David Ramsay: Hay River Chamber of Commerce Speech

Aug 28 2015

Thank you .  It’s good to be here again. Hay River has become a familiar and welcome stop for me over the last four years.

The Hay River Chamber has provided valuable input on many economic matters and I thank you for that – and for the invitation to address you, again, this afternoon.

As I join you today, MLAs Groenwegen, Bouchard and I are in the final months of our elected mandates.

This tends to be a time for taking stock and looking back – and I would like to do a bit of that with you today but only very briefly – because there is still work to complete and I am still very-much looking forward.

In particular, there are two initiatives – specific to Hay River – that we are working to have in place before our Assembly expires on October 8th.

The first is a formal strategy document on agriculture; and the second, a business plan for the growth and revitalization of the Great Slave Lake fishing industry.

Before I update you on these initiatives, however, I would be politically remiss if I did not offer some comment on the foundation and economic direction that has been set over the past four years by the 17th Assembly.

As we look forward to a new territorial government, we do so for the first time post Devolution – and in the context of a Government with authorities over its resources, lands and waters.

The realization of Devolution in 2013 has changed economic thinking in the NWT – and with it the approaches that we can take to boosting investor confidence in the NWT, diversifying the economy, reducing the cost of living, creating employment, and addressing infrastructure needs.

Collectively, the Mineral Development Strategy and the NWT Economic Opportunities Strategy have opened the door for a series of joint and partnered approaches that are advancing a new and improved economic environment for NWT residents and their businesses in both the mining and grassroots business sectors. .

We’re taking the same approach in support of our petroleum sector – something you can expect to hear more about in coming weeks as we come back to the House with a draft Oil and Gas Strategy and the results of our engagement on new regulations for hydraulic fracturing.

We have also used the opportunity of Devolution, in part, to decentralize our Government – and to realize a stated priority of our government – to increase employment opportunities where they are needed most.

ITI was well ahead of the curve in this regard – having establishing the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Office here back in 2005.

In 2013, Hay River has become the new headquarters for the Department of ITI’s Business Incentive Policy Monitoring Office and soon will also be home to the Parks unit of our Tourism and Parks Division.

In total, upwards of 30 GNWT positions have been identified for creation or relocation in Hay River – each will work to strengthen the economy and contribute to our goal of being a more effective and responsive government for the needs of the South Slave.

The process of Devolution and our work on key strategy documents has also rekindled a spirit of collaboration and coming together‎. It is an approach that reflects our Government’s commitment four years ago to move our Territory forward ‎in partnership.

Last year, the GNWT began a series of important dialogues with the NWT Chamber of Commerce addressing the pressure points impacting the private sector – difficult but necessary conversations about our territory’s need for population growth, large scale development, improvements to the regulatory system and realistic and effective means to address the high costs of doing business in the North.

To me they emphasized the fact that we cannot move forward without first establishing a climate for growth.

Entrepreneurs and small business owners are the backbone of our local and regional economies – and they cannot thrive in the absence of major investment and people.

I would like to commend Robert on the “Change the Conversation” approach that he is promoting with this Chamber, the Town of Hay River and other industry partners to increase consumer confidence here and to find ways to more actively promote Hay River as a place to live, work and raise families.

It complements the work that I know is being advanced by this Chamber and the Town to develop a branding and marketing campaign to attract mine workers to Hay River. It also fits well with work that ITI is doing with our mining sector through Socio Economic Agreements and it will help set the stage for future initiatives to retain existing residents – and to position Hay River as a regional retail center for outlying communities.

To that end, we have also ramped up our support for manufacturing in the NWT – and here in Hay River. Familiarization Tours earlier this year were part of a bigger plan that we have to elevate the awareness and visibility of companies like King Manufacturing, Poison Graphics and Concept Energy Services to both government and industry.

Based on feedback we have received from Russell, Wally, Rocky and others, we are now looking at improving our definition of “manufacturing” to expand the level of investment and support that can be realized from our own government procurement practices.

One of the quotes that resonated with me from the community engagements on the Economic Opportunities Strategy was, “Mines are big – but it is small business and diversity that keeps people in town.”

Our definition of major projects need not be restricted to resource development. Jack’s proposed Thompson landing initiative is a case in point.

In addition to underpinning development in the NWT’s resource sector, its establishment represents infrastructure for this community, business for local contractors, contracts for service suppliers and jobs for local residents.

This is what economic development is all about.  And, if we have to get creative – we will – to find new and alternative ways to combine the financial and people power of the private sector with the capacity of government initiatives and investments.

We see the evidence of this in the Forest Management Agreements that have been put in place to support the vision that Brad has for wood pellet production in Enterprise. Timberworks Inc. in Fort Resolution and Digaa Enterprises in Fort Providence are both now positioned to support this project in a way that will see benefits shared between Aboriginal Corporations, bands and communities.

