Building a better economy:
The role of business in creating wealth for and with aboriginal
Executive Vice President
Government & Community Affairs
RBC Financial Group
BC Treaty Commission Venture Forum
Simon Fraser University
Vancouver, British Columbia
Thursday, March 4, 2004
Thank you for the introduction Commissioner Adam (Wilf)
It's a pleasure to be here this afternoon - to be part of
a conference agenda whose purpose is to open doors to new
business opportunities - and to venture into a treaty world
It's also a pleasure to be among champions here today -
from Gujawwm, the President of the Haida Nations who spearheaded
and won the Haida case establishing the need for companies
to consult with communities, to Harley Chingee, Chief of McLeod
Lake Indian band, a very successful leader who's developed
a strong economy for his people and others. Needless to say,
there are many more champions in this room
Let me begin our discussion of "building a better economy"
by reaffirming what might appear to be obvious: the foundation
of a healthy community is a sustainable and diverse economy
that generates wealth for community members, businesses, and
all those who interact within the community. That wealth provides
income-earning opportunities for members, contributes to the
quality of life, makes the community an attractive place to
live and reduces poverty and crime - thereby achieving the
vision of a healthy community. The connection between these
elements forms what we refer to as the Circle of Prosperity.
In the Circle of Prosperity there is a direct link
between a community vision and economic activity. The community
develops and builds the vision with the financial resources
provided by a sustainable economic base. That base is made
up of economic drivers and economic supporters. Both are necessary
for a balanced economy.
Economic drivers are "new wealth generators" or
businesses that bring new and sustainable wealth into the
community by providing goods and services to customers outside
of the local area. Examples of economic drivers include tourism
and export-oriented businesses that sell regionally or internationally.
The wealth from these economic drivers increases the money
available in the community and is shared with:
- Other businesses (through local purchasing and the strengthened
spending capacity of residents)
- Residents (through wages and job creation and their associated
positive social impacts)
- Organizations responsible for providing local services
Economic supporters are businesses that circulate money
within the community, either from the sale of goods and services
to members, or as suppliers to other businesses. The market
for these supporting industries typically grows in size and
strength as a result of the wealth-generating economic drivers.
Examples of economic supporters include retail and construction
Organizations that provide community services and amenities
such as schools, recreation groups and health care agencies
are also considered economic supporters because they provide
the infrastructure and services that businesses need in the
community. They also contribute to the quality of life that
attracts the skilled workforce needed by all businesses.
RBC is a proud partner to many of the communities within
BC and throughout Canada. We're very proud of our record -
that in BC, 43% of all First Nations' communities are our
partners. We have a critical role to play in terms of understanding
community needs and developing proactive ways of addressing
the needs and visions of the communities we serve.
We're not prepared to finance any large resource development
if it fails to consult and accommodate the First Nations whose
territory resources are being extracted from. Failure to support
rights and titles places our funds at risk, so it's simply
not an option.
Historically we have focused on identifying programs that
address the critical need for housing, education and the like.
We have some very progressive programs that bring great benefit
to aboriginal peoples, however we now need to think about
addressing the overriding issues. If we step back and look
at the community as a whole we'll see that housing programs
etc. are more like a stop gap solution - in other words, a
strong economy will precipitate housing because if everybody
is working, housing isn't an issue.
In BC, we're now beginning to look at ways of working with
communities that will assist in the formation of community
development plans. We'll provide our financial expertise in
identifying ways of maximizing cash flow and investments,
while following community development plans. If we - if business
- can help create strong key economic drivers, the community
will begin to prosper through capacity development, support
industries and overall employment opportunities.
The bottom line is that economic measures are required in
advance of the treaties. For example, revenue sharing agreements
are allowing communities to begin to address infrastructure
needs and the overall needs of the communities in a way that
allows First Nations to play a integral role in the decision
Let's take a look at nine (9) goals in building a community
economic development strategy:
1. Business, political, and community leaders that commit
to a clear economic vision, act consistently and focus on
2. Well-informed decision-makers who improve the community
and look to the future.
