Sessional Statement

Oct 17 2012

Mr. Speaker, I would like to welcome Members back to the continuation of the Third Session of the 17th Legislative Assembly.  I hope everybody was able to enjoy some time with family and friends this summer and has come back rested and ready to continue working on behalf of the people of the Northwest Territories.  It has been almost one year since we took office.  As we get started with this Session, I would like to look back at some of the things we have accomplished together this past year.

Mr. Speaker, this Assembly has a vision of a strong and prosperous Northwest Territories that provides all our residents with opportunities in their regions and communities.  Building effective working relationships with other Northern governments, business, industry and social and environmental organizations is a critical factor in our success.  This has been a major focus for us during the past year:

  • We continue to meet and engage with Aboriginal and other northern governments to find areas of agreement where we can work together to advance our mutual interests and the interests of the people of the Northwest Territories. Since we took office members of Cabinet have had 45 meetings on a government-to-government basis with Aboriginal governments and leadership.
  • This past May we took an important step when the Sahtu Secretariat Incorporated signed the Devolution Agreement-in-Principle.  Devolution has been a priority of this government and Aboriginal governments for years and we were pleased to have the Sahtu rejoin the process.
  • In June we released Respect, Recognition, Responsibility, our government’s commitment to working on a government-to-government basis with Aboriginal governments.  A complementary guide for staff helps to ensure that we continue to build strong working relationships in all our engagements with Aboriginal governments.
  • In July we signed Working Together, an intergovernmental agreement with the Tlicho Government.  The agreement acknowledges the unique and evolving relationship between the two governments and identifies areas of cooperation, including housing, income support, infrastructure and community governance.
  • Just last Friday, I was in Aklavik, where the Gwich’in Tribal Council formally signed the Devolution Agreement-in-Principle.  Devolution represents a major opportunity for this territory to become self-sufficient and prosperous and I am pleased to have the Gwich’in return to the negotiating table with us.
  • We also signed an intergovernmental umbrella agreement and contracting MOU in Aklavik.  These agreements underscore our commitment to maintaining government-to-government relations with Aboriginal governments and provide a means for ensuring the Gwich’in share in the benefits of a strong Northwest Territories economy.

A strong and sustainable territory starts with healthy, educated people, Mr. Speaker. Over the past year, our government has worked to address the social needs of the people of the Northwest Territories:

  • We have created an antipoverty steering committee that includes representation from all the federal, territorial and Aboriginal governments, business, the No Place for Poverty Coalition and a person who has experienced living in poverty. We held an antipoverty roundtable with 28 participants in Hay River in June and another in Inuvik with 26 participants in early October as part of our work towards a comprehensive, broad-based Northwest Territories antipoverty strategy.
  • In April, we began implementing Building for the Future, our strategic framework for housing delivery that includes a new, more equitable public housing rental scale and new supports to help renters make the transition to home-owning and to help people maintain the homes they own.
  • In May, with the input and recommendations of Regular Members, we allocated an additional $1 million to Early Childhood Development programs and are continuing to work on plans for ensuring our children get a good start in life.
  • This past June we released A Shared Path Towards Wellness, our action plan on mental health and addictions that will involve and engage communities in solving the problem of mental health and addictions and includes the creation of the Minister’s Forum on Addictions.
  • Earlier this month, we launched a new residential schools curriculum in partnership with the Government of Nunavut and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to help us address one of the major underlying causes of many of the problems in our homes and communities.
  • We are also working to help inmates in the North Slave Correctional Facility begin their own healing journey when the Truth and Reconciliation Commission takes statements from them at the end of this month.  This will be the first time that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission will have entered any correctional facility in the country.

Social development and economic development go hand-in-hand, Mr. Speaker.  We need a strong and diversified economy that uses resources wisely and provides economic opportunities for our people and financial resources to fund public programs and services.  Over the past few months the Government of the Northwest Territories has continued to work on growing and diversifying a sustainable economy:

