(April 3, 2013) - (Check against delivery)
President Graham, colleagues, guests, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for the invitation to join you this morning.
This is the first chance that I have had to speak outside of the Assembly since I stood alongside the Prime Minister and five of our Territory’s Aboriginal Leaders to announce that the heavy lifting is done and that we have reached consensus on the terms of a final devolution agreement.
It is an announcement that will change the way we do business in the Northwest Territories, so I am pleased to have the opportunity to discuss it with you, the largest and foremost organization for business in the Northwest Territories.
For 40 years, the NWT Chamber of Commerce has been a strong and effective voice to Government on behalf of the Northwest Territories business community.
In that time, your advocacy has also served to promote and raise the profile of the Northwest Territories to Canadians across this country. Particularly through the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, you have played a role in influencing national opinion on Canada’s North. It is work, I believe, that contributed in part to the landmark announcement that was made by Prime Minster Harper here in March.
The 17th Legislative Assembly has a vision of a strong and prosperous Northwest Territories providing benefits and opportunities to all our people and regions. Realizing that vision will depend on growing and diversifying our economy and it will depend on effective partnerships. All of us, the Government of the Northwest Territories, Aboriginal and community governments, business and civil society, have an interest in the future of our territory.
If we are to move forward, we will need to do it together.
Together, we in Canada’s Northwest Territories are now poised to take a monumental step forward.
With devolution negotiations successfully concluded, we expect that the necessary legislative authority, programs, budgets, records and assets related to public land, water and resource management will be transferred from Canada to the Northwest Territories in April 2014. That gives us about a year to complete our preparations and final arrangements for one of the most significant developments in the history of the modern Northwest Territories.
An extensive public engagement process is about to get underway to ensure all Northwest Territories residents have a clear and accurate understanding of the terms, the content and the benefits that will come from devolution.
We have long held that the decisions that influence the business and economy of our territory are better guided and managed by the people who live and work here.
With a final agreement on the devolution of authorities over public lands, water and resources, the people of our territory will finally have the power to plan and guide how we use and develop our natural resource wealth in a sustainable, responsible fashion consistent with northern values and priorities. It will give us the tools and authorities we need to make sure that our residents benefit from development in our territory and to manage any environmental or social impacts.
For the first time in our history, we will be able to take control of the decisions affecting our economy and generate our own revenues to invest in our territory. New responsibilities will mean new jobs in the Northwest Territories and we are continuing to look at opportunities for decentralization as we work on our organizational design. A revenue sharing agreement with our Aboriginal governments will open the doors for strong, viable and sustainable partnerships.
Finally, we will be able to take a proactive, not reactive, approach to economic decision making. The Government of the Northwest Territories will be able to look to the future and really plan for it.
This is the control that we have worked for over 30 years to acquire and with unparalleled economic potential in front of us, there is no better time for the Northwest Territories to be getting devolution.
Our potential in mining alone is phenomenal, with seven mining projects in various stages of development. The return of gold, the security of diamonds and the future of rare earths highlight a positive economic future for our territory. We also see potential in the unheralded fundamental commodities like lead, zinc, silver and tungsten.
Approximately 16.2 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 1.2 billion barrels of oil have already been discovered in our territory. This is only a small part of our estimated potential of 81 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and nearly 7 billion barrels of oil. In addition, there are substantial offshore reserves of oil, natural gas and natural gas liquids in the Beaufort Sea.
It is widely accepted that both the price of and demand for Arctic natural gas will soon be on the rise again and with it will come the opportunity to re-establish the economic viability of our Beaufort -Delta reserves and the long awaited Mackenzie Gas Project.
Meanwhile the world-class potential of the Canol shale oil as a major energy source continues to grow and with it the opportunity to increase economic development that will generate employment and business opportunities for our people and communities, especially in the Sahtu.
Based on this potential, the Conference Board of Canada has predicted that the North’s GDP will double by 2020, but we need to plan now to make that a reality and ensure that our residents are the beneficiaries of that development. In the next few months, we are going to face the first of many key decisions, perhaps the most immediate being how and where to grow our economy.
While the devolution agreement will provide us with the authorities and resources to build our territory’s economic future, we will need to have strategies in place to guide the critical economic planning and decision making that we have fought so hard to gain.
Together with business and industry, our government is working on two strategies that will help establish a strong foundation for long-term economic planning: the Northwest Territories Mineral Development Strategy and the Northwest Territories Economic Opportunities Strategy.
Both have been developed in close partnership with and with extensive input from, our territory's many leaders, stakeholders and organizations. With their assistance and collaboration we will have a pair of strategies that will highlight options for creating the kind of strong, diversified economy that will provide benefits to all our residents, making the best use of the resources and opportunities available to us.
But the success of these strategies will be predicated on our collective ability and willingness to recognize the guidance and recommendations that these strategies will offer and to implement the identified areas of needed investment, evaluation and change.
For the past decade and a half, our territory’s economy has been largely driven by mineral exploration and development. It has presented us with unprecedented opportunities for investment, employment and business development. Our mining sector employs hundreds of territorial residents and results in more than half a billion dollars in annual purchases from Northwest Territories businesses.
