Delivered on June 27, 2018
Check Against Delivery
Your Excellencies, Ministers, Members of the Legislative Assembly and distinguished guests, hello and welcome to the Great Hall of the Legislative Assembly on behalf of the people and the Government of the Northwest Territories.
My name is Bob McLeod and I am the Premier of the Northwest Territories. I am pleased to speak to you today about what makes our territory the place it is and about our priorities and goals for the future.
Canada is a huge country and the North is a long way from the centres of power in Ottawa, and you have probably spent a lot of time in airplanes the last few days getting a taste of just how far it is. That distance can sometimes make it hard for people from down south to recognize or understand what makes our territory unique and the specific challenges and opportunities we see for ourselves.
That is why we are always pleased to see so many members of the diplomatic corps on the Northern tour and enjoy the opportunity to speak to you about our territory.
By now you have visited communities in Nunavut, Yukon and the Northwest Territories, including the Beaufort Delta and coastal regions of the Northwest Territories with visits to the Town of Inuvik and the community of Tuktoyaktuk.
Yellowknife is your last stop before you begin the journey back to Ottawa, and I hope that we can make this last leg of your trip a memorable one as well.
As you entered the Legislative Assembly today, you may have noticed the sign out front identifying the building in each of our 11 official languages. You may have also noticed that one of the translations for “Legislative Assembly” is “place of the people”.
It is a good name for this place, because it is the people that really make this territory what it is. “Place of the people” also speaks to the important Northern traditions of partnership, cooperation and collective decision making, which are practiced in this building following our own style of consensus government.
I have no doubt that on your travels so far that you have been struck by the spirit, ingenuity and determination of Northerners. These are qualities that all northern peoples share.
It is true that the three northern territories share many of the same challenges and opportunities. But it is my hope that in the short time that I have with you today, that you will get a better understanding of who we are as a territory, and that you will be able to share that story when you go home.
As I have said, the story of the Northwest Territories begins with our people.
More than 44,000 people living in 33 communities spread out over a landmass of over 1.3 million square kilometres call the Northwest Territories home.
Around half of our residents identify as First Nations, Inuit or Métis. This is reflected in our government with more than half of the Members of the Northwest Territories Legislative Assembly and five of our seven Cabinet Ministers, including myself as Indigenous.
Having this combination of Indigenous and non-Indigenous residents in our governments, businesses and in our communities has meant that our history as a territory has been built on partnership and cooperation.
It means that our actions and decisions as a government are informed by Indigenous views and priorities at the outset, and that we have a responsibility to reflect the priorities of all residents, including Indigenous residents and their governments.
Part of how we do this is by maintaining formal relationships with Indigenous governments in Northwest Territories. This includes several bilateral government-to-government agreements, as well as engaging in the spirit of respect, recognition and responsibility.
This kind of partnership and cooperation is critical to ensuring all the people of the Northwest Territories are represented and can share meaningfully in the benefits of Northern society, and is an example of reconciliation in action. This is an important part of the Northwest Territories story that I hope you have seen first-hand during your time with us.
The Northwest Territories, in partnership with Nunavut, was the first jurisdiction to create a residential school curriculum for our students. It has been the model for similar curriculum which are being developed and taught throughout the country to teach Canadians about the important and devastating part of our shared history.
We have successfully lobbied for and received more federal funding to support the Indigenous languages of our people – 9 of which are recognized along with French and English as official languages in the Northwest Territories, the most of any provincial or territorial jurisdiction.
When the Government of the Northwest Territories gained control over natural resources from the federal government in 2014, we made a point of offering up to 25 percent of our resource revenues to Indigenous governments. There are no spending requirements on this money; it goes directly to Indigenous governments for their use according to their own priorities and decisions.
This is still one of the richest offers of its kind in Canada. This reflects our commitment to ensuring all residents share in the economic benefits of the territory and supports Indigenous self-determination by providing a measure of economic independence.