  • In March, we received the project description report for the final portion of the Mackenzie Valley Highway, the K’asho Got’ine District.  We are now combining all the PDRs into a single report that will be used for the preliminary environmental screening of the project.  When completed, the Mackenzie Valley Highway will connect our people and resources to the south, creating economic opportunities for our businesses and people up and down the valley.
  • When it is completed, the Mackenzie Valley Highway will finally connect Canada by road from sea-to-sea-to-sea.  We are already working on the Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk Highway, funding planning work and participating in environmental review hearings in September.  With the environmental assessment wrapping up in December, we are hopeful that sound project decisions can be made and construction can begin in early 2013.
  • Along with the Norman Wells Land Corporation and industry partners, we held a Sahtu readiness exploration session in September, bringing together more than 100 people to look at how to take advantage of the world-class shale oil play in the region in a sustainable, responsible way.  Our work to support the Sahtu includes renaming and refocusing the work of the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Office in Hay River.  Our regional management committee is working with local businesses, land corporations and industry to foster good working relationships that will help us advance development at a sustainable and manageable pace. We are also working with industry and the federal government to promote an unbiased and informed understanding of shale oil development.
  • Also in September, I took part in the successful trade mission to China organized by the Council of the Federation.  Promoting foreign trade and investment will be an important way to grow and diversify our economy.  I am pleased to say that there was a lot of interest in our minerals, oil and gas and that Chinese investors wanted to learn more about developing our resources sustainably and responsibly.  I spoke to Chinese tourism operators about our spectacular territory and saw Northwest Territories furs being used in some of the most fashion forward garments in Beijing.  We had excellent discussions about how diamonds from the Northwest Territories could meet growing Chinese demand in Hong Kong.
  • We continue to advance the Mackenzie Valley Fibre-optic Line.  Over the summer, Minister Miltenberger met with some Aboriginal government leaders to seek support for the project, including potential financial investment.  We have submitted a business case to P3 Canada and issued an RFP for development of a project description report, which will let us move the project on to the environmental assessment phase.
  • We are also looking forward to the opening of the Deh Cho Bridge next month. This major piece of public infrastructure will connect the North Slave permanently to the south, supporting sustainable development of our resources and creating economic opportunities for Northerners.

The land and its resources are the source of our wealth, Mr. Speaker, but they are also the source of our health and our life.  While we need to develop our resources to grow our economy and meet the needs of Northerners, we also need to manage that development.  Development needs to be sustainable, it needs to create benefits for all our residents and it needs to reflect Northern priorities and values while maintaining ecosystem integrity and biological diversity.  We continue to work towards that goal:

  • In June, we released Land is Life, a discussion paper that will help us develop a land use and sustainability framework to guide how land use management decisions are made post-Devolution.  We are using the paper in ongoing consultations with the public, Aboriginal governments, land management organizations and other stakeholders.
  • We continue to work on transboundary water management agreements that will maintain the ecological integrity of the Mackenzie Basin and ensure coordination of water management between jurisdictions.  Our work on a bilateral agreement with Alberta is moving forward and we hope to conclude an agreement in early 2013.
  • We continue to work towards a new Wildlife Act, consulting broadly with people across the Northwest Territories, including public meetings and open houses, meetings with Aboriginal governments and the creation of a Stakeholder’s Wildlife Act Advisory Group.  We hope to introduce a modernized Act with appropriate tools for effective wildlife management reflecting the input of all these groups shortly.
  • We continue to implement the Government’s Greenhouse Gas Strategy to achieve emission targets, and leverage federal funding to take action to facilitate climate change adaptation.
  • Resources continue to be allocated to the research and development of renewable energy sources and helping communities take advantage of business opportunities while reducing their reliance on fossil fuels.  We are working with communities to develop forest management agreements to help develop a viable forestry industry accessing timber, biomass and non-timber products while maintaining and enhancing environmental stewardship.

Other successes from the past year include negotiating an increase to our borrowing limit with the federal government.  This will help give us the ability to continue making strategic investments in the infrastructure we need to support economic development in our territory.  During the spring, we successfully negotiated new four-year collective agreements with the Union of Northern Workers, the Northwest Territories Medical Association and the Northwest Territories Teachers’ Association, providing certainty for our employees and stability for our ongoing operations.

We have also been recognized nationally for the quality of our work and our working environment.  In August our government was recognized by the Institute of Public Administration of Canada for our innovative approach to involving Aboriginal governments in planning work for the Mackenzie Valley Highway.  Last week, our government was recognized as one of Canada’s Top 100 Employers for 2013.  This recognition places us among a select group of Canadian employers who lead the nation in their commitment to their employees.  We value our employees and respect the good work they do in implementing our direction and providing services to Northerners.

Mr. Speaker, we took office with a commitment to doing things differently and getting things done.  This government has been living up to that commitment.  We still have plenty of work ahead of us.  We continue to address the high cost of living through investments in transportation infrastructure, alternative energy projects like the Fort Simpson solar installation, our antipoverty work and new and enhanced programs to help homeowners.

Devolution remains a priority.  We hope to conclude negotiations before the end of 2012 and it will take 18 months after signing to fully implement the agreement.  We are working on a plan to address decentralization to help increase employment opportunities in our communities.  We are looking for Northern Premiers to take a more active role in the Arctic Council when Canada begins to chair it in 2013.

We are almost a year into our mandate, Mr. Speaker.  We are making progress on our goals and priorities as an Assembly and I would like to thank Members for their efforts to help us move forward.  I look forward to working with them in this Session and over the next three years.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.