Minister David Ramsay: Keynote Speech, Prospects North: "Open for Business"

September 10, 2013
Ministers' Statements and Speeches

(September 10, 2013) (check against delivery)

Thank you for that introduction, and for the invitation to join you here today.

Chiefs, colleagues, ladies and gentlemen, let me begin by saying what a pleasure it is to have this opportunity to promote the economic potential of the NWT.  It is something I get to do a lot of – and it is one of my favourite things to do.

Yellowknife embodies, in my mind, some of the greatest attributes of living, working and investing in Canada’s Northwest Territories. 

I want to recognize the NWT Chamber of Commerce and the event organizers, for hosting an outstanding Prospects North. I also want to congratulate you on celebrating your 40th anniversary as a representative body – and a strong and effective voice to Government - for NWT businesses.

Now, before I begin my remarks today, I am pleased to announce that the newly-relocated Business Incentive Policy Office will be re-opening at its new location in Hay River in early October. This relocated office demonstrates our governments’ commitment to decentralize headquarters operations to provide an equitable distribution of the social, economic and employment benefits of government activity – throughout the NWT.

I would also like to introduce Mrs. Kim Wilkins, our new manager for the office.

Kim Wilkins stands

As I mentioned, the NWT Chamber of Commerce is celebrating its 40th anniversary. Four decades is a long time.  This year’s event has given me an opportunity to look back on this time that has seen an immense change in our North: a time in which boundaries have been redrawn, a time we’ve seen new governments formed, and a time in which we have fully embraced our role in the global economy.

We need just to take a look around this room to see how far we’ve come in 40 years.

Today, northern and Aboriginally-owned companies and corporations are prevalent in every area of NWT businesses and industry.   Directly and through your organizations and chambers, you are partners with government – not only in business and investment - but in building our Territory and each of its 33 communities.

In the last 40 years, the NWT economy – and our growth as a Territory – have seemingly advanced in waves.  In some cases - tidal waves.

And now here we are, only a couple years out of the global economic downturn. Our economy did not emerge unscathed, but I am here today to say – and I hope you will all help me spread the message – that the Northwest Territories is open for business. We are the place for investment dollars. We are the next frontier for development and economic growth. It is time for us to have our day.

We have a lot in our favour that make us the investment place of choice and show that we are in fact, open for business:

  • We as a government are making positive changes to attract investment dollars to the territory;
  • We are making improvements at the local level to strengthen and diversify the economy;
  • And we have the resource potential and expertise that makes the NWT the new frontier for investment.


If the past 40 years have taught us anything, it is that we cannot afford to wait – and then react – as major projects and investments are contemplated and decided upon outside of the NWT.

The best decisions for our Territory come from those who live here – and it is us that should be guiding and developing economic growth to ensure benefits are fully realized by our residents, their businesses and their communities.

Most of you here know that as of April 1 of next year, responsibility for managing public land, water and resources in the Northwest Territories will move from the federal government to the Government of the Northwest Territories.  Devolution is something that we have been working for almost 40 years to realize, and brings with it the ability to take control of decisions affecting our economy.

But even before we knew this momentous decision was going to be finalized this year, the GNWT was working with our Territory’s key economic stakeholders, residents and businesses to put in place strategies to stimulate growth and activity in the NWT economy and to attract investment dollars.

We cannot deny that mining and resource development is the foundation of our territorial economy. Since the downturn of the global economy, resource development in our Territory has narrowed significantly.  We need to do a better job of re-engaging industry interest and attracting investment from major infrastructure and industrial projects in the NWT.

Interest in the Arctic is at an all-time high, and this interest has catapulted the North onto the global stage and we are now recognized as a land of promise and opportunity for both mineral and energy development. As one of the world’s last politically stable and vastly untapped regions for natural resources, I reiterate that our government is making positive changes to attract investment dollars to the territory.

To ensure the long-term growth of a sustainable mining industry, the GNWT, in partnership with the NWT and Nunavut Chamber of Mines, and the business community, is currently working towards the NWT’s first comprehensive Mineral Development Strategy.

