Public not welcome
Intergovernmental forum doors slammed shut

Richard Gleeson
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (May 05/00) - The people who stand to be affected most by devolution -- the public -- are being excluded from discussion of it by elected leaders.

Today in Hay River a who's who of Northern power-brokers are meeting for the first in what the territorial government hopes will be a series of meetings between aboriginal, territorial and federal political leaders.

The purpose of the meetings is to start the process of determining how federal powers will be transferred to, and shared up by, the territorial and aboriginal governments.

"I think there may be some real candid solutions put forward, and people are more comfortable talking candidly without the press being there," said Aboriginal Affairs Minister Jim Antoine.

Antoine and Gwich'in Tribal Council president Richard Nerysoo are co-chairing the meeting.

Asked if the territorial government had pushed for the meeting to be closed, Antoine would say only that it was agreed upon by federal, territorial and aboriginal leaders. He said future meetings may be held in public.

Even the agenda for the meeting was being kept under wraps. The day before the meeting, officials had not yet determined whether the agenda would be released. A DIAND official would say only that political leaders were scheduled to meet from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. followed by a workshop-style session that would include officials. A press conference was to follow the meeting.

Special advisor to the territorial government Richard Bargery said no decision on releasing the agenda could be made until all three parties were consulted.

Both Antoine and Bargery said it is standard procedure to hold such intergovernmental meetings in private and said the early political meetings surrounding the creation of Nunavut were closed. Later ones, which included plenty of candid discussion, were open.

Participating in the discussion are Premier Stephen Kakfwi, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development Minister Robert Nault, Antoine and First Nations leaders from across the NWT.

Calls to aboriginal leaders' representative Bob Simpson were not returned by deadline.

Power-sharing between the three levels of government is an ultra-sensitive issue because it goes to the heart of land claim and self-government negotiations. The progress on negotiations varies from group to group and none want to give up any powers they might get negotiating a claim.

Concern over the impact broad commitments would have on land claims and self-government negotiations was what scuttled the last attempt to develop an NWT constitution.

Added to the challenge this time around is finding agreement on a new formula for sharing hundreds of millions of dollars in resource revenues that will be generated by resource development now taking place in the NWT. Under the current setup, those royalties, and the bulk of corporate taxes paid by mining and oil and gas companies, go to the federal government.

It is expected today's forum will focus on identifying specific issues to be resolved and identifying a process for resolving them.

Officials from each of the three levels of government have been quietly working behind the scenes for months to bring their political masters together.