And we work together. Some of the most successful businesses in the Northwest Territories are Indigenous owned and operated.
I know that you were briefed earlier today on how important those relationships with our Indigenous governments and organizations are. As you will hear this afternoon, these relationships and partnerships go beyond governance and play a huge role in the development of our economy.
Developing our economy in a way that meets the needs of our residents, reflects our wishes for a more prosperous future, and sustains our land is another big part of our story.
Almost a year ago, I joined with Premier Sandy Silver of Yukon and then Premier Peter Taptuna of Nunavut in releasing a Pan-Territorial Vision for Sustainable Development.
Our vision recognized that a strong, sustainable economy is key to supporting the people of our territories and is central to their health, wellbeing and economic success.
Social and economic development in the North goes hand in hand and we need to create a strong economy if we want to create a strong territory where Northerners can prosper and lead healthy lives.
We know that investing in infrastructure projects like developing the Mackenzie Valley Highway and the road to the Slave Geological Province, or expanding the Taltson Hydro-electric facility, will create good jobs and economic opportunities for our residents.
We continue to work with the Government of Canada to advance these important projects for the people of the Northwest Territories. I was pleased to take part in a $140 million dollar infrastructure funding announcement with Crown Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett and Northwest Territories Member of Parliament Michael McLeod this morning.
This funding will help us advance the construction of an all-weather highway down the Mackenzie Valley, which has been a longstanding priority for the people who live there and for our government. This project, and ones like it, will lower the cost of living and of doing business which in turn create more economic interest in our territory and opportunities for our people.
The Northwest Territories has all the ingredients for strong economic growth, including abundant natural resources like oil, gas, diamonds and gold, as well as reserves of minerals that fuel the green economy like cobalt, lithium, bismuth and rare earths.
While we are constantly looking to diversify our economy by looking at sectors like agriculture and tourism, we recognize that responsible development of our natural resources is the biggest part of our plan for the Northwest Territories we want to build.
Northerners want the same things all Canadians want: stable, secure jobs that give them the financial independence they need to care for themselves and their families. The good paying middle class jobs that the federal government wants to make sure that all Canadians have access too, are predominantly tied to natural resources in the Northwest Territories.
Our government has embraced this fact. We have done the work to show that Northern resources can be developed safely and responsibly, in a way that gives residents every possible opportunity for economic success and high quality of life, and that it can be done while respecting and sustaining our land.
Through the development of the 2030 Energy Strategy, the Petroleum Resources Strategy and the Climate Change Strategic Framework, we have demonstrated that economic growth and development can be achieved while still transitioning to a lower carbon economy.
Canada will be an essential partner with us in bringing about positive, transformative change through their investment in the Northwest Territories.
Northerners continue to plan for the long-term social and economic development of the Northwest Territories and Canada has to be a part of that plan. We need to develop our energy and transportation corridors by delivering transformational projects.
These projects will connect our people and communities to one another and to the rest of Canada, and will provide clean affordable energy to our residents, resource developers and southern Canadians.
This is how we reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that are threatening the sustainability of our communities and wildlife without condemning our people to a life of limited economic opportunities and subsidized living.
Most importantly, the plan for the future of the Northwest Territories needs to be written by all of its peoples. It cannot assume that one group speaks for the whole or that southern Canadians understand what is best for us.
Our government is working with Indigenous governments on behalf of all residents to create a vision for the Northwest Territories’ future that is reflective of all of our peoples and is built on respectful cooperation and partnerships.
That is why will continue to work closely with our territorial counterparts and with our colleagues in Ottawa to develop the federal Arctic Policy Framework in a way that recognizes and respects the roles of northern peoples in determining their future.
When you go back to Ottawa and talk about your time in the Northwest Territories, I hope that you will first remember the people.
And when you reflect on the people you met and the things that you saw, experienced and learned, I hope that you will reflect on a feeling that you know all too well; of being a one voice that represents something much larger than yourself.