There is significantly more mineral wealth to be found, especially as geo-scientific information and exploratory technologies improve our understanding of our territory’s geology.
As the resource development industry grows, so do small and medium sized enterprises all over the North. The multiplier effects of exploration and mining are undeniable. For every job created in the mining industry, for example, four new jobs are created in other industries.
But high mineral potential and iron clad socio economic agreements cannot guarantee that development occurs.
We are working with members of the mining and business community, including the NWT and Nunavut Chamber of Mines, to identify the factors which will help the Northwest Territories to become a more attractive location for exploration and mining investment. Investment is critical if we are to discover new deposits to replace our existing diamond mines as they mature and eventually close.
The mineral development strategy that is being prepared will guide decision-making for mining into the future. It will support our efforts to expand the nature and scope of our resource development and provide a framework to ensure our mineral resources continue to be developed in a way that benefits Northwest Territories residents, ensures development is sustainable, and upholds our commitment to protect the environment.
Further, a long term plan for mineral development will communicate certainty and stability during this time of transition. It will demonstrate that we are serious about addressing our investment challenges and unlocking the mineral potential of our territory.
That said, we cannot presume to build a steady and sustainable economy for our territory on resource development alone.
While we have a wealth of resources, the recent recession has served as a harsh reminder that our economy is dependent on market forces well beyond our control.
In the long term, our territory’s economic health hinges on its diversity.
In 2011, the 17th Assembly identified the need for a strategy to also realize the economic potential that exists outside of our rich resource sector: in areas such as tourism, agriculture, fishing, manufacturing and the traditional economies.
Work to prepare the Northwest Territories Economic Opportunities Strategy began last year under the guidance of a Governance Committee of which this Chamber is a partner alongside the Northern Aboriginal Business Association, the Northwest Territories Association of Communities, Canada’s Northern Economic Development Agency and the Government of the Northwest Territories.
Ultimately, we envision a strategy that responds to and addresses the economic strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of each region.
As this plan translates into actions and investments; individualized and unique economic opportunities will grow and flourish and so will our local, then our regional and, finally, our territorial economies.
Ladies and Gentlemen, since the early days of the fur trade, our territory’s lands and resources have been the foundation of our economy.
As the reality of a pending final agreement on devolution begins to take hold in the Northwest Territories, we are preparing for a period of transition and change in our territory. This change will finally allow us to determine our own economic path and to develop our lands and resources according to our own priorities and values.
We need only to look to our west to see how people flourish when they have power over their economy. More than a decade ago, a devolution agreement was signed with Yukon. Since gaining jurisdiction over their lands and resources, their territory has roared ahead.
Unemployment is down, investment is up, and Yukon’s economy is stronger than ever before. The benefits of devolution have never been more evident.
There has never been a more important time for us to look ahead, past the limitations that exist today, to envision a vibrant, diversified economy where entrepreneurship and risk are rewarded. A planned approach to using our land sustainably and developing our resources responsibly will create a thriving economy that positions us to address poverty and social problems at the root.
The business community will be a key partner with us in creating that future and we are doing our part as a government to help support business and encourage economic development. Identifying economic opportunities is part of the solution, but so is investing in infrastructure like the planned Mackenzie Valley Highway. New transportation infrastructure will help to lower costs for our residents and businesses, connect our communities, and support exploration and development activities. With increased financial support from Canada that was announced last month, our government is moving forward with the Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk Highway. This project will create jobs and economic opportunities in the Beaufort Delta and is the next step towards a road system that will finally connect Canada from sea to sea to sea that will continue with further construction up the Mackenzie Valley.
Information is an increasingly important driver of economic activity, particularly in the growing digital economy, but it too, requires supportive infrastructure. We want to make sure our residents have the opportunity to participate in this growing sector and continue to move forward with plans for the Mackenzie Valley Fibre-Optic Link. Investing in this project will support the expansion of the Inuvik Satellite Facility, helping to position the Northwest Territories as a leader in remote sensing technology. It will also increase Internet access in communities along its route, creating new opportunities for Northerners to participate in the digital economy and provide the government with new opportunities for delivering programs and services.
Access to affordable energy is another major factor in the growth and development of any economy. It is our unique northern irony that we pay some of the highest energy costs in spite of our wealth of energy resources, including 11,500 megawatts of potential hydroelectric power. Part of that is because of independent and disconnected power grids that keep us from taking full advantage of our existing hydro potential. In response to this, our government is actively pursuing plans for connecting the Snare and Taltson grids and extending transmission lines northeast from Yellowknife. This would provide a source of renewable, lower cost power to existing and future mines, stabilize energy costs in communities and help foster new economic development.
The road forward will require change, hard work and some honest self-analysis, but the steps that we have taken to get to this pivotal point in our territory’s history have been strongest when we have taken them together.
Our future is in our own hands. I would like to encourage all of you to embrace this opportunity that we now have before us, an economy that can provide self-reliance for our communities, jobs for our residents, opportunities for our businesses and sustainability for our territory.
In the words of your President, Hughie Graham, “it’s our time to shine.”
(April 3, 2013) - (Check against delivery)