Bob McLeod: Opening Remarks to Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development

November 24, 2016
Ministers' Statements and Speeches

Delivered on November 21, 2016

Thank you for meeting with us this evening.

Before Minister McLeod gets into his presentation, I wanted to take a few minutes to introduce you to the Northwest Territories and some of the challenges we face.

The Northwest Territories has just over 44,000 residents living in 33 communities.

Its communities are spread out from the southern border with the provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta to Banks Island in the Arctic Ocean.

Our biggest community is Yellowknife, with approximately 21,000 people, while our smallest community is Kakisa with fewer than 50. Twenty-seven of our communities have fewer than 1,000 people and 16 of these have fewer than 500 people.

As you can imagine, the distances separating Northwest Territories communities and their small populations present significant challenges, both to the Government of the Northwest Territories in terms of providing programs and services, and to their residents in terms of enjoying the same quality of life and standard of living as their fellow Canadians.

Only 12 of the Northwest Territories’ 33 communities have year-round road access to southern Canada and four of them can only be reached by air or water.

Although the Northwest Territories has substantial hydroelectricity potential, only eight NWT communities are powered by hydro. The remaining 25 are powered by standalone diesel generators.

People in Fort Smith, a community of 2500 people near the Taltson hydro facility pay 16 cents a kilowatt hour for electricity. Much of the territory pays much more.

In Yellowknife, home to half the Northwest Territories population, we pay 30 cents per kilowatt hour, while the cost in diesel communities is 65 cents a kilowatt hour. Compare that to on-peak rates of 18 cents per kilowatt hour here in Ottawa.

Core housing need – housing that fails to meet standards for adequate condition, suitable size or affordability – is the second highest in the country, standing at 20 percent, compared to a national average of 12.5 percent.

In addition to the challenges posed by geography and population size, we are also experiencing the effects of climate change at a more rapid pace than southern Canada.

This has led to shorter seasons for the ice roads that supply many communities and affected the barging season for communities that rely on marine resupply.

Degradation of permafrost threatens the stability of Northwest Territories roads and buildings.

This is what it means in practical, concrete terms when the Vancouver Declaration refers to the realities of Arctic and sub-Arctic regions.

These are the challenges that make the cost of living untenable for the NWT’s residents and threaten the sustainability of Northern communities and ways of life.

These are the challenges that Canada and the Northwest Territories must address together and which form the context for the discussion we’d like to have with you tonight.

I’d now like to turn things over to Minister of Environment and Natural Resources Robert C. McLeod to talk to you about three proposals we are promoting in Ottawa this week that have the potential to help mitigate the effects of climate change in our territory and help Canada achieve its national climate change goals.