Minister Ramsay’s Opening Remarks at the Pacific Northwest Economic Region Trade and Economic Development Session

Jul 18 2013

(Check against delivery)

I always welcome the opportunity to visit you here in Alaska – with the midnight sun, your rich cultural heritage, abundant gas reserves and world-wide exposure through reality television.

Somehow, it feels just like home…

It highlights just how much we have in common as residents of the North – and how much we have to gain by working together to share best practices and advance our mutual economic interests in the development of the Arctic.

It is my pleasure to welcome you to this session on trade and economic development focused on the Arctic – and particularly to do so as your co-chair alongside Carl (Portman). 

This is an important time for our part of the world.  The world has witnessed a surge of interest in the Arctic. Issues of climate change, sovereignty, northern security and the potential for economic development have catapulted the Arctic to the forefront of global conscience and awareness.

In essence, the world is realizing what we have always known to be true – the Arctic is a vast land full of promise and holds a key strategic place in the future of an increasingly global economy.

Quite simply, the Arctic is one of the world’s last stable and relatively untapped regions for natural resources.

Collectively, our mines and mineral resources are vast. Billions of barrels of estimated oil reserves lie untapped.  In addition, we have trillions of cubic feet of known natural gas reserves… and more still to be discovered.

This rich resource base offers amazing opportunities for economic growth and an incredible competitive advantage in a world that is increasingly demanding new energy sources.

It is no accident that Russia is flexing its muscles in defence of its claim to the Arctic shelf. It is the same reason that countries like China, India and Singapore are seeking observer status on the Arctic Council.

The Arctic is one of the last frontiers of exploration and potential. The opportunity is huge.

For northern leaders like myself, the increased scrutiny has highlighted the importance of ensuring appropriate political positions are taken and relevant policies put in pace.  It is also providing a welcome opportunity to participate and be heard on an increasing number of topics and issues destined to impact the future of everybody who lives and works in this part of the world.

Matt has asked that I set the stage for our discussion this morning by offering a Canadian perspective to development in the Arctic.  To do so, I must first highlight for you two key political events that have occurred this year.

Two events that are serving to entrench the new reality of northern decision making – and are signalling a new economic era in Canada’s North.

The first of these events occurred at the international level.

In May, Canada assumed its responsibilities as Chair of the Arctic Council.  The person appointed to assume this important role was the Honourable Leona Aglukkaq – the first Inuk in Canadian history to be appointed to Cabinet and Canada’s current Minister of Health and our country’s Northern Economic Development Agency.

In setting the stage for her work and leadership, Minster Aglukkaq announced that the overarching theme of Canada’s Chairmanship of the Arctic Council will be “Development for the People of the North.”

Development focused on the people of the North.

  • Not as an after-thought.
  • Not as a requirement for government incentives…
  • Not as an interest group that needs to be dealt with…
  • Not as an impediment to development…
  • But Northerners as the very reason behind development – and, more importantly, as a fundamental part of this development.

Politically, it is a strong statement.  Backing it up are three subthemes to enforce the Arctic Council’s focus on Northerners:

The first is Arctic Resource Development.

It is clearly recognized that the development of natural resources in a sustainable manner – and in which Northerners participate and benefit – is central to the economic future of the Arctic circumpolar region.

Canada’s leadership of the Arctic Council will reflect its stated domestic priorities to increase investment and development in the Northern resource sector.

That said, environmental stewardship also remains a fundamental focus of the Arctic Council’s work and is not something that northerners are about to turn their backs on.

The second sub theme is Responsible and Safe Arctic Shipping.  Receding Arctic ice means that shipping in the Arctic is quickly becoming more viable.  But while expanded navigational seasons will facilitate marine access to our region, it will also increase associated risks.

Effective ocean governance will be critical to strengthening environmental protection and supporting monitoring and enforcement efforts required to enable economic development.

The final subtheme is Sustainable Circumpolar Communities.

Challenges and opportunities are emerging across the Arctic as a result of climate change and it is imperative that we build the capacity of northern communities to adapt and address the impacts of this reality.

From a strictly Canadian perspective, our nation’s leadership role with the Arctic Council is providing an opportunity to engage national and international interests in the priorities of Northerners.  It also offers an opportunity to showcase the immense potential of our shared northern regions.

It is a chance for us to assert that the Arctic is more than just its resources and location – that there are many different cultures and people who call this place home, and that the decisions that influence the business and economy of our Territory are better guided and managed by the people who live and work here.

The second event that I would like to highlight to you occurred last month in the town of Inuvik.

On June 25th, the Government of the Northwest Territories signed the long-awaited Devolution Agreement with Ottawa to transfer administration and management of public lands, water resources, mineral resources and oil and gas management from the Government of Canada to the Northwest Territories.

This is control that we have worked for 30 years to acquire.

To guide the nature and pace of development in our Territory; and to take a planned and measured approach to advancing resource development where and when we believe it is needed – and in a way that can be sustained and benefit us most.

