Caroline Wawzonek: PNWER Annual Summit

Ministers' Statements and Speeches

Yellowknife — July 26, 2022

Check against delivery 



I have the privilege of appearing with you today in my role as the Minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment but I also have the responsibility of Minister of Finance. These portfolios together provide me a perspective into the individual industries and sectors that make up the NWT economy as well as the more macro economic role played by government as well as the impacts of various economic events on the fiscal strength of our government. In shorter terms, with these two hats, I have often been told that I am the Minister responsible for the economy. And am often asked, what am I going to do to fix it.

I am not responsible for Arctic sovereignty but the two are very much connected.

As we meet today, Russia’s war of aggression against the Ukraine has given renewed urgency to discussions about Canada’s presence in the Arctic. Arctic sovereignty must be more than mere flag planting. Those arcane days are over. We as a country, as Canadians, need to be deliberate in our assertion of being an Arctic nation. And to do that, we must reckon with the reality that the huge parts of Canada that are truly northern, are geographically vast, underdeveloped and lacking in physical connection beyond what most Canadians realize. These landscapes are also full of potential that can help fuel Canada’s economic engines well south of its Arctic regions.

Sovereignty and security should not be the reason for investment in the North – but the result. If we can shift the thinking about what the North is, what its challenges are and its potential, then the task of asserting sovereignty is not only an obligation but an opportunity.

To be truly impactful, any commitment to developing the North must extend beyond its physical location to focus on its people. Not as an after-thought; or as benefactors of a robust military presence. Not as an interest group; but by placing Northern Canadians as the very immediate beneficiaries and drivers of any development – and with a fundamental role to play in any form of development itself. Anything less risks going backwards towards the disconnected approach of mere flag planting.

Finally joining the north to the interconnected web of national infrastructure that binds the rest of Canada would be the most permanent and pertinent assert of Arctic sovereignty. It may come as a surprise to many that 21 of our 33 communities do not have all season roads connecting them to the rest of the NWT, let alone Canada. The entire middle reach of Canada’s path to the Arctic has no road through and indeed no road connects the NWT, again let alone the rest of Canada, to the eastern Arctic at all. The NWT is not connected to Canada’s energy grid. And despite a vast coastline, there is no deep water port.

The building blocks to create a strong and prosperous Arctic exist. The Northwest Territories, alone has a vast resource base capable of sustaining record levels of economic growth and development.

We are best known for diamonds, renewed exploration for diamonds has recently ramped up and is showing very positive signs. But our rich mining history began with gold and here, too, is showing recent strong resurgence.  In nearly a century of continuous mining, we have also mined lead, zinc, silver – even uranium. 

It shouldn’t be a surprise that in this vast inventory of natural resources, Canada’s North is also home to an abundance of critical minerals; the “green” or “technology” metals that will be needed to power and drive the future. We are home to the only rare earth element mine in Canada, only the second in north America,  have the largest known deposit of Tungsten outside of China and likely Canada’s first primary cobalt mine. These particular resources are not only termed critical minerals and metals but strategic – because access to these fundamental building blocks to the order of society as we know it are often located in countries with sometimes unstable or uncertain political regimes. 

Alongside its mineral resources, the NWT has extraordinary gas resources.  And, as the world seeks out new sources of energy generation to facilitate the shift to lower-carbon alternatives, our natural gas is positioned to be a transition fuel that could allow Canada to help meet market needs and reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.

So, what is holding us back? 

To state the obvious, billions of dollars of infrastructure investment are required to get projects off the ground. Our government is just too small to make these investments on its own. We do not have the population base to support an own source revenue generating ability adequate to run the kind of catch up needed given the history of development in the Arctic versus elsewhere.   Canada’s North requires the financial support of both the federal government as well as the private sector to move forward.

Strategic investments in three major projects, the Mackenzie Valley Highway, the Slave Geological Province Corridor, and Taltson Hydro Expansion have been prioritized by the Government of the Northwest Territories for advancement during the life of this government. All three, indeed any of the three, have the potential to transform the economic future of the NWT but to be certain, each will require an approach to financing that looks to partnerships with all levels of government including NWT-based Indigenous governments as well as the Federal government and the private sector.


Briefly, I want to introduce you to two northern transportation corridors that could open a door to greater economic prosperity – both for the North and for our neighbors in southern Canada. The first is the Mackenzie Valley.  It offers a natural transportation, trade and communications corridor stretching from the Alberta border to the Arctic coast and would open up the rich gas reserves of our Sahtu and potentially Beaufort Delta regions.

The second is the Slave Geological Corridor, that will improve access our diamond fields, reduce operating costs for existing mines, spur greater exploration for new minerals and metals and, longer term, hopefully connect our region to a deep water port on Nunavut’s Arctic coast. 

The Slave Geological Corridor would also support one of the phases of the proposed Taltson Hydro Expansion with a transmission line project that would bring hydro energy access to not only communities around Great Slave Lake but into the areas with a strong presence of gold, diamond, zinc and other mineral rich deposits around the NWT.

With so much potential, with the urgency of sovereignty overlooking, it is an interesting fact that even in the context of today’s global economy the economies of the world’s northern or Arctic regions are, for the most part, not intertwined.  Of the linkages that exist in the Arctic - transportation, trade, pipelines, roads, rail, marine or telecommunications - very few travel East to West or around the circumpolar North.

Instead, the economic ties that have been built, to the extent that they exist, run North to South. When northern resources are developed it is, ironically, southern jurisdictions - and not our northern neighbours - that benefit the most. This is notable when thinking about sovereignty. But it should also be notable when thinking about the benefits of further infrastructure development.

Access corridors, whether for transport or energy, are not just Northern projects. They benefit our country as a whole. They draw on goods and services from across Canada; jobs, contracts and business that contribute to the tax coffers of provincial governments from coast to coast.

Canada’s leading economic provinces did not get to where they are today without the support of federal investment and private investors. The North is in a similar position of opportunity today.

This is a pivotal time for the NWT.  Resource availability, technology, market demand and global -and therefore political - interest are coming together to create a positive climate for investment.

Investments in infrastructure are needed – and possibly owed - to the people who call Canada’s North their home. They require us to bring industry, business and government together to consider and address the issues and challenges that we have in common; and to work collaboratively to find and implement solutions.

In doing so can unleash the full economic potential of Canada’s North and simultaneously address the volatility of the Arctic by empowering the people of the north.