Devolution Going Ahead Without Public Involvement
"... With the initialling of the Canada-NWT Draft Lands and Resources Devolution Agreement, we now need to consider the kind of resource management future we’ll build with these new powers.
Premier Bob McLeod and Prime Minister Stephen Harper signed the draft agreement at a public ceremony in the Legislative Assembly March 11. The agreement will provide for the transfer of funds to the GNWT to operate currently federal land, water, non-renewable resource and some environmental management programs. The GNWT will get a share of non-renewable resource royalties up to a capped amount, and it will share 25 per cent of these royalties with Aboriginal governments.
In taking on the new powers, the GNWT must pass “mirror” legislation, which duplicates the federal resource management law now in place. The federal government has kept the power to decide what development projects will be referred to environmental review, and what the conditions will be for a development project to go ahead. The GNWT will have to pick up the costs if conditions are not followed by a project operator who goes broke, such as occurred with Giant Mine. It’s unclear if, when and how we will get authority to write our own laws or make our own environmental management decisions.
The Akaitcho Territorial Government and Deh Cho First Nations have not signed the devolution agreement, although the Premier is continuing discussions with them. All other NWT Aboriginal governments are taking part in the negotiations.
During the last Assembly session, I moved motions critical of federal environmental actions, and of the lack of public consultation on the proposed agreement. While I thank Weledeh constituents and many other NWT residents for their widespread support, the Assembly was cool to these proposals. The Cabinet and some Regular MLAs voted against my motion criticizing the federal government for not informing or consulting with the GNWT on major changes to the resource and environmental laws we must inherit. Only Frame Lake MLA Wendy Bisaro and myself voted in favour of my motion calling for a plebiscite on whether to accept the devolution deal. A public opinion poll said 73% of NWT residents want a chance for a vote.
The Premier describes the deal as a “take it or leave it” offer from the federal government. Saying NWT citizens will have an “unprecedented” 40- to 60-day opportunity for consultation on the deal, he is staging information sessions that offer Aboriginal residents little, and non-Aborginal residents no opportunity to influence the contents of the final agreement. The final decision on the devolution agreement will be made soon, as the Premier has promised a vote on the agreement in the May-June Assembly session. There is no word on what the content of the question for voting would be. The GNWT aims to take on the new powers effective April 1, 2014.
Throughout the negotiations leading to this deal, the GNWT has ALL BUT ignored the opportunity to involve citizens in developing a vision for the future of resource management. Basically, we have negotiated the authority to permit and approve development, without having control of the environmental review processes needed to ensure development is appropriate, sustainable and benefits the people of the NWT. Nevertheless, we will have to put up with the consequences and costs of project developments when conditions approved by the Government of Canada are not met by developers.
This makes it critical to have public participation in considering how we put our new powers into action. I’ll continue to call for citizen involvement in deciding how we implement devolution. Citizens need participation in developing a resource and environmental management regime better than the old federal model, with an improved revenue return to citizens through our one-time royalties...."
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