Premier McLeod’s Keynote address to the Northern Governance and Economy Conference

Oct 10 2012

(Check against delivery)

Thank you, I would like to welcome you to this conference on northern governance and the economy on behalf of the Government of the Northwest Territories. I am pleased to see so many people here with an interest in the long term economic and social well-being of the people of the Northwest Territories.

We live in 33 communities spread over several regions. We share the territory with seven regional Aboriginal governments. We all have our own mandates, priorities and interests unique to each of our groups. Sometimes our individual priorities align with each other and sometimes it is more difficult to find consensus on specific issues.

No matter where we live or what group we represent, we all want to see a prosperous, self-sufficient territory that provides opportunities for all Northwest Territories residents in their communities and regions. We want a territory where people are healthy and educated and free from poverty and addictions.  We want a territory where Northerners make the decisions about the things that affect us.  We want a territory where our environment is protected and a strong economy provides the financial resources we need to fund programs and services, look after our land and care for our residents.  And we want a territory where strong Northern governments work together in the best interests of all the people of the Northwest Territories, while exercising their own authorities and respecting each other’s jurisdiction.

And we can have these things. The Northwest Territories has the potential to be a prosperous, self-sufficient territory that is a net contributor to the Canadian economy. The Conference Board of Canada recently reported that Canada’s northern territories will lead the country in economic growth over the next two years.

The Northwest Territories’ economy is forecast to grow by more than seven percent in 2012 and 2013 – well above the Canadian average of two percent.

With development of the Mackenzie Gas Pipeline, the Conference Board predicts that our GDP will rise to $9.6 billion by 2020.

We have a wealth of mineral potential.  Spending on mineral exploration was up by 30 percent last year and is expected to grow again.  There are seven projects currently in the works, including Avalon Rare Metals’ Thor Lake project, which is the largest rare earth deposit outside China. Together, these seven projects could attract more than $2 billion in new investment and add over 2000 new jobs in the Northwest Territories.

We export $2 billion in diamonds annually and have seen increased production at Diavik and Snap Lake.  With Gahcho Kue on the horizon and global demand for diamonds in China and India strong, we can expect this sector to remain an important part of the Northwest Territories economy.

And of course, there is our oil and gas sector.  Approximately 16.2 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 1.2 billion barrels of oil have already been discovered in our territory. This is only a small part of our estimated potential of 81 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and nearly 7 billion barrels of oil.

In addition, there are substantial offshore reserves of oil, natural gas and natural gas liquids.  Less than a year ago, the federal government issued 11 exploration licenses in the Sahtu representing $534.2 million in work bids for this world class play.  And since 2008 industry committed to spend $2.1 billion to develop offshore leases in the Beaufort Sea.

Our government also continues to support the development of the Mackenzie Gas Project, a project of national significance that could contribute $68 million to the Northwest Territories economy, $86 billion to the Canadian economy and create over 200,000 person years of employment.

We also enjoy world-class hydro potential. Our northern rivers could generate as much as 11,500 megawatts of hydroelectricity. That’s an amount on par with Hydro Quebec’s James Bay project. That would be clean, renewable energy that could help drive economic growth, displace fossil fuels and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The proposed Mackenzie Valley Highway will realize the long-held goal of connecting Canada from sea to sea to sea. It would open up our communities and help promote the development of a diversified and sustainable economy along its route.  We think this project will benefit the people of the Northwest Territories and have already committed money to begin work on the Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk portion of the highway, in partnership with the Government of Canada.

But we are not just about the resource economy in the Northwest Territories any longer.

The Inuvik Satellite Station is an international partnership that includes the Government of Canada, the Canadian Space Agency, the German Aerospace Centre and the Swedish Space Corporation. These partners have realized that Inuvik is an ideal location for receiving data from remote sensing satellites. We could be world leaders in remote sensing and to support that potential, the Government of the Northwest Territories is looking at options for building a fibre-optic link down the Mackenzie Valley.

The Mackenzie Valley Fibre-optic link would improve communications infrastructure in communities along its route, allow researchers and scientists to get real-time data from the Satellite Station and position our residents to become active participants in the growing international digital economy.

Yet while we are a territory of tremendous opportunity, it is our unique northern irony that we also face tremendous challenges.  In spite of this potential wealth, the people of the Northwest Territories still struggle with unemployment, poverty, housing and infrastructure challenges and high cost of living.

These are challenges that we need to address if we want to realize our potential and set ourselves on the pathways to prosperity that this conference is examining.

Economic development and social development go hand-in-hand. A prosperous territory is a territory that has the resources to fund the programs that will help our people realize their own aspirations and to live in dignity. Working to create a strong, diversified and sustainable economy that provides opportunities and benefits to all our residents in their communities and regions is a key goal for the Government of the Northwest Territories.

Development of our natural resources has the potential to improve the lives of our residents and make the Northwest Territories a “have” jurisdiction, but it must be managed properly. We need to make sure that our people are the primary beneficiaries of development in the Northwest Territories and we need to make sure we are able to control and mitigate potentially negative impacts.

Our experience shows us that this is possible. In recent years, the Government of the Northwest Territories has worked hard to ensure that resource development in our territory creates benefits for our people. We have negotiated socioeconomic agreements with the diamond mines that have helped ensure that our residents enjoy a share of the benefits of development. We have supported the negotiation of impact benefit agreements with local Aboriginal communities.

Development of our resources can be one of the pathways to prosperity for our territory.  And that means that development must be sustainable. It must be consistent with Northern priorities and values. And development must be managed by Northerners for Northerners.

Getting management right means getting governance right.

We need political and regulatory institutions that give the people of the Northwest Territories a real opportunity to make decisions about the things that affect them. We need to find ways to work together with Aboriginal governments to identify shared priorities and create a consensus on how we move forward in the best interests of our residents. And, most importantly, we need to secure Northern control over the public lands and resources that form the basis of our future wealth and prosperity.

