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Building Communities…

Building the circle of prosperity

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Charlie Coffey
Executive Vice President
Government & Community Affairs
RBC Financial Group
First Nations Business Forum
Best Western Tin Wis Resort Lodge
Tofino, British Columbia

Thursday, April 22, 2004

Tansi, Boojhoo, Auneen, Sekon, Kwey, Oki, Me'Taleyn, Bienvenue, Welcome! It's an absolute pleasure for me to be here today - and it's an honour for RBC Royal Bank to present the first-of-its-kind "Working Together to Build a Prosperous Future: First Nations Business Forum & Trade Show" in Tofino, British Columbia.

As some of you may know, this conference is the brainchild of one of RBC's senior managers, Moira Jenkins and Hereditary Chief Leonard George. Many of us (including me) were having dinner one night and Moira was sitting next to Chief George. They began talking and before we knew it, conference plans were underway. Then we approached Chief Moses Martin and Francis Frank, who agreed to partner with RBC…and the rest, is history. Special thanks to our Moira, Chief George, Chief Martin, Francis Frank and everyone else involved in making this event happen.

We're together to push the envelope on building communities - building the circle of prosperity. Since the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation has done such an impressive job of building partnerships, it seems only appropriate that we're holding this forum in such a magical place - a place that was once a residential school and is now the site of treaty talks and many other community/business events. It's easy to see why the Nuu chah nulth people resided here for thousands of years - there aren't too many spots like this on earth - the wildness of the west coast is much like the spirit of "the thunderbird - the bringer of magic and power."

We've assembled some of the most successful people in BC to share their stories and best practices in creating and nurturing a prosperous community. We want this forum to foster discussion on the many opportunities and challenges we face in generating wealth in our communities. We also want this forum to provide tools and information that you can incorporate into one comprehensive community development strategy. We want people to share ideas and learn from each other. First Nations communities can teach us a great deal, so we also want to hear from you - we want you to help guide us along the way. Most of all, let's have some fun - enjoy each other's company!

It's a privilege to be among champions today - the likes of Shawn Atleo (our luncheon speaker), Jody Wilson, Clarence Louie, Steve Wilson, Tim Low, Al Little, Jeannie Cranmer, Wayne Drury, Robert Denis, Dave Mannix, Harvey Alphonse, Rick Thomas, Russell Chips, Bev Martin, Marion Wright, Charlie Williams, Alan Widdows, Kathy Craig, plus members of the RBC Team - Rob Johnson, Tom Siemens, Wendy Knight, Harry Maharaj, Fawn White, Kelly Nordman and of course Moira Jenkins and Gail Murray. Gail not only represents the face and voice of RBC, she represents First Nation communities and the aboriginal community in British Columbia. I just want our team to know how incredibly proud I am of what they're doing on behalf of our organization and in support of aboriginal peoples. If only there was time to acknowledge everyone here today…

And there is time to mention one more name…as when I speak of champions and pride, I must speak of Keith MacDonald, RBC's national manager of Aboriginal Banking. I know my colleagues and friends in this room join me in saying "thank you" to Keith for his huge contribution over the past nine years. We'll miss you Keith - you'll not be forgotten. Many, many thanks for your leadership…and on a personal note, very special thanks for your support and friendship.

When we talk about building communities and building a circle of prosperity, it's important to reaffirm 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, there's 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, "new wealth generators" and economic supporters, businesses that circulate money within the community. Both are necessary for a balanced economy. Gail will focus on the circle and economic drivers/economic supporters in her presentation.

Here's a great example of community vision and economic activity at work…David Anderson, the federal Minister of the Environment, tabled before Parliament an amendment to the Canada National Parks Act, that's going to help address the critical need to re-build a healthy first nation community. I'm sure Chief Moses Martin knows where I'm go with this one. "The removal of this land will address acute overcrowding in Esowista, allow infrastructure improvements to remedy sewage disposal and water quality concerns, and support the development of a model community that will exist in harmony with the national park reserve." For Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation, the expansion of Esowista reserve is also "pivotal to the success of the comprehensive community development plan for a modern village centre, a large sports and recreation area and playgrounds, a community centre that will be built along the lines of a traditional longhouse and the new Band office and administration buildings." As most of you are aware, this is a community where fishing and tourism literally drive the local economy. "Hundreds of thousands of tourists - more than a million - from around the world visit the area every year because of its spectacular ocean side and national park location." Talk about building communities and the circle of prosperity…

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.

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 move forward and think about addressing the overriding issues. If we step back and look at the community as a whole, I believe we'll see that housing programs, etc. are more like a stopgap solution. In other words, a strong economy will propel housing because if the majority of the community members is working, housing shouldn't be 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.

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. In other words, we've said the status quo is also not an option.

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 are also incredible benefits to the mainstream business community.

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. I can tell you that RBC has learned a great deal from aboriginal peoples about consensus building, about the importance of the circle and about the importance of cultural identity.
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 assessment.

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 the future.

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 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. As I often say, there's a cost to doing nothing - and there's a cost to not doing enough.

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? My personal goal is to ensure that every aboriginal person from coast to coast takes his/her rightful place in Canadian society. There are practical ways to proceed. Best practices are becoming better understood. Many ideas are being shared and will be shared at this conference.

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 helping to build communities and the circle of prosperity.

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. We've learned it's possible for corporate Canada to create wealth with aboriginal peoples and for aboriginal peoples. In fact, there are unlimited possibilities!

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, tourism and the recognition of the role that First Peoples have played in the creation and evolution of this country.

The Olympic Games are a part of my heritage, they're a part of your heritage and part of our history. RBC has been with the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) since 1947 and we expect to be a major supporter for Vancouver 2010 and beyond. RBC Financial Group is also there for aboriginal peoples. It's part of our heritage and our history…it's simply who we are.

Prime Minister Paul Martin promised aboriginal peoples "a full seat at the table" in dealings with Ottawa at the Aboriginal Summit on Monday - I was there and heard his words first hand: "No longer will we in Ottawa develop policies first and discuss them with you later…this principle of collaboration will be the cornerstone of our new partnership."

After hearing the Prime Minister speak, I was reminded of what a Cree elder from northern Manitoba once said, "Mr. Coffey, listen or your tongue will cause you to become deaf." I'm sure the Prime Minister would heed this sage advice and I urge all of you to do likewise throughout the conference and in your communities. During the next two days, it's my (our) turn to listen to you. Enjoy!

Thank you. Meegwetch.


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