George Tuccaro – Commissioner’s Opening Address: Supporting People and Building a Strong Foundation

Nov 4 2013

Please be seated.

Speaker Jacobson, Premier McLeod, Members of the Legislative Assembly, ladies and gentlemen, it is a pleasure to be here today to open the Fifth Session of the 17th Legislative Assembly.

This Assembly has a vision of a strong, self-sufficient and prosperous territory. A territory that gives its people the freedom and the opportunity to achieve their personal aspirations and develop to their full potential. A territory where healthy, educated people are able to participate fully in the social and economic life of their community, share in its benefits and contribute to the common good. A territory where people are able to provide for themselves and their families. A territory where people have the support and services they need to overcome personal challenges that may be holding them back. A territory where our young people are raised in loving, healthy families and will grow up free of the hindrances their parents and grandparents may have faced.

That is your government’s vision, a vision of strong people and strong families living in strong communities, enjoying the benefits of a thriving economy and a sustainable environment. That vision has guided your government’s actions and decisions to this point and will guide it going forward. 

A Foundation for the Future 

You recently passed the second anniversary of your election to this Legislative Assembly. A little over two years ago you convened here for the beginning of the 17th Assembly. You brought with you your hopes, plans and ideas – and those of the people you represent – for a better, more prosperous future. You set to work, pooling your ideas, your talent and your experience to outline an agenda and priorities for your government. You chose a Premier and Cabinet, established committees and got on with the business of serving the people of the Northwest Territories, guided by a common vision.

That vision – Believing in People and Building on the Strengths of Northerners – was a long-term vision that acknowledges that it takes time to create a new territory. It is no accident that “building” is at the centre of your vision. Building is exactly what you are doing.

Building is a process. It has to start with careful planning and a solid foundation. Building isn’t about quick fixes or easy solutions. Building is about drawing up plans, gathering materials, identifying your team and making sure everybody knows their job. It follows a logical progression. You lay your foundation before you erect your frame and you put up your frame before you add the roof.

The first two years of your government have been about laying a strong foundation for future success. They have been about undertaking the necessary planning, identifying what needs to be done, who needs to do it and what resources and materials you need to finish the job.

Work has begun – and been completed – on some major elements that you will need to achieve success for the people of this territory in the remaining two years of your government.

This Assembly’s vision outlined five priority areas for action. Your government has made progress in every one of these areas:

You are building a strong and sustainable future for our territory by strengthening partnerships with governments at all levels. You are ensuring the right legislative authorities and financial resources are in place to support strong, effective government for the people of the NWT. In your first two years you have succeeded in raising the federal borrowing limit, and entering into intergovernmental agreements with four regional Aboriginal governments. You have implemented Respect, Recognition, Responsibility, your government’s strategy for engaging with Aboriginal governments.

You have implemented a federal engagement strategy to foster improved partnerships with Canada. You held the highly successful NWT Days to raise awareness of the NWT’s potential and priorities. After years of negotiations and hard work, you have signed the final devolution agreement along with five Aboriginal government partners and continue discussions with the remaining two. The long-hoped for transfer of responsibility for public lands, resources and water from Ottawa is close.

You are increasing employment opportunities where they are needed the most. Decentralization is ongoing and devolved positions will be placed in communities where it makes sense. You are developing a long-term Workforce Planning Strategy and Regional Recruitment Plan to help community residents fill available positions in the regions. You have introduced Aboriginal Cultural Awareness Training and planned an Aboriginal Inclusion survey as part of your continuing commitment to creating a representative public service. You are reducing dependency and encouraging people to stay in the workforce by introducing new public housing rent scales. Wage subsidy contracts through Small Communities Employment Supports and exemptions for a portion of treaty and impact benefit agreement payments from assessment for income assistance further this.

You are strengthening and diversifying the economy by making strategic investments in the infrastructure the Northwest Territories needs to support long-term economic development. Investments like the Deh Cho Bridge, Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk Highway and Mackenzie Valley Fibreoptic Link. You have completed an economic opportunities strategy that will help guide the sustainable growth and diversification of the NWT’s economy in all regions and communities. You have worked with governments and people in the Sahtu region to prepare them for development. You have also supported the traditional economy with additional investments and support for harvesting, tourism and trapping.

You are addressing housing needs by implementing Building for the Future, the strategic framework that came out of the Shelter Policy Review in the last government. Under the guidance of this framework, you have made public housing rents fairer, introduced a transitional rent supplement, addressed mortgage arrears and improved supports for homeownership and home owners.

