Speech by the Honourable Jim Carr, Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources: Assembly of First Nations' National Energy Forum, Ottawa (March 23, 2017)


Thank you very much, Grand Chief [Perry Bellegarde, National Chief, Assembly of First Nations]. I'm very glad to be here to engage with you on issues that are so important to our communities and to Canada. And I want to thank the Assembly of First Nations for organizing a forum dedicated to shared prosperity in Canada's energy future.

These are open and frank conversations that we need to have as a country, and I welcome them.

I want to acknowledge that we are meeting on the traditional territory of the Algonquin nation. We say these words not only to honour our inheritance and the past responsibilities that we share, but also to remember that the fundamental teaching that is embedded in Indigenous culture is to honour the land, the air and the water. That is a responsibility we have to the generations that came before us and the generations who will follow. And it is not a value that should be exclusive to any community. It should be important to us all. And it is a teaching that I have learned all of these many years that I have had the pleasure of friendship with Indigenous people in Canada. And that perspective, that connection to the land, has inspired and guided our government too: the recognition that economic prosperity and environmental protection are inseparable.

The Chief [Perry Bellegarde] likes to talk about balance. That's one of his key messages, which I've heard many times from Vancouver to the Prairies to Ottawa. And I understand what he means by balance because that is what the Government of Canada is faced all the time, with economic growth and environmental stewardship. We have an obligation to our people to find the balance. And I honour and lift up the Chief for his reminder of those values.

And it's also true that the long view is more critical and more relevant now than it ever has been. As an energy-rich nation, to fight climate change, we have some tough choices to make about how we develop our resources and how we share those riches and how we grow our economy — how we strike the right balance. And we're not alone.

The world is in the midst of an historic transition, a gradual move from traditional sources of energy — oil, coal, gas — toward new ones: solar, wind, tidal. The transition is unmistakable, but it won't happen overnight. As large parts of the developing world advance, the demand for oil and gas will continue to grow over the next few decades, keeping the pace of the transition slower than perhaps we would like.

And for those who want to move immediately and entirely to clean energy, the pace can seem frustratingly slow. I understand that. A clean fuel future is the ultimate goal. But we're not there yet. We still need pipelines and the other infrastructure of traditional energy sources to heat our homes and businesses, to fuel our cars and to drive our economy. We still have to rely on the old, even as we introduce the new. That means several things.

First, it means developing our conventional fuel sources in the most environmentally responsible way possible. We must be thoughtful in our approach. It is our responsibility to future generations. Second, it means that we need to invest in clean technology and innovation, developing the solution the world needs as we move toward a lower-carbon economy. The very things that Finance Minister Bill Morneau outlined in our 2017 budget yesterday with an Innovation and Skills Plan that includes nearly $1.4 billion in new financing to help the most promising companies in Canada's clean technology sector to grow and to expand; up to $400 million to increase the availability of late-stage venture capital; and new funding to promote the development of science, technology, engineering and mathematics skills, including investments to help women, Indigenous peoples and underrepresented groups to participate more fully in education and employment opportunity.

Clean growth means engaging local communities and Indigenous peoples to ensure they are true beneficiaries — economically, socially, culturally — in the sustainable development of our natural resources in general, and our energy resources in particular.

This is important to all Canadians, and critical to the aspiration of today's Indigenous youth. If these young people are to realize the futures they want for themselves, then they need access to good jobs and real opportunity. Natural resource development offers those possibilities, which is why I feel passionate about this — and a little impatient.

We know what sustainable resource development can achieve. An entire Indigenous middle class has developed around Alberta's energy sector. Almost half of the jobs mining uranium in Saskatchewan — the Chief's home province — are held by Indigenous peoples. We have much to learn from Saskatchewan, Chief, and from Manitoba. And I want to talk about that in a minute.

Industrial benefit agreements represent opportunity for Indigenous communities, but such success is uneven at best. Last month a study found that my home province of Manitoba is the second-best mining jurisdiction in the world, but how many Indigenous jobs has that created in my home province? And what kind of jobs are they? And why do so many Indigenous communities remain on the margins of our economy? We still have lots of work to do to restore trust, to rethink partnership and to rekindle hope. As the National Chief has said, and said so well, before you build anything, build positive, respectful relationships.

The Prime Minister has echoed those sentiments many times, declaring that no relationship is more important to him or to Canada than the one with Indigenous peoples. And our government has demonstrated its agreement in many ways: fully supporting the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; acting on the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission; establishing a public inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls; engaging meaningfully with Indigenous peoples on sustainable resource development; and, most recently, appointing a working group of ministers responsible for the review of all laws, policies and operational practices related to Indigenous peoples in Canada. I am a member of that working group.

The Prime Minister has laid out our task clearly: to ensure that the Crown is meeting its constitutional obligations regarding Aboriginal and treaty rights; that we are adhering to international human rights standards, including the UN Declaration; that we are supporting the implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's call to action; and that we are doing all of these things in collaboration with Indigenous leaders, youth and experts — all of which underscores the need for us to listen to one another, to work with one another and to learn from one another. It is an assignment that our government has embraced with an extraordinary effort. We are dedicating energy, time and space to fulfil this promise.

The energy sector is a natural starting point for us, and for an even broader national conversation with Canadians, one that produces a truly Canadian roadmap to that affordable clean energy future that we all want. There is no escaping energy's central role in our economy, our country and in our communities. It remains almost seven percent of our gross domestic product, provides some 280,000 direct jobs, and supports another 625,000 jobs.

Energy generates the tax dollars that pay for our hospitals and schools, for our new bridges and for our safer roads. It helps to fund the social programs that make us who we are. So we need to talk, as you are doing today, about how we produce and use energy over the next generation and beyond, ensuring that our efforts reflect our core values as Canadians, including Indigenous rights and traditional values.

That important work is well underway. Since coming to office, our government has launched an ambitious, new Oceans Protection Plan that includes inviting Indigenous communities to join us in co-managing our oceans. We have committed to the creation of an Economic Pathways Partnership that will make it easier for Indigenous groups to access federal programs that support job training and business opportunity. We are exploring dedicated Indigenous seats on key federal boards and agencies. And, for the first time, we are involving Indigenous communities in the process of project monitoring and oversight, which is long overdue. Each of these measures reflect our understanding that advancing reconciliation and creating prosperity is a long-term commitment.

The federal government has a responsibility to help get our energy resources to market. But doing so isn't just about building pipelines or railroads. It's not just about building infrastructure. It's about building understanding. It's about demonstrating that we are proceeding with care about communities and the environment. It's the only way to elicit trust, establish respect and encourage partnership.

As the Prime Minister said last December just across the river from here in his address to your Special Chiefs Assembly, the true measure of any relationship is not whether we always agree, but how we move forward when we don't agree. A nation-to-nation relationship inevitably raises expectations, but it also demands that we accept its responsibilities — both nations. I am asking you to keep walking with us on this journey we've started, a journey of reconciliation and of renewal. I ask you to continue working with us as partners and with good will to create the prosperity we all seek while protecting the environment we all cherish. Thank you. 

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