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Thank you for that kind introduction. I'm pleased to take part in this policy seminar at such a crucial time in the North's history. Economists are convinced that the North stands on the cusp of an extended boom, thanks to resource-development projects. Land claims settlements and devolution have begun to transform the political landscape of Canada's territories. And Prime Minister Harper continues to follow through on his plans to affirm Canada's sovereignty to the tip of Ellesmere Island, and throughout the Canadian Arctic waters.
As you know, Minister Prentice's Parliamentary schedule prevents him from joining us today. The Minister recognizes my interest and expertise in Northern and environmental matters, though, and asked me to represent him at this valuable seminar on behalf of the Government of Canada.
I'd like to begin by thanking Yves Poisson and his team at the Public Policy Forum for organizing such a high-quality event. It is truly an honour for me to share the podium with Premiers Handley and Okalik, along with some of Canada's leading entrepreneurs and policy experts. And Ambassador's Kristensen's remarks this afternoon will highlight the global impact of northern policy.
Canada's new government appreciates the crucial role that the North plays in the life of this country and has wasted no time in taking action in a number of key areas such as housing, infrastructure and economic development. We have also undertaken justice reforms that will address serious crime problems in Northern communities. And we have taken action to clean up contaminated industrial sites across the North.
During Prime Minister Harper's visit to Yellowknife in August, he outlined three objectives for the North:
Today, I will provide additional details about these goals, describe how they support one another, and share a few of my own views on the key issues facing the North.
This government's position on Canada's sovereignty in the North is well known. The Prime Minister appreciates, though, that not enough has been done in recent decades to affirm sovereignty over our Arctic islands, resources and waterways. We have taken several steps over the past year that have helped to address this situation. These included increasing surveillance flights, staging additional military exercises and exploring options for the establishment of a deep-water port in the North and a new Arctic training centre.
The recognition of Canada's sovereignty in the North necessarily involves other nations. This is part of the reason that Canada participates actively in a number of international initiatives, such as the Arctic Council and the International Polar Year. These initiatives also help to inspire cooperative solutions to the full range of Northern issues.
Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of leading this country's delegation to the Arctic Council Ministerial Meeting session in Salekhard, Russia. As you know, Canada was a driving force behind the establishment of the Council some ten years ago and our ongoing leadership and participation within the activities of the Council continue to garner international respect. Last August, I travelled to Sweden and represented Canada at a meeting of the Standing Committee of Parliamentarians of the Arctic Region.
Our engagement in these and other international forums enable us to promote sustainable development, environmental protection and other Canadian policy objectives in the North. I can assure you that our Government will take the steps necessary to restore our position of leadership in circumpolar forums such as the Arctic Council.
In a few months' time, the world will embark on one of the largest cooperative projects in history: International Polar Year, or IPY. More than 60 countries will participate in IPY and improve our understanding of the physical and social realities of the earth's polar regions. As a Canadian, I'm proud that this government will contribute $150 million toward this important multinational effort. And as a member of this country's IPY national committee, I'm pleased that Canada's IPY projects will focus on the science to understand the impacts and adaptation of climate change and on the health and well-being of Northerners.
The impacts of climate change are already apparent in the North. We must find ways to improve energy efficiency and adapt to the impacts we cannot avoid. This Government has announced its plan to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and improve air quality. That plan focuses on achieving sustained reductions in emissions in Canada and transforming our economy for the long-term.
IPY research will generate new data about the changing climate with respect to its impacts and adaptation in Canada's North-accurate, relevant data that informs sound policymaking. IPY research will help to build scientific and professional capacity in the North, and it will also give Canadians from all parts of the country valuable opportunities to learn more about our North, its residents, and its importance to our country.
Boosting Northern capacity, generating relevant scientific data and asserting sovereignty all support this government's second priority: fostering the sustainable development of natural resources. There's no doubt that Canada's North is richly endowed with mineral deposits and energy reserves. These resources could well contribute to Canada's prosperity through the next century.
Jericho, the North's third diamond mine began production this summer; last month, Minister Prentice approved the environmental assessment report for Meadowbank, a project to mine gold in Nunavut.
This government's approach to the development of Northern resources focuses on collaboration, efficient and effective regulation and feasibility. In essence, the Government of Canada will endorse projects if they make economic sense, satisfy all regulatory and environmental requirements, and generate benefits for Northerners and Canadians generally. The approach is based on the fact that projects meeting these criteria will also help to diversify the Northern economy, strengthen communities and cultures, and build the North's capacity to propose and realize future ventures.