You are ensuring a fair and sustainable health care system by addressing poverty, mental health and addictions and early childhood development. You are expanding Healthy Family programs. You are adopting innovative approaches to mental health and addictions, like the Mental Health First Aid for Northern Peoples pilot and the expanded Matrix addictions treatment program. You are investing in health care and other facilities for NWT residents in Fort Smith, Behchoko, Fort Providence, Hay River and the K’atlodeeche First Nation.

These are all significant milestones that are helping you to build the NWT of tomorrow, an NWT that provides for its people, protects its environment and supports a diversified, sustainable economy. Like any building project, it depends on balance and order. You don’t start with the most visible elements that people can admire from the street. You start with work that often can’t be seen, but which is absolutely necessary.

After two years of work, the site has been prepared, the foundation has been laid and the frame has been erected. The work hasn’t been glamorous, but it has been necessary. Like any job that is worth doing, it has taken time to make sure the job has been done well. With that solid foundation, your government now intends to move forward with a balanced agenda that will invest in the people of the Northwest Territories, grow the economy and help us manage our environment responsibly and sustainably.

Supporting NWT Residents

Realizing your vision of a strong, prosperous territory starts with strong, healthy people. Governments serve the people that elect them. The actions you take here find their meaning in the benefits they create for the people of the NWT. People get jobs that lift them out of poverty and help them provide for their families because you take steps to grow the economy. They are healthy because you protect and conserve the environment that sustains us all. They enjoy vibrant, sustainable and safe communities because you enter into partnerships with others who share your vision: governments at all levels, non-government organizations and business and industry.

You government understands that people are central to everything it does and critical to its success. It is committed to investing in the people of the Northwest Territories and building on their strengths. But your government knows that people don’t succeed on their own. Success depends on many factors: a healthy, inclusive society that welcomes people of all cultures and backgrounds, a supportive community, personal initiative, and the right mix of government programs and services.

It takes coordinated action and effort to create the right kind of environment that will give NWT residents the opportunity to succeed and achieve their aspirations for themselves and their families. The future doesn’t just happen, ladies and gentlemen, we need to take an active role in creating it. We need to address social issues and the economy, we need to deal with housing and mental health, we need to invest in education and the environment.

Your government has completed or is nearing completion on several major strategies, plans and initiatives that will guide its efforts and ensure that it can bring success for the people of the Northwest Territories. That work includes:

  • Building for the Future: Northern Solutions for Northern Housing;
  • Building on the Strengths of Northerners: A Strategic Framework Toward the Elimination of Poverty in the NWT;
  • Right from the Start: A Framework for Early Childhood Development in the NWT;
  • A Shared Path Towards Wellness: Mental Health and Addictions Action Plan; and
  • NWT Community Safety Strategy.

Taken together, these strategies, frameworks and plans will guide your government over the next two years and beyond. Because community problems require community solutions, they have been developed in partnership with Aboriginal and community governments, industry and NGOs. They are long term plans that require vision and commitment and will have significant positive effects for people throughout the territory.

We can have a strong, prosperous society, ladies and gentlemen. A society that provides for its residents and gives everyone the opportunity to prosper, realize their personal ambitions and participate fully in their community and territory. Creating that society, a society that welcomes and provides opportunities to people of all cultures and backgrounds, will be a focus for your government during the remainder of its term.

Preparing for Prosperity

But we can’t have strong social programs and a strong society without a strong economy to support and pay for it. Sharing the benefits of a prosperous Northwest Territories means having some benefits to share in the first place.

We all know that the Northwest Territories is a land of great opportunity. We have a wealth of natural resources that could create jobs, opportunities and prosperity for NWT residents and for the country. We have gold, diamonds and rare earth metals. We are a potential energy powerhouse, with world-class oil and gas resources in the Beaufort Sea, Mackenzie Delta, Sahtu and the Dehcho. We have hydro-electric potential to rival James Bay. There are seven mining projects in various stages of development that could contribute more than two billion dollars in investment in our territory and over 2000 jobs.

But while our potential is great, we can’t take economic growth for granted. We live in a global economy where decisions and events far from our borders can have real impacts right here in our own communities. Territorial GDP declined in 2008 and 2009 because of a global economic downturn and our recovery has been slow. Revenues from the diamond mines have fallen as they pass their years of peak production. Resource development and exploration continue to be affected by the availability of credit on world markets. Currently, the Northwest Territories is the only jurisdiction in the country experiencing population declines, which further affects our financial position.

