Premier Bob McLeod: Speaking Notes at the North Star Gala, Ottawa

Jan 29 2015

Honourable ministers; excellencies – honourable representatives of foreign missions; honourable senators; members of parliament; fellow Premiers, Aboriginal leaders, distinguished members of the press; ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Ottawa, NWT.

We’re pleased to be here with you tonight to share our vision of potential and prosperity with you, and we are pleased that so many people have joined us. We were so overwhelmed by the positive response the last time we were here in 2013 that we had to rent a bigger room tonight, just to make sure we all could fit.

Tonight I’d like to talk to you about the Northwest Territories and the role it can play in helping shape a strong and prosperous Canada.

The Northwest Territories is a dynamic and evolving territory where the Government of the Northwest Territories and Aboriginal governments are working together to sustainably and responsibly develop the enormous energy and mineral resources of the territory, creating jobs and economic opportunities for the people of the NWT and all Canadians.

Succeeding at this goal will require the active participation and partnership of the federal government, business and industry. During NWT Days, we want to share our story with the rest of Canada and invite you to become partners with us in transforming northern potential into national prosperity, now and for years to come. 

We came here as members of a new government in January 2013 with ambitious plans for creating a strong, sustainable and prosperous territory in partnership with the Government of Canada, industry and other stakeholders. 

We came with some specific goals in mind. We wanted to finalize devolution of responsibility for NWT public lands, resources and water. We wanted to talk about investing in transportation infrastructure that would help us support economic growth and diversification.

We wanted to talk about investing in communications infrastructure that would help make our territory a leader in satellite sensing and offer our people new opportunities to be a part of the growing digital economy.

Most importantly, we wanted to demonstrate that we meant business, that our territory was committed to advancing – and investing in – projects designed to promote transformative change for its economy and its people.

I’m happy to stand here tonight and report that that first visit was a huge success. With the partnership of the Government of Canada and personal commitment of the Prime Minister and strong supporters in Cabinet like Minister Aglukkaq, Minister Valcourt and Minister Rickford, we have checked off many of the boxes on our to-do list. 

After decades of negotiation and years of preparation, we achieved devolution in April of last year. In early January 2014, we welcomed the Prime Minister to Inuvik to break ground for the Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk Highway. Earlier this month we held a groundbreaking ceremony for the Mackenzie Valley Fibre Line.

You might think we’d be satisfied with that kind of success, but we’re really just getting started. We aren’t resting on our laurels and we aren’t stopping there. There is too much potential in our territory that has yet to be tapped.

That’s why we’re back this week. Together as partners, we are here to talk about how we can build a vibrant, diversified, sustainable economy that is investment friendly, environmentally responsible and respectful of Aboriginal rights.

Our focus this time is on sustainable economic development and on the infrastructure that we need to support it. We need investments in northern transportation, energy and communications infrastructure and sustainable resource development to unlock the economic potential in the NWT.

If you’ve heard me speak before, you’ve heard me speak about the natural resource potential of the Northwest Territories. We have an abundance of energy resources – oil, gas and hydro. We have diamonds. We have gold, lead, zinc, rare earth elements and uranium.

These are resources that the global economy wants and needs to support and sustain growth.

The irony for us is that while we have what the world wants, we don’t have many ways to get to it, or to get our resources to the world. You can’t sell what you can’t ship, and our territory faces an estimated $3 billion infrastructure deficit. Our resources are going untapped because we lack the roads, airports, sea ports and other infrastructure to bring them to market.

For years we have seen our resource potential lie dormant and undeveloped, our businesses idle and economy stifled while we wait for the promised boom that is always coming but has yet to arrive. We have all seen firsthand the kinds of challenges that can slow a project down and delay economic development. 

Northerners are tired of waiting. 

We have no interest in seeing our resources stranded another 40 years. We want to start enjoying the benefits of a strong, robust economy based on responsible and sustainable development of our resource wealth. It is time for the Northwest Territories to take its place in Confederation as a “have” jurisdiction contributing to national growth and prosperity.

