Commissioner’s Opening Address

Feb 7 2013

Speaker Jacobson, Premier McLeod, Members of the Legislative Assembly, ladies and gentlemen, it is my pleasure to be here today.

The 17th Legislative Assembly has a vision of a strong, self-sufficient and prosperous territory where all our communities and regions have opportunities. It sees a territory where our people are healthy, educated and employed. It wants residents to share the benefits of a strong, diversified economy, live in safe and sustainable communities and have the programs and supports they need to achieve personal success for themselves and their families.

Ours is a territory of great opportunity, ladies and gentlemen. We have a wealth of natural resources that could create prosperity not just for our residents, but for Canada as a whole. We have gold, diamonds and rare earth metals. We are a potential energy powerhouse, with world-class oil and gas resources in the Central Mackenzie and the Beaufort-Delta and hydro potential to rival Quebec’s James Bay project.

Responsible, sustainable development of these resources will help to create a strong and thriving economy here in the Northwest Territories and we need a strong economy if we want to be able to look after our people and our environment. A strong economy will create jobs and opportunities, giving our people new choices for employment where choices are limited today. Increased jobs in our communities and regions will let people support themselves and their families. Businesses will benefit from expanding opportunities, new investment and increased consumer spending. Governments will benefit from growing revenues that will help fund investments in our people, infrastructure and economy and support critical social programs to ensure our residents can participate in and enjoy the benefits of a prosperous NWT.

Yet opportunity is only a beginning. It takes hard work, planning and determination to turn opportunities into success. In the 15 months since your government took office it has been working to create the conditions for success. We cannot have healthy, educated people without a strong, diversified economy and it has been investing in infrastructure that will support economic development and the delivery of government services. It has been working on plans and programs to help people overcome social and personal challenges that keep them from realizing their goals and aspirations. And it has been making the difficult decisions about how to manage its limited resources while ensuring Northerners still have access to the programs and services they need.

2012 saw your government deliver on some major plans and initiatives that will have long-term benefits for the territory, including the completion of East Three School in Inuvik ahead of schedule and under budget. This state-of-the-art school will play a critical role in helping children and youth acquire the training and skills they need to take advantage of new opportunities and jobs for years to come.

We also saw the opening of the Deh Cho Bridge. This major piece of public infrastructure will – like the planned Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk Highway – help to improve our transportation system, lower the cost of living and contribute to the territory’s economic development.

Your government continued to move ahead with plans to begin construction on the Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk portion of the Mackenzie Valley Highway, taking part in regulatory hearings held by the Environmental Impact Review Board. The Board released its report last week, supporting the construction of the highway with conditions. The Government of the Northwest Territories looks forward to taking the next steps toward beginning construction on this highway, which will support economic activity in the region now and in the future and help us realize the national dream of a country connected from sea to sea to sea.

In today’s world, communications infrastructure can be as important to economic development as physical infrastructure. That is why the Government of the Northwest Territories will continue to pursue the construction of the Mackenzie Valley Fibre Line. This project will provide high-speed Internet to communities along the Valley, creating new business opportunities, supporting development of the Inuvik Satellite Facility and improving service delivery options.

The Sahtu Region will be the site of much economic activity this year. The Government of the Northwest Territories continues to invest in this region so its people – and all the people of the NWT – can realize the full benefits of this activity. Your government is working with industry, business and residents of the region to support development this year.

We cannot have a strong, diversified economy without healthy, educated people and your government continues to invest in the health and wellness of our residents. This past year it launched a new residential schools curriculum – the first of its kind in the country – in cooperation with the Government of Nunavut. Your government also launched the Minister’s Forum on Addictions and Community Wellness to look at new community-based treatment options to better address the challenges that our people face. And it is engaged in the renewal of the Early Childhood Development Framework, working with Members of this Assembly, experts, communities, stakeholders and the public so we can give our children the best start possible.