We have to reverse this trend if we want to truly benefit from our enormous potential and ensure prosperity for all Northwest Territories residents. We need to grow and diversify our economy and we need to increase our population. We can do it, but the time to act is now. The window of opportunity will not stay open indefinitely and we do not want to see our resources stranded for another forty years. The people of the NWT deserve an opportunity to prosper and benefit from the potential wealth that surrounds us.

Your government is committed to seizing the opportunity before it passes and growing a thriving and diversified economy that will offer jobs and economic opportunities in all regions and communities.

Success will depend on investments in our people so they have the skills and training they need to fill available jobs now and in the future. It will depend on investments in our communities so they have the capacity and infrastructure to manage growth and support new businesses and residents.

It will depend on investments in public infrastructure like roads to support further exploration and development. Like an expanded power grid to supply business and industry with reliable, affordable power. Like communications infrastructure, such as the Mackenzie Valley Fibreoptic Line, to give our people the opportunity to benefit from the new digital economy and diversify local economies.

Advancing your government’s economic prosperity agenda will take just as much planning and coordination as its social agenda. Over the past two years, your government has laid the groundwork for future success with a number of plans, initiatives and strategies that will guide it over the remaining years of its mandate, including:

  • the NWT Economic Opportunities Strategy;
  • the Mineral Development Strategy;
  • Corridors for Canada III;
  • Decentralization;
  • the GNWT Workforce Planning Strategy;
  • the NWT Energy Plan; and
  • NWT Power System Plan.

We need to prepare for prosperity, ladies and gentlemen, it won’t just happen. We need to make sure we can see the opportunities that are coming and take advantage of them while they are still available to us. The work that your government has done over the past two years has created a solid foundation to help turn potential into prosperity for all. 

Sustaining our Environment

Respect for the land and environment is a critical value for Northerners and a critical part of your government’s vision. The land is our life and the source of our wealth and wellbeing. Healthy people depend on a healthy environment. They live in harmony with the environment and are sustained by it. They harvest its resources responsibly, using them wisely to benefit both current and future generations.

As stewards of our land, we recognize the importance of responsible wildlife and resource management to ensure a sustainable environment for future generations.  The passage of the Wildlife Act last week was a significant accomplishment and has resulted in one of the most advanced pieces of wildlife legislation in Canada.  The collaborative and consultative approach used to develop the Wildlife Act demonstrates our commitment to strengthen our relationship with Aboriginal governments through respect, recognition and responsibility.  The process began 15 years ago and is unique to Canada.  Never before has such extensive consultation gone into wildlife management legislation.  Representatives from Aboriginal governments and stakeholders worked together to ensure the Wildlife Act will benefit not only wildlife, but all the people of the Northwest Territories.

Your government continues to implement Northern Voices, Northern Waters, the water stewardship strategy it developed with the Government of Canada and the Aboriginal Steering Committee. We want the waters of the Northwest Territories to remain clean, abundant and productive for all time. Recognizing that water cannot be protected in isolation, the Government of the NWT continues to negotiate transboundary water management agreements with the governments that share the Mackenzie River Basin with us. The environment knows no borders, ladies and gentlemen, and cooperation based on a clear understanding of each other’s responsibilities, priorities and vision will be essential.

Your government also continues to work on a Land-Use and Sustainability Framework that will guide its decisions about how our land and resources are developed and protected. The framework will provide a planned and consistent approach to participating in land-use decision-making processes based on Northern priorities and values. It will help to ensure that your government is making the best choices possible for our land and environment. The framework will take its place along with Aboriginal government plans for managing their lands, like the Tlicho and Sahtu land-use plans. Together we are creating the necessary tools for supporting the effective, coordinated and sustainable management of the land and its resources.

Devolution, a long-standing goal for this and every other Legislative Assembly, will become a reality on April 1, 2014. For the first time, this Assembly will have the authority to manage public lands, resources and water in the Northwest Territories. The significance of this accomplishment should not be underestimated. The land and its resources are central to the life and economy of the NWT. Northerners should be the ones making the decisions about how those resources are used and the environment is protected. Come April 2014, we will be.

