Bob McLeod: NWT and Nunavut Chamber of Mines Meeting - Opening Remarks

Delivered on January 23, 2018

Thank you all for joining us today. It’s always good to see so many familiar faces who understand the importance of resource development to the Northwest Territories.

It’s no secret to anyone in this room that the health of 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.

We expect mining will continue to play a major role in the Northwest Territories’ economy for many more years. But we also know that we can’t take the strength and success of the industry for granted. That’s why we are here at Round Up and why we are meeting with you today.

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, and that plan has to involve the federal government. Ottawa still has substantial influence in the North, particularly through the federal regulatory regime established under the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act and infrastructure investment.

The Northwest Territories has great mineral potential, but those of you around this table know that opportunity and potential isn’t enough. Challenges like a significant infrastructure deficit and federally dominated regulatory system are making it hard for us to turn our potential into real jobs and real dollars for Northerners.

Addressing those challenges isn’t up to the Government of the Northwest Territories alone. We need federal support and investment to create the kind of energy and transportation infrastructure that will really transform the territorial economy.

We also need to ensure Northerners are the ones making the decisions about the management and responsible development of Northwest Territories resources. That is the only way we can be sure that decisions that affect the Northwest Territories and its future are made with Northern priorities in mind, not just to meet national and international priorities and objectives.

As Northerners, we have a long-term stake in creating strong communities, a stable and diversified economy and clean environment. We need to work together to create a vision for our territory that is based on the priorities and values of the people who live here and which makes sure that Northerners have a say in the decisions that affect them directly and indirectly.

You and your members can help by advocating publicly on behalf of the North and its economic future. We need you to join us in calling on Ottawa to help us create – and then implement – a plan for the long-term social and economic development of the Northwest Territories.

Our government is doing its part to create a positive investment climate in the Northwest Territories. Responsible resource development can create enormous benefits for the people of the Northwest Territories, for you, for Indigenous governments and for the Government of the Northwest Territories. If we want to realize those benefits, we all need to work together to solve the challenges that mining continues to face.

The Government of the Northwest Territories cannot stand alone in this fight for the future of the North. We need you to step up and make your voices heard alongside ours. It is critical that stakeholders are part of the national discussion that I called for when I went to Ottawa last November.

You play an important role in advocating for what the North needs, and the stronger our collective voices are, the better opportunity there is for Northerners to create a vision for the North that will benefit each and every one of us.

Our residents deserve the opportunity to achieve economic self-determination, and Canada must come to the table with a vision that reflects the aspirations and goals of Northerners, and make decisions that support our growth, not impede it.