Bob McLeod: Opening Remarks Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology

November 24, 2016
Ministers' Statements and Speeches

Delivered on November 23, 2016

Thank you for meeting with the Government of the Northwest Territories this afternoon.

We are in Ottawa this week to speak with the Prime Minister, Cabinet Ministers and Standing Committees about some of the challenges and opportunities facing the people of the Northwest Territories today.

Before we get to that presentation, I would like to take a few minutes to talk a little bit about our territory.

The Northwest Territories’ 44,000 residents live in 33 communities that stretch 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.

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.

Lack of transportation and energy options drives up the cost of living for Northwest Territories residents far beyond what their fellow Canadians face.

In 2015, for example, residents of Uluhaktok paid $8.25 for a 540 mL tin of tomatoes and residents of Fort McPherson paid $7.85 for a single litre of milk

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.

At the same time, the Northwest Territories is experiencing the effects of climate change at a faster pace than southern Canada.

In Inuvik, the annual average temperature has already risen by four degrees Celsius since the 1950s, while in the southern part of the Northwest Territories we are already experiencing annual temperature increases of two degrees Celsius.

Climate change is resulting in coastal erosion, thawing permafrost, landslides, increased snow loads to buildings and drought.

Shorter winter road and marine operating seasons as a result of warmer temperatures result in incomplete or more costly community resupply.

Building techniques have had to adapt, resulting in more complicated and costly public infrastructure projects. At the same time, transportation of people and goods is being disrupted as permafrost degradation contributes to uneven roads and runways.

One thing about Northerners, though, is that we have always had to rely on our own ingenuity.

With limited access to outside resources and supplies for much of its history, the people of the Northwest Territories have always had to be creative with their solutions.

We continue to use that creativity and innovation to address modern problems, and lead the way in applying new techniques and technology for cold weather building construction, road construction and renewable power solutions.

We are second in Canada in installed solar photovoltaic capacity per capita and a national leader in wood pellet use. Projects like the Mackenzie Valley Fibre-optic Line and the Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk Highway demonstrate our forward thinking.

We think the lessons that we have learned in the Northwest Territories can be applied in southern Canada, as well, particularly in the transition to a green economy.

We are here today to talk to you about three priority projects where we believe there is substantial opportunity for the governments of the Northwest Territories and Canada to work together to bring about transformative change in the North and to achieve national goals with respect to climate change.

I’d now like to turn you over to Minister Wally Schumann, who will speak about these opportunities in greater detail.