the North extremely expensive and challenge the capacity of governments to deliver basic programs and services.

Infrastructure is a significant component of that challenge.

Only 12 of the Northwest Territories’ 33 communities have year-round road access to southern Canada and four of them can only be reached by air or water.

Although the Northwest Territories has substantial hydroelectricity potential, only eight NWT communities are powered by hydro. The remaining 25 are powered by standalone diesel generators.

At the same time, the Northwest Territories is experiencing the effects of climate change at a faster pace than southern Canada.

In Inuvik, the annual average temperature has already risen by four degrees Celsius since the 1950s, while in the southern part of the Northwest Territories we are already experiencing annual temperature increases of two degrees Celsius.

Climate change is resulting in coastal erosion, thawing permafrost, landslides, increased snow loads to buildings and drought.

Building techniques have had to adapt, resulting in more complicated and costly public infrastructure projects. At the same time, transportation of people and goods is being disrupted as permafrost degradation contributes to uneven roads and runways.

Shorter winter road and marine operating seasons as a result of warmer temperatures result in incomplete or more costly community resupply.

These demands contribute to an approximately $3.5 billion infrastructure demand for the GNWT. On top of that community governments face a municipal infrastructure deficit of $23 million and $50 million for housing.

Addressing the Northwest Territories’ infrastructure needs is imperative for community sustainability and for ensuring our residents can enjoy the same standard of living and quality of life as their fellow Canadians.

We must bring down the high cost of living in a territory where, in 2015, residents of Uluhaktok paid $8.25 for a 540 mL tin of tomatoes and residents of Fort McPherson paid $7.85 for a single litre of milk.

We must find alternatives to expensive and carbon intensive diesel that contributes to high prices for goods and services and to climate change.

We must invest in resilient, year-round transportation infrastructure, replacing winter roads and ice crossings with more permanent structures that aren’t susceptible to the effects of climate change.

We must take steps together to protect the biodiversity and ecological integrity of a unique ecosystem that is critical to the health of the planet.

While our government has done much already – we are second in Canada in installed solar photovoltaic power and a national leader in wood pellet use per capita – we recognize that more can be done, especially with the partnership of the federal government.

The Government of the Northwest Territories has identified three broad priorities that we think can bring about transformative change for the people of the Northwest Territories, while also contributing significantly to national climate change objectives.

I’d now like to turn you over to Minister Wally Schumann, who will provide more detail about these three priorities.