Sessional Statement

Feb 7 2012

Mr. Speaker, although we have a small population, the Northwest Territories is a large and diverse territory.  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.

But in spite of the individual differences we may have, I believe that Northerners share the same bigger vision for our territory.  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 resources we need to pay for our dreams, 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.

Creating this future is not a project for the Government of the Northwest Territories alone.  We will need the participation and cooperation of business and social groups, environmental groups, community governments, Aboriginal governments and the Members of this Assembly.  We are stronger when we stand together and focus on what unites us and we will need that strength to create the kind of future we want for all the people of the Northwest Territories.  Finding common ground means finding the will to see beyond any temporary disagreements that might divide us. We need to keep our eye on the big picture if we want to make our vision of a prosperous and sustainable future a reality.

This government started with a commitment to doing business differently.  We know the value of partnerships and good relationships.  We have made it a priority to reach out to people across the territory and look for common ground, especially with our Aboriginal governments.  We began last October –even before this House formally sat – when Caucus met with leaders from all Aboriginal governments in Dettah.  That meeting represented our interest in a new relationship with Aboriginal governments – one built on the principles of respect, recognition and responsibility.  We need to be able to talk openly and respectfully about the issues we share in common and ways that we can work together to address them.  As I have said in this House before, I am making plans for another meeting between Aboriginal leaders and Members of the Legislative Assembly early this year.

As part of our commitment to forging strong working relationships with Aboriginal governments, I and my Cabinet colleagues have been holding bilateral meetings across the Northwest Territories.  We have had 16 meetings with leaders representing every Aboriginal government in every region of the Northwest Territories.  Since the beginning of the year, Cabinet has participated in meetings with the Beaufort Delta Regional Council and Gwich’in Tribal Council.  We have also had our first ever meeting between all Cabinet members and all members of the Tłîchô Government Executive Council since the Tłîchô government was established six years ago.  Minister Beaulieu, Minister Miltenberger and I also recently participated in a meeting with the Northwest Territories Métis Nation.

I am encouraged by what I have been hearing at these meetings, Mr. Speaker.  In our discussions we have learned that there is already a lot of common ground for us to build on.   Leaders share many of the same concerns we do: they want to see economic opportunities and jobs in their communities and regions.  They want their people to be healthy and educated.  They want to address the need for housing in their communities. These are many of the same issues that Members of this House identified when we announced our priorities last November.  These are the same issues that all our residents care about.  Finding ways that we can all work together to address these issues could be one of the most significant accomplishments of this Assembly, Mr. Speaker, and I believe that it can be done.  We have the opportunity to create a better future for all residents of the Northwest Territories by working together, and I am reaching out to Members, Aboriginal governments and all citizens of the Northwest Territories to invite them to join us.

We also need a new, stronger working relationship with the federal government, Mr. Speaker.  I met with the Prime Minister last week and had the opportunity to discuss the close alignment between the priorities of this Assembly and the federal Northern Strategy.  I was also able to meet with Minister Duncan and Minister Aglukkaq while I was in Ottawa.  The meetings were productive and it is clear we share many of the same goals for the North as Canada does.  I am confident that we can work well together on issues that are important to Canadians and Northerners.

What do we need to do to get to the kind of future we envision, Mr. Speaker?  Besides strengthening our relationship with Aboriginal and other northern governments, we need to invest in the people of the Northwest Territories, Mr. Speaker.  We need to invest in our future economy; we need to be responsible stewards of our land and environment; and we need to complete the transfer of authorities from Canada to the Northwest Territories that began 45 years ago.

This government already makes substantial investments in the people of the Northwest Territories, Mr. Speaker.  We offer education and training programs in communities throughout the north that give Northwest Territories residents the opportunity to build capacity and acquire job skills.  We support personal wellness through ongoing health promotion and prevention programs and offer mental health and addictions programs. We deliver health care services in communities across the Northwest Territories and continue to make strategic investments in our health care facilities and infrastructure.

Addressing poverty will be another way to invest in Northerners, Mr. Speaker.  During this Session I will be tabling What We Heard, the results of an extensive consultation on poverty undertaken by the last government. In this document, Northwest Territories residents identify some of the causes of poverty, the challenges and barriers they face trying to break free of it and some of the things we could do to eliminate it.  What We Heard will inform the development of an Anti-Poverty Strategy that the Government of the Northwest Territories will undertake in collaboration with non-government organizations, business leaders and Aboriginal and community governments. We will return to the Assembly with our proposed strategy before the end of this calendar year.

We will also continue to move forward with the Shelter Policy Review as part of our ongoing work to address the need for housing in our communities.  As a result of the Review, we plan to come forward with a strategic framework for housing that will strengthen public housing, including implementing new rent scales.  It will improve homeownership supports and address other aspects of the housing continuum like housing supply and adequacy in non-market communities, strengthen the approach to homelessness and improve housing services.  We will continue with programs to support homeownership and our strategy to replace older single detached public housing units with multi-family units wherever possible. We will begin to implement elements of the Review by this June.

