moved that Bill C-15, An Act to replace the Northwest Territories Act to implement certain provisions of the Northwest Territories Lands and Resources Devolution Agreement and to repeal or make amendments to the Territorial Lands Act, the Northwest Territories Waters Act, the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act, other Acts and certain orders and regulations be read the third time and passed.
Mr. Speaker, today is Valentine's Day, so I will share my time with the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands.
I am honoured to speak to the House in support of Bill C-15, the Northwest Territories devolution act, which will really be a major milestone in the history not only of the Northwest Territories, but also of our great and beautiful country.
As the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, I have travelled across the country and throughout the north. I have talked with the warm and welcoming people who live in that vast, amazing and resource-rich territory.
I cannot overstate how important passing this bill is to the people of the Northwest Territories, the people who live and work in that magnificent place. For decades, the people of the north have been asking us to recognize them and give them the power to make decisions about their lands and their resources.
Canadians know that governance is a key pillar of our government's northern strategy. As the Prime Minister said recently, “We want to be able to see northerners...masters of their own affairs to the same degree that southerners are”. That is the purpose of the bill before the House today: to give northerners more control over their own lives.
With the passage of this bill, the people most affected by decisions will now be the ones to make them. The people with intimate knowledge of local priorities, local opportunities and local challenges will be the ones to have the final word on how public land is utilized, how water resources are managed, how mineral resources are developed and conserved, and how the environment is protected.
I cannot overstate the significance of this change for the ability of the Northwest Territories to determine its own political and economic future, but do not just take it from me.
Premier Bob McLeod, of the Northwest Territories, said it best a couple of weeks ago before members of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development during committee hearings in Yellowknife. He described the bill as a game-changer for the people of the Northwest Territories.
He went on to say:
Devolution promises to usher in a new era of prosperity and opportunity for the people of the Northwest Territories. Supported by an efficient, effective, and integrated regulatory regime, devolution will give northerners the necessary tools and authorities to responsibly develop the Territories' significant natural resource potential, promote investment and economic development, and manage the land and environment sustainably.
There is no doubt that passage of this legislation would bring substantial new economic opportunities to the Northwest Territories. However, the true benefits of devolution will only be realized through a modern, efficient, and effective regulatory system that would make the Northwest Territories a competitive and attractive place to do business.
That is why this legislation also puts in place an improved regulatory framework for the Northwest Territories that would ensure that resource develop continues in a manner that respects the environment while ensuring the long-term prosperity of the Northwest Territories for generations to come.
To see proof of economic opportunities derived from devolution and regulatory improvement, one need only look west to Yukon. Since achieving devolution in 2003, Yukon has experienced a second gold rush of sorts, with investors and skilled labourers streaming in from around the world to capitalize on the region's rich resources. As a result, the GDP of Yukon has grown every year for the past nine years and has exceeded Canada's rate of national annual growth eight times out of ten. Last year the territory's total GDP was $2.5 billion, up more than $1 billion since devolution.
The Northwest Territories is equally endowed, as we all know, with impressive renewable and non-renewable resources from the Beaufort Sea to the Norman Wells oil field to the diamond mines of the southern Mackenzie Valley. It is no wonder the Conference Board of Canada predicts that the GDP of the Northwest Territories could climb nearly $5 billion, to $9.6 billion, by 2020. The potential is there.
The potential is there, but as former premier of the Northwest Territories, Floyd Roland, told the Norman Wells Chamber of Commerce a couple of years ago, “The thing about potential is that that is all it is...until we take action and realize it”.
The Government of the Northwest Territories has assumed more control over province-like responsibilities, such as highways, housing, health care, and education. The power to manage its land and natural resources is the last step in this long journey.
To quote another great northerner, Robert Alexie, president of the Gwich'in Tribal Council, “It's been a long road to get here, but well worth the trip”.
It has been a long road, and we would not be here today if it were not for the impressive leadership of our Prime Minister and the Premier of the Northwest Territories.
Since forming government in 2006, our Conservative government has made the political and economic development of the north one of its key priorities.
Our government has made tremendous efforts, more than any previous government, in partnership with the Government of the Northwest Territories and aboriginal governments to get to where we are today. All northerners should be proud of their accomplishments.
As the Prime Minister stated on his annual northern tour in August 2012, “those who want to see the future of this country should look north”.
It is a rare moment that we as parliamentarians are able to participate in such a nation-building moment in Canada’s history and contribute to the culmination of the promise of Confederation. That is what we are being called upon to do here, with the passage of this bill.
I therefore urge all members of this House to join with the people of the Northwest Territories in achieving their political and economic aspirations and pass this bill swiftly into law.