Your government continues to prepare for the imminent transfer of these powers. It is preparing the mirror legislation and regulations that will outline its new responsibilities. Members will see the first wave of that legislation introduced during this sitting. The organizational design has been done and plans are well underway for creating a new Lands Department and updating the mandates of three others. Job offers have gone out to federal staff and the Government of the NWT looks forward to welcoming these experienced professionals into the territorial public service.

Devolution will also create new opportunities for your government to work more closely with regional Aboriginal governments. As major land holders in their own right, Aboriginal governments already have the power to decide how to develop and protect settlement lands. The Devolution Final Agreement provides for a new Intergovernmental Council where the Government of the NWT and Aboriginal governments will work together on land and resource development issues to better serve all the people of the Northwest Territories.

Shared Vision, Shared Responsibility

Creating the kind of strong, sustainable territory that this Assembly has envisioned depends on pursuing a balanced agenda. It is an agenda that invests in our people, in our environment and in our economy. Success in one area is linked to success in another and we cannot truly have success unless we achieve progress in all. Achieving that success takes not just planning, but also requires collaboration and cooperation.

Partnerships will continue to be a priority for your government over the remainder of its mandate. The Government of the Northwest Territories is only one player in the ongoing effort to create a strong, sustainable, prosperous North. Aboriginal governments have a more and more important role as claims are settled and implemented. Canada continues to play a role, as do community governments, industry and civil society.

Engaging Aboriginal governments in the spirit of respect, recognition and responsibility continues to be a priority. Your government is making progress with land, resources and self-government negotiations throughout the NWT. In the coming months, Délînê, Canada and the GNWT will be considering the ratification of the Délînê Final Self-Government Agreement – the NWT’s first community based self-government agreement. Similarly, the Inuvialuit, Canada and the GNWT will be considering the approval of the Inuvialuit Self-Government Agreement-in-Principle. Framework Agreements to begin self-government negotiations with the Sahtu Dene and Metis of Fort Good Hope and Colville Lake are also ready for approval.

Your government is also making progress on negotiations towards completing land claim agreements. Agreements-in-Principle are nearing completion with the Northwest Territory Metis Nation and with the Acho Dene Koe First Nation. Completing these agreements, along with the other Aboriginal rights agreements under negotiation in the NWT will lay the basis for the NWT’s future prosperity. These negotiations will continue to be a priority for your government.

Canada will still have a major role in the North, even after Devolution. The Prime Minister and his government continue to demonstrate their commitment to the Northwest Territories.

We welcome Canada’s commitments in the recent Throne Speech to invest in the health and education of Northerners and support responsible resource development here. Their commitment to invest in the infrastructure needed to bring resources to market is good news for the North. We also welcome their commitment to ensure that all Canadians, and particularly Aboriginal Canadians, have the opportunity to benefit from a thriving economy.

Your government shares Canada’s belief that prosperity depends on the responsible development of our country’s natural resources. World demand for Canada’s resources – the North’s resources – is high and we must seize the moment while it is at hand.

Lack of infrastructure is one of the biggest challenges the Northwest Territories faces as we look to develop our resources and grow our economy. Addressing this challenge will continue to be a priority for the remainder of your government’s term. We look forward to continued partnership with Canada as we invest in our future and our economy with nation-building infrastructure projects. Projects like the Mackenzie Valley Highway, Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk Highway, Mackenzie Valley Fibreoptic Line and hydro grid expansion. The North has the resources this country – and the world – needs. With Canada’s help we can meet that need responsibly and create prosperity while we do it.

Northerners share a vision of a strong, sustainable, prosperous territory. We also share the responsibility for creating it together. Those who benefit from the opportunities the North offers should also play a part in building it. Just over two years into its mandate, your government has accomplished many of the objectives it set for itself at the beginning of this Assembly. But the work is not yet done.

Your government has an ambitious agenda for the future and many plans for investing in the people of the NWT, growing the economy and sustainably managing the environment. Achieving that agenda will take focus and discipline. It will require all Members to work together on behalf of the people of this territory. Devolution continues to be the major prize and the Government of the Northwest Territories remains committed to ensuring a smooth and seamless transfer of authorities on April 1st. With a newly retooled team and new energy for the next two years, your government will continue to serve the people of the Northwest Territories and pursue the vision of this Assembly.

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

  • Supplementary Appropriation Act (Infrastructure Expenditures), No. 1, 2014-2015.

The government considers this bill essential to the good conduct of government business and, as such, I recommend its passage.

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

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