Glen Abernethy: Heads of Diplomatic Missions Northern Tour, September 8, 2013

September 9, 2013
Ministers' Statements and Speeches

(September 9, 2013)(check against delivery)

Thank you, I’m pleased to speak to you tonight on behalf of Premier McLeod and the Government of the Northwest Territories.

We in the Northwest Territories are keenly aware of the challenges facing the circumpolar world.  We live them every day.  We and our Arctic neighbours are facing issues that are often just talked about in southern Canada.  Climate change, Arctic sovereignty, economic development, evolving governance – these are not just ideas for our people.  They are part of our reality.

NWT residents have seen the benefits that come from development.  Our people are keen to make the partnerships that will increase their opportunities. We believe that the sustainable development of our natural resources is key to unlocking our potential.

From the days of the whalers and the fur traders, the Northwest Territories economy has been built on our natural resources.  Today we know our territory is rich with diamonds, gold, zinc, and rare earth minerals.  We are a potential energy giant.  There are 81.2 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and seven billion barrels of oil in the NWT waiting to be tapped.

A Circumpolar Business Forum is a top priority for Canada’s Chairmanship of the Arctic Council, and our government is pleased to assist.  By strengthening our relationships with other northern governments, we will build a strong, sustainable future for our territory.  Our people see no contradiction between developing the economy and protecting the environment.  We can do both.  We can be environmentally sustainable while ensuring prosperity for ourselves, our children, and our grandchildren.  It isn’t always easy – sometimes it takes a while to work out the details – but we know it can be done.

Our government is open for business with responsible companies that want to bring benefits to the people of the North.  We have socio-economic agreements to protect the interests of communities near developments.  Our people make it clear that safe shipping, sustainable development, and traditional lifestyles are important to them, just as they are to Arctic residents around the globe.  Industry knows what to expect when they come to the NWT.  They know they will be expected to make commitments about hiring and procurement, and they know they will need to protect our environment.

Responsible stewardship is a shared priority of the territorial and federal governments, and I know it is something everyone in this room cares about. The Arctic’s delicate ecosystem is vulnerable to climate change caused by far-off developments.

Our small government serving 40,000 people has invested tens of millions of dollars in energy savings, biomass, hydro, and solar power.  We work with the federal government to make sure development within our borders is environmentally sustainable.  We are committed to community-based monitoring.  We have one of the most progressive water strategies and land-use frameworks in the world, both developed in close collaboration with Aboriginal governments.

There is only so much we can do within our borders.  We need partners in the circumpolar world.  We need indigenous and non-indigenous circumpolar businesses to partner with NWT companies to make all of our people prosperous.  We need to work together to bring our messages about impacts on circumpolar regions to all countries.

While we are committed to sustainable development, that is not the case everywhere.  Wind and ocean currents bring heavy metals from operations on other continents here.  The globe is heating up, and the impacts are felt in the north first.  Permafrost is melting, taking out huge sections of our highways.  The migration patterns of Arctic animals are changing.  These are not just NWT issues; all circumpolar communities are affected in some way.  We need to address climate change and adapt to it.  And we need to work in partnership with Canada to support this work internationally.

This is getting more important as shipping activity in the Northwest Passage increases.  There are associated environmental impacts to our Arctic coast.  While the opening of the Northwest Passage brings opportunities with it, it also underlines the issue of climate change and reminds us that we must continue to be vigilant about conserving and protecting our natural heritage.  This Canadian waterway cuts through a fragile Arctic ecosystem.  For now, it is still a potentially dangerous route.  But the sea ice is receding and we need to think about how that affects safe shipping in the North.  We expect there to be increased interest, and we must ensure that our waterways and coastlines are not damaged by spills from oil-laden tankers.  The area is home to thousands of northern residents as well as Arctic animals like polar bears and narwhals.  We need to continue Canadian scientific research to improve our knowledge of this northern waterway.

In April, our government will take responsibility for managing public lands and resources.  This is an exciting opportunity for us to develop our economy according to northern priorities.  We have seen the benefits that have come to Alaska and to Yukon.  We will be next.  And when I say “we” will be next, I’m not just talking about the Government of the Northwest Territories.  Our approach is built on partnerships.

The agreement that will give us responsibility for public land also creates a new relationship with participating Aboriginal governments.  They are not stakeholders.  They are partners.  We will share resource revenues from public lands with them, and together we will manage northern lands in the best interest of all of our people.

We are finalizing land-claim and self-government agreements with a number of regions, sometimes on a community-by-community basis.  These are exciting times and we have an opportunity to do things our own way.  We have a chance to learn from and provide guidance to our circumpolar neighbours, from the Inuit to the Saami.   By sharing our experiences, we can advance Canada’s priorities for Arctic Foreign Policy, and we can all benefit from a Circumpolar Business Forum.

Prime Minister Harper has often said that the North is the future of Canada.  Our region has the natural resources that could help drive economic growth, creating prosperity for Canadians and business opportunities nationally and internationally.  That potential is drawing more attention to the North than there has been in many years.

Canada’s position as Chair of the Arctic Council helps to underscore the increasing importance of the Canadian North on the global stage.  The people of the Northwest Territories welcome that attention and, as the ones who live in the North and know it the best, look forward to contributing to and supporting Canada’s goals for the Arctic Council over the next two years.

Thank you.