As distributed to media. Text may not match delivery in the legislature.
Today I am seeking your support for the position of Premier of the 18th Legislative Assembly.
People are probably familiar with Bob McLeod the politician, but I would like to reacquaint you with Bob McLeod the man.
I am much like many of the people that elected us. I am a husband, father and a grandfather who wants my children and grandchildren to have a bright future full of opportunity.
I am a proud Métis person, who grew up in Fort Providence along the banks of the Mackenzie River with a deep respect and understanding for the Aboriginal values and traditions that continue to be central to territorial society and politics.
I have spent my entire career working to make a difference for the people of the Northwest Territories, successfully advancing Territorial and Federal policies that have improved life and living conditions in the North.
Some of my proudest achievements include representing the Northwest Territories in the first meetings that paved the way for the cooperative management of waters in the Mackenzie River Basin and the development of international standards on humane trapping.
As a politician, I was honoured to be part of the Legislative Assembly that saw devolution become a reality after decades of discussion. I was also proud of the steps our government took to strengthen its relationships with Aboriginal and other northern governments
I am an experienced and committed consensus builder who believes that we are always stronger and more successful when we find common ground for working together.
Before we speak about specific priorities for our Assembly, I would like to address the kind of government people have said they want to see.
As leaders, we have to talk about the serious issues we need to address: the social challenges that need our urgent attention, the troubling population migration rates; the high cost of living including the high cost of energy; and stalled resource investments.
People all over the Northwest Territories see and feel the effects of these issues and they want a government with a vision and an agenda that is positive, ambitious and focused on their concerns. If selected as your Premier I will…with your help…make that vision a reality.
People also want change. That was a very clear message we all heard during the election campaign and one I am committed to honouring. People want a government that reflects their values and priorities, they want accessible leaders and they want a role in shaping government decisions.
Responding to that desire for change has been a major theme in our discussions this week. Members have demonstrated their commitment to change and already shared many good ideas. I welcome their commitment and look forward to working with every one of you to give the people of the Northwest Territories the kind of government they want and deserve.
The Legislative Assembly should be a place for policy and decision making. We must achieve better, more effective and transparent decisions for the people of Northwest Territories. People expect more of that from us and less politicking.
We will need to have further discussion on how we live up to those expectations together, but one thing we need is a more cooperative approach and new mechanisms to enable greater input from Regular Members. I cannot say what shape those will take, but it could include, as an example, measures like more joint committees on critical issues such as climate change and family violence.
While we share the responsibility for creating a more open and effective government, there are also some steps that a new Cabinet can take to support that goal.
Should you choose me to be Premier; I propose to name a Minister Responsible for Transparency and Democratic Engagement. That Minister would be tasked with taking the lead on developing an Open Government Policy – with input from Members – that would guarantee the right of Northwest Territories residents to participate in, and influence the decisions and policies of their government.
To make government more visible and accessible to the people it serves, I propose Cabinet hold at least one meeting in each region, complemented by a public meeting with local residents, during our first year. Getting outside of Yellowknife would pave the way for more people meet the leaders they have elected and give Cabinet the opportunity take the pulse on what matters to them.
To provide insight into government decisions, I propose each Committee of Cabinet will hold at least one public meeting during the next year. Cabinet would also commit to having public meetings and briefings to Legislative Assembly Standing Committees whenever practical and possible.
So what should our priorities be? We will meet soon to set those priorities, but I would like to offer a few thoughts. They are based on experience.
First and foremost we need to re-focus government on core priorities. We need to focus on the “need to do’s” and be accountable for the commitments we make to and for our people.
The primary measure of accountability for any government is fiscal responsibility. We have to live within our means.
The outlook for revenue growth for the medium term is flat. This will affect our operating budgets and this Assembly will need to align expenditures with revenues.
While we have a healthy credit rating, we must maintain our commitment to sound fiscal management. If we do not have the money, we will not spend it. All of this means that we must constrain the growth in government spending.
