Announcement of Devolution Agreement

Mar 11 2013

Premier Bob McLeodPrime Minister, honourable ministers, Members of the Legislative Assembly, Aboriginal government leaders, guests; this is a big day for the Northwest Territories.  It is a day of hopes, a day of dreams, and a day of transformation.

At the beginning of the Twentieth Century, the Northwest Territories was a massive part of a young Canada — the majority of its landmass.  Over time the Northwest Territories gave birth to new provinces and territories as Canada matured in its new confederation.  Manitoba; Saskatchewan; Alberta; Northern Ontario, and Quebec; the Yukon; and eventually Nunavut — all were created from this cradle of the northwest of our country.

The Northwest Territories has been an intrinsic part of Canada’s past, contributing to its progress and growth as a nation from the very start. The Northwest Territories is also part of Canada’s future and today we mark yet another evolution of our great territory, one which will help unlock our tremendous potential and bring prosperity to our territory and the nation.

Today we mark the conclusion of devolution negotiations between our governments – the Government of the Northwest Territories, the Northwest Territory Metis Nation, the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation, the Sahtu Secretariat Incorporated, the Gwich’in Tribal Council, the Tlicho Government – and the Government of Canada.  With the end of negotiations we are poised to take a major leap forward in northern governance and take on province-like responsibilities for our territory, a long-held goal for all of us.

Why is this agreement important?  It is important because it gives us control over our own natural resources.  It gives us control over resource royalties.  It allows us to expand our taxation base, which in turn makes us more able to be responsible and accountable to the needs and desires of our people.  It makes us less dependent on bureaucrats in Ottawa, and it emboldens our locally elected government — our own Cabinet — to govern this territory.  This is indeed a big day, my friends.

We are here in Yellowknife, the capital of the ONE jurisdiction with perhaps the largest store of natural riches in our country.  I recently returned from Toronto, where I addressed the world’s largest mining conference.  I noted there that our territory already exports $2 billion annually in diamonds alone.  We have three of Canada’s diamond mines right here, and a fourth one about to open.  We have gold.  We have Silver.  We have bismuth, cobalt lead, and zinc.  We have rare earth metals.  And that is just in minerals.

Our territory is also sitting atop 81.2 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, seven billion barrels of oil, and we have a hydroelectric potential of 11,500 megawatts, enough to rival James Bay.

Our friend, Prime Minister Harper, has often referred to Canada as an energy superpower.  Friends, the Northwest Territories ITSELF is a potential energy superpower.

No longer is Canada’s economic centre of gravity on Bay Street.  Our economy is no longer just centred in our cities, with remote local communities an oft-forgotten afterthought.  Today’s Canada is fuelled by the so-called “hinterland”.  It is the (quote-unquote) remote regions of this country that have been driving Canada’s economy, and that have stabilized it sufficiently to weather the global economic downturn.

We have what the world needs.  We have what the energy- and mineral-hungry world wants – the world’s emerging markets far to the south and far to the west.  And with today’s agreement, this same natural wealth, with which we have been blessed, can now be used DIRECTLY for the benefit of our people.  It will secure the financial stability of the Government of the Northwest Territories and our Aboriginal government partners and enable us to work together for the good of all the residents of the Northwest Territories.

Equally important, devolution will give us a suite of legislative authorities and tools that will help us ensure that development in our territory is responsible and sustainable. We have a special relationship with the land in the North and we take our role as stewards seriously. Devolution will let us determine our own priorities and develop Northwest Territories lands and resources according to Northern priorities and values.

My friends, we have many blessings here.  But we also have challenges.  There is great economic potential, but we also require the CAPITAL and INFRASTRUCTURE to BUILD those projects and harness that wealth.  We are a vast territory with small communities separated by great distances.  We also have a deep, cold winter.  These factors together make transportation much more expensive than in the south.  Food is more expensive.  Housing is more expensive.  Infrastructure development is more complex and costly.  These are our realities.  We have always been willing to take them on.  But today’s announcement makes this all the more possible.

Friends, we have a beautiful land and a beautiful people.  We embody what it means to be Canadian — from our rugged cold, to our rugged beauty.  From the warmth of our people, to their adaptability and innovation.  We have eleven official languages.  We work collaboratively with all our peoples in everyday decision-making.  And on this note, let me say how proud I am that five out of seven of our Aboriginal Governments have already supported this agreement, in principle.  We continue to engage the remaining two Aboriginal governments and are ready to welcome them as participants in devolution when the timing is right for them. THIS is the way we do things here.

In closing, I want to offer my great thanks to Prime Minister Harper and his government for believing in us.  We greatly appreciate your interest in the North and your personal commitment to making progress on Northern priorities like devolution and like the Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk Highway. On behalf of the people of the Northwest Territories, please accept our gratitude for your confidence — for working with us to make it happen.  We are the stewards of the North, and you have placed your trust and your faith in us.  I thank you for that trust and confidence in our people, and I pledge that it is not misplaced.  We will make Canada proud.

Over the next few months, we will be engaging the people of the Northwest Territories in a discussion on the final devolution agreement. I want to thank the Members of the Legislative Assembly for their ongoing support for this important project, one we have been working towards for many, many years. I know I can count on many of you for your support when we bring the final agreement to the floor of the Assembly where the elected representatives of the people of the Northwest Territories can consider and vote on it.

Finally, you probably already know that this is poised to be a record year for the brilliance of the Northern Lights.  How appropriate that is, ladies and gentlemen, because THIS year, and in the FUTURE — due in part to the agreement we are signing today — the Northwest Territories will shine!

And I will close quoting one of the great adopted sons of our territory:  Ted Wesley:

“A hundred years have passed,

The changes now are coming fast.”

……and the lyric continues:

“O Canada, look north and see

The sleeping giant breaking free”

Thank you, Prime Minister.  Thank you all, my friends.  Thank you very much.