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Speaking Notes for the Honourable Bernard Valcourt, PC, MP, Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development
For delivery at the 2013 Northern Development Ministers’ Forum
Fort McMurray, Alberta
September 23, 2013
Check against delivery
Good morning and thank you for the warm welcome.
Since my appointment almost seven months ago I’ve had several opportunities to travel in Northern Canada and I know that you can always count on Northern hospitality.
Before starting I would like to acknowledge that we are on Treaty 8 territory.
I want to thank Ministers Rieter and Lukaszuk, and the Governments of Saskatchewan and Alberta, for co-hosting this year’s event.
I am delighted to be part of the Northern Development Ministers’ Forum.
While this is my first time participating, I recognize that it presents a valuable opportunity to come together to compare notes, find common ground, and explore ways of aligning our respective strategies to maximize opportunities for Northern and Aboriginal people.
Our Government understands that the objective of creating jobs, economic growth and long term prosperity not just for Northerners, but for all Canadians, is best served by working together as partners.
Here in northern Alberta, the economic opportunities before us are most evident.
And we know there’s much more to come. Over the next 10 years, more than $650 billion in new investment is expected from more than 600 major resource projects planned across Canada.
Forging effective partnerships is a key pillar of the Federal Framework for Aboriginal Economic Development. Launched in 2009, the Framework is a modern approach to promoting Aboriginal economic development.
It is guiding federal actions to ensure that the Government is working with willing partners to make investments in real opportunities that will yield tangible benefits.
The federal government’s Strategic Partnership Initiative is also helping to support Aboriginal participation in the economy.
With a particular focus on opportunities in the natural resources sectors, the initiative is an innovative program established under the Federal Framework for Aboriginal Economic Development. It aligns federal investments to better prepare Aboriginal communities to partner with the private sector on major economic and business development opportunities.
The appointment of Douglas Eyford as the Special Federal Representative on West Coast Energy will also identify ways to address Aboriginal interests and facilitate their greater participation in development projects.
The Harper government will continue to support the work of the Special Representative and his team by looking for new ways to coordinate and leverage existing programming like the Strategic Partnership Initiative and the Procurement Strategy for Aboriginal Business, to ensure that Aboriginal peoples are able to benefit from West coast energy infrastructure development.
And it is my pleasure today to launch the on-line Aboriginal and Treaty Rights Information System.
Called ATRIS, this system provides information via an interactive map on Aboriginal communities and groups in Canada and their rights – including treaties, agreements and claims. This information is now available to the public in one central place and in a more accessible format.
It will help governments and industry across Canada understand which Aboriginal groups require consulting before, for instance resource exploration, development and extraction can take place.
Another action area for our Government is improving regulatory regimes in the three territories, an issue critical to industry.
Our Government passed the Northern Jobs and Growth Act, which delivers on our commitment to improving regulatory regimes, improving environmental protection and enhancing Aboriginal consultation.
Measures like this will encourage investment while ensuring that resource development occurs responsibly.
And we are currently consulting in the territories on further changes which build on our commitment to improve the regulatory regimes in the North.
Here in Alberta, work is being done to amend the Indian Oil and Gas Act and Regulations. This is an important step in harmonizing federal and provincial oil and gas law on First Nation reserve lands and ensuring both levels of government avoid duplication when it comes to our regulatory roles.
Initiatives like these underscore that our Government is working to create the conditions for prosperity throughout the North.
The benefits of this effort will accrue not just to Northerners, but to all Canadians. A strong, prosperous North, is vital to a vibrant, prosperous Canada. Economic Action Plan 2013 funds targeted to issues such as skilled labour shortages and housing challenges in many communities, as well as Northern power generation and clean energy initiatives.
For instance, a unique partnership between my Department, the Government of NWT, CanNor and Natural Resources Canada under the Strategic Partnerships Initiative has created opportunities for a sustainable wood biomass industry, generated employment and reduced energy costs.
This partnership involved the design and installation of biomass heating systems and infrastructure in the NWT‘s Behchocko community, becoming the first Aboriginally-owned system in the North. This is a successful model for other communities seeking to incorporate biomass into their energy systems. ecoENERGY for Aboriginal and Northern Communities Program is also supporting communities in developing and implementing biomass heating systems. The program has invested in five NWT communities since 2011.
Socially and economically viable Northern communities are a crucial source of the human resources needed to realize this region’s potential. Aboriginal youth represent the fastest growing segment of the population in Canada. That presents a tremendous opportunity and we must not let it slip by.
Our Government is focused on ensuring they are ready for employment and business opportunities.
For example, in partnership with CanNor, we are helping Aboriginal communities plan and prepare for major resource development opportunities in the North, including the Mary River mine, through community readiness assessments and capacity supports.
In addition, we are investing in new programs to help First Nation youth between the ages of 18 and 24 get a crack at these jobs. These initiatives, aimed at youth receiving Income Assistance, will give them access to more personalized training, education and career counseling to prepare for jobs.
We are also increasing training services for Active Measures participants through a new First Nations Job Fund. The fund will be administered by Employment and Social Development Canada through the Aboriginal Skills, Employment and Training Strategy.
And we will continue to work with our provincial and territorial partners to ensure that we maximize the opportunities to build a bigger, better educated and skilled workforce.
Prime Minister Harper underscored our commitment to economic participation and opportunity during his recent annual summer tour of the North. He announced a $5.8 million investment over two years for skills training to prepare Aboriginal people for work in the mining industry.
Another important step to encouraging economic participation and opportunities is to give Northerners control over their own destiny.
The devolution agreement signed with the NWT earlier this year is clear evidence of our determination to provide greater decision-making powers to Northerners, which will lead to growth and job creation in Canada’s North.
The devolution agreement is giving Northerners the tools and resources they require to seize new opportunities and carve out a better future for themselves and their children.
Of course, it takes all of us, fostering new networks and innovative partnerships through bodies such as the Northern Development Ministers Forum, to make a real difference in the lives of Canadians.
Our work here today is important to all Canadians – Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal alike. Northern communities that are prosperous and sustainable contribute to the national economy, making Canada a stronger and more competitive nation.
So I look forward to working closely with you as we advance our shared Northern agenda. Thank you.
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