Pushing the plan
Selling Ottawa on investing in the North

Richard Gleeson
Northern News Services

Yellowknife ( May 12/00) - Premier Stephen Kakfwi and Finance Minister Joe Handley are busy this week selling a plan to the federal government in hopes of getting the NWT resource development show on the road.

The plan, called the Non-Renewable Resource Development Strategy, requires $230 million in funding from the federal government and $100 million from the territorial government over the next four years.

"The two main (focuses of the strategy) are the pipeline and minerals development," said Handley, who headed up development of the plan.

"But improving roads and other infrastructure is part of it, and that will benefit all mining exploration, not just diamonds."

Handley said the strategy addresses three broad areas -- creating the right environment for investment, managing development and maximizing the benefits to the North.

"I think the federal government recognizes there is a lot of resource potential," said Handley.

"We're on the verge of a lot of it developing, and you have to make some investment if you want to maximize the benefits of it."

Handley said the territorial government wants the strategy implemented as soon as possible.

The selling point to the federal government is the increase in corporate taxes and royalties they stand to collect from development.

"For example, improving the Mackenzie Valley road, if we could do some of that this fall it would be great," said Handley.

The finance minister said the strategy is still in draft form and will be available in a few days.

It was presented to Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development Minister Robert Nault last Friday. Copies have been sent to Prime Minister Jean Chretien and federal Finance Minister Paul Martin.

Handley is travelling to Ottawa on Friday to discuss the strategy with Western Arctic MP Ethel Blondin-Andrew.

Handley said the strategy proposes the Mackenzie Highway be extended north of Wrigley.

"I don't have specific amounts for how much would be spent on that," he said.

"The intention would be to improve the stream crossings and, if there's money, begin to rebuild that road. Rebuilding that road to join up with the Dempster is probably a $300-$400 million project itself, so we don't have the money to do the whole completion of the Mackenzie Highway."

In terms of improving the climate for development, Handley says the strategy clarifies what the government expects from companies in terms of Northern benefits, addresses the need to market NWT resources and preparing a labour force that can take advantage of employment opportunities development would bring.

Improving the management of development includes proposals to cut down on regulatory red tape, ways of mitigating the negative impacts of development on small communities and negotiation of socio-economic agreements with communities impacted by development.

To maximize benefits to the North from development, the strategy proposes ways to support the development of secondary industries and provide incentives such as tax breaks for Northerners to invest in non-renewable resource development

It also creates an economic diversification fund small businesses can draw on.

Asked where the territorial government, which is in dire financial straits, will get $100 million over the next four years, Handley said the contribution includes money being spent on established programs.

"We have a number of things we already spend money on. We spend about $12 million just supporting business ... it's not all new money from the GNWT.