Premier McLeod appears before the Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources

December 5, 2013
Ministers' Statements and Speeches

(December 5, 2013) - Honourable members, thank you for the invitation to address the Senate Committee on Energy. I am pleased to be here to speak to you today about Bill C-15, the Northwest Territories Devolution Act.

Devolution of responsibility for public lands, resources and water has been a priority for the people and Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories for many years.

The Government of the Northwest Territories has worked closely with Canada in the negotiation of devolution and the development of implementation plans to effect the smooth and seamless transfer of these important responsibilities on April 1, 2014.

Devolution promises to usher in a new era of prosperity and opportunity for the people of the Northwest Territories. Supported by an efficient, effective and integrated regulatory regime, devolution will give Northerners the necessary tools and authorities to responsibly develop the territory's significant natural resource potential, promote investment and economic development and manage the land and environment sustainably.

Devolution will mark the culmination of a political evolution that began with the original creation of the Government of the Northwest Territories in 1967. For the first time, the people of the NWT will enjoy a level of self-determination and control over territorial affairs on par with that enjoyed by their fellow Canadians in the provinces and Yukon. Devolution will make good on the promise of 46 years ago and which we have secured through the ongoing development of a fully elected and representative Legislative Assembly that has steadily assumed responsibilities from Canada.

As we approach our 50th year, our government looks forward to strengthening its role as a contributing and vital member of Confederation, representing the unique views and priorities of all our people, including the Aboriginal people who make up almost 50 percent of our population and are key participants in the political, social and economic life of the territory.

We have seven regional Aboriginal governments in the Northwest Territories and we are proud to maintain formal government-to-government relationships with them. We work hand in hand with our Aboriginal government partners across the vast range of government decision-making.  It is not just part of our consensus style of government, but also part of our consensus culture.

When we signed the Devolution Agreement with Minister Valcourt last June, five of those governments joined us as co-signatories and we continue to work with the remaining two. This is how we do things.  It is through ongoing, strong, and always respectful partnerships with Aboriginal governments that we create strong communities, mutual trust and respect, and the good will that forges a strong territorial society.

We will be strengthening these partnerships even further through devolution.   We are establishing an intergovernmental council that will bring together the public government and Aboriginal governments to better work together and coordinate decisions on land use and development throughout the territory.

The Government of the Northwest Territories has also offered to share up to 25 percent of the resource revenues we will collect under devolution with participating Aboriginal governments. This is unprecedented in all of Canada, but reflects our commitment to ensuring that all the people of the Northwest Territories can share in the benefits of development in the territory. We believe the NWT can be a model for Canada, where Aboriginal people actively support resource development because they have a meaningful role in decision making and receive a fair share of the benefits.

In 1904, Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier famously said that the Twentieth Century belonged to Canada.  Why did he say this?  Because Canada had everything going for it that a young country would want:  Population growth.  Increasing industrial development.  Immigration to further open up the Prairies to agriculture – and to solidify Canadian sovereignty.  Railroads were being built in one of the early unifying megaprojects of this great land.  We appeared sheltered from the conflicts and tensions of Europe and the Far East.  Canada as a country was on the rise.

Today, I have no doubt whatsoever that the Twenty First Century belongs to the North.

We are increasingly the centre of resource development – the storehouse of what the world wants and needs.   Yesterday’s so-called “hinterland” is today’s economic engine – the fuel of our country’s prosperity.  Royalties from mining and oil and gas extraction are paying for daycares, hospitals and schools in the South.  They are maintaining employment and generating prosperity across Canada, as an increasingly mobile labour force finds opportunities – and well-paying jobs – in Northern communities.

Never before do I recall such a time of potential and future prosperity facing the people of our territory.

We are the stewards of a great expanse of Canada’s landmass.  We are on the front lines of climate change – we see it first, before the scientists and satellites and statisticians.  We are also the preserve of traditional knowledge – of the wisdom of centuries of people who know, who understand how to manage a society and an economy in a sustainable and mutually respectful way. We will undertake balanced resource development to create jobs and protect the environment.

With responsibility for lands and resources, devolution will mean that Northerners will take on new abilities to direct the economy of the territory and ensure that its residents benefit from development. We will take on new authority for managing the land and environment according to Northern needs and priorities.

Devolution will also mean access to new revenues and a new measure of fiscal independence that the Government of the Northwest Territories can use to invest in the people of this territory, the economy and the environment. Make no mistake:  for the Northwest Territories, this is a game-changer. Devolution is the key to a new era of prosperity.

We look forward to a future where northern priorities are reflected in resource development and environmental management decisions. We know our land. We know what matters to us. We have a vested interest in ensuring the long-term sustainability of our land. Our integrated co-management system will protect the economic, social, and cultural well-being of all of our people.

Bill C-15 is a major milestone for the Northwest Territories, but it is only the beginning of the end. The journey continues and we look forward to the review that we have agreed will be done at the end of five years and the more complete transfer of powers to the Northwest Territories at that time.

We will also have to continue to work on regulatory improvement. Our government has always supported an efficient and effective regulatory regime that promotes investment, protects the environment, respects the land claims and provides for regional and community views to be heard. We know there are concerns about this aspect of the bill. We are confident, though, that by working with our Aboriginal government partners through forums like the Intergovernmental Council we are establishing, and continued partnership with Canada, we can address the concerns and implement a system that promotes prosperity and upholds the public interest.

Our time has come. It is time for Northerners to make their own decisions about our economy, our environment, and our society. Devolution is critical to the long-term well-being and prosperity of the people of the Northwest Territories,  and of Canada, and the Government of the Northwest Territories supports the timely passage of this bill.

Thank you.