Premier McLeod’s Keynote Address at the Pacific Northwest Economic Region Annual Summit

Jul 18 2013

(Check against delivery.)

Thank you.

Governor Parnell, Lt. Governor Treadwell, honourable ministers, senators, members of Congress, Your Worship Mayor Sullivan, members of the diplomatic corps, distinguished members of the academic community, ladies and gentlemen:  It is a pleasure to be here at the Pacific Northwest Economic Region summit.  I love Anchorage.  This is a truly remarkable city, a city that demonstrates clearly what Northern progress and prosperity can mean.

How appropriate that we have spent five days here, in Anchorage, to discuss the broad range of issues that cut across our common interests as leaders, government representatives, policymakers, policy contributors, and stakeholders of the Pacific Northwest.

When I look at Anchorage, I see the future:  a growing, prosperous, dynamic city that brings together the best and brightest minds and people, and integrates them in a diversified economy that drives prosperity, and does so in a sustainable manner.  This is a place where the best of the North is harnessed for interests of the North.

We see a similar future for the Northwest Territories, a future where a strong, diversified economy creates opportunities and where all its residents work together for the common good of the whole territory. This is the path we are on and this is the direction in which the Northwest Territories is evolving right now.

When I was a young boy, I could not begin to imagine the kind of opportunity that we see unfolding now in my territory.  Commodity prices and international economic development are driving demand for the natural resources in which we are awash.  Technology is shrinking distances between remote communities, eliminating many of the traditional challenges that northern communities have faced – especially challenges to communication and education.

Interest in the North from our southern neighbours and from overseas is increasing.  This means new and growing sources of investment, tourism, and expanding infrastructure.

Ladies and gentlemen, we in the North have what it takes to thrive.

For the past five years, most of the world – certainly the entire Western developed world – has been grappling with the greatest global recession since the 1930s.  Canada has been in the fortunate position of having led the G-7 consistently, year-in, year-out, in job creation, in economic growth, and in speed of recovery.

Why has Canada been in this enviable position?  There are a variety of reasons, including such things as a stable regulatory regime for the banking sector, and others; but one of the critical pillars of our economic resilience during the economic downturn has been our robust natural resources sector.

Our economy has been fuelled by global demand for minerals and energy.  These trends have re-written the rules that have underpinned the Twentieth Century’s experience with economic development.  Wealth is no longer created exclusively in the downtowns of New York, Toronto, Chicago or Vancouver.  The balance of economic importance and stimulation has shifted from the downtown boardroom to the mines and the oilfields of remote regions – to the (quote-unquote) hinterland.  To the North.

We have what the world wants.  We have what the world needs.  We have the economy-building components that are fuelling rapid development in places like China – where cities and highways are being poured out at a rate we cannot even imagine.  All of this activity requires metals, minerals, and energy.

That is what we have in the North.  And that is why the world is paying attention more and more to what we do here – and to what we can do.

What are these resources?  We are a small territory.  Our entire population can fit into this city five times over.  But we are sitting upon a wealth of natural resources.

The Northwest Territories is currently exporting $2 billion annually in diamonds.  We are the third largest diamond exporter by value, behind only Russia and Botswana and ahead of South Africa. Not only are these the highest quality diamonds in the world, but they are also conflict-free.  And there are more.  We are capable of significant expansion in this industry, if given the requisite investment capital to make it happen.

We have silver.  We have gold.  We have bismuth, cobalt lead, and zinc.  We have rare earth metals.  By 2017, a new project – the Nechalacho mine near Thor Lake – will begin production of total rare earth oxides.  This is the stuff of the new economy, of the Information Age.  This is the stuff that China, India, Brazil and others are consuming voraciously as they develop their own economies to catch up to the West’s.  And that is just mining.

Though small in population, the Northwest Territories is a potential energy giant.  We are home to world-class oil and gas reserves in the Dehcho, Central Mackenzie, Mackenzie Delta and Beaufort Sea. Our territory is sitting on 81.2 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and seven billion barrels of oil.

The potential undiscovered nearshore reserves in the Mackenzie Delta include an additional 10.5 billion barrels of oil, 87 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, and 4 billion barrels of natural gas liquids.  We have a hydroelectric potential of 11,500 megawatts – that is enough to rival James Bay and exceeds the current capacity of BC Hydro. It is this kind of potential that led the Conference Board of Canada to predict recently that the North’s GDP would double by 2020.

A prosperous future for the Northwest Territories where our residents benefit from the responsible, sustainable development of our resources depends on Northern decision making. Last month, I and the leaders of five of the Northwest Territories’ regional Aboriginal governments signed an agreement with the federal government that will bring decision making home to the North. Within six months, we will start negotiating with Canada and the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation on the management and administration of offshore petroleum resources.