As an example, consider the effects of diamond mines in the Northwest Territories. Thanks to impact-and-benefit agreements involving Diavik, BHP Billiton and local Dene communities, Canada has become the third-largest producer of raw diamonds in the world. The agreements ensure that Aboriginal peoples have access to a wealth of employment, training and contracting opportunities.
The long-term benefits generated by mining projects have their own particular value. Development of the Diavik mine, for instance, inspired an award-winning feat of engineering: the construction of a dike more than three kilometres long. The dike facilitates mining and minimizes environmental damage. This type of expertise will surely come in handy on projects that involve sensitive ecosystems in other parts of the world.
Other long-term benefits include the valuable experience and expertise acquired by local entrepreneurs, contractors, and skilled labourers. All can be applied to future projects. Resource-development projects also stimulate other activity and help to diversify local economies. Some Aboriginal groups, such as the Tlicho for example, have chosen to invest mining revenues into scholarship programs and cultural activities.
This Government is working with all stakeholders in northern resource development to ensure that Aboriginal people are full partners and equal beneficiaries in the future of the new North.
The truth is that one of the key forces driving the Northern economy is the innovative partnerships between Aboriginal groups and resource-development companies. The Aboriginal Pipeline Group's involvement in the Mackenzie Gas Project is a case in point.
Today, Aboriginal entrepreneurs play an increasingly important role in the economy. Several years ago, a study conducted by the Conference Board of Canada identified that the business case for partnering with Aboriginal groups was growing stronger by the day. To quote from the report:
"Corporations that ignore the economic potential of Aboriginal people do so at their own peril."
The accuracy of this statement is demonstrated by the participation of Aboriginal businesses in the largest resource-development projects underway in Canada: diamonds in the North, nickel in the East, oil-and-gas in the West. Further proof is provided by rapid growth in the number of Aboriginal firms across Canada-more than 20,000 at last count.
Despite the strong growth of Aboriginal entrepreneurship, however, development in the North presents a unique set of challenges. These include a fragile and rapidly changing natural environment, remote locations, a short construction season and underdeveloped infrastructure. Participants here today will be particularly interested in two additional challenges: a complex regulatory framework and shortages of labour and expertise.
The view of this government is that to overcome these challenges, all stakeholders must work collaboratively. In a recent speech, Minister Prentice put it this way:
"Governments, Aboriginal groups, private industry and Northerners must demonstrate how respectful partners can work together and create extensive and far-reaching benefits."
I believe that Minister Prentice's statement also serves as an appropriate call to action for delegates at this seminar. Northern support and participation in decision-making will be the key to realizing the North's potential.
The Government is committed to undertaking its duty to consult in order to ensure that Northern voices are heard and respected. Consultation will be followed by decisive action that reflects the consensus of the majority of northern stakeholders, and the best interests of Canada as a whole. For example, as both Minister Prentice and the Prime Minister have clearly articulated, this means that no one group shall have a veto over major projects.
Seminars such as this policy forum facilitate the exchange of views needed to build consensus and arrive at effective solutions.
The Government of Canada recognizes it has an important role to play to ensure that Northerners can exercise control over their resources and communities, and share in the revenue generated from these activities. And I'm proud of the progress made to date on Aboriginal self-government, land claims and devolution.
Earlier this year, Minister Prentice appointed Harvie André as chief federal negotiator to accelerate the process of devolution in the Northwest Territories. Just this month, the Minister named Paul Mayer as his representative to advance the devolution file for Nunavut.
Fostering a balanced approach to resource development and empowering territorial governments contribute to the Prime Minister's third objective: improving the standard of living in Northern communities.
I fully expect that the combination of resource development, devolution and resource revenue-sharing, as well as a new approach to fiscal federalism, including a new territorial financing formula - for which consultations are underway -- will lead to improvements in the quality of education, health care and social services available in the North.
This government appreciates, though, that urgent issues require swift action. This is why the 2006 federal budget included some $300 million for housing in the North and $500 million for the Mackenzie Gas Project's socioeconomic impact fund.
There is good reason to be optimistic about the future of the North. Prices for minerals and oil-and-gas are high, and demand is strong. More Northerners than ever before have the skills and expertise needed to participate in development projects.
Achieving our goals, though, will require fresh thinking and creative solutions. And that's where participants in this seminar have a role to play-by designing appropriate policy options. I encourage you to take part in the discussions, listen with an open mind and ask tough questions. Your work is essential to deepen our understanding of the issues.
I'm confident that with the active collaboration of all parties-governments, private companies, Aboriginal organizations, regulatory and environmental review boards-we can overcome the challenges we face, and ensure enduring prosperity for Northerners and for all Canadians. Thank you.