Premier Bob McLeod's Session Address

May 29, 2013
Ministers' Statements and Speeches

(May 29, 2013) - Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure and an honour to welcome back my colleagues of the Legislative Assembly as we convene for our spring sitting.  I trust all our Members have enjoyed some memorable time with their families and constituents.

Mr. Speaker, this may not be a long sitting, but it will be a busy one, an ambitious one, and an important one. This Session will see several of the strategies the Government of the Northwest Territories has been working on come forward and it is also our plan to bring a motion on the proposed Devolution agreement to Members for their review and discussion.

This Legislative Assembly has a vision of a territory where strong individuals, families, and communities share in the benefits and responsibilities of a unified, environmentally sustainable and prosperous territory.

We want to see a Northwest Territories where our people can thrive and be healthy, where a well-managed environment contributes to our economic well-being and quality of life, and where a strong economy provides jobs and opportunities for our communities and money for government programs.

The Government of the Northwest Territories is committed to achieving this vision of economic development, social progress, and environmental sustainability built on a foundation of strong consensus government.

In the coming Session, Mr. Speaker, Members will hear about work the Government is doing to grow and diversify our economy, support our people, manage our environment and make government more effective and efficient.

While that is the work of 13 separate departments, Mr. Speaker, the work is not separate. Our efforts are connected and guided by our shared vision, and progress in one area often serves to support progress in another.

A strong territory that supports its people starts with a strong economy, Mr. Speaker, and the Northwest Territories has the potential to be an economic powerhouse. We have a wealth of mineral resources, including diamonds, gold, tungsten and rare earths.

We are home to world-class oil and gas reserves in the Dehcho, Central Mackenzie, Mackenzie Delta and Beaufort Sea. We have hydro potential that could rival James Bay.

Based on this potential, the Conference Board of Canada has predicted that the North’s GDP will double by 2020. There are seven mining projects currently in the works that could attract more than two billion dollars in new investment and add over 2000 new jobs in our territory.

Development of the oil resources in the Central Mackenzie and predicted increases in the price of and demand for Arctic natural gas could help to re-establish the economic viability of the Mackenzie Gas Project.

That project could contribute 68 million dollars to the Northwest Territories economy, 86 billion to the national economy and create over 200,000 person years of employment. Oil and gas companies have committed to spending 635 million dollars in the Sahtu and 2.2 billion to develop offshore leases in the Beaufort, with more parcels coming up.

Clearly, the future for our territory and its people is bright. Managing and guiding that potential so that our residents can benefit from jobs and economic opportunities far into the future is one of the most important tasks we face as a government.

That is why we are developing the Mineral Development Strategy, which will support increased mineral exploration expenditures, ensure long-term sustainability of the minerals sector, maximize resident employment and business opportunities, and increase value-added opportunities for our territory.

It is why we are working on the Economic Opportunities Strategy, which is being developed with the input and assistance of leading experts, stakeholders and the public. It will guide our actions and identify approaches and options for growing and diversifying our economy, providing opportunities for our residents in all our communities and regions.

A strong economy needs access to affordable energy and we are working on an Energy Plan, and plans for developing our hydro resources and transmission lines that will help support economic growth and help replace expensive diesel with less expensive, renewable energy.

We are also working to further diversify the economy.

Responsible management of our economy means not putting all our eggs in a single basket.  That is why our government is providing support and programming for activities that add value to Northwest Territories products and services, build business capacity, and expand the skills of NWT residents and businesses.

Creating a strong, diversified economy is one of the best ways we have of supporting our people. A strong economy creates sustainable and vibrant communities. It provides jobs and opportunities so people can support themselves and their families, realize their aspirations and avoid poverty.

But we are not saying that people must do it all on their own. We recognize that the government has a role to play in helping people achieve personal success.

We need to create an environment of education, of good health that enhances the ability of all individuals to participate in the economic growth that we are generating. We must work to build a strong and caring society that provides for its residents fairly and justly, creating the conditions for success and offering support and assistance where it is necessary.

During this Session we will be tabling our Anti-Poverty Strategy developed in collaboration with Aboriginal governments, business and industry and the NGO sector. This strategy will help to focus our Government’s ongoing efforts to support our people, particularly our most vulnerable people, with dignity and respect and address the root causes of poverty in our territory.

We will bring forward recommendations from the Minister’s Forum on Addictions and Community Wellness.

Their recommendations will help us develop practical, community-based approaches to dealing with this issue that still challenges so many of our fellow Northerners.

During this Session, our government will bring forward a renewed Early Childhood Development framework. The early years are when our children develop the physical, thinking, language, emotional and social abilities that will stay with them for a lifetime. Supporting children at this stage in their lives is one of the best ways that we will be able to ensure that Northerners are healthy, educated and free from addictions and mental health challenges.

You will also be hearing about our new Community Safety Strategy during this Session. Sustainable communities that support our residents are safe communities.

With this strategy, our government will support communities to develop their own plans for identifying and addressing their priorities for community safety.

Our government believes in responsible stewardship, Mr. Speaker.  A healthy environment sustains healthy people and the land has long been a source of wealth for our residents. We have a responsibility to manage our natural resources sustainably for the long-term benefit of the people of the Northwest Territories. We continue work on a Land Use and Sustainability Framework that will guide how land management decisions will be made after devolution, a critical factor in sustainable development. During this Session, we will be tabling a report on our consultations with the public and Aboriginal governments on this framework.

Members will hear during this Session about the efforts we have made to conserve energy in government buildings. We have a Solar Strategy and an updated Biomass Strategy – both released late last year.  We are actively engaged in the negotiation of trans-boundary water agreements to ensure sustainable management of shared resources.  We have a proposed Wildlife Act that is currently before committee.  We look forward to the passage of this bill as a further testament to our balanced and responsible management of our rich natural heritage.

