Bob McLeod - Welcoming Remarks Energy Mines Ministers Conference August 26, 2013

Déclarations et discours de ministres

Good morning.  Bienvenue à Yellowknife.  Welcome to Yellowknife and the Northwest Territories.  Welcome to Canada’s energy storehouse.

It is my pleasure to see you all here today and I would like to recognize Minister Joe Oliver and my colleagues from the Northwest Territories Legislative Assembly.

The North is the energy future of Canada. As you all know this is a territory with great potential. We have an abundance of natural resources that will grow the economy here in the North and in the rest of Canada. Our major challenge is getting those resources to market. We are a territory of under 50 thousand people sitting on a large percentage of Canada’s natural resources. We will need all our partners, the Federal government, Aboriginal governments and industry, to work with us if we are to achieve the North’s great potential.

Partnership and potential go hand in hand and I want to take this opportunity to recognize the commitment of our industry partners in the Northwest Territories; whether it is through Impact Benefit Agreements with Aboriginal land holders, socioeconomic agreements with our government or commitments to extensive environmental monitoring and remediation.  We have, in the Northwest Territories, come to expect fully committed and participating industry partners.

Natural resources are the foundation of the territorial economy and mining is its largest sector, but we are not even coming close to realizing our full potential.  Finding new ways to encourage and support responsible resource development will help us to create sustainable benefits for Northwest Territories residents, grow our economy and contribute to national prosperity.  Forums like this one are an ideal opportunity for leaders in government and industry such as yourselves in the energy and mining sector to come together to discuss shared interests and identify ways we can work together to create jobs and economic opportunities for all Canadians.

The Northwest Territories has metals and minerals that are in demand worldwide, including tungsten, gold, lead, zinc, silver, rare earths and diamonds.

We export two billion dollars of diamonds a year from our three operating diamond mines and have a fourth mine expected to go into production in 2015.  Canada now ranks third in the world in terms of value behind Russia and Botswana and ahead of South Africa.  In a five year period the Northwest Territories produced 13.8 million carats.

We have the largest deposits of rare earth elements outside China, a resource that is critical to today’s high-tech and communications industries, everything from smartphones to lasers, from flat screen TVs to sonar,  requires rare earths.

I think it is safe to say that mining in the Northwest Territories is not without its’ challenges, and we are working very hard to improve in these areas. Negotiations with Aboriginal land holders, negotiations with the Government of the Northwest Territories and the current regulatory process requires a commitment to doing business a certain way. In some cases it can take many years for a property to come to fruition and it takes great tenacity and commitment to bring all these elements together.

As I said earlier, we are fortunate to have industry partners who recognize that to do business in the Northwest Territories requires a social licence which includes the blessing of whole communities and governments. We have many examples of successful partnerships including Canadian Zinc, owners of the Prairie Creek Mine.

They have negotiated an impact benefit agreement with the traditional land holders of that area, the Nahanni Butte Dene Band as well as Liidli Kue First Nation.

Of particular note is the location of Prairie Creek Mine, it is surrounded by Nahanni National Park Reserve. Prairie Creek mine is in the final permitting stage and pending the Federal Ministers decision on the water licence, will be ready to begin ice road construction to the mine early in 2014.

The Northwest Territories is also home to world-class oil and gas reserves in the Dehcho, Central Mackenzie, Mackenzie Delta and Beaufort Sea.

Discovered and recoverable potential for the Northwest Territories and the Arctic offshore is estimated to be 1.2 billion barrels of oil and 16 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Ultimate potential is estimated to be around seven billion barrels of oil and 81 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

The hydro potential of the Northwest Territories’ rivers has been estimated at 11,500 megawatts, an amount to rival James Bay and more than that produced by BC Hydro. Imagine if you will the impact we would have by bringing that amount of power into the grid.

The cost of living in the north remains one of the highest in the country and a significant barrier to our development as a territory. Increased access to affordable power would benefit industry and our residents directly.

Mining continues to be the most important driver of the Northwest Territories’ economy, a fact underlined last week when the Prime Minister announced funding for mine training in Hay River. The Prime Minister’s announcement last week also acknowledged another important fact about the mining sector in the Northwest Territories – there is great potential for growth and development here. 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.