Understanding that poverty holds back many members of our society, your government has also been working on an anti-poverty strategy in partnership with the federal and Aboriginal governments, business, industry, non-profit and nongovernmental organizations. Poverty is a complicated issue and it will take the efforts of all sectors of NWT society to address it. An initial draft of the developing anti-poverty strategy was released late last year and will be finalized this year.

The Government of the Northwest Territories understands that a healthy society and healthy economy depend upon a healthy environment. Your government continues to work to protect the land, air, water and wildlife that sustain all of us. This past year it has made progress on negotiating a transboundary water management agreement with Alberta that will help protect the waters of the Mackenzie River Basin. A deal is very close now. The government has also made progress on a new Wildlife Act that it expects to introduce in this House in the near future.

Your government also continues to pursue alternative energy projects that will help to both reduce greenhouse gas emissions and support increased economic development. Developing our hydro resources and extending transmission lines will provide clean, renewable energy to support industry and help communities and individuals get off diesel.  Solar is an increasingly viable option and last year saw the opening of the biggest solar energy installation north of 60 in Fort Simpson. Your government will continue to pursue solar energy initiatives as part of its Solar Energy Strategy.

Expanding and supporting the use of biomass is another way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and create new business opportunities. Your government will continue to lead by example and convert public buildings to biomass heat systems, including the first projects outside the North and South Slave regions. Creating a market will help to create a domestic biomass industry and your government looks forward to the pending opening of a Northern wood pellet manufacturing facility later this year.

In 2012 the Government of the Northwest Territories was pleased to have the Gwich’in Tribal Council and the Sahtu Secretariat Incorporated join it and the Inuvialuit Regional Council and NWT Metis Nation as signatories to the Devolution Agreement-in-Principle along with the Government of Canada.

2012 also saw your government enter into formal government-to-government agreements with the Gwich’in Tribal Council, NWT Metis Nation and Tlicho Government. At a time when Aboriginal issues are much in the news as governments in the south try to address the desires of Aboriginal people to be more involved in decision making and the economy, your government is leading the way.

As the government for all people in the Northwest Territories, your government has long seen and understood the benefit of working in partnership with the Aboriginal governments of the Northwest Territories. Aboriginal governments are more than just stakeholders to be consulted. They are governments in their own right, with their own jurisdiction and constituencies. They are major land owners with an interest in managing and protecting our land, air, water and wildlife.

Aboriginal government partnership is critical to our success as a territory and the Government of the Northwest Territories actively seeks to involve them in its decisions, initiatives and activities in a spirit of recognition, respect and responsibility. The government is pleased to sit beside Aboriginal governments in Devolution negotiations and to have them work as partners in initiatives like the development of project description reports for the Mackenzie Valley Highway. It seeks to ensure that Aboriginal people share in the benefits of development in the NWT by calling for the negotiation of socio-economic agreements and impact benefit agreements as part of development approvals. And the Government of the NWT supports Aboriginal people’s aspirations for self-sufficiency and self-determination through the ongoing negotiation and implementation of lands, resources and self-government agreements.

The territory is stronger when we work together and our people all will benefit from continuing good will and cooperation between all the governments that serve and represent them. And as we work together for the benefit of all our people, we can be an example to the rest of Canada of what can be accomplished when Aboriginal people are an integral part of decision making and full participants in the political, economic and social life of a jurisdiction.

Looking forward, Devolution, growing our economy and making sure that all NWT residents enjoy the benefits of living in a prosperous, sustainable territory will be priorities for your government.

Creating economic and mineral development strategies were identified as priorities of this Assembly at its outset. In late 2012, the Government of the Northwest Territories, in partnership with the Northern Aboriginal Business Association, the NWT Chamber of Commerce, the NWT Association of Communities and the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency began work on an economic opportunities strategy. Making the most of the economic potential of the Northwest Territories requires a strategic, managed approach. A completed Economic Opportunities Strategy will identify opportunities for developing a strong, diversified economy in all regions of the Northwest Territories, based on extensive public engagement, input from experts and study of best practices.