A clear plan of action will show we are serious about addressing our investment challenges and unlocking the mineral potential in the territory. We are aiming to have the Mineral Development Strategy complete within the next two months.

First and foremost, this Strategy will need to address weaknesses in our investment climate and restore our Territory’s competitive edge.  If that means investing more in geosciences, we’ll do it.  If it means providing exploration incentives, we’ll do it.  If it means working to improve our regulatory environment in the NWT, we’ll do it.

It will provide a framework to ensure our mineral resources continue to be developed in a way that benefits NWT residents, ensures development is sustainable, and upholds our commitment to protect the environment.

Restoring a positive investment climate in the NWT is critical if we are to discover new deposits and establish new mines to replace our existing diamond mines as they move past the mid-point of their operating lives.

Most importantly, this new Strategy represents a commitment - on the eve of our Devolution Agreement with Canada - that the NWT is serious about addressing our investment challenges and unlocking the mineral potential of our territory.

Mining and resource development has evolved in the past 40 years. There was the rush for oil in the 70’s, the gold rush, the discovery of Arctic Gas, the potential for the Mackenzie Gas Project. And then there was diamonds.  With each ebb and flow, our Territory has evolved, our capacity has grown – and we have learned from our economic experiences.

For instance, we have learned that resource development – when pursued in a timely and responsible manner, can provide the means to build capacity, wealth and prosperity in our businesses, our communities and our people. We have also learned that resource development can leave our Territory overly dependent on market forces well beyond our control.

Most importantly, we have learned that we also need economic growth at the grass roots level.  We need to broaden our horizons. We need to diversify.

Our Territory’s economy – especially in its regional centres - needs a strong small business sector and a vibrant community of entrepreneurs.

Strengthening and diversifying the economy overall also makes the NWT an attractive investment. Strong economies make for strong business investments. And our government is making improvements at the local level to strengthen and diversify the economy.

This fall, I will be bringing a new Economic Opportunities Strategy for the territory to the Legislative Assembly. We have been working in collaborative partnership with the NWT Chamber of Commerce, the Northern Aboriginal Business Association, the NWT Association of Communities and Canada’s Northern Economic Development Agency on this Strategy for over a year now.

The Economic Opportunities Strategy is an action plan that will focus on the incredible economic potential that exists outside of our Territory’s rich resource sector, in areas such as tourism, agriculture, fishing, manufacturing and the traditional economies.  It will offer a blueprint for increased economic opportunity and diversity in the NWT.

NWT residents, businesses and organizations played a key role in the development of this Strategy and contributed their views on what they wanted to help ensure healthy communities and to build local economies.

We heard that our residents are optimistic and confident in our ability to control our economic destiny and grow a sustainable economy.

I anticipate that the NWT Economic Opportunities Strategy will recognize the need for us to take a look at how we approach economic development – that it will promote greater competition and regional entrepreneurship; strengthen the operating environment for small businesses; and re-align government programs, services and supports to better reflect the realities of our changing economic and political environment.

Grass roots economic growth and diversity is paramount to maintaining our Territory’s overall economic health and stability.   As we move forward, I envision the role of identifying – and converting - economic opportunities into successful business development will increasingly be met – not by government – but by NWT entrepreneurs operating in a vibrant and competitive business environment.

Just this past year, we have seen how our alternate economic sectors can shine and thrive. Business is looking up for the tourism industry – just last week, reports came out that total visitors who came to view the northern lights more than doubled – from 7,500 the previous season, with an amazing 16,000 visitors this season. This is mainly Japanese tourists who travel across the world to see the best light show on earth.

We are expecting with the impressive marketing efforts by NWT Tourism, that these visitor numbers will continue to grow, and that visitors will be encouraged to explore all regions of our spectacular territory.

As well, the traditional economy sector continues to thrive, and this year’s record fur prices for NWT wild furs saw an amazing projected return to NWT trappers of almost $1.5 million. Through GNWT support and the great expertise of our trappers, Genuine Mackenzie Valley Fur is now the best wild fur on the market and is recognized world-wide as the highest-quality wild fur that money can buy.