At the same time, we need a plan to grow this economy, because a shrinking economy will not give us the resources that we need to invest in the future, for health care, schools, and roads – all of those services that people need.
Will it be hard work? Yes. Will it be worth it? Absolutely.
Here are a few proposed priorities for your consideration. It is not an exhaustive list. We will build that list together. There’s no shortage of things to get done.
TAKING CARE OF EACH OTHER
Looking after our families, friends and neighbours has been part of the Northern way of doing things for generations.
Continuing that tradition is clearly important to the people of the Northwest Territories. This Assembly needs to respond to that desire and work to create the kind of caring and just society people have said they want.
Our senior citizens and elders paved the way for the territory we have today. We must ensure they receive the support and respect they deserve and that we address their concerns about the continuum of care, extended health benefits and the future availability of seniors’ housing.
We need to make sure that nobody in our territory gets left behind.
We need to review how we support our most vulnerable and ensure they have the services they need. That includes making sure they have access to addictions and mental health treatment.
We also have to address the adequacy of financial and housing support for residents, so their efforts to heal and recover are not undermined by persistent housing and income security fears.
The federal Liberals have promised new investments in affordable housing and seniors’ facilities and a ten-year investment of nearly $20 billion in social infrastructure. We need to ensure the Northwest Territories and its people are able to benefit from these commitments. I have made the Prime Minister aware that the Northwest Territories is already spending several times more on housing in relation to overall government expenditures that the national average. He is receptive to our needs.
In the 18th Legislative Assembly, I believe “taking care of each other” should be a priority.
EDUCATION AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR YOUTH
We tell our kids they need to stay in school and they have come a long way over the past decade. We are graduating more students than at any time in our history. We need to keep up our end of the bargain by making sure there are jobs for them.
Over the past five years, we have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in new schools and school-based community infrastructure, and Aurora College has expanded its campus and student accommodations.
We need to continue this work by supporting smaller community schools and further expansion for Aurora College.
The next step is jobs. There is no shortage of jobs. The NWT Mine Training Society has successfully trained and placed more than 1,000 Aboriginal employees in our mining sector. Over the next five years, the sector will need 1,000 more skilled workers.
And there are never enough trained health care workers to meet the growing demand on our health care system. The future has never looked better for young job seekers in the Northwest Territories.
In the 18th Legislative Assembly, I believe “education and opportunities for youth” should be one of our priorities.
A STRONG NORTH THROUGH A STRONG ECONOMY
Our people want to know that prosperity, jobs and property values are secure for the long-term.
Our diamond mines have been the engines of prosperity for a decade, but they are not forever. We saw that with the closure of the Snap Lake Mine last week. While it is possible that Snap Lake may go back into production, the mines will begin to wind down over the next 8 to10 years.
To fill the void left when those mines close and secure our own prosperity, we need to support other environmentally sustainable resource projects and investments, including Gahcho Kue, where construction is now 80 percent complete, Prairie Creek and proposed expansion at Diavik and Ekati.
As we evolve, we have to use the authority transferred through devolution to review and develop a “Made in the North” regulatory regime based on northern values and priorities. We need the exports, the jobs and the resource revenues.
At the same time, we need to do more to insulate our communities and residents from the ups and downs of resource industries by supporting local businesses and economies that are sustainable and more diversified.
I believe “prosperity through diversification” should be another one of the priorities of the 18th Assembly.
Public infrastructure investments put people to work and at a time when global mining investments are “soft” it’s important for us to do our part to ensure jobs and prosperity.
Studies show that every $1 of infrastructure spending adds $1.70 to final GDP.
If chosen as your Premier I will immediately pursue funding from the new Federal government, which has committed to doubling infrastructure investments.
We cannot afford to do everything at once, but if we work together we can build critical infrastructure that binds our Territory and our economy together in a way that has never been seen before.