Just last week, your government announced the beginning of work on a Mineral Development Strategy in partnership with the NWT and Nunavut Chamber of Mines. Mining is the backbone of the NWT’s economy and we need to be sure it is managed in a way that creates long-term benefits for the people of the territory. A completed strategy will help us continue to develop our mineral resources responsibly and sustainably.

Making sure that people throughout the NWT benefit from a growing economy will be another priority this year. Your government is looking at ways to decentralize positions both in the near term and following Devolution. We are also putting a renewed focus on affirmative action this year so we can create a more representative public service. Both of these initiatives will help ensure that more Northerners in more communities have opportunities to participate in and prosper from a strong, diversified economy.

Finally, ladies and gentlemen, after more than decade, the Government of the Northwest Territories and its partners, the Inuvialuit Regional Council, Gwich’in Tribal Council, Sahtu Secretariat Incorporated and NWT Metis Nation, are nearing the conclusion of Devolution negotiations with Canada. Your government expects to have an agreement in the very near future that will finally see our shared vision of Northerners managing NWT public lands and resources for the benefit of all our residents a reality.

This agreement holds the promise of significant economic, environmental and political benefits for all residents, businesses, investors and governments in the territory. Devolution will provide significant authority to the Legislative Assembly, with approximately 24 Acts and regulations governing public land, water and resources in the NWT becoming territorial legislation on the transfer date. These are substantive pieces of legislation that will provide your government with the authority to manage and regulate public lands and development in the Northwest Territories in a way that meets Northern needs and reflects Northern priorities.

The Government of the Northwest Territories is committed to finalizing an agreement that is good for our territory and our people and negotiations are expected to conclude in the very near future. The government has considered the financial terms of the agreement very carefully and is confident it will be able to manage transferred responsibilities without drawing on resource revenues. And while final details still remain to be worked out about the specific legislative authorities being transferred, including those in the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act, we must remember that significant authority and responsibility is being returned to the people of the North.

Now is the North’s time. I was pleased to take part in NWT Days in Ottawa last week and it was clear to me from the response there that there is great interest in our territory in southern Canada. Our delegation was welcomed warmly everywhere it went, and the receptions and events were well-attended by many, including federal Ministers and MPs, members of the diplomatic corps, senior civil servants, media and stakeholders.

People recognize that the North will be a critical part of Canada’s future. We have the people and resources to fuel economic growth at home and across Canada. We also know how to build consensus and create effective working partnerships, a fact that was obvious from the make-up of the NWT delegation, which included the Premier and Cabinet, MLAs, Aboriginal leaders and business leaders. With Aboriginal issues in the forefront these days among Canada’s political leaders, our show of Northern solidarity made an impression. Learning how to work cooperatively with Aboriginal communities and governments is something we know how to do here and something we can share with the rest of the country. There can be no doubt that the Northwest Territories has something to contribute to the national discussion, can offer solutions to national challenges and will be central to this country’s future.

At this time, I would like to acknowledge the hard work of the 17th Legislative Assembly and encourage you all to carry the momentum into the budget session you are about to embark upon.

During this session, the Government of the Northwest Territories will be introducing the following bills for consideration by the House:

  • Appropriation Act (Operations Expenditures) 2013-2014
  • Supplementary Appropriation Act (Infrastructure Expenditures), No. 4, 2011-2012, and
  • Supplementary Appropriation Act (Operations Expenditures), No. 4, 2011-2012
  • Supplementary Appropriation Act (Infrastructure Expenditures), No. 3, 2012-2013, and
  • Supplementary Appropriation Act (Operations Expenditures), No. 3, 2012-2013

The government considers these bills essential to the good conduct of government business and, as such, I recommend their passage.

As Commissioner of the Northwest Territories, I now declare open the Fourth Session of the 17th Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories.

Thank you, Merci Beaucoup, Mahsi Cho, Quanani, Koana.