While we are investing in the people of the Northwest Territories, we will also need to be investing in our future economy.  The Government of the Northwest Territories already provides a broad range of programs in support of economic development and diversification. There are programs to support small businesses and promote community economic development.  We offer support for tourism development and the traditional economy.  And we have programs to encourage and support the development of our mineral resources.

People want an opportunity to succeed, and our role as government is to make sure the conditions are right for their success.  We are telling Northerners to stay in school, but we need to keep up our end of the bargain, Mr. Speaker, so there are jobs and economic opportunities for them when they graduate.  Economic development and job creation is one way that this government can help meet the needs of the Northwest Territories and the people who live here.  This is a belief that was echoed by leaders in my meetings around the Northwest Territories over the past few months. That is why this government has made it a priority to come forward with an environmentally sustainable economic development and mining strategy.

The Northwest Territories has a wealth of resources, but we are not making the best use of that potential. If we want to become a prosperous, self-sufficient territory providing opportunities for our residents, we are going to need a number of things to fall into place.  We need a devolution agreement, regulatory improvement and a clear post-devolution relationship with Canada.  We need certainty around our development processes and we will need the federal government to partner with us in major, nation-building infrastructure projects like the Mackenzie Gas Project, the Mackenzie Valley Highway and a Mackenzie Valley Fibre-optic link.  We are not  looking for a hand-out. The Government of the Northwest Territories is prepared to do its part and we intend to show our good faith by investing our own resources in preparatory work for the Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk Highway, an eventual part of the Mackenzie Valley Highway.

Development needs to be sustainable and balanced by a respect for our land and environment, Mr. Speaker.  The land is not just the source of our wealth, it is the source of our wellbeing. We need to make careful decisions about how we manage our renewable and non-renewable resources.  Our decisions need to be guided by a long-term vision that ensures our residents enjoy the benefits of the land and its resources for generations to come.

We continue to work to put the tools in place that will help us be responsible stewards of our land.  On top of resource revenues and jobs, Devolution will give the people of the Northwest Territories control over decisions about how we can protect our land and develop our resources in the way we want.  It will also provide new opportunities for the Government of the Northwest Territories and Aboriginal governments to work together on land use, resource management and regulatory improvement.  A new Wildlife Act will give us modern tools for managing our wildlife in partnership with Aboriginal governments.  Work towards a transboundary water management agreement that will help ensure the protection of territorial waters in the face of development in the Upper Mackenzie Basin continues to move forward. And a Territorial Land Use Framework will help the Government of the Northwest Territories deal with land use matters in a consistent way based on clear interests.

Mr. Speaker, continuing to pay for our priorities and fund the programs and services we deliver will require careful management in the coming months.  As Members know, our current fiscal situation is tight and we need to stick to a disciplined fiscal strategy to manage our way through the next two years.  Our first priority is protecting the existing programs and services our residents rely on, while maintaining some capacity to absorb unexpected expenses or revenue shortfalls. There is no money to invest in new initiatives or programs at this time.  As our situation improves, our next priority will be to make strategic, targeted infrastructure investments that will help support economic development and growth.

While we are not there yet, I can advise Members that we are making progress on our discussions with the federal government over our borrowing limit.  Minister Miltenberger has talked with Minister Flaherty and we have been assured that Canada understands our issues and is prepared to offer some relief for the Northwest Territories.  We do not expect to have a final figure until the end of this fiscal year, but Canada’s assurances have given us the ability to consider funding initial work on the Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk Highway.

Mr. Speaker, we have the potential to be a great territory.  Last November Minister Duncan wrote in the Hill Times that Canada’s North is a fundamental part of our national identity and our economic future.  We share Minister Duncan’s views and the vision of Canada’s Northern Strategy of a North that can realize its true potential as a healthy, prosperous and secure region within a strong and sovereign Canada.  We have the natural resources, human capital and political experience to be a self-sufficient territory, participating as a full, contributing member of Confederation.  We can achieve this Assembly’s vision of strong individuals, families and communities sharing the benefits and responsibilities of a unified, environmentally sustainable and prosperous Northwest Territories.

It will take work to get there and it and it will take the willingness of Northerners to come together and focus on common goals and priorities that are in the best interests of the whole territory.  The people of the Northwest Territories deserve and expect a brighter future, Mr. Speaker.  The Government of the Northwest Territories is committed to working toward that future and invites the partnership of Members of the Legislative Assembly, Aboriginal leaders, community leaders and all those with a stake in creating a strong and prosperous Northwest Territories.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.