I believe “critical infrastructure investments” should be another one of the priorities of the 18th Assembly.
REDUCING OUR COST OF LIVING
Greater infrastructure is a key to reducing our cost of living. We started down that path in the last Assembly.
Investments in connecting communities by road, air and water are helping to reduce transportation costs applied to essentials like food, fuel and pharmaceuticals. We have momentum. We need to keep moving forward.
Governments in the Northwest Territories can alter the cost of living in the North to some degree, but the most obvious path to lower costs is by increasing northern allowances from the Federal government.
If chosen as your Premier I will Immediately undertake a concerted, focused initiative to convince the Government of Canada to increase the Federal Northern Resident Income Tax Deduction; not just once, but annually.
In the 18th Legislative Assembly, I believe “reducing our cost of living” should be another priority.
REDUCING OUR DEPENDENCE ON FOSSIL FUELS
We cannot have a discussion about reducing the cost of living without discussing the cost of electricity.
Depending on diesel for our power is not only a financial burden for our residents, it is harmful to the planet. With the environmental and financial costs of climate change mounting, it is imperative that we invest in new, cleaner energy sources.
New technologies would likely qualify for the Federal government’s energy sustainability fund. The new government in Ottawa has committed to invest $100 million annually in clean technology producers.
In reality, when it comes to the challenges of renewable and alternative energy in the North there is no single answer…no Silver Bullet. What is right for one community will not necessarily work for another one. It will take a diverse portfolio of technologies to create an overall solution.
We have already seen success with solar installations in Fort Simpson and Colville Lake. We have installed or are planning biomass systems in communities from Fort Smith to Fort Good Hope. We have studied the potential for geothermal and wind energy.
We need to take the work we have already done and turn it into energy solutions for communities throughout the territory.
In the 18th Legislative Assembly, if chosen as your Premier I believe “finding alternatives to fossil fuels” should be another priority.
HONOURING ABORIGINAL RIGHTS
Aboriginal people make up half the population of the Northwest Territories. They should have the same opportunities to participate meaningfully in the political, social and economic life of our territory and share in its benefits.
During the 17th Legislative Assembly, all Members agreed that strengthening our relationships with Aboriginal and northern governments was fundamental to achieving any successes. I took that seriously and made it a priority to foster good working relationships with Aboriginal governments and leaders.
We demonstrated national leadership in this area with an innovative approach founded on the principles of respect, recognition and responsibility. Achievements included sharing 25 percent of resource revenues with partner Aboriginal governments, addressing the legacy of residential schools, chairing the first ever national round table on missing and murdered indigenous women and chairing the national Aboriginal Affairs Working Group.
We need to continue working with our Aboriginal partners to finalize outstanding Land Claims and Self Government Agreements. Land Use Plans need to be completed in all our regions of our territory.
Because of the importance of this issue, I propose a joint committee between Regular Members and Cabinet to provide oversight and give direction to our negotiators on files dealing with Aboriginal land and resources agreements. Let’s get these agreements completed, all of them in the life of the 18th legislative Assembly.
It will require flexibility and a commitment to agreements based on shared interests, not hard positions. In the end, all residents of the territory will benefit from the certainty settled claims will bring.
In the 18th Legislative Assembly, if chosen as your Premier I believe “honouring Aboriginal rights” should be another priority.
These are a just a few of the priorities we could be addressing. There are many more and I look forward to discussing them more thoroughly in coming days. But the number One priority is fulfilling the expectations of our people.
Our residents want a government that works as hard as they do, one that is focused every day on supporting the economy, creating jobs, one that helps those that need a hand up, and one that helps prepare our young people for future success.
My message today is built on experience and the success of our past efforts. However it is not about the past. It is about the present and the future. The challenges ahead are many, but they will be met through the extraordinary efforts of each of us.
I would be honored to serve as your Premier in the 18th Legislative Assembly and respectfully request your support.