Bob McLeod: Remarks - Northern Lights Conference Session XIII - Leading Development in the North American Arctic

Delivered on February 3, 2018

Good Morning.  I am happy to be back in Ottawa and here this morning as a participant in this panel with my fellow Northern Premiers, Premier Silver and Premier Quassa and also joined by Lieutenant Governor Mallot and Minister Frederiksen.

Leading development in the North American Arctic is an important conversation and I am glad to see the discussions start to take place in jurisdictions outside of Canada’s northern borders. 

The Northwest Territories is in a time of change.  Right now, resource development is the main contributor of the Northwest Territories’ economy and a significant source of middle class jobs and business opportunities.   But 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.

In 2007, our territory had a $4.5 billion economy; as of 2016 our economy had shrunk to $3.7 billion. While resource development – and the natural resource wealth of the Northwest Territories – continues to be the engine of the territorial economy, this sector is half the size it was in 2007. Even so, resource development continues to be the single biggest sector of the Northwest Territories economy.  We need a plan for replacing the nearly $1 billion it has lost since 2007 if we want to create middle class jobs and economic opportunities for our residents and businesses.

That plan has to include clear commitments – with financial targets – from Canada to invest in the most promising and economically valuable sectors of the Northwest Territories.  It also has to include a commitment to continue the transfer of authority for land and resource management to the people of the Northwest Territories so that Northerners – including Indigenous Northerners – are making their own decisions, not Ottawa.

Along with other territories and provinces, we are engaged with Canada on the development of the federal Arctic Policy Framework.  We hope that it provides the commitments and clear vision that the people of the Northwest Territories need to guarantee their future, but these are early days.

The Northwest Territories has all the ingredients for strong economic growth, including abundant natural resources, and significant participation and support for economic development from Indigenous-owned businesses and governments.

Our territory is home to significant reserves of oil and gas, and many of the minerals that will fuel the global green economy, including cobalt, gold, lithium, bismuth, and rare earth elements.  The makers of batteries, solar panels, wind turbines, hand held electronics and computers rely on these minerals to make their products more efficient. 

Despite our governments’ efforts to make the resource development sector in our territory more attractive to investors, we continue to face challenges that are impacting our ability to create strong communities and stable and diversified economies.

The Government of the Northwest Territories has a vision of a strong, prosperous territory that provides opportunities and contributes to the national economy.  Investing in infrastructure is one way to support economic development, and this is a priority for our government. Developing strategic infrastructure will improve residents’ access to job and economic opportunities, and a range of essential goods.

Partnership and cooperation is a way of life here in the North that ensures Indigenous and non-Indigenous people are able to decide on and implement shared priorities.  More than half the Members of the Northwest Territories Legislative Assembly are Indigenous and so are five of our seven Cabinet Ministers.  On top of that, the Government of the Northwest Territories maintains formal government-to-government relations with the territories’ Indigenous governments, ensuring we are able to work together in the best interests of all residents.

Northerners need a plan for the long-term social and economic development of the NWT and Canada needs to be a part of that, including making concrete commitments to strategically invest in areas that will create the greatest benefits for Northerners, including new and existing sectors of the economy.

A strong, thriving economy in the Northwest Territories is a crucial part of a successful model for Indigenous reconciliation that could serve as a guide for the rest of the country.