Caroline Wawzonek: Building Resilience – Engineering the North’s Future

Ministers' Statements and Speeches

Yellowknife — May 17, 2024

Check against delivery on May 17, 2024

Good morning and thank you for inviting me to be a part of NAPEG's Professional Development Symposium.

I want to spend a few minutes on your theme of "Building a Resilient North." Your theme in many ways is my theme; it is “the why” behind much of what I do. I hope it is also “the why” behind much of what each of you do, because I cannot build a resilient north without a strong team of public servants, including professional engineers and geoscientists but truthfully stretching across disciplines and departments, pulling together across the GNWT. Moreover, building a resilient north requires the private sector to leverage its skills and expertise to create opportunities.

Resiliency gets a bad rep. There is an aspect to resilience of having to deal with some kind of hardship, shortcoming or disadvantage. Obviously the ability to deal with a hardship and recover is positive; but there is a negativity implied by the fact that you’ve been put through a hardship in the first place.

Does the NWT have less national-scale infrastructure than other Canadian jurisdictions? You bet. And is what we have on average older? Again, yes. And this is where I want us to not veer into a sense of hardship or shortcoming. Within these challenges lies an opportunity for innovation and collaboration among professionals like you.

It is simple to say that technology changes quickly; but it is changing at an ever faster pace. And with it, solutions to difficult problems are more available than they were just a few years ago.

The tricky problem addressing the dual challenges of energy and supply chain availability, affordability, reliability, and sustainability is critical. The conversation is evolving rapidly, with new technologies and solutions emerging. A handful of years ago when I first ran for office, politicians were pretty hesitant to speak about SMRs. That has changed. It was also easy to discount the long term reliabilities of alternative energy because of the lack of storage but that, too, is changing. Similarly, a conversation about geothermal must continue because we cannot allow ourselves to be lax in thinking that what was not feasible a few years ago may become feasible with evolving technology. To be resilient, we must be ready.

This is true also in terms of supporting supply chains. There are similar challenges of how to address availability with affordability and, again, reliability with sustainability. But here, too, the conversation is evolving. Dirigibles are now more than merely theoretical for northern mines and communities and drones may well be next. Meanwhile, understanding the landscape on which we deliver traditional transportation infrastructure across the northern landscape also requires scientific study and problem solving; and here I am looking at some of the best of the best in terms of understanding permafrost.

Your expertise, dedication, innovation and creativity will be key in meeting the pressing needs of the North and unlocking our complex challenges.

Resiliency for the north is not only about solving massive scale challenges; it is also about ensuring the immediate, day to day functionality for all residents.

The NWT has 2,400 kilometers of public all-weather roads 1,400 kilometres of public winter roads, 4 ferries, 27 airports, and 115 bridges —all planned, designed and built by engineers. This is literally what keeps the north moving and functioning day to day.

And of course our economy continues on a foundation of geoscience in the form of a mineral resource sector that in turn relies on engineers to make access to minerals or metals viable.

Looking at the priorities of the 20th Legislative Assembly, it’s clear that the role of engineers and geoscientists is more critical than ever. These priorities focus on expanding housing, strengthening our economy, improving healthcare access, and ensuring community safety and resilience.

Engineers and geoscientists are essential in advancing these priorities. You play a critical role in increasing our housing supply, designing stable infrastructure, and supporting the GNWT in securing federal funding for essential projects.

In every respect, the need for resilience moving forward means seizing on the opportunities of what we don’t have, to ensure that when we are building for tomorrow, we are doing so with resilience in the form of the best standards, tools and technology. And that, in turn, needs all of you to support that work because you are in the experts in that space.

I cannot talk about a resilient north without acknowledging the impacts of climate change whether in the form of floods or, now, extreme low water, and extreme wildfires.

Your innovation as scientists and problem solvers towards mitigation and adaptation will help protect the territories against increasingly frequent and severe climate impacts. This is both an immediate and long-term challenge to maintain and invest in robust and redundant infrastructure in order to enhance our resilience and ensure the safety and well-being of our residents.

Later today, you will hear from Department of Infrastructure staff on the Energy Strategy and its implications for the NWT’s energy systems. Our future energy and climate planning must be ambitious and it will take all of us, public and private sectors, working together to shape a truly resilient energy and climate landscape. Territory-wide, residents, businesses and governments are answering this call, and I want to thank you all for your contributions to this incredibly important work.

The NWT has an extraordinary wealth of resources that will fuel the green economy of the future, and we can support Canada’s strategic interests in having a secure domestic supply of critical minerals. To this end, we are pursuing new public geoscience, and, as you know, modernizing our mining legislation. Our relationship with the mining sector spans almost 100 years and has brought significant benefits to the territory, including the creation of thousands of jobs, billions of dollars in Northern procurement, and countless training and development opportunities for residents. Thanks to the mining industry’s commitment to Northern procurement, Indigenous companies are playing a pivotal role in almost every area of business and industry, providing significant opportunities for investment, and driving the development of a skilled and vibrant Northern workforce.

I want to take a moment to recognize and commend the pivotal work undertaken by the Department of Infrastructure and NAPEG in developing the Practice of Engineering, Geoscience and Applied Science Technology Act. This legislation, replacing the Engineering and Geoscience Professions Act, strengthens NAPEG as the delegated regulatory body responsible for overseeing our territory's engineering and geoscience professionals. The new governance framework not only meets NAPEG's needs but also allows for necessary public oversight and the ability to address realities within the engineering profession in the Northwest Territories.

As you would have heard during yesterday’s presentation on the new Act, it introduces several crucial changes to facilitate engineering work in our territory. Notably, it enables NAPEG to grant restricted engineering licences to professionals with foreign credentials and streamlines the process for engineers returning to work after parental leave. It also helps eliminate unnecessary bureaucracy for engineers-in-training who transition their apprenticeships to the North, ensuring a smoother pathway for professional development. The Act underscores our commitment to public safety by mandating continuing professional development for members and granting NAPEG responsibility for accrediting applied science technologists and technicians. This comprehensive approach ensures that our engineering and geoscience professionals remain at the forefront of their fields.

Don’t think I’ve left behind the theme of resiliency. These changes to your professional legislation and the improvements to the process of recruiting and training engineering and geoscience professionals can contribute to a more resilient northern workforce. There are barriers in STEM professions for people of different gender identities especially, and from different cultural or socio-economic backgrounds. But it is increasingly well known that more diversity in thought and problem solving can support more creative solutions being found. So, take the time to understand the real hurdles and barriers that have been faced by some of your colleagues. Your dedication to identifying and addressing the needs of the engineering industry is clear, and your commitment to diversity and participation in initiatives like the Engineers Canada 30-by-30 campaign underscores the shared commitment to fostering a more inclusive and vibrant professional landscape. As champions of change in our communities, you are actively sustaining and building resilience.

In addition to attending your conference today, I am also taking part in the science fair at Weledeh school. It’s so important to me to get youth excited about careers in STEM. When we inspire young minds in science and technology, we’re building the future of engineering and geoscience. Let’s keep encouraging young people to explore STEM careers and become the problem solvers and leaders of tomorrow.

In closing, I want to extend my deepest appreciation to the engineers and geoscientists who have dedicated their careers to serving our communities. Your curiosity, creativity, and determination have laid the foundation for progress across the North.

I hope that you can make meaningful connections over the course of this event. Thank you and enjoy the rest of the Symposium.