The Call of the North

Address by the Prime Minister Stephen Harper
Yellowknife, NWT
17 August 2006


Thank you for that warm Yellowknife welcome.

And thank you, Premier Handley, for your generous introduction.

Yellowknife is the last stop on my first tour of Canada’s North as Prime Minister.

I have travelled many thousands of kilometres, crossed multiple time zones and seen more of our great country in a few days than many Canadians see in a lifetime.

I have been to Whitehorse in Yukon, where settled life was established generations ago. To Iqaluit, Canada’s newest capital city. To Jericho, the frontier diamond mine. And to Alert, on the very frontier of human existence.

And now, I’m finishing up back here in booming Yellowknife – a city that is blazing a path the entire North has a chance to follow.

In recent years, this city has recorded some of the highest economic growth rates and lowest unemployment rates of any part of Canada.

The Diavik and Ekati mines played a big part in your success, obviously.

But so have oil and gas exploration, mineral prospecting, diamond cutting and polishing, and the recent boom in aurora tourism.

You have a young, increasingly well-educated population.

You have new mines at various stages of design or development.

You have resolved most of the outstanding Aboriginal land claims in the territory.

Yellowknife and the Northwest Territories are therefore poised to lead the North into a new era.

An era of rapid growth, improving social conditions and growing economic independence.

This tour has been the highlight of my summer.

It has given me a chance to see some of the places and meet some of the people who represent the future of our North.

It has also been an opportunity to draw the attention of southern Canadians northward.

To get them thinking about how important northern development and Arctic sovereignty are to all of us.

The understanding that most Southerners have of the North has been shaped more by romantic imagery than practical experience.

We grew up on the history of explorers like Hudson, Franklin, Frobisher and Amundsen.

We read the stories of writers like Pierre Berton, Farley Mowat, Jack London and Robert Service.

We perceived the North through the paintings of Lawren Harris and Frederick Varley, and the creations of Inuit sculptors.

All of these things - and the harsh climate that touches all Canadians at least some part of the year - have planted the North deep in the Canadian soul.

We live in a northern country. We see ourselves as a northern people.

But it’s largely a concept of the North as it was, not the North as it is or, more importantly, the North as it could be.

It is time we begin to hear the call of a new North – a North that is stronger, more prosperous and liberated from the paternalistic policies of the past.

And that’s why I’m here today.

To listen.

To learn.

To start a conversation with those community leaders who want to build this new North.

And to begin championing your cause in Ottawa and across Canada.

In the past there have been many missed opportunities for the North, especially for its Aboriginal people.

But I did not become Prime Minister to dwell on the past.

I want us as a nation to look to the future.

Because I believe that now, at last, the North’s time has arrived.

Never have its resources been in greater demand.

Never have prices for northern commodities been so strong.

And never have Northerners been so united in their desire for real jobs and real economic progress.

To unleash the tremendous potential of this region.

To enjoy the same opportunities as other Canadians.

To have a fair chance to get ahead.

To create good jobs and safe streets.
To preserve a clean and healthy environment.

To make better lives for your communities and your families.

You are fortunate today to have a new generation of community leaders who recognize that the time is ripe for change, and the North must seize the moment.

They understand that economic and social development go hand-in-hand.

And that growth can be reconciled with preservation of cultural traditions and environmental treasures.

Canada’s new national government understands this too.

And we will work with Northerners to achieve all these goals.

We are working with our Armed Forces – including the Northern Rangers – to assert Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic and to keep the true North truly strong and free.

We are working with our territorial partners to develop the region’s vast natural resources – to create jobs and prosperity for the benefit of Northerners and all Canadians.

And we are working with northern communities to raise living standards so that everyone has access to good schools, adequate housing and quality health care.

Let’s talk about sovereignty first.

Last December, during the campaign, I promised to assert Canada’s jurisdiction over the islands, waterways and resources in the Arctic.

But you can’t defend sovereignty with words alone.

It takes a Canadian presence on the ground, in the sky, and on the water, and a government that is internationally recognized for saying what it means and meaning what it says.

That is the kind of government I intend to lead.

We promised to secure our northern border.

And that is exactly what we will do.

