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FEB 5 2014
Mr. Speaker. I would like to welcome Members back to the continuation of the Fifth Session of the 17thLegislative Assembly.
This is our final sitting before the transfer of responsibility for public land, water and resources from the Government of Canada on April 1, 2014. The next time we meet, the Legislative Assembly and its Members will have substantial new powers to make decisions on behalf of the people who elected us.
During this sitting, Members will be asked to consider and pass the 2014-15 budget. The budget will position the Government of the Northwest Territories to smoothly take on new responsibilities being transferred through devolution, while continuing our commitment to fiscal discipline and strategic infrastructure investments to grow our economy.
You will also hear during this sitting how the government will implement – and pay for – many of the plans and strategies that we have developed in response to the priorities of the Legislative Assembly.
These include plans for supporting our people by addressing poverty and mental health challenges, including addictions. We will invest in the long term health and success of our children through a focus on early childhood development and education reform. We will support sustainable communities by continuing with decentralization and new recruitment initiatives. We will invest in the health of our environment by continuing to develop alternatives to diesel, implement the Water Stewardship Strategy and manage wildlife. You will also hear how we will continue our efforts to grow a strong, diversified economy and create a prosperous future for all our residents.
Passing the legislation required for devolution will be a significant achievement for this House. Devolution legislation makes up the bulk of our legislative agenda at this sitting and may be the most ambitious legislative project this government has undertaken since Division. I would like to thank Members for their continued commitment and cooperation in moving this legislation forward in a timely manner.
Devolution is a goal we have pursued for many years now. On April 1st, NWT residents will have a greater voice in decisions about how land, water and resources are managed, how the economy is developed and the environment protected. It will be the first transfer of federal programs to the Government of the Northwest Territories that will generate substantial revenue for the territory.
Devolution will provide for more coordinated land stewardship in the Northwest Territories in partnership with Aboriginal governments. It will provide for more responsive resource management from a smaller, more efficient government closer to the people affected by its decisions. It will create new jobs and business opportunities as the Northwest Territories economy grows under the management of our government.
Supported by an efficient, effective and integrated regulatory regime, devolution will give Northerners the necessary tools and authorities to responsibly develop the territory’s significant natural resource potential, promote investment and economic development and manage the land and environment sustainably.
We could not have reached this point without the support of this Assembly and our Aboriginal government partners, Mr. Speaker. I would like to thank Members for that support and thank our partners – the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation, the Northwest Territories Metis Nation, Gwich’in Tribal Council, Sahtu Secretariat Incorporated and Tlicho Government – for their commitment and dedication to this goal. Their assistance in negotiating a deal that is in the best interests of the people of the Northwest Territories has been invaluable and their ongoing participation will be critical to the successful implementation of devolution.
Devolution is about creating a strong Northwest Territories, Mr. Speaker, and we are stronger when we join together. I am pleased that so many Aboriginal governments have decided to join their strength with ours. We have been in discussions with the Acho Dene Koe First Nation for some time and they have been waiting patiently to sign onto devolution. Last week our partnership grew with the announcement that the Deninu Kue First Nation had voted in favour of signing on to devolution.
We continue our discussions with the Dehcho First Nations and the Akaitcho Territoriy Dene First Nations. There is a seat for each of them waiting at the table and I remain hopeful that we will see all regional Aboriginal governments agreeing to participate in and enjoying the benefits of devolution.
Devolution will complete a process that began in 1967 and saw the people of this territory and their elected government take on responsibility for many former federal programs, including health, education, social services, airports and forestry management.
Come April 1st, the Government of the Northwest Territories will assume responsibility for 26 federal acts and regulations governing the management of land, water and resources in our territory. The Legislative Assembly and its elected Members will gain new powers to make legislation that was formerly reserved for the Parliament of Canada. For the first time ever, Mr. Speaker, Members will be debating their own legislation governing oil and gas operations, petroleum resources, water management and regulation of activities on Commissioner’s Land during this sitting.
New powers and responsibilities for environmental management and regulation will be delegated to our government under the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act. These will be added to the responsibilities we have already been exercising under the MVRMA for years.
The MVRMA will continue to be federal legislation for the time being, but this reflects its unique nature. The MVRMA is required by the land claims and provides for integrated environmental regulation on all lands in the Mackenzie Valley, including federal and territorial lands, settlement lands and private lands. Its continuation as federal law for the next five years reflects that and we are satisfied with the provisions in the Devolution Agreement to review the status and potential transfer of these delegated powers to our government within five years. I’d also like to note that there is nothing to prevent us from initiating those discussions earlier.
We have been working closely with the Government of Canada and our Aboriginal partners to ensure that there will be a seamless transition on April 1, 2014. We have worked out our organizational design, identifying exactly which new responsibilities and programs our departments – including a new Department of Lands under Minister Robert C. McLeod – will be assuming on the effective date. We have made decisions about how we will manage project approvals, including a single-window approach to help support responsible and coordinated development in our territory.