It is the authority and control over natural resources that have enabled provinces like Alberta and Saskatchewan to capitalize on their resource wealth and become net contributors to Pacific Northwest Region. For NWT residents, this is a historic milestone.

Premier Bob McLeod will certainly have more to say about this significant Agreement during his keynote presentation at lunchtime today.

Suffice it to say, that as the reality of this Agreement takes hold in the Northwest Territories, we are now preparing for a period of transition and change.  It is a change that will finally allow us to determine our own economic path – and to develop our lands and resources according to our own priorities and values.

Decisions made about the North – in the North – and by Northerners.  For Canada and the Northwest Territories, the transition of this mantra into reality is a game changer.

It changes the lens through which we look at economic development in our part of the Arctic.  Moving forward, this picture can only get clearer.

With this said, let me get back to the task at hand…

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Arctic is fundamental to Canada’s heritage and identity.

The Harper Government – in particular – has recognized the tremendous opportunities that exist in the North and has set out a clear vision for its work and investment in its Northern Strategy titled: Our North, Our Heritage, Our Future.

Arctic sovereignty is the first and most important pillar of this strategy.

That said, can there be a clearer – more permanent or lasting assertion of Arctic sovereignty – in any country – than strong communities, thriving economies, and healthy people – supported by an enabling infrastructure, economic, and social network.

We know that it is possible.  Many of the building blocks to create a strong and prosperous Arctic are already in place.Together, we have a vast resource base capable of sustaining record levels of economic growth and development.

Our people and businesses are innovative, and able to respond to our geographic and climactic conditions, including the challenges of infrastructure.

And we are world-leaders in cold weather technology, transportation, construction, and environmental remediation.

So, what is holding us back?

To state the obvious, billions of dollars of infrastructure investment are required to get projects off the ground.

And therein, from a PNWER perspective – and for the purposes of our discussion this morning – lies the opportunity for sustainable and responsible development in the Arctic. Frankly, development this far North is reliant on partnerships.

With a vast land mass and small population, we cannot realize key projects – current or potential – without partnerships.  Our weather is extreme.  Our infrastructure is underdeveloped, and for most modes of energy transportation, we are remote from markets.

In the Northwest Territories, we have established cooperative and productive partnerships with our territory’s Aboriginal governments that allow us to together to take advantage of economic development opportunities and advance projects in a timely fashion.

Through public-private partnerships we use the financial and people power of the private sector to complement government initiatives and investments to boost our collective capacity.  It enables to realize needed infrastructure crucial to economic development.

It works.

This gathering today is exactly the kind of thing that we need to move forward.

Private and public interests getting together – sharing ideas and perspectives – and networking…  Looking at the issues and challenges we face… coming up with ideas to address those challenges…. examining ways of working together to capitalize on opportunities.

An intersection of creativity, ingenuity, and enterprise.

In the NWT, our greatest challenge is infrastructure – a small population base coupled with vast distances creates challenges of scale and often difficulty in justifying capital infrastructure expenses for the short term.

As Government, we must make strategic investments in public infrastructure so that we can grow a strong, diversified economy for the future; that includes infrastructure to support economic growth, infrastructure to prepare for natural resource development, and infrastructure to connect our communities and increase access to essential goods and services.

In the next 3-5 years, the combination of capital demands and declining federal capital funding will result in a $3 billion- shortfall in public infrastructure alone.

Aging and underdeveloped infrastructure, increasing resource development pressures and climate change impacts are also contributing to our increasing infrastructure deficit.

We have the resources.  What we need is investment capital. And we’re willing to partner to get it. We’re open for business.

That’s why our Premier met earlier this year with representatives from China.  In his words, “we can’t afford to have our oil and gas resources stranded for another 40 years.”

We think that the Asian market is something we have to seriously look at, and with the sea ice conditions changing, the ability to transport out of the Northwest Territories is not as daunting a task as it used to be.

Chinese companies have spent billions to secure large stakes in Alberta’s oil sands and in British Columbia’s shale gas fields farther south but they can’t get them to market.

We have energy resources that China wants.  We have what China needs.  And frankly, we could use help getting these things to China.

It goes without saying that when our resources are developed, neighbouring jurisdictions benefit. Most of our current transportation and trade linkages, whether pipelines, roads, rail, marine or telecommunications, are through neighbouring provinces adjacent to PNWER states.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Global economics are changing… new markets are growing… and the international focus is shifting north. The Arctic is rapidly evolving, changing and positioning itself as a key economic leader of tomorrow.  We are not without our challenges.  But we cannot stress enough the advantages and opportunities.

By combining expanding world demand with our supply, by integrating foreign investment capital with capital infrastructure requirements, and by harnessing emerging transportation opportunities – we have an opportunity to lead and benefit from the growth and advancement of real and sustainable economic development in this far Arctic extreme of the Pacific Northwest Region.

I look forward to facilitating and hearing more perspective on this subject this morning.

Thank you.