And, as I’ve said before, the border extends from the northern tip of labrador, up the east coast of Ellesmere Island to Alert, down the western perimeter of the Arctic Archipeligo, to the Beaufort Sea and the border with Alaska.

And, as I tell everyone, including our American friends, our jurisdiction, just as it does on the Atlantic and the Pacific, extends 200 miles out into the Arctic Ocean.

No more, and no less.

Our government has already begun to back our words with action.

This month, for the first time ever, we began conducting pollution-detection surveillance flights over our Arctic waters.

Also this month, military exercises are being conducted in the western and eastern Arctic that will take the Canadian Navy farther north than it has been for many decades.

And we hold to our commitments:

  • To establish a deep water port that will extend the Navy’s reach even further
  • To expand the Army’s presence in the north by establishing a new Arctic training centre and revitalizing the Canadian Rangers
  • To institute ongoing aerial surveillance throughout the Arctic
  • And to give Canada undersea surveillance capacity to detect subs and ships in our Arctic waters.

Canada’s new national government understands the first principle of Arctic sovereignty: use it or lose it. And we have no intention of losing it.

Protecting Canadian sovereignty is Ottawa's responsibility.

Now I want to talk about how Ottawa and the territories can work together on another job - to unlock the resource wealth of the North.

And how that wealth can be used as a springboard to create a vibrant, diversified northern economy.

30 years ago, many Northerners agreed with Justice Thomas Berger.

He concluded in his famous Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Inquiry that the North wasn’t ready for large-scale development.

The skills weren’t there. The infrastructure wasn’t there. Land claims weren’t settled. The environmental protections weren’t in place.

And, as it turned out, the economics weren’t right for energy mega-projects like the Mackenzie Pipeline.

But that was then. This is now.

Prices are climbing. So is demand.

Canada has an estimated 100 years worth of potential gas reserves, but only an 8-year supply of proven reserves.

We need to expand production and deliverability.

And the vast majority of Northerners are ready, willing and able to make it happen.

They recognize the Mackenzie Pipeline has the potential to transform the North into what some call "the next Alberta."

Where there are plenty of jobs.

Where entrepreneurs can create new businesses that serve the region and beyond.

Where your governments can achieve fiscal independence.

And where resource development can seed the creation of a broader, deeper economy based on tourism, local manufacturing, arts and crafts production and northern science and technology.

So families and communities can grow and prosper over the long-term, not just for the life of a mine or gas field.

But let’s be clear: the Mackenzie Valley project is by no means a done deal.

It is threatened by competition from the proposed Alaska Pipeline.

By soaring costs for labour and materials.

By the emergence of imported liquid natural gas as a viable alternative to Arctic gas for the North American market.

And by those who would focus on their own narrow issues and concerns at the risk of scuttling a historic opportunity for the entire North to forge ahead.

In short, for the North, this is an opportunity of a millennium, but it is also an opportunity that Northerners must fight for.

Ladies and gentlemen, I see the pipeline as a symbol.

If it proceeds, it will signal to the investment capitals of the world that Canada’s North has finally come of age. It will signal, in particular, that the NWT has come of age.

In a speech in London, England last month, I described Canada as an emerging energy superpower.

Some of that energy is in the Mackenzie Delta - and there is much more waiting to be discovered in the Eastern and High Arctic.

I also told British investors about our other energy assets, including our uranium and hydroelectric power.

And about your burgeoning diamond industry – and the gold, silver, nickel and other precious metals imbedded in the Canadian Shield.

In a volatile, unpredictable world, investors are looking for stable, reliable producers of these commodities.

Places where governments know what they want, where they understand wealth production is based on mutual benefit, and where government policies are founded on free-market economic principles, not self-serving political strategies.

If Canada is to compete successfully for international investment capital, these principles must be respected by all levels of government; national, provincial-territorial and local.

So we ensure Northerners and all Canadians benefit from the jobs, prosperity and progress that flow from resource development.

Ladies and gentlemen, last month, the joint review panel of the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline project announced it needs five more months to hear from everyone who wants to be heard.

So be it. After 30 years, I suppose the project can wait another five months.

The regulatory process must be allowed to run its course.

But we should take this time to ask ourselves some hard questions.

