Premier McLeod's Keynote Speech: Prospects North

11 septembre 2013
Déclarations et discours de ministres

(September 11, 2013) - Ladies and gentlemen, it’s a pleasure to welcome you back to Yellowknife as we celebrate the 21st year of this conference.

I am pleased that we have with us today representatives from all levels of government and many different departments and agencies, representatives from the energy, mining, and investment communities, from the tourism industry, from the media, and from Aboriginal governments.  We in this room are a cross section of the North and partners in its development. It is a pleasure to talk to you today about what brings us together – our common interest in a strong and prosperous North.

We last met in this city for Prospects North three years ago.  The great attendance here this week proves that interest in the North and belief in our potential is strong and growing. There is a certain energy and enthusiasm in this room that increases from year to year to year for the simple reason that the North is a region full of possibility and promise. We are, as the Prime Minister has said, the future of Canada and my government is committed to making the investments and forming the partnerships necessary to make that future a reality.

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.

Ladies and gentlemen, as I evaluate the present landscape – economic and trade flow trends, global commodity demands, growing markets and the nature of those markets, weather patterns, and geo-political phenomena – when I consider the opportunities and strengths around us, I cannot but conclude that the Twenty-First Century belongs to the North!

Canada has been the envy of the industrialized world for the past five years for its relative economic performance.  What has been the basis – the foundation – of that strength?  Natural resources.  In particular, energy and minerals.  The economic centre of gravity has been shifting in this great land away from the traditional manufacturing belts of Southern Ontario and Southern Quebec.  And where has it been shifting?  North-west.

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.  But this development and this resource-based economic momentum is creating opportunities and transforming the lives right here – for our own people as well.  It’s creating partnership opportunities for Aboriginal governments and communities.  It’s creating an enduring economic optimism that will underpin a new generation that can harness this local resource wealth – and leverage the benefits of new technology and the Information Age – and fashion this combination into opportunities I could not have imagined as a young man.

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

We have, in the North, what the world wants – what emerging markets need. We have representatives here from other provinces and territories with growing economies and I will let them speak to their own experiences.  But in the Northwest Territories alone, we are facing tremendous opportunity.

We are the third largest diamond producer in the world.  In fact, diamonds account for almost a quarter of our territory’s GDP.  We already export $2 billion annually in diamonds alone.  And we are a territory of 45,000 people.  We have all three of Canada's diamond mines right here in NWT, and a fourth one about to open.  Our product is recognized as being of the highest quality, and conflict-free.

We have gold.  We have silver.  We have bismuth.  Rare earth metals.  Cobalt.  Lead.  Zinc.  The vast majority of our mineral reserves are not even being mined.  There is so much potential.

Energy - we are blessed with an abundance that far exceeds our needs and even capacity to extract on our own.  Discovered and recoverable potential for the Northwest Territories and Arctic offshore is estimated around 1.2 billion barrels of oil and 16 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Ultimate potential is estimated around seven billion barrels of oil and 81 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.  These estimates for conventional oil and gas resources do not include potentially world-class shale oil play developing in the Sahtu region or the extension of the Liard or Horn River basins into the Northwest Territories.

I am also convinced that we will see – in our lifetime – regular shipping through Arctic waters that had previously remained too seasonal or ice-locked for predictable navigation.  Climactic changes around us are obviously presenting challenges and we are sensitive to that. We have great respect for our land and environment in the North and are committed to their protection. But we are also committed to the economic development of our territory and the social development this will bring. New transportation routes will create new economic opportunities that we will learn to use to our benefit, responsibly and sustainably.

Again, ladies and gentlemen, we have resources here.  There is no shortage of resources.  What we need is capital, and infrastructure:  the investment capital to realize and commercialize these reserves, and to bring them to market. We also need partners that share our objectives for a strong and prosperous territory.

The North has always been about partnership.  Few people, immense resources, competition for capital.  We do not have the local capacity to harness our full economic potential.  That is what brings us here together, all of us in this room:  to find ways to work together, to partner, for the maximum benefit of Northern economic development, and of mutual opportunity and prosperity.

As most of you probably already know, this past summer the Government of Canada signed the final Devolution agreement with the Government of the Northwest Territories and its Aboriginal government partners: the Inuvialuit Regional Council, the NWT Metis Nation, the Gwich'in Tribal Council, Sahtu Secretariat Incorporated and the Tlicho Government. You will have heard that it is an agreement about the administration of land and resources, but it is more than this. At its heart, Devolution is about prosperity and partnerships. It is about the Government of the Northwest Territories and regional Aboriginal governments working together to turn the enormous resource potential of this territory into jobs and economic opportunities for the people of the North and the people of Canada.

Beginning on April 1, 2014, the people of the Northwest Territories will for the first time take responsibility for their most important source of wealth and prosperity: public lands and resources. On that day, the people of the Northwest Territories - the people who live here and know this territory the best - will begin to make the decisions about how we protect our environment and develop our resources sustainably and responsibly, according to Northern priorities and values.

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 here. It 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.

But Devolution was born of partnership and it will take ongoing partnership to realize its full promise.

