Bob McLeod: Opportunities North Conference, Keynote address

(check against delivery)

Thank you all for taking part in this week’s celebration of business in the North, and in particular, the Northwest Territories.

My thanks to the NWT Chamber of Commerce for their work in organizing this conference, and for the opportunity to share some thoughts with you today.

The NWT Chamber has asked me to address the topic - What Lies Ahead?

Of course, we can’t predict our economic future but like the many pieces of a puzzle that come together to form a larger picture, I believe that we are seeing a number of economic indicators, investments and initiatives beginning to take shape; and from them a positive economic outlook for our future is emerging.

I am going to talk about some of these pieces this morning and how, I believe, they are shaping and positioning our economy for the future. 

They can be seen in three critical areas of importance to our economy:

  • First, the foundational resource and infrastructure development that drives our economy;
  • Second, the advancement of a framework of certainty for industry looking to invest in the NWT; and
  • Third, the economic diversity that we are supporting to keep our economy healthy.

Certainly the opening of Gahcho Kue tops the list of good news stories in our Territory today.  I would like to congratulate DeBeers Canada and Mountain Province Diamonds for bringing their project on stream.   

The Gahcho Kue mine is the world’s largest new diamond mine.  It’s projected to provide 12 years of production and billions in economic activity in the Northwest Territories, and adds a strong driver for our economy into the future. 

Equally important, Dominion and Rio Tinto are also moving forward with projects that expand and extend their mines.  Ekati’s Jay Pipe is expected to generate more than $600 million in value and billions in economic activity, and an extra ten years of mine life.  And the A21 pipe at Diavik is expected to ensure current levels of production through the rest of its life.

Meanwhile, there are also early indicators that markets may be recovering.  There has been a recent lift in gold prices and with it the return of exploration interest in the territory. Metal markets are also beginning to move as demand for lithium, rare earths, and bismuth is expected to increase.

Our Territory is uniquely positioned to capitalize.  Diamonds have seen us through some rough times but when it comes to resources, we are more than just diamonds. We are 1.3 million square kilometres of largely-unexplored land with billions of tonnes of identified mineral potential across a much wider spectrum.  With 12% of the world’s bismuth, large deposits of rare earths, confirmed lithium resources, and a politically-stable investment landscape, I see the Northwest Territories primed and ready to work with industry as it returns to the North to invest, explore and power the technologies of the future.  

The Northwest Territories is also home to a wealth of oil and gas resources that can provide enormous economic and social development opportunities for our residents. Work on a Northwest Territories Oil and Gas Strategy is underway to promote the responsible and sustainable development of our natural resources.

We are working to increase awareness, knowledge and understanding of the NWT’s world-class resource potential with a view to attracting this investment. 

And, in addition to resource development, we are promoting infrastructure development.  We are in full agreement with the recent statement by the NWT Chamber that infrastructure drives cost-savings and opportunity for business and residents alike, and is critical to a healthy economy. 

Our government has been bold in its pursuit of projects like the Mackenzie Valley Fibre Optic Line and the new territorial hospital. Public capital expenditures have increased for four consecutive years.

Next month, Members of the Legislative Assembly will begin their formal consideration of the 2017/18 capital plan.   In support of this planning process, we, as government, continue to engage with the Government of Canada, working with our Northern partners to highlight the critical importance of moving infrastructure projects forward in our North.

The recently released review on the Canada Transportation Act, tabled in parliament earlier this year, provides some evidence that our lobby is working.  

This review recommended that federal corridor development efforts focus on transformative, nation-building projects.  We agree, and the GNWT has been working with Canada to secure funding for projects that we believe fit the bill.

The Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk Highway is a case in point.

It is estimated that it will create more than 1,000 person years of employment and 40 long-term jobs in the north, plus an additional 860 person years of employment and long-term jobs in other parts of Canada.

Beginning next year, it will also open the door for unprecedented access and new economic development opportunities for the area.

Inuvik’s role as a regional commercial and business hub will be strengthened and expanded. Residents of Tuktoyaktuk will benefit from approximately $1.5 million in savings as goods will be able to be shipped year-round.

​Tourism is projected to increase by $9 million annually in the NWT.

Opportunities for family, social, recreational and sporting interactions will increase.  And, residents will have improved access to health care, educational and economic opportunities.

In time, southern legs of the proposed Mackenzie Valley Highway will bring similar benefits and open some of the greatest geological potential in the nation.

We are also working with Canada to develop the Tlicho All-Season Road to connect the people of Whati with the NWT highways system and to serve as a gateway to even more significant mineral deposits.

The Coronation Yellowknife Corridor into the Slave Geological Province would open the potential for a central Arctic transportation corridor for Nunavut and the NWT.  And the Cassiar-Campbell Corridor project would improve access to resource development potential in the Yukon and western NWT.

Ladies and gentlemen, real and anticipated projects in our minerals sector and anticipated returns from our infrastructure investments have and will continue to shape the economic picture that we see for our future.

