Caroline Wawzonek: NATA Conference

Ministers' Statements and Speeches

Yellowknife — May 10, 2022

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Good afternoon and thank you for inviting me to speak to you today. I’ve had a couple of brief media events in person over the last month but this is my first formal opportunity to join folks in a room for an event. There is a bit of synergy here: my role, in my view, is performed better when I am more connected to people and community and your industry connects people and communities so thank you for hopefully the first of many more opportunities to be back out in person connecting.


I look forward to a day when I can get through a set of speaking notes without seeing any reference to COVID 19 or pandemic, but we are not there yet.


But at least in this case, I am referencing the pandemic in order to  acknowledge the incredible resiliency of the aviation industry over the last two years. I also express my appreciation for efforts to incorporating the COVID precautions measures into your day-to-day business practices. And through all the uncertainty and these precautionary changes, you’ve kept essential services flowing.

You know better than me that your industry is a lifeline for northern communities and businesses. They depend on many of the people in this room to provide the safe and reliable delivery of people, goods and services including medical, food and other critical supplies. The GNWT could not provide basic government services to the whole Territory without a northern airline industry. So, I know the last 2 years have been hard, and I want to thank you for your continued service to the people of the north.


Even as the aviation industry demonstrated its resiliency and innovative spirit in the face of COVID-19, the GNWT recognized early on that you couldn’t tackle the pandemic on your own nor could we tackle it without you. Given how important this industry is to the North, the GNWT knew it had to act quickly to support it.


Those measures included waiving landing fees, licences, and concession fees at all NWT airports until December 31, 2020.


We also worked with airlines to help ensure that air carriers could continue to provide scheduled services into communities and provide essential goods, like food and medical supplies, to residents and communities that needed them the most.


Together, the Government of the Northwest Territories and Canada provided more than $45 million in funding to support essential air services in the Northwest Territories in 2020 and 2021.

But that was then. This is now. And I’d like to look now towards the future.


On April 1, the GNWT lifted the Public Health Emergency and associated public health orders. We have transitioned to a post-pandemic world, or at least post-acute pandemic, and as a government we are working to restart those sectors that were most impacted and generally stimulate economic growth in the North. In many ways we are pushing forward initiatives that were at their early stages at the beginning of this government before we had heard of COVID19. Only now we have the added motivation of post pandemic recovery. This is a particular focus for me these days in my role as Minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment and Finance.


Air transportation provides significant economic and social benefits. It facilitates trade, tourism and connectivity. It generates economic growth and jobs. The NWT is a vast land and often there are great distances between our communities. Not all of them are connected by road year-round. As a result, the aviation industry underpins many other aspects of our economy.


May 29th will see the beginning of Tourism Week in Canada. Outside of resource development, tourism is one the most valuable sectors to our economy – and one heavily reliant on the aviation industry.

In 2018-2019, our tourism industry put up record numbers with over 120,000 visitors injecting over $200 million into our economy. It also provides significant job numbers and was poised for continued and rapid growth – a state we are eager to return to.


One of the key requirements for tourism is transportation access. As such your sector is a key enabler – not just for tourism but also accommodations and food services providers, operators and many others across the territory.


While our government supports tourism with investments in tourism marketing, capacity building and community readiness, many of you here today also play a part in its success.



We are encouraging, and seeing, the return of visiting friends and relatives. With them, we hope to see the return of business travel. In 2018-2019, business travellers participating in guided tourism activities during their business trip spent almost $80 million in the territory.


Earlier in my remarks I mentioned the resource sector. We know the mining industry worldwide is recovering after a significant disruption.


For the NWT, this represents an opportunity. The presence of critical minerals has the potential to write a new and exciting chapter for the NWT mining industry. Companies and countries around the world are making moves to secure and develop supplies of critical and strategic minerals.


As they do, doors are opening for critical mineral projects and prospects across the NWT.


We, as a territory, have an opportunity to play a key role in meeting the growing international demand for these commodities.


And so does the aviation sector. You are part of the entire mine life cycle: ferrying exploration and delivering goods to remote sites.


Having acknowledged the importance of aviation industry to the rest of our economy, another key factor that will aid our economic recovery is continuing to improve and maintain the NWT’s aviation infrastructure.   


In the Northwest Territories we have 27 community airports – all of which are critical to the economic and social well-being of our residents. They provide essential services, including community resupply, air ambulance, search and rescue, forest fire response, and much more. Ongoing improvements to our airports allow for safe and efficient movement of these and other essential goods and services. They connect communities and make it possible for us to gather like we are doing today.