We are also developing a comprehensive plan to further promote our NWT-artists and their unique artwork, and through our Film Commission – working with the film industry to truly unlock the potential of our northern filmmakers and this niche and potentially lucrative industry.

With proper support and planning, these sectors will only continue to grow and develop.

As these two strategies come to fruition, others are also in various stages of development.  They will both tie in with the NWT Energy Strategy, which will outline plans to connect and extend our hydro transmission grids to improve access to the reliable and affordable power that industry needs. Also, both energy and mineral development face the same key challenges in our Territory due to the lack of infrastructure.

Work will soon begin on a multi-modal strategy to advance our Territory’s transportation infrastructure – to underpin investment in all economic sectors and improve the dependability, availability - and above all – cost of transportation between NWT communities.

I spoke with Minister Oliver just a couple of weeks ago during the Energy and Mines Ministers conference here in Yellowknife and reiterated that fact: the need for investment in northern infrastructure. We cannot continue to be hampered by this lack of infrastructure that not only dissuades companies from doing exploration work here, but also drives up the cost of living in our communities.

And potential is what we have in abundance. The last point I want to touch on that makes the NWT the ideal place to invest is this: We have the resource potential. We have the business expertise. We have the determination to get things done.

We are the third largest diamond producer in the world.  We have gold and silver.  We have bismuth.  We have cobalt, lead, zinc. We have rare earth metals.  Most of our mineral reserves are not even being mined. For a territory of 45,000 people, we are also a potential energy giant.  We are sitting on 81.2 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

We have seven billion known barrels of oil. The potential undiscovered near-shore reserves in the Mackenzie River Delta include an additional 10.5 billion barrels of oil, 87 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, and 4 billion barrels of natural gas liquids.  We have gas hydrate in the Beaufort Sea.

When developed in an environmentally sustainable way, this rich resource base offers amazing opportunities for economic growth giving us an incredible competitive advantage in a world that is increasingly demanding new sources of energy.

Our people and businesses are innovative, and able to respond to our geographic and climactic conditions, including the challenges of infrastructure. They know the right way to do things and the best way to provide goods and services. In fact, last year NWT businesses provided an impressive 65% of all goods and services required by the three diamond mines operating in the territory.

We are world-leaders in cold weather technology, transportation, construction, and environmental remediation.

Ladies and Gentlemen, we know that the Northwest Territories is a land of opportunity. We have the resources in abundance. We have northern businesses with the right expertise. And by this time next year, we will have the authorities and strategies in place.

So, what is holding us back?

Frankly, we need billions of dollars of investment capital.... and we need people.  The most important steps that we can take to stimulate opportunity and diversity in the NWT today are those to attract and retain investment and a healthy vibrant population.  We need the investment capital to realize and commercialize these reserves, and to bring them to market.

With a vast land mass and small declining population, we cannot realize key economic projects – current or potential – without your help.  Economic development in our Territory is – as it always has been – reliant on partnerships.

The Northwest Territories is evolving rapidly.  We are positioning our Territory to be a key economic leader.  We’re open to new ideas.  We’re open to new opportunities.  Most importantly, we’re open for new business with socially responsible companies that ensure benefits from development accrue to the northern economy and residents

Global economics are changing.  New markets are emerging and more and more, the search for new energy sources is shifting north.  We are not without our challenges.  But I cannot stress enough the advantages and potential that exists here.

The nature and history of this event is exactly the kind of thing that we need to move our Territory forward.  Collectively, we represent an immense wealth of northern experience and expertise.

Private and public interests – sharing ideas and perspectives – networking… Looking at the issues and challenges we face…coming up with ideas to address those challenges…. examining ways of working together to capitalize on opportunities.

Now is the time to be innovative and creative.

If I could leave you with one over-arching message today, it is this: If we are going to develop an economy that will keep people in the Northwest Territories and provide long term investment and employment, then we may need to think outside of the box.  Let’s not be timid.  Let’s not be afraid to put everything on the table.

By partnering, by working together – all of us - government, the investment community, and business, I am confident that we can realize the North’s potential as it has never been seen before.

Thank you.