So too will an increased level of investment certainty.

We recognize that by making land available in an orderly and responsible manner; by settling land claims, finalizing land use plans and reviewing conservation targets, we can support responsible resource development consistent with the values and priorities of our residents.

Devolution has brought control of our lands and resources home from Ottawa. The impact of this cannot be overstated. This new localized control is allowing our government to provide positive policy solutions for land and resource issues.

We are committed to ensuring Aboriginal governments share in the benefits of economic development, by sharing in resource revenues, and through direct employment and contracting.  We continue to engage with our Aboriginal governments in the spirit of respect, recognition and responsibility that defines the environment of partnership. Cooperation will be the foundation for development in our communities and regions.

We are working closely with our partners in the Dehcho and South Slave to bring their decades-long negotiations to a close. In the best interest of assuring finalized land claims, the GNWT and the Government of Canada jointly appointed ministerial special advisors for each region to facilitate the process.

We have seen great success recently with respect to Aboriginal rights with the conclusion of negotiations and the establishment of the Délįnę Got’ine community government. This will not only serve the people of Délįnę, but will also provide inspiration for other communities in the Northwest Territories and indeed for all of Canada.

Meanwhile we are a jurisdiction that is evolving and coming into our own.  Only two-years removed from Devolution, we are now in a position to address another important piece in the creation of certainty in our Territory, made-for-the NWT legislation and regulations.

The work to develop an NWT Mineral Resources Act has begun with a view to streamlining and modernizing our regulation of mining.  Similarly, we are also using this time of reduced investment activity to review our Petroleum Resources Act and Oil and Gas Operations Act and align them with the values and priorities of our Territory and its people.

Importantly, our government has also taken steps to strengthen its own fiscal certainty.  Our fiscal responsibility policy continues to guide our measured and prudent approach to financial management to ensure funding is available for the public sector to provide the investments necessary for prosperity.

Investor certainty will play an important role in the economic future that we are shaping, and we are putting many of these pieces into place.

Finally, ladies and gentlemen, there is the advancement of economic diversity, essential to the future health of the economy, and for that reason, a priority of the 18th Legislative Assembly and a pillar in our government’s mandate.

Leading the charge, our tourism sector continues to grow, with expenditures reaching an all-time high of $146 million in the 2015/2016 fiscal year. This is due in no small part to actions and investments advanced by our government under the Tourism 2015 five-year-plan.  Our follow-up plan, Tourism 2020, will build on our successes, and expand our reach across the world.

It includes renewed investment in community infrastructure, capacity building, development of new product packages and Aboriginal cultural tourism.

Several programs and services will roll-out over the life of our plan, including the debut of an Aboriginal Cultural Tourism Champions Program and a Community Tourism Program; as well as the graduation of the Tourism Youth Mentorship Program from a pilot program to an ongoing program.

Similarly, we have strategies in development to breathe new life into our agriculture, commercial fishing, and manufacturing sectors. These will formalize our government’s tactical approach to revitalizing these sectors in collaboration with industry, public, and Aboriginal governmental partners.

The early success of our film strategy and action plan demonstrates the viability of this approach. This strategy has seen a surge of local capacity building activities, local productions, and guest productions. It is a testament to what can be done when talented residents invested in the success of an industry they are passionate about come together with public funding and support.

In this same vein, we are supporting diversity within our resource industries, and in coming months will be advancing a draft oil and gas strategy to ensure we are ready to take advantage of our world-class petroleum reserves when the commodity markets return to form.

And every successful economy needs people to drive it.  So we are taking steps to attract new residents to the Northwest Territories with immigration initiatives designed to help employers, entrepreneurs, and skilled workers effectively navigate the immigration process and welcome new families to the NWT.

From all of these pieces ladies and gentlemen, a picture is emerging of a stronger, broader economy.  One based on the respectful, sustainable management of our resources, diversity and sound fiscal planning.

Mining and mineral-related activities are, and for some time will be, the largest provider of jobs, and the main driver of the territorial economy.  We need the benefits from this non-renewable resource production to enable our investment into other sectors of the economy.

Investors and proponents of major projects require certainty in permitting, consultation and process timelines to advance resource or infrastructure development.  We are working to provide these assurances and positioning the NWT as an attractive and welcoming jurisdiction for exploration and investment.

However, we are also investing in the diversity of our economy to support growth in our communities.   With the NWT’s resource-based economic environment prone to the rise and fall of the world economy, a grass roots approach to economic growth and diversity is critical to maintaining the territory’s overall economic health and stability and will serve to build the capacity and self-sufficiency of our communities and residents.

Through the ongoing implementation of key strategies like the NWT Economic Opportunities Strategy and the NWT Mineral Development Strategy, and with the development of new and additional strategies and actions plans, these pieces are being put in place, and our vision of a strong, prosperous and self-sufficient Northwest Territories is being realized.   

Thank You.