It emphasizes my belief that we need to invest as much in nurturing a positive business environment and supporting young entrepreneurs as we do in training and developing a skilled workforce.

One of the initiatives that the Department of ITI is currently concluding is a review of the Support for Entrepreneurs and Economic Development – or SEED – program.  It was undertaken, in part, to find more and better ways to promote the competitive business environment in which NWT residents can find the incentive, confidence and tools to invest, take risks and prosper.

We want to see more of what people like Andrew Stanley are doing for the local economy with NWT Fur Harvesters; or what Kathy and Fraser are doing with Two Seasons Adventures.

Perhaps more than any other community in the NWT, Hay River is well positioned to benefit from this approach.

You have a vibrant and diversified business community here already – strong leadership in your retailers association and in this Chamber. And most importantly, you have that entrepreneurial spirit that Hay River is famous for – robust, resilient, and above all else resourceful in the face of economic challenges.

One of the economic philosophies that our work on the Economic Opportunities Strategy confirmed for us is that we must build on our strengths.

And for Hay River these strong suits include agriculture and fishing.  So as promised, let me conclude this afternoon, by giving you an update on our work in these two areas.

Last year, the federal government, in the context of its partnership with the Economic Opportunities Strategy, announced $4 million in funding to foster a viable commercial agriculture industry in the NWT based predominantly out of Hay River.  It included a $2 million commitment to establish a permanent campus for the Northern Farm Training Institute and up to $2 million towards the launch of the Northern Greenhouse Initiative aimed at advancing the commercialization and enhancing greenhouse projects across the NWT.

This summer, the Department of ITI completed a public engagement and consultation process to inform its drafting of a formal Agriculture Strategy and Action Plan.

I want to recognize Jackie specifically for the expertise, assistance, and insight that she was able to contribute to this process – the results of which I plan on bringing back to the House later this fall.

Our Strategy when it is presented will not focus on securing large quantums of land for commercial farm operations. That is not something that is seen as viable – and it is not what NWT residents have said is needed or warranted.

Instead, the goals of our Strategy will be to sow the seeds for investments and initiatives that will:

  • increase the availability of local food for northern residents;
  • reduce the cost of food for northern residents;
  • encourage and support the transfer of food production skills;
  • incorporate our Territory’s traditional food gathering activities;
  • support the sustainable development of food production systems; and
  • contribute to the sustainability of all communities across the NWT.

Finally, as promised, an update on our work regarding the fishery…

On that front, I am pleased to note that the fishers and producers on Great Slave Lake have completed their revitalization strategy and business plan for the commercial fishery.

Safe to say, it is ambitious – and presents a significantly different approach than we have seen in the past – vesting NWT fishers directly in the challenges and success of their fishery. The plan aims to not only serve markets both north and south, but to contribute as partners to the marketing efforts of the Freshwater Fish Marketing Corporation. Meanwhile, our fishers will assume the responsibility of both the plant and operations in Hay River as well as the business of the fishery – including the setting of prices to be paid to participants in the industry.

Implementing the plan will cost roughly $5 million – but it has the support of both the FFMC and the GNWT, and we stand ready to work with our industry to leverage the federal government for a significant portion of this investment – and to share in the cost.

Again, it is something that I am looking forward to bringing to the Assembly when it convenes for a final time in September.

This is a new and exciting direction for the fishery, for Hay River and for the NWT.  One that will stimulate a new era of self-sufficiency for our fishery – and return it to the leading economic contributor it once was.

Ladies and gentlemen, I realize that we are heading into this election period in a time of fragile economies, vulnerable world markets and fiscal restraint.  Our government’s resources – which pay for the programs and services our residents rely on – are limited. The people of the NWT want an opportunity to succeed, to live healthy lives and participate as full members of a prosperous and stable Canadian society.

The point that I would like to leave with you is this – there are many reasons to be optimistic.

Our Territory is blessed with great resource potential.  As important, we have a shared understanding that these resources can and must be realized in a manner that is responsible and sustainable.

The realization of Devolution by the 17th Assembly; the strategies that have been put in place; the way of thinking that we have identified… They all point to where we need to be.

Here in Hay River, you have a proven and made-in-the NWT business community that is already committed and equipped to move your economy forward.

Above all else, you have opportunity – in almost every sector – to grow and diversify your economy with grass roots economic development.

Our role as government is to make sure the conditions are right for NWT residents to become prosperous, healthy and self-reliant. To develop the relationships and economic environment in which programs and supports can be delivered – and to help them achieve their personal and collective aspirations.

This Chamber has been a great resource in this regard – and in helping us to address the challenge of realizing our wide ranging opportunities and converting them into real and tangible economic development.

I trust that that it will continue to be so for the 18th Assembly.  Thank you.