As we consider how to create a prosperous future for ourselves, I think it is important that we also look to our past.

Understanding how our political institutions have evolved will inform our vision for the future governance of the Northwest Territories. For years, territorial affairs were governed by a Commissioner in Ottawa and an appointed Council of advisors who were federal government employees.

It was not until 1975 that all members of the council were elected by Northwest Territories residents. The Council was officially renamed the Legislative Assembly at this time.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s the Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner began to transfer more of their responsibilities to elected Members of the Executive Council, until – in 1986 – the Commissioner turned the Chair over to the then-Government Leader.

While our government became truly responsible to an elected Assembly in 1986, the powers of that Assembly were still limited to specific areas.  Control over education, health care, forestry and highways have been devolved to the Government of the Northwest Territories over the years since 1986.  The last major authority to be devolved is by far the most important to us – and has proven to be the most difficult to attain.

Unlike the provinces and Yukon, the people of the Northwest Territories do not control their own public lands and resources, including rights in respect of water. Decisions on whether and how to develop public lands and resources in the Northwest Territories are still made by the Government of Canada. Resource royalties from that development flow straight to Ottawa, rather than directly benefiting the people of the Northwest Territories.

While the Government of the Northwest Territories has assumed responsibility for all other areas of province-like jurisdiction, responsibility for lands and resources, including water, remains beyond our grasp. We believe the transfer of this responsibility from Canada to our government is overdue.

Unless we have Devolution, decisions about how Northern lands and resources are developed will continue to be made in Ottawa. We may have a voice in the decision-making process, but being one of many voices is not the same thing as being the ones who make the decision. Without Devolution, we can never be sure that decisions to develop Northern land and resources will be consistent with Northern priorities.

We will not be able to ensure that we, the people who live here, are the ones who benefit the most from those decisions.

Devolution of lands and resources, including rights in respect of water, to a more local, responsible and accountable territorial government will result in decisions that better reflect the priorities and goals of the people of the North. Devolution will be the key to ensuring that development in the Northwest Territories is controlled by Northerners and is in the best interests of all our residents.

For more than ten years now, the Government of the Northwest Territories has been working with the regional Aboriginal governments to negotiate a Devolution agreement with Canada.

Four out of seven Aboriginal governments in the Northwest Territories have joined our government and the Government of Canada in signing the Devolution Agreement-in-Principle first signed in January 2011. We are having active discussions with the remaining three Aboriginal Governments.  Negotiations are now nearing their end and we look forward to concluding a final agreement on Devolution shortly.

The transfer of responsibility for public lands and resources from Canada to the Government of the Northwest Territories will be a significant development in the history of northern governance.  In some ways, Devolution will mark the beginning of a new phase in the continuing story of political evolution that has characterized the history of our territory.

After Devolution, the Government of the Northwest Territories will be one of several governments in our territory with an interest in how Northern lands and resources are managed, protected and developed. Regional Aboriginal governments will have their own interests and priorities, as well as jurisdiction over their own lands.

As part of our Devolution negotiations, we have committed to formalizing an intergovernmental relationship that will allow the Government of the Northwest Territories and Aboriginal Governments to work together on land and water management. This will let us work cooperatively together in a way that respects our individual jurisdiction, but also recognizes that we have many common interests as northern governments, while making sure we serve the best interests of all our residents.

While we understand and respect that some Aboriginal governments do not feel that they can sign the AiP and participate in the Devolution process now, this does not mean we cannot work together in other areas.

Cooperation has long been a tradition in the North. In a harsh environment with few people, you need to be able to pull together and rely on your neighbours for survival. Working together has always been the way Northerners have done things and it continues to be the way that the Government of the Northwest Territories does business.

We lead the country in ongoing and formal engagement with regional Aboriginal governments. We are the only jurisdiction in Canada to have government-to-government relations with our Aboriginal governments and it is reflected in all our activities and operations.

These activities all reflect our ongoing commitment to collaborative decision making and engagement with our Aboriginal governments. This commitment was underscored this past June with the release of our Aboriginal Engagement Strategy, Respect, Recognition, Responsibility, which sets out eight principles of engagement that our government is committed to.

  • We recognize and affirm the Aboriginal and Treaty rights of Canada’s Aboriginal peoples in the first principle.
  • We recognize the inherent right of self-government as an existing Aboriginal right under section 35 of the Constitution Act 1982.
  • We commit to building mutually respectful government-to-government relationships.
  • We recognize all existing Aboriginal Right Agreements and commit to using them as the basis for engagement with Aboriginal governments.
  • We respect the diverse governance structures of Northwest Territories Aboriginal governments and we will be open in engaging with the different governments and communities that exist within each region.
  • We commit to building responsible and accountable government-to-government relationships that are responsive and flexible.

There are also principles with respect to sharing information and knowledge, helping to build capacity, enhancing our government’s participation at Annual General Assemblies and other important events, and establishing regular formal meetings with each Aboriginal government in the Northwest Territories.

In our eighth and final principle, we continue our commitment to working with Aboriginal governments to ensure responsible stewardship over Northwest Territories lands, water and air.

We are determined to create conditions for success that work to the benefit of all Northwest Territories residents.  We are actively negotiating and settling land claims, and creating certainty of rights and process for Aboriginal people.

I am not going to stand here today and say that we have all the answers. The evolution of governance in the Northwest Territories is very much a work in progress. We will continue to look for new and innovative approaches that will help us build a strong and prosperous future for our residents based on strong working relationships with Aboriginal governments, community governments, non-governmental organizations, business and industry.

I hope your discussions are productive and I look forward to hearing more about them at the conclusion of your conference.