3. A business-friendly environment that welcomes and supports
4. A focus on economic drivers that generate new and sustainable
5. A highly skilled and talented workforce.
6. Physical infrastructure that connects businesses to their
7. Unique features that contribute to the quality of life
for people and business.
8. A positive attitude about the community among the community
9. A positive reputation for the community outside the area.
At RBC Financial Group, we're concerned about the level
of business and public awareness of the importance of aboriginal
participation in the economy. One of our goals has been to
stimulate a public discussion on this issue. We have done
this, in part, by emphasizing the social and economic consequences
of the status quo.
We're aware that many business people don't always grasp
the business benefits of relations with aboriginal peoples
and communities. For us, the business benefits are clear.
We see a significant and expanding market opportunity. The
rapid increases in the aboriginal population represent new
customers. Land claims represent increased economic and financial
clout. The aboriginal business sector, which has grown at
a dramatic rate in recent years and is steadily moving the
aboriginal population towards economic self-sufficiency, is
generating wealth and creating jobs. The benefits of a strong
aboriginal community also big incredible benefits to the mainstream
The business reasons for building good relations with aboriginal
peoples go beyond market opportunities alone. Aboriginal peoples
are becoming an important source of new entrants and new skills
for the workforce. Many companies are benefiting from having
long-term, stable and reliable employees on board.
It's clear to me that the potential business benefits of
relations with aboriginal peoples and communities are aligned
with our underlying business objective of creating value for
our shareholders. I believe other businesses would arrive
at the same conclusion if they took the time to make a similar
And we sometimes have to step back and remind ourselves
that our business relationships with aboriginal peoples and
communities - our banking, lending and other financial services
- are in fact part of a holistic set of relationships where
education, training, employment, partnerships and community
relationships work together to form a basis for mutual benefit
and sustained results.
We see ourselves building relationships with aboriginal
peoples that lead to market opportunities for our services
and skilled employees for our workforce -- both now and in
What will it take for corporate Canada to become more committed
to building business relationships with aboriginal peoples?
We see progress in the number of companies making commitments
and introducing initiatives. More and more businesses are
recognizing the need to hire aboriginal people and to capitalize
on market opportunities. And more and more businesses are
contracting with aboriginal owned companies for the same reason.
The fact remains there simply aren't enough businesses doing
this. And, there are costs associated with failing to act.
How many businesses in Canada are looking at themselves
and asking: are we removing the barriers - solving the problems
- creating solutions - and providing the opportunities that
will enable aboriginal peoples to become full participants
in our society and in our economy?
There are practical ways to proceed. Best practices are
becoming better understood. Many ideas are being shared at
And those businesses - the ones that are more experienced
and knowledgeable - those that have begun to see the business
benefits of constructive relationships, must continue to speak
up and share success stories - convince others they have a
role to play and much to gain from building relationships.
Has RBC Financial Group achieved our goals? Not yet. Do
we have a distance to go? Absolutely. Are we on the right
path? We believe that we are.
It's in the national interest to do more and it's in the
business interest to do more. RBC, for its part, will maintain
our course and will continue to make the investments we need
to in order to make a difference. In many ways, our investment
here speaks to our investment in the Olympic Games. We believe
the Games will benefit all of Canada from the perspective
of economics, sustainability, cultural activity, and tourism.
The Olympic Games are part of our heritage and our history
- we've been there since 1947 and we expect to be a supporter
for Vancouver 2010 and beyond. RBC Financial Group will continue
to be there for aboriginal peoples too - it's part of our
heritage and history - it's simply who we are.
I would like to conclude my formal remarks by revisiting
a quote from one of my speeches in March 2002 - I saw it re-printed
in the BC Treaty Commission's paper, The Business Case for
Treaties (November 20, 2003): "We've learned it's possible
for corporate Canada to create wealth with aboriginal peoples
and for aboriginal peoples." In fact, there are unlimited
now let's hear from you
Thank you. Meegwetch.