The GNWT is investing in airport improvement projects during the 2022-2023 fiscal year. Some of the improvements our airports have, or will be receiving soon include:


  • Fort Smith runway and taxiway overlay.
  • Runway extension and civil improvements and air terminal replacement in Inuvik.
  • Replacing ticket counters for the Norman Wells airport.
  • Drainage improvements at the Hay River, Paulatuk and Jean Marie River airports.
  • Replacing airfield lighting and investing in a new plow truck for the Fort Simpson Airport.
  • Replacing airfield lighting at Yellowknife Airport.


At the Yellowknife Airport, we will continue to invest in improvements to maintain a safe, secure, and prosperous airport. The GNWT is currently advancing a 20-year Master Plan for this airport. This plan will guide short, medium and long-term planning – supporting economic growth and sustainability at the airport.


Since 2019 the GNWT has completed or is in the process of completing several improvements to the Yellowknife Airport’s infrastructure such as upgrading airfield lighting, airport seating, its baggage system, transitioning to common use terminals and more.


Some of these improvements have been funded through the Government of Canada’s Airport Capital Assistance Program – including $2 million for the rehabilitation of airport drainage at the Yellowknife airport, which is scheduled to be completed in the fall of 2022.


The continued funding support that the GNWT receives from the Airport Capital Assistance Program is essential to the ongoing rehabilitation and improvement of our airports.  This program has also provided $15 million for the overlay of existing airside surfaces at the Fort Smith airport and $2.7 million to fund the rehabilitation of the airfield electrical system at the Fort Simpson airport.


Tourism and the resource sector are known opportunities for the NWT. But I want to finish by highlighting some of the lesser known examples of other opportunities.


In my view, advancing the known opportunities should be an obvious priority. It will be our ability to identify and capitalize on what are less known opportunities or perhaps less expected ones that will help propel the NWT forward. We will be seeking out some of those kinds of opportunities within the resource sector as we put together the critical minerals action plan. We are also going to be working towards finding those opportunities that unique to each part of the NWT through Regional Economic Development Plans that are now under development. And of course the transformation of Aurora College into a polytechnique has tremendous potential to push both traditional areas of our economy and these emerging ones forward.

To finish, I want to talk about some of these less known or less talked about opportunities in the aviation section.


I must start by highlighted the recent announcement of the new aviation business diploma that will be offered this fall in partnership with the Terry Harrold School of Aviation in Fort Smith.


Also, beginning back in 2019, the Yellowknife Airport held discussions with the City of Yellowknife, the Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment and NWT Tourism to determine how we could come together to capture new revenue streams associated with cold weather testing.


Cold weather testing offers significant opportunity and major economic benefits for the local economy and could significantly increase revenue growth for Yellowknife Airport’s partners, while also creating opportunities to diversify the NWT’s winter tourism markets by developing a new sector of business tourism.


Our collaborative efforts are bearing fruit. The Yellowknife Airport is gaining a reputation as one of the best locations in the world for cold weather testing. To date, the airport has hosted several cold weather testing programs – airbuses, Bell and Sikorsky helicopters and other types of aircraft.


The latest testing program wrapped up in February as Korean Aerospace Industries conducted cold weather testing at the Yellowknife Airport on its Light Armed Helicopter.


To give you a sense of the economic impact this one testing program had on the economy here, Korean Aerospace Industries sent 40 engineers, pilots and support staff to Yellowknife for 10 weeks.


This injected an estimated $2 million into the local economy – another example of how the aviation industry can support the NWT’s economic recovery.


Whenever there are activities like the Korean project, other opportunities tend to crop up. The latest initiative involves Air Tindi and Nasa, in the exploration of hybrid electric aircraft, using one of the airline’s De Havilland Dash-7 planes over the next three years. Each of these opportunities leverages others.


As sincerely excited as I am for the many opportunities I see across the NWT, don’t mistake that for any lack of awareness of the challenges we are also all facing. There is a lot of uncertainty and volatility in the world; whether geo politically, supply chains, inflation or all three as they interact on one another. But I do believe that having a wider variety of opportunities for growth across multiple sectors will help cushion us against that volatility. The world is eager to reopen and we are eager to be part of those reopenings; and to do so, I know we need your industry to literally move us along.


The GNWT looks forward to continuing our mutually beneficial relationship. Over the years, NATA’s efforts to ensure Northern Canada is well represented in decisions made about the industry have been much appreciated. I thank you for ensuring the safe, secure, accessible, and reliable movement of people, goods and services, including those essential to the functioning of government, throughout the NWT.


Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you all today.


I wish you a pleasant lunch and continued success.