Devolution was the result of many years of work and negotiations involving Canada and the Northwest Territories' regional Aboriginal governments.

The Northwest Territories is home to seven regional Aboriginal governments, each with their own authorities and responsible to their people for pursuing their specific priorities. The Government of the Northwest Territories maintains formal government-to-government relations with the regional Aboriginal governments and looks to them as key partners in working to advance the best interests of all residents of the Northwest Territories.

Unlike the provinces or the federal government, “Aboriginal relations” is not just a government department, or a negotiation afterthought to sell policy decisions that have already been made.  Here, it is a way of life.  Our territorial government works hand in hand with our Aboriginal governments 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.  For example, I am proud that when we signed the Devolution Agreement, we did this with five of our seven Aboriginal governments as co-signatories.  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.

I can also point to a recent example of how Aboriginal governments are successfully partnering with industry for mutual benefit.  We recently saw approval of land use plans by the Tłįchǫ Government and the Sahtu, which will open up settlement lands in these two regions for development – according to the will of the regional Aboriginal governments.  Aboriginal governments are making partnership decisions for the progress, economic development of their own people – just as all Northern governments are increasingly able to make development and conservation decisions about their own lands in a consistent fashion based on plans that will help provide certainty for industry and responsiveness to our people.

Under the Devolution Agreement, we will be strengthening these partnerships even further.   We are establishing an intergovernmental council that will allow our government and Aboriginal governments to better work together and coordinate decisions on land use and development.  This will ensure greater consistency and territorial perspective.

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.

Partnership.  That is what makes us strong, and that is what will make us even stronger in the future.

The federal government has been and will continue to be a critical partner in Northern development and I want to tip my hat to the Prime Minister for his continued commitment to the North. Prime Minister Harper and I have met more times this year than ever before, and never before has the federal government been as willing a partner for Northern development as it is today.  I am not just talking about Devolution.  I am also talking about continued federal investment in the North in projects that will help us grow our economy and make our communities more sustainable.

Earlier this year, with financial contributions from the federal government, we started work on the Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk portion of the planned Mackenzie Valley Highway. Investing in Northern transportation infrastructure is one of the critical challenges that must be overcome to truly develop the North. We need roads and airports to help support exploration and development, to help connect our communities and help us get our resources to market. Completing the Mackenzie Valley Highway - originally envisioned by John Diefenbaker as part of his "roads to resources" plan - will be a key achievement for this government and Canada.

The Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk Highway is one important project, but it is not our only project. Earlier this year our government released Corridors for Canada III, our plan for strategic investments in transportation infrastructure over the next ten years. Those of you who were at the energy ministers’ conference a few weeks ago may have heard me note that the Prime Minister recently told me in Hay River that the ink wasn’t yet dry on the Devolution agreement when our letter introducing Corridors for Canada landed on his desk.  We aren't wasting time in moving forward to create prosperity for the territory and the federal government understands that we are serious about development.  And consequently, it has proven itself to be a serious partner.

Energy - reliable, affordable energy - is another critical factor for growing a strong economy and another area the Government of the Northwest Territories is committed to developing. Many of you will have heard me talk about the hydroelectric potential of the Northwest Territories before. We have the potential to generate 11,500 megawatts of electricity here, that's on par with James Bay and more than the current production of BC Hydro.

That resource represents a source of reliable, renewable power that could help to grow the economy, support major development projects and lower consumer power costs. Developing that resource won't take place overnight, but even now there are steps we can take to ensure we are making the best use of our hydro resources for our people and economy. That is why we are developing plans for extending and interconnecting our existing hydro transmission grids. A transmission system reaching north towards the diamond mines could help support new and existing projects while extending the grid south could create the possibility of exporting power to new markets.

But we aren't only about the resource economy here in the Northwest Territories. Digital technology is creating new business opportunities all over the world. Already, the Northwest Territories is emerging as a leader in the field of remote satellite sensing with the Inuvik Satellite Station Facility - another example of successful partnerships in the North. There is huge potential for expanding the facility with the construction of the Mackenzie Valley Fibreoptic Line.  More than this, the MVFL would help to provide the kind of communications capacity both high-tech and traditional businesses need in today’s connected world. The MVFL will also create new opportunities for providing government programs and services to people in communities along its route. We will continue to press on this project, and are buoyed to have a supportive friend in the federal government.

Partnerships, investment, and infrastructure.

These are the three elements of Northern success, and these are the three themes by which I will continue to define my tenure as premier.

The North is truly at the dawn of a new era.  Abundant resources, greater autonomy and control of our economies, and hungry markets worldwide that want what we produce.  We could not ask for a better recipe for future prosperity. If we, in this room – along with our companies, governments, networks – if we work together to continue building partnerships, increase investment, and expand Northern infrastructure, the North of our children will be unlike anything we have ever seen before.

Sir Wilfrid Laurier wasn’t far off the mark when he predicted a century of success for Canada back in 1904. But I guarantee you, if we in the North work together to harness the full potential of our land and people, the Twenty-First Century will certainly be ours.

Thank you very much.  I hope you are enjoying Prospects North and will come away inspired with new ideas and plans for turning Northern potential into Northern prosperity.