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Good morning ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests, fellow speakers, and respected Aboriginal leaders.
It’s an honour to be invited to the annual Aboriginal Oil and Gas Forum to discuss actions the Government of the Northwest Territories is taking to address transportation infrastructure needs in our territory.
It’s been almost 50 years since the federal government started constructing an all-weather highway through the Northwest Territories to the Arctic coast as part of its Road to Resources Strategy. A highway through the Mackenzie Valley was central to the federal government’s vision of a strong and prosperous Canada.
But construction stopped near Wrigley in 1977 after the release of the Berger Inquiry and the resulting moratorium on Northern oil and gas development.
Now, almost forty years later, the political and economic considerations that suspended the highway’s construction have changed. Northerners are now enthusiastic partners in the exploration and development of our wealth of natural resources.
An all-weather highway through the Mackenzie Valley corridor from Wrigley to Tuktoyaktuk is a cornerstone of the Government of the Northwest Territories’ plan for present and future economic development – the means to achieve our vision of a strong and prosperous territory.
Estimates indicate the NWT could hold as much as 81-trillion cubic feet of natural gas and nearly 7-billion barrels of oil. But right now, development activity is limited to seasonal access gained through a publicly constructed winter road from Wrigley to Fort Good Hope.
Since 2000, the governments of Canada and the Northwest Territories invested more than $120 million in improvements along the Mackenzie Valley Winter Road. We’ve installed permanent structures at water crossings to increase the window of operation, to facilitate increasing resource exploration activities, and to provide cost-effective community resupply.
These investments are strategically located on the alignment of the proposed all-weather highway, a corridor that’s also shared with the Mackenzie Valley Fibre Optic project.
The improvements we’re making to the winter road are investments leading to our long-held Northern vision of year-round access to the Mackenzie Valley. We also combine efforts with industry to maximize the winter road’s operating season to enable large, industrial resupply and equipment mobilization activities in the corridor.
The winter road is a temporary snow and ice solution for investors, petroleum producers, and community residents alike. The permanent solution to year-round access is an all-weather highway spanning the length of the Mackenzie Valley. Investing now will ensure resource exploration and development activities can proceed in a more attractive business environment resulting in numerous opportunities for residents of the NWT and the rest of Canada.
I’m very pleased to say the Government of the Northwest Territories is proposing a $700 million investment partnership with Canada to extend the Mackenzie Valley Highway from Wrigley to Norman Wells and construct a $70 million bridge across the Bear River near the community of Tulita. This 313-kilometre all-weather highway will connect Mackenzie Valley resources to southern Canada through Alberta or British Columbia.
Commitments to continue investing in basic infrastructure in the Mackenzie Valley corridor are necessary for Canada to fully realize the benefits of the region’s economic potential and to maintain a competitive edge in the global marketplace. Innovative investment partnerships between government and industry could make this strategic Canadian corridor a reality.
Our proposal to build an all-weather highway to Norman Wells is a bold step forward and one that we’re taking in partnership with Aboriginal communities, their leadership, and the government of Canada. These inclusive partnerships lead to maximized local involvement, input, and control of the planning process resulting in a common demonstration of support for the project.
The northern-most section of the Mackenzie Valley Highway is already under construction between Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk. Early in 2014, our government initiated the construction project with Canada’s support confirming the strategic benefits of building permanent transportation infrastructure where none currently exists. This four-year core infrastructure project is promoting economic growth, supporting job creation, and increasing productivity. This winter alone, the project will directly employ up to 600 people at the peak of the construction season bringing us closer to our goal of improving the lives of Northerners and Canadians.
Once complete, the highway will increase the viability of upgrading the port at Tuktoyaktuk to serve as a supply base for future oil and gas exploration activities in the Beaufort Sea and Mackenzie Delta leading to economic opportunities for residents and businesses.
Continued investment in transportation infrastructure by the GNWT, Canada, and industry are necessary to realize the full economic potential of the NWT. I’m very pleased to say the federal government’s New Building Canada Plan will provide opportunities for renewed investments in our transportation system. I’m looking forward to working with Canada and initiating partnerships to continue investing in upgrades and improvements to NWT highways, community and regional airports, bridge rehabilitation and replacement, safety enhancements, and extending winter roads.
These projects will deliver improvements to sections of our highway system in need of rehabilitation or reconstruction to accommodate increased traffic loads associated with resource development activities in the Beaufort Delta region, the Central Mackenzie Valley, the Dehcho Region and the North and South Slave regions. Like the Deh Cho Bridge, the projects will connect our communities, enhance safety for our residents, and help to send a clear message to industry that the NWT is ready to do business.
I will conclude my remarks by reiterating that our government is committed to improving transportation infrastructure through collaborations with our residents, other governments, and industry to continue contributing to self-reliant communities and a strong and prosperous Canada.
Our territory has the potential to fuel nation building projects that will have profound impacts, north and south of 60, today and for generations to come.
Northern development benefits not just our territory, but all of Canada, and we look forward to continued partnerships to advance our shared vision of a territory that provides jobs and economic opportunities to its residents and to all Canadians.
Thank you for your kind attention.