Keynote Speech - Breaking New Trail? Canada’s Arctic and Northern Policy Framework – From Rhetoric to Results

Yellowknife — April 4, 2019
Ministers' Statements and Speeches

Minister Schumann delivered the following keynote speech via video-conference at an event hosted by Carleton University:

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Good morning everyone.

I’m pleased to be able to speak to you this morning from Yellowknife, on this important policy symposium on the future of Canada’s north. 

Thank you to Carleton University’s School of Public Policy for helping bring attention to the issues that are so critical for the people who live in northern Canada. 

In fact, these are issues that should matter to all Canadians.  

The Government of the Northwest Territories has been an active participant in the development of the Government of Canada’s Arctic and Northern Policy Framework which is a ten year vision to make transformative improvements across the arctic and northern Canada.

It is the goal of our government to create a prosperous, sustainable future for the people of the Northwest Territories and we have tried to ensure that is reflected through our work on this Framework, as well as in other forums.

This is also a goal we share with the Yukon and Nunavut and together we continue to work together to realize for our respective jurisdictions.

Partnerships are a big part of how we do business in the North. That’s why, in 2017 the three territorial premiers formally agreed to a pan-territorial vision for sustainable development. It outlines the principles and actions that will provide territorial residents with opportunities for economic success, lower the cost of living, and increase quality of life.

This vision underpins our participation in the development of Canada’s framework policy. Our government looks forward to its release and especially, to its long-term implementation.

Last month, the federal government released its budget, and just as many of you - our government was watching to see what commitments would be made to support the North.

There were a number of items we were pleased to see in the budget including some early investment commitments made to begin to implement the policy.

The initiatives outlined in the budget that pointed to the NWT demonstrate that the Government of Canada understands our priorities are centered on closing the infrastructure gap. The kind of investments in energy and transportation outlined in budget 2019 are a good start to putting the territory in a position where residents can begin to experience lower energy costs, and in turn a lower cost of living.

We appreciate these positive steps, but they are only a beginning.

Over the years we have seen Canadian government policies about the North come and go. We have seen periods of investment and exploitation, like during world wars and the cold war. But we have also seen long periods where there are a lot of good words but little action.

So what makes this time so different from others?

What do policy makers and thinkers in southern Canada have to do or think about differently to make sure this policy framework has a real impact?

For starters, we need to stop thinking that a northern policy will do something “for” the North and Northerners. Instead, we need to look at it like this: The future of our northern regions is Canada’s future.

So yes, it is a policy that will impact the North, but it’s “for” all of Canada.

Some of you may now be asking the question: ‘Why? What is it about the North?’.

Well, here’s some information for you:

  • Combined, the arctic and northern regions of Canada make up almost 40% of Canada’s land mass and are rich in natural resources, minerals and energy.
  • In the Northwest Territories alone we have a unique landscape with 1.3 million square kilometres.
  • The North is Canada’s fourth international border with northern European states and Russia – a border that is increasingly accessible and mostly undefended.
  • Canada’s north is on the frontlines of serious climate change impacts. Just this week all Canadians heard the dire scientific warnings that our country is warming at twice the global rate, with our northern regions warming even faster – which unfortunately will only accelerate climate change. 

These are issues and opportunities that should interest all of Canada but the fact is, most Canadians are looking everywhere else but up.

To many, this part of Canada is just a big park – full of lakes, spectacular skies and untouched areas waiting to be explored – and that’s it. They don’t see beyond that, and the fact is, that the northern part of Canada is much more than that.

Canadians and policy makers need to stop thinking of the North as an empty space, with a small population that doesn’t have the ideas or talent to help drive positive change for our Country.  

In reality, the people of all three territories have been at the forefront of driving many of the important advances in public policy in recent years, particularly in reconciliation of Indigenous interests. These include:

  • The settlement of major land claims and implementing self-government;
  • Advances in political self-determination;
  • Entrenching impact benefit agreements between Indigenous peoples and developers;
  • Co-management of land and resources between Indigenous and public governments;
  • Sharing resource royalties with Indigenous governments;
  • And preserving land and water for future generations with major national parks and protected areas.

These are just a few of the ways that northerners are taking steps to improve their own lives, but there are many more. This is why our Premier always stresses that policies that impact the North need to be made by and with Northerners - we have been living in and thinking about our own issues and needs for many generations.