We are putting our senior management teams into place and have already filled key positions. One hundred and thirty-two job offers have been accepted by federal employees currently delivering the transferring programs in the Northwest Territories. That represents almost 100 percent acceptance and I look forward to welcoming them to the Government of the Northwest Territories. With this level of continuity and experience, we will be more than ready to hit the ground running come April 1st.
Most critically, we have been working hard to clarify our thinking about our new authorities and what they mean in terms of our plans and priorities. Clear rules and expectations around environmental protection and resource management are critical for responsible resource development. Industry needs to know what the rules are and our people need to know that their government is committed to managing and protecting the environment according to Northern priorities and values.
Shortly, our government will be releasing its land use and sustainability framework. This framework will be a critical policy piece for us, establishing the foundation for all our departments as they take on new responsibilities for land use, resource development and environmental management. It will outline the principles and approach we will follow as we engage in decision making around land in the Northwest Territories. Having a clear, consistent approach to how we make land use decisions will help ensure there are no surprises when it comes to dealing with our government and ensure we make sound decisions that are in the public interest as we begin to exercise our new authorities for land, resources and water.
The land use and sustainability framework has been in development for several years and is grounded in our ongoing work and discussions with Aboriginal governments and other stakeholders. We have also benefited from the participation of the Standing Committee on Priorities and Planning in its development and I thank Members for their involvement. Like much of the work this government has been doing, the framework will both position us to succeed after devolution and respond to the priorities of this Assembly.
The vision and priorities we established at the beginning of this term have helped us to be strategic and focus our efforts on those areas most important to us and the people of the Northwest Territories. That kind of focus and discipline will be necessary for the remainder of our term as we implement the plans we have worked so hard to develop in first half of our term.
We are continuing this government’s – and this Assembly’s – focus on building a strong, prosperous territory with a diversified economy aided by new responsibilities acquired through devolution. We have a new Mineral Development Strategy that will guide our government as it works to support the responsible development of our mineral resources. We have an Economic Opportunities Strategy which takes a broader view to strategically growing a strong, diversified economy for our territory. We will continue to support and prepare for the responsible development of the Northwest Territories’ oil and gas potential. And this potential is significant Mr. Speaker, in both the Beaufort Delta and in the Sahtu where we are seeing a world class oil and gas play. Work has already begun with the federal government and the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation to commence negotiations for a management agreement respecting oil and gas resources in the offshore portion of our territory.
We continue to address the high cost of energy by investing in alternatives to expensive diesel fuel, supporting sustainable communities and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. We have a new Northwest Territories Power System Plan released late last year. We know that access to affordable, reliable energy is a significant factor affecting resource and economic development. This plan looks at how we can make best use of the Northwest Territories’ hydro resources and expand and extend the hydro transmission network to better serve consumers and industry. A companion Energy Plan also released last December will guide our government’s long-term approach to energy in the territory.
We continue to focus on strategic infrastructure investments that will help us support economic growth and development in the Northwest Territories. That includes projects like the Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk Highway, the first step towards completing the Mackenzie Valley Highway. I was pleased to join Prime Minister Harper in Inuvik last month, along with most of Cabinet and the Member for Yellowknife Centre, for a groundbreaking ceremony. Prime Minister Harper continues to make the North a priority for his government and I thank him for his commitment and leadership.
We know that people need to be healthy and educated if they are to benefit from and participate in a strong, diversified economy. We have plans for investing in our people, including the Early Childhood Development Plan, Anti-Poverty Strategy and Mental Health and Addictions plan so our people have the support they need to take advantage of current and future opportunities.
Focusing on decentralization and a representative workforce will continue to be a priority for us. This reflects our commitment to Aboriginal people and small communities, while ensuring that all residents of the territory have an opportunity to share in the benefits of a strong, thriving economy.
We will continue to build our relationships and foster the partnerships we need to achieve our full potential as a territory, including with Canada, business and industry and Aboriginal governments. I am proud of the intergovernmental agreements we have signed with the Gwich’in, Tlicho, Northwest Territories Metis Nation and Akaitcho Territory Dene First Nation. With the establishment of the Intergovernmental Council called for by the Devolution Agreement, we will be more directly linked to Aboriginal governments, providing new opportunities for us to work together more closely to achieve the shared interests of all the people of the Northwest Territories.
Mr. Speaker, fifty years ago few would have imagined a Northwest Territories with a fully-elected Legislative Assembly exercising province-like powers. Our resources and potential were largely unknown and mostly inaccessible. Today, we are increasingly being recognized – across Canada and around the world – as a potential engine of economic growth and prosperity. We now stand poised to take the most significant step in our political evolution in decades. We have made great advances in little more than a single generation.
I have said before that the 21st Century belongs to the North, and we can make that a reality here. This is the Session where all our preparations come together – we have laid the groundwork, developed the plans and secured the political and legislative authority we need. Now is the time to join together and create the strong, prosperous, environmentally sustainable territory we outlined in our vision.