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Handley blasts Indian Affairs

Long knives out for Deputy minister

Mike W. Bryant
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Sep 07/01) - NWT Finance Minister Joe Handley yesterday lashed out at the federal government, accusing it of plundering the North's resources to line federal coffers.

Marc Lafreniere: new deputy minister of DIAND.

Handley made his comments during the first visit of Marc Lafreniere, as the new deputy minister for the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs. Lafreniere was in Yellowknife Wednesday and Thursday for a get-to-know-you with regional support staff.

Some business leaders along with Handley were questioning the federal department's economic development role in the North.

One of DIAND's harshest critics of late, freshly stung by rejection from Deh Cho leaders opposed to pipeline development, is Handley.

He accused DIAND of plundering the North's resources to line federal coffers, while muddying the waters over land claims and resource sharing with aboriginal groups.

"I just find them bordering on negligence of the North," said Handley.

"We asked for $230 million over four years and they gave us $3.8 (million). We need federal investment here badly. That's why we have to have a highway toll. The federal government is not giving us our fair share."

Handley pointed out that out of the $11.3 billion in expenditures incurred by Diavik in building their diamond mine, the federal government will receive $500 million in tax revenue -- and that's just while the mine is being built.

Handley also accused DIAND of deliberately fuelling aboriginal groups' desire to seek revenue sharing agreements with the federal government, while excluding the GNWT from the process.

"Be clear on revenue sharing," said Handley.

"Don't mislead regions or land claim negotiators that they can get a resource sharing agreement if there isn't one."

Among those parties seeking an audience with Lafreniere was NWT Chamber of Mines executive director Mike Vaydik.

"DIAND is a land manager and we would like to see devolution of authority to Northerners," said Vaydik.

Vaydik, who will be attending the Energy and Mines Minister's Conference in Quebec City on Sunday, said the NWT's presence there will likely be moot because the senior minister there -- Minister of Natural Resources Ralph Goodale -- has no jurisdictional authority over the mining industry.

That department belongs solely to DIAND Minister Robert Nault, who will not be attending the conference.

"This is not rocket science, the minister of DIAND is also the minister of mines (for the NWT)," said Vaydik.

"It's something we have to keep reminding him about."

Alan Vaughan, head of governmental affairs with the NWT Chamber of Commerce agrees with Vaydik.

He drafted an 11-point presentation document in hopes that it would be read to Lafreniere last night. As of press time, it is uncertain whether the chamber formally accepted his document, but Vaughan said many members agree with his views.

"DIAND has a role to work with aboriginal issues," said Vaughan. "We support that, but DIAND in the North has a role in advancing the entire business sector. They have a hand in everything. We should be moving beyond that, as they do in the provinces."

For his part, Lafreniere, who did not meet with Handley, said his trip up North was a pleasant one.

When Yellowknifer confronted him on the territorial government's concerns he declined to wade into the rhetoric.

"I've had an excellent meeting with the government," said Lafreniere.

"It was