Bob McLeod: Opportunities North Conference Remarks - September 14, 2017

Good morning. I want to start off by thanking the organizers of Opportunities North for having me here today, and for putting together another successful conference.

I want to talk to you about the Future of the North. When I think about what the Northwest Territories will look like in 20 years, I envision economic prosperity like Alberta has been able to achieve. This future also means continued collaboration between our governments. Alberta and the Northwest Territories have always collaborated and shared information. Over the years we have continued to work together in a number of areas including education, trade and apprenticeship training, environmental monitoring, health initiatives and much more.

The Northwest Territories is a lot like Alberta. Our economies rely on responsible resource development to create healthy communities and opportunities for economic success of our residents. In the Northwest Territories, resource development has stalled, despite the best jobs being there and in the sectors that support it. The announcement last week that the life of the Gahcho Kue diamond mine could be extended to 2042 is a positive sign for our economy during difficult times. Three approved projects that would strengthen the backbone of our economy remain stalled: Canadian Zinc, NICO and Nechalacho. And let’s not forget the $21 billion Mackenzie Valley Pipeline approval that will sunset in 2022.

We are faced with challenging economic times, but I remain hopeful that the resiliency of Northerners will shine through, and we will forge ahead, create a new path, and thrive. This new path could be in rare metals that are needed for green energy technology, or this path could be the resurgence of gold. The NWT has a number of promising projects in the exploration and approval stages that we one day hope will contribute to a better economic future. And while we continue to work to diversify our economy, the reality is that resource development will continue to be the foundation of our economy for the coming decades.

Alberta knows the importance of the oil and gas sector to a strong economy. For the first time since 1936, there is no oil and gas flowing in our territory. The moratorium in offshore exploration in the Beaufort Sea that was announced earlier this year was done so without consultation, and has already had major impacts on our economy and on our communities. This unilateral decision indicates that Canada lacks an economic strategy for the North. Economic self-determination is a key pillar of reconciliation. Northerners cannot achieve this just with jobs in tourism and fisheries.

I see residents who have good-paying jobs built on the foundation of resource development, and do not have to rely on income assistance to survive. I see residents who are able to purchase their own homes and healthy foods, and who are able to provide for their children and help them reach their life goals.  I see residents breaking the hold of colonialism to achieve economic self-determination.

We have an opportunity as a nation to transform the North in a way that will create huge social and economic benefits for its people; transformation that all Canadians can be proud of by investing in its people, its economy and its infrastructure.

Earlier this month, I met with my counterparts in Yukon and Nunavut to discuss how we can move our respective jurisdictions towards a stronger economy and better jobs for our people. We share in a unified vision for the North that will give Northerners a fair and equitable chance to create strong communities, stable and diversified economies and clean environment. The Prime Minister is committed to growing the middle class by making sure people have access to good, well-paying jobs. Northerners and their governments want the same thing for themselves, too.

If we are to achieve a brighter future for the generations to come, the Federal government needs to stop making unilateral decisions that will have long-lasting impacts for the North. Significant decisions around resource development, environmental regulation, and indigenous relations that have an impact on the North are being made without Northerners’ input.

Northern leaders need to be setting the vision for the North. Decisions about the future of Canada’s North have a direct impact on the lives and economic future of our residents. We cannot simply rely on the good intentions of others to look out for the needs of our people. The Northwest Territories deserves an opportunity to participate fully in the Canadian economy, and our people the opportunity to achieve economic self-determination.

The recent announcement regarding the dissolution of the colonial structure of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada is an opportunity for improved relationship with Indigenous people and Northerners. This reorganization is an opportunity to honour the intent of devolution agreements and move decision-making into the hands of Northern governments, and the ultimate dissolution of the Northern Affairs program.

Half the people in the Northwest Territories are Indigenous, like myself. In Nunavut – led by an Inuk Premier – 85 percent of the population is Indigenous. Indigenous people make up 25 percent of the population in Yukon.  Investing in the social and economic development of the territories these people call home would be a great way for Canada to make reconciliation a reality. 

The three Northern territories are united in the approach to ensure the many Indigenous and non-Indigenous people who live here can enjoy the same advantages that their southern neighbours do built on a foundation of sustainable communities and a strong Northern economy.

We are working collaboratively to develop a Pan-Territorial Sustainable Development Vision that will set clear priorities and objectives that will help our Northern governments, the government of Canada, industry, and our southern counterparts, make good investments in our people. There is an opportunity to grow the middle class in the North. Planned and targeted investments will support the continued growth and diversification of our economies, creating good sustainable jobs for Northerners.

When he announced his moratorium last year, Prime Minister Trudeau also committed to developing an Arctic Policy Framework. We agree that a clear framework for guiding federal actions and investments in the North is a good idea and can help avoid any mistakes or unintended consequences. Our government believes that sustainable economic development has to be the foundation for that framework and have been participating it its development to bring that perspective. We look forward to working with Canada on this framework and hope that it will genuinely reflect Northern interests and needs when it is completed, not just what Ottawa wants.

Canadians and their governments have always cooperated to ensure that people in all regions of the country have a fair chance to get ahead. Albertans understand that. That is all that Northerners want.

Thank you.