This is one of the biggest political developments in the Northwest Territories in my lifetime.  Why is this important?  It is important because it give us control over natural resources – those same commodities that are fuelling the hottest sectors of the North American economy.  With devolution, we will have the say on what resources are developed, when they are developed and how they are developed, according to Northern values and priorities. We not only take control of the decision-making, but we also become the principal beneficiary of natural resource royalties.

This will expand our tax base, and secure the financial stability of our government, allowing it to work for the interests and for the good of the residents of the Northwest Territories.  Many other provinces or states may take this for granted, but we do not.  This is new for the Northwest Territories:  control over our resources and the ability to benefit fully from their development for the benefit of our people.  All of the Northwest Territories’ citizens will be able to participate in planning and decision-making about development, and share in the benefits of growth and prosperity.

A unique feature of this Devolution agreement – and of governance in the Northwest Territories – is the opportunity for the Government of the Northwest Territories and regional Aboriginal governments to work more closely together.

We have a diverse territory, ladies and gentlemen, where partnership and consensus are the order of the day. Half our population is Aboriginal, and Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people make decisions together – be it at the mine site, in the hospital, or in the Legislative Assembly.  We have 11 official languages and seven regional Aboriginal governments with rights and jurisdictions entrenched in the Canadian Constitution.

The Government of the Northwest Territories cannot and does not make unilateral decisions and then decide how to “sell” these decisions to our Aboriginal communities.  No.  We make decisions in partnership. More than half of the Members of our Legislative Assembly are Aboriginal and so is the majority of Cabinet. Aboriginal people are at the table and actively engaged in all aspects of planning and decision making for the territory.

This diversity adds to our strength and contributes to our prosperity. This ongoing partnership and commitment to collaboration has already shown positive results for the Northwest Territories.

Unlike other jurisdictions where Aboriginal people may be left out of economic development projects, Aboriginal people in the Northwest Territories are full participants in our economy. Aboriginal-owned businesses have received more than $4.3 billion in direct contracting with the Northwest Territories three diamond mines since 1996. Over the same time frame, more than 9,400 person years of employment have been generated through the mines in the same period.

Aboriginal business offer engineering, general contracting, transportation and oilfield services. They operate trucking companies, airlines and helicopter companies. They supply vehicles and heavy equipment and have specialized expertise in areas like all-weather and ice road construction that are so vital to supporting economic development in our territory.

One of our ongoing challenges – being a Northern territory spread over a vast distance – is transportation.  A challenge some of you might also share.

Resource companies need to get to resources, and trading nations need to get their commodities to market.  We need road and rail and pipe to facilitate economic production and to get products to their destinations.  A small population base coupled with vast distances creates challenges of scale and often difficulty in justifying capital infrastructure investments for the short term.  But we are making these investments nonetheless.  Partnering with the federal government and with private business, we are putting in the infrastructure necessary to sustain and support our economy through this new phase of what we expect to be rapid growth.

We recently started work on the Inuvik-to-Tuktoyuktuk Highway, one of the segments of an eventual Mackenzie Valley Highway. When the Mackenzie Valley Highway is completed, we will have an all-weather road that touches the Arctic coast, connecting it and its resources and its potential with the rest of Canada and North America. The construction itself will create and sustain jobs, and the highway will reduce the cost of living for communities that do not currently have all-weather access to southern markets and distribution chains.  Transportation infrastructure also enhances tourism.  And it further fuels economic development by facilitating exploration and development in the Mackenzie Valley region.

Shipping by sea is also increasingly commercially viable.  Once a far-fetched notion, Arctic shipping is now almost universally considered to be just around the corner – born not only of physical possibility, but of economic advantage.  This is going to happen.

Canada’s North is an economic powerhouse in waiting, but it still requires additional capital and infrastructure investments to unlock its full potential.  The North has always been about partnership, and through partnerships we are planning to realize our full potential, creating a prosperous territory that contributes to the national, and international, economy.

As we move further into the Twenty-first Century, the Northwest Territories will continue to harness the ingenuity and enterprising nature of our peoples, and together with the natural riches bestowed upon us, achieve our vision of a strong, prosperous territory.

Consensus gives us strength.  Diversity empowers us, and partnership gives us the tools to reach forward.  We – all of us in this room – are the partners that will continue to transform the Pacific Northwest and the North as a whole.

Ladies and gentlemen, by partnering, by working together – all of us:  territorial officials, state officials, federal officials, business leaders, the investment community, and civil society – together, we will fully realize the North’s potential as we have never seen it before.

Thank you very much.