Like why it takes so long to get approval for your resource projects in the North.

I’m told it takes about three years to get approval for a mine in Nunavut, compared to roughly nine months in Quebec.

We also need to ask why - 30 years after it was first proposed - we’re still wondering when or if the Mackenzie Pipeline will be approved.

The answer to those questions lies, in part, in Ottawa.

For many years, Ottawa has done as much to frustrate northern development as to facilitate it.

And when it has allowed development to occur, Ottawa has scooped up most of the revenues.

That’s why our new government has consistently said that devolution and resource revenue-sharing are two sides of the same coin.

If Ottawa is going to give the territories more responsibilities and more control over their destinies,

the territories will obviously need greater revenues to meet their new obligations.

This is consistent with our new approach to fiscal federalism.

In our first budget, we promised to restore fiscal balance in canada.

To concentrate on our federal responsibilities and let provincial, territorial and municipal governments look after their own affairs.

To put an end to the massive surpluses Ottawa racked up year after year.

And to allow other governments to have the resources they need to meet their obligations.

My government wants to help you achieve that goal.

We are committed to renewing and strengthening Territorial Formula Financing and Equalization.

And a new deal on resource revenue-sharing is inseparable from those negotiations.

But let me remind you again:

It won’t happen unless the North builds an open, competitive market economy where the resource industry can flourish.

It won’t happen unless you make sure projects like the Mackenzie Pipeline come to fruition because, without them, no amount of transfer payments will give the North the future it deserves.

Of course there is much more to the North than its natural resources.

The fact is the greatest resource is its people.

During my tour north of 60, I have seen as much diversity as I have ever see in Canada’s southern mega-cities.

Various Dene, Inuit, English, Inuvialuit, French, Metis, and countless other ethnicities are represented in the communities scattered across Canada’s northern frontier.

We are all Canadians first, but the genius of our country is that we find ways to live and work together while retaining our ancestral languages, lifestyles, faiths and traditions.

We are truly blessed to live in such a country. Our diversity enriches all of us.

But, as in all nations, we are sometimes saddled with the baggage of history.

And, in Canada, Aboriginal people are disproportionately burdened by our history.

Our government recognizes this. So do the vast majority of Canadians.

And the solution is to work together for the future.

It is our sincere desire as a government to find practical solutions to the problems that afflict Aboriginal communities.

To make Canada’s first peoples full partners in our mainstream economy and society.

While retaining the wisdom of the ancient Aboriginal cultures and using it to enhance contemporary Canadian culture.

The challenges are many, but we have already begun to confront them.

We have committed $300 million to affordable housing in the North, most of which will benefit Aboriginal people. 

We have undertaken justice reforms that will address serious crime problems in northern communities.

We are taking action to clean up contaminated industrial sites across the North, including the Giant Mine here in Yellowknife.

And we are working with all the stakeholders in northern resource development to ensure that Aboriginal people are full partners and equal beneficiaries in the future of the new North.

Ladies and gentlemen, I’d like to end by leaving you with a line from Stan Rogers’ unofficial Canadian anthem – Northwest Passage.

I think his powerful song captures the spirit of our government’s vision for the North.

Don’t worry, I won’t try to sing like Stan – I’ll just quote him.

He created a haunting image when he sang about "the hand of Franklin … tracing one warm line through a land so wild and savage … (across) the Northwest Passage to the (Beaufort) sea."

The "one warm line" we will draw across the North is the unmistakeable boundary of Canada’s sovereign territory.

So it will be clear to all other nations where our rightful claim to the Arctic – including its resources and sea lanes – begins and ends.

But our vision is also about fulfilling the immense promise of the North.

Realizing in our own time the potential for progress and prosperity that the old explorers could only begin to imagine in theirs.

We look forward to a day when Canada’s sovereignty in the North is recognized and respected by all the nations of the world. 

A day when the Northern economy is humming with activity and drawing new people from across the country and around the world.

And a day when all northern communities enjoy the same quality and diversity of life and opportunity as communities in the South.

Based on what I have seen and heard across the North over the last several days, my friends, I believe that day is closer today than it has ever been before.

Thank you for your welcome and your attention.

And God bless Canada – the true North strong and free.