Bob McLeod: Speech to PNWER - Annual Summit

Check Against Delivery

Good morning everyone and thank you for the opportunity to share a few words.

The PNWER annual summit provides an excellent platform for insightful collaboration and I look forward to the discussions over the next few days.  

Though we’re often recognized as the home of Ice Pilots and Ice Road Truckers; the Northwest Territories offers much more to those willing to discover it. Northerners are innovative, self-sufficient and resilient, and want to do their part to contribute to a strong economic region. Meanwhile, the NWT has the potential to fuel projects that will have profound impacts today and for generations to come.

The territory holds a large portion of the raw and untapped resources within North America. Our resource development sector, which includes mining, as well as oil and gas, accounts for 25% of our $4.8 billion GDP.

Mining continues to be a vital part of our economy. It contributes billions in exports, hundreds of millions in economic activity, and thousands of well-paid jobs for the NWT each year. Currently, the Northwest Territories is third in the world in production of diamonds, behind only Russia and Botswana. The territory also hosts deposits of minerals such as lithium and bismuth which are key components to emerging green technology and digital sectors.

The oil and gas industry has also played a large part in the NWT’s economy over the last century. According to the National Energy Board, there is over 100 trillion cubic feet of marketable conventional natural gas in the NWT with more than 7.0 billion barrels of marketable conventional oil having already been discovered.

Our Mackenzie Valley Pipeline is permitted and could transport our petroleum south once investment and resource prices return. We are also working to streamline our regulatory environment to create more certainty for potential investors, as this is currently an obstacle.

While the economic potential of our resources is immense, we face obstacles such as the unilateral decision by Canada to impose a permanent moratorium on oil and gas exploration in the Beaufort Sea, which has quelled any hope for oil and gas exploration in the region.

Climate change is creating implications around the world, and Arctic Indigenous populations were among the first to experience these impacts. In the NWT we are seeing effects such as shoreline erosion, melting permafrost, and changes in wildlife populations. It is also affecting the reliability of winter roads. Developing the NWT’s infrastructure is essential to realizing the full economic potential of the North and will help mitigate impacts of climate change and provide safe, secure, and reliable transportation.

Two current priorities for the Northwest Territories are development of the Mackenzie Valley Highway and the Slave Geological Province Access Corridor. The Mackenzie Valley Highway is a major project to connect several communities to the public highway system and provide reliable access to petroleum and mineral resources in the heart of the NWT.

The Slave Geological Province corridor would provide important access to a mineral-rich part of Canada both in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. Improved access would reduce operating costs for existing diamond mines and support exploration and development in a region that holds world-class deposits of natural mineral resources.

We are also working to reduce our dependency on diesel energy systems. These efforts will help to shrink territorial emissions, and have positive impacts to the high cost of living that our residents face. Currently, 25 of our 33 communities rely on diesel power generation; but we are seeing movement towards greener initiatives. In Colville Lake, for example, the power plant was replaced with a solar power/diesel power hybrid system that will help reduce dependency on diesel fuel for the community of 200. 

Part of our energy approach will be looking at the right energy solutions for each community when it comes to developing renewably energy technologies. Wind, solar, energy storage and transmission line extensions are options we are looking at. We also have significant hydro-electric potential, on par with James Bay, which could have a profound impact to our economy if developed.

One project we are proposing, which will develop our hydro potential and improve our energy infrastructure, is the Taltson Hydro Expansion Project. This project could provide clean hydroelectricity not just to the NWT, but also to northern Alberta and Saskatchewan. The project would provide 60 megawatts of hydro on a developed river with power generation within five years and support up to 140 megawatts in additional hydro generation in future phases of run-of-river development.

Another area that we are exploring is the potential for building a knowledge economy. With the recent completion of the Mackenzie Valley Fibre Link, the Town of Inuvik is now positioned to be one of the leading sites for tracking and receiving real-time data from polar-orbiting satellites used for scientific mapping, weather surveillance, and other purposes. The fibre link will further enable growth of the remote-sensing and commercial satellite industry.

These are just a few of the many initiatives currently being developed or implemented across the North that I hope paint a picture for the amount of exciting opportunities in the Canadian Arctic.

We recognize that we face some challenges but we are eager to work with and learn from our partners on both sides of the border.  

Thank you.