This potential led the Conference Board of Canada to predict that the North’s GDP could double by 2020. That kind of development would create an unprecedented era of prosperity for the North and for Canada. We can’t take that potential for granted, though. If we want to make the most of it, we will need a clear vision for the future and a plan that will support and encourage sustainable, responsible development here in the North.

The Government of the Northwest Territories is steadily putting the elements of a plan for Northern prosperity in place, working with the federal government, regional Aboriginal governments and partners like industry.

Our plan includes the devolution of responsibility for public lands and resources from Canada to the Northwest Territories on April 1st of next year. It includes strategic investments in key transportation and communications infrastructure to improve access to resource-rich areas of the territory and make it easier to do business here.

We are finalizing a mineral development strategy and an economic opportunities strategy to help guide our decisions and investments over the long term.

We are also making plans to connect and extend our hydro transmission grids, improving access to the reliable, affordable power that industry needs.

The development of these plans, the key to the prosperous future we are seeking, is possible because of a recent historic development for the NWT, devolution.

Devolution is the biggest political development in the recent history of the Northwest Territories. Devolution will give the people of the Northwest Territories – the people who live here and know it best –
the ability to make decisions about how we develop our resources according to Northern priorities and values.

With the control in the hands of those that live and work in the Northwest Territories, making decisions regarding future of our energy programs and the continued development of our mining sector will become a more direct and streamlined process, that can be adapted to meet the needs of our mining and energy industry and the needs of our communities.

We are working closely with Aboriginal governments as we develop our plans for the future of the Northwest Territories. Their role in providing a consistent approach to land management will be critical to provide industry with the certainty it needs to work in partnership with the people of the Northwest Territories. The Government of the Northwest Territories is focused on resolving land management issues within the non-settled territories so that Aboriginal governments can benefit from resource development.

I am encouraged by the TliCho government’s recent announcement that the Tlicho Land Use Plan was finalized and came into force June 1 of this year. Guided by the Elders, this plan sets out a vision for use of the land that recognizes protection and opportunities for use.

The Government of the Northwest Territories understands that infrastructure supports economic development and we are already making strategic investments that will help us grow our economy.

Earlier this year, with financial contributions from the Federal government, we started work on the Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk Highway, part of the planned Mackenzie Valley Highway. When this road is complete, it will provide new exploration and development opportunities and connect our communities to new business opportunities. I was very pleased to hear the Prime Minister say in Hay River that he had heard the Northwest Territories’ loud and clear when it came to our intent to work strategically with the Federal government on developing more transportation infrastructure.

In fact, he did say that before the ink was even dry on the devolution agreement he had already received a letter from me outlining our plans.  We are on the move and I know the Prime Minister and his Ministers recognize and support our goals and aspirations.

Investments in the Mackenzie Valley Fibreoptic Line has the potential to make the Northwest Territories a leader in the remote satellite sensing field and provide the kind of communications capacity both high-tech and traditional businesses need in today’s connected world.

The highway and the fibre optic ine are only two projects. With access to new revenues through devolution, the Government of the Northwest Territories will have the increased fiscal capacity and flexibility it needs to continue investing in the economy and people of this territory with the support of our Federal partners.

Devolution will also give the Government of the Northwest Territories and regional Aboriginal governments new opportunities to work together for the benefit of our residents.

We think our record of partnership and cooperation with Aboriginal governments is one of the Northwest Territories’ competitive advantages and devolution will only strengthen that.

Aboriginal people in the Northwest Territories are full participants in our economy and their leaders are at the table planning and making decisions alongside the public government. There is a thriving Aboriginal business sector in the Northwest Territories already benefiting from development in the territory and looking to take advantage of new opportunities.

The Government of the Northwest Territories has a vision of a strong, prosperous territory that provides opportunities for all our communities and regions. As it is for many other jurisdictions, sustainable, responsible development of our energy and mineral resources will be a significant part of realizing that vision.

The agenda over the next few days will be quite busy, and I expect there will be a number of opportunities for further discussions on how we can work together to create jobs and economic opportunities for all Canadians.

Thank you.