Addressing the northern infrastructure deficit is a first, crucial step. As you’ve heard, we are in the process of building the Inuvik-Tuk highway with the assistance of the Government of Canada. This highway is just the first step in completing the Mackenzie Valley Highway. The next step we are proposing would open up the resource rich central Mackenzie, boosting the Canadian economy and providing years of employment for skilled workers. 

We are also studying the potential of a seasonal overland road into the Slave Geologic Province and Nunavut. This project would extend the life of the NWT’s diamond mines and make new exploration and development projects in this mineral rich region more feasible. We have already been talking to the Government of Nunavut about how connecting to a road there could help to unlock stranded resources in that territory, multiplying the effect of our own infrastructure investments, and multiplying the benefit to Canada. 

Our resources have been stranded for too long. Transportation routes in all forms and all directions are key to getting our resources to market. We cannot wait to put our critical northern infrastructure in place. We need more roads to resources. To all of our resources. 

That means considering all our options and looking for new, creative ideas, including the idea of an energy, communications and transportation corridor along the Mackenzie Valley to the Arctic Ocean. Tonight, I’m announcing that the Government of the Northwest Territories will lead a study of such a corridor in cooperation with Aboriginal governments in the Northwest Territories.

We know we need to find a way to get our resources to market and it is time for us to take a serious look at the northern option. We recognize that there will be a lot of questions about this option, and we intend to answer them.

I want to be clear that we are not proposing a specific infrastructure project with this study. What we are is proposing to do a thorough review of the issues, opportunities and challenges that might be associated with developing a corridor along the Mackenzie Valley.

We will look at the potential economic, environmental and social impacts of a northern corridor. We will look at technical feasibility issues and what kind of infrastructure would be needed. We will look at potential risk mitigation measures and we will look at how Aboriginal governments and communities in the NWT can participate meaningfully in any development in the corridor and enjoy its economic benefits.

The study would include discussions with experts, industry, Aboriginal governments and the public, as well as other governments like the Government of Canada and the Government of Alberta. The challenge of getting resources to tidewater is not ours alone; it is shared with other jurisdictions and finding collective solutions to shared problems only makes sense.

Aboriginal government participation and partnership will be a key part of our study. Much of our success in the past three years has been because of our willingness to engage and work with Aboriginal governments in the spirit of respect, recognition and responsibility. Five regional Aboriginal governments and several community governments partnered with us to achieve devolution and will receive a 25 percent share of the resource revenues our government will receive from development on public lands. As significant land and resource owners themselves, many of them already have an interest in finding ways to create sustainable benefits for their people through responsible resource development. 

The goal of the study would be a comprehensive report to describe and quantify the issues and challenges that would need to be addressed to facilitate potential projects in the Mackenzie Valley. The report would serve as an information resource to government, industry and regulatory agencies. It would provide a basis for planning, seeking partnerships and considering specific project opportunities taking advantage of the proposed corridor.

Some may question why we would undertake this study at a time when oil prices have fallen so dramatically, but I would remind them that resource markets are cyclical and lows will eventually be followed by highs. I would also tell them that we in the Northwest Territories know exactly how uncertainty and lack of information can negatively affect development projects.

We think we can contribute to the success of future projects that might be proposed when the markets rise again by addressing uncertainty and lack of information now so that the Northwest Territories is prepared when the time comes for development to pick up again.

Ladies and gentlemen, responsible, sustainable development of the North is in the national interest. The Northwest Territories has the resources, the ambition and the ingenuity that can help grow the Canadian economy and create new jobs and opportunities nationwide. We came to Ottawa in 2013 with a message of potential and seeking partners willing to join us in continuing to build this great country of ours. That is still our message today.

I thank you for your time and attention this evening and hope you will all have the opportunity to meet many of the Northerners who are here tonight and looking forward to sharing their excitement about our home and its potential with you.