The reality is that our prosperity is, and will be founded, in our natural resource wealth for the foreseeable future. Our land and waterways are critical to our prosperity and our quality of life.

To benefit from our resources, we must develop them; but to ensure today’s prosperity endures for future generations, we must do so responsibly. Our collective challenge will be to find a way to develop our resources responsibly, sustainably, with due regard to the value that Northerners have always placed on the land and environment. I have no doubt that we are up to that challenge.

I should note, Mr. Speaker, that these strategies have been shaped by our Government’s ongoing discussions and engagement with residents, communities and Aboriginal governments.  This is how we do things, and this is how we will continue to do things. This territory is built on partnerships and collaboration – and central to this approach is our tradition of working together with our Aboriginal governments.

Our Aboriginal Engagement Strategy and our continuing record of reaching out to Aboriginal governments demonstrates our commitment to be inclusive and collaborative in all that we do.

Mr. Speaker, earlier this year, I had the honour of leading a delegation to Ottawa – a delegation that included all Members of our Cabinet, and a large number of Members from this House.  We worked to raise awareness of our territory, but also, more specifically, to draw attention to a number of our priorities:  the Mackenzie Valley Highway, the Mackenzie Valley Fiber Optic Line, the importance and challenges of Northern Housing, the importance of responsible environmental stewardship, and the vast resource potential of our territory.  Of course, we also promoted Devolution.

I personally spoke with the Prime Minister about Devolution, and urged him to see our negotiations through quickly to a mutually beneficial conclusion.

Two months ago, we had the pleasure of hosting Prime Minister Harper and the leaders of the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation,  NWT Métis Nation, Sahtu Secretariat Incorporated, Gwich’in Tribal Council and Tlicho Government in Yellowknife.  During that visit, we had the honour of announcing with the Prime Minister that our governments had concluded our negotiations toward a Devolution agreement. As the Prime Minister said that day, “the heavy lifting is done, the issues are resolved and negotiators have reached consensus on the terms of a final devolution agreement.”

Since that time, the Government of the Northwest Territories has been engaging residents across the territory to hear their views of the proposed agreement. We are prepared to take a major step in the development of our territory and we want to make sure people understand what is in the deal and what it means for all of the Northwest Territories.

Mr. Speaker, Devolution will be the most significant event this House and its Members have considered since Division. With Devolution, we, the people of the Northwest Territories, will have control over our land and resources.  We will have control over our resource royalties.  We will have greater control over our destinies.  We will have the fiscal foundation and means to legislate and govern better, in the interests of our people, and to advance their priorities in a more responsive manner.

We will be making decisions here, in the Northwest Territories, for the people of the Northwest Territories.  We are coming of age and fulfilling a process of increasing Northern control that began in 1967 and has continued over the years.  This territory, which has been a cradle for much of Canada – with multiple provinces and territories having arisen out of it over the last century – will soon be taking its rightful place in Confederation.  Our time has come.

Mr. Speaker, it is our intention to introduce a motion seeking this Assembly’s support for the approval of the Northwest Territories Lands and Resources Devolution Agreement.

Should this motion pass, we will then proceed to sign the agreement that will see new responsibilities transferred to us on April 1, 2014.

Our government is already actively working and planning for this transfer.  We have been leading engagement with the Government of Canada and with Aboriginal Governments to develop effective post-Devolution relationships.  These include bilateral negotiations with participating Aboriginal parties on the development of a post Devolution arrangement to cooperate on land and resource management issues.  It also includes work on arrangements to share a quarter of the resource revenues we earn from development on public land with participating Aboriginal governments. This is an arrangement that is not seen in any other province or territory and speaks to our commitment to building a strong, prosperous territory in partnership with Aboriginal governments.

New responsibilities will require a new and amended legislative framework, and we will be looking to the Members of this Assembly to work with us on the introduction and passage of the many pieces of legislation we will need to have in place in time for April 2014. It will be hard work and may well require extra effort on the part of all of us, but the work will be worth it and I hope I can count on Members’ support as we take this major step in the evolution of our territory.

Mr. Speaker, Members of this House come to each Session with the interests of their constituents and of the territory in the forefront of their minds. Our collective dedication to the wellbeing and prosperity of all residents of the Northwest Territories is what binds us as political leaders and representatives of the people.

I know that each Member of this House takes their responsibilities very seriously and in the coming days will be called upon to make some critical decisions for the future of the people we serve. No matter where we stand on the issues before us, there is no doubt that we must be prepared to stand up and represent our constituents to the best of our abilities.  There will be areas of disagreement but I hope no discord as we are all here by the choice of the people and it is our sworn duty to represent those people with forthright and respectful debate.

Mr. Speaker, this is a great territory, and we share the privilege and responsibility of governing it.  The North is the future.  The North’s day is just dawning.  We have the people, the ingenuity, the resources, and the resolve to lead Canada and lead the world as a place in which to live, work, raise a family, and find prosperity.

You, Mr. Speaker, I, and all Members of this Assembly, are going to be making history for our people.  As we debate Devolution, we will be debating and assenting to the birthright of our people.  We will be voting to ensure decisions on northern development reflect the aspirations of the NWT residents, communities and Aboriginal governments.

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank all Members for their hard work in support of the vision of this Assembly and the plans of the Government. I look forward to working with them in the important weeks and months ahead.  This will be a time to remember and Devolution will be a gift to our children and grandchildren.  It will be a legacy to be forever inscribed in the story of this great land and we should be honoured to have a part in it.

Thank you.