A common misunderstanding is that some policy and decision makers assume that the issues and solutions are the same across all three territories – which is also not the case.

Yes, we have similar challenges and common goals, but each territory has their own unique needs and different priorities.

In the NWT we believe that a strong, diversified economy that recognizes the role non-renewable resource sectors play is the foundation that provides residents with the jobs and economic opportunities needed to support themselves and their families.

Responsible resource development has been the heart of our economy for decades. It drives our economy, generates billions in opportunity for local businesses, and provides thousands of residents with good jobs.

With a strong resource development base, we will be able to support diversification of our local economies in partnerships with Indigenous governments and businesses, into emerging and established sectors such as tourism, traditional economies, agriculture, arts and crafts, manufacturing and commercial fishing.

The NWT is one of the only jurisdictions in which decision-making and resource revenue sharing agreements exist with Indigenous governments. We are committed to ensuring that all residents enjoy the advantages of living in a strong and prosperous territory benefiting from the development of our world-class resources and is an area in which we are proud to be leaders.

The NWT model – that includes resource royalties, socio-economic and Impact Benefit Agreements and more - is at the forefront of Indigenous participation in mining, exploration and development. It is empowering and shaping Indigenous governments, businesses and communities; and allowing our people to take control of their future. 

Indigenous businesses have proven their capacity to play an active, fully-engaged role in the economy and are encouraging NWT governments and organizations to act and invest accordingly.

Thanks to the foresight and investments of Indigenous governments, dozens of northern and Indigenously-owned companies, development corporations and joint ventures have taken root and grown.

The increasing and expanding participation and engagement of Indigenous businesses, in particular, is evidence of a changing and fast-developing NWT economy.

Our territory is home to many of the minerals that will fuel the global green economy, including cobalt, gold, lithium, bismuth, and rare earth elements. The makers of batteries, solar panels, wind turbines, hand-held electronics and computers rely on these minerals to make their products more efficient. 

Alongside our mineral resources, our territory also has natural gas resources and as we continue to see a shift to lower-carbon alternatives, our natural gas has the potential to meet market needs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

A healthy environment is important to residents in the North and all across this country. In the NWT, modern regulatory regimes and new technologies ensure that we can safely and responsibly manage our resources, and have been doing so at the diamond mines in the NWT for decades now.

There is a lot of potential in the north, but one of the biggest challenges we still face is our infrastructure deficit. The Northwest Territories still requires much of the basic infrastructure that already exists in southern jurisdictions.

In partnership with Canada we need to continue to build territorial and community infrastructure to support healthy and prosperous communities, and to lower the cost of living.

We are starting to see investments in this area with projects like the Taltson expansion project and Slave Geological Province Corridor.

These transformative projects will make an impact by helping unlock our full economic potential, transition to a lower carbon economy, and stabilize the cost of living, but they are just the beginning.   

We also need more investments in the hard and social sciences that inform community priorities and concerns, value Indigenous knowledge, generate technological and social innovation, and build the research capacity of northerners themselves.

We need support for education and skills training at all stages of life – including the important early years of child development so that kids go into formal education with the skills and attitudes they need to succeed.

The key to creating investment and economic opportunities in all sectors and support a sustainable north is large-scale investment in northern energy, transportation and communications infrastructure corridors.

We have ideas about how we can get to where we want to be, but we can’t get there alone.

Our government continues to work with Indigenous governments and businesses, as well as with industry to meet our goals, but we also need federal support.

Working with northerners to make transformative investments in the north’s economy and infrastructure, people and environment – provides the federal government with an opportunity to achieve its goals of growing the middle class, fostering meaningful reconciliation, protecting the environment and strongly positioning Canada as an arctic nation.

This Framework is meant to provide direction to the Government of Canada’s priorities, activities and investments in the Arctic, from now until 2030. Pen has been put to paper, and now we require action.

I believe we’re on the right track in terms of our goals, but I hope these goals for the north remain the priorities of any future government.

Canada’s north needs and deserves sustained attention and investment – not just for the future of the people living here, but for all Canadians.

I hope you will make this question of “how to sustain attention and investment” the focus of your discussion today and going forward.

Let’s work together to really make transformative change and not just add Canada’s new Arctic and Northern Policy Framework to the pile of past good intentions.

Thank you for your time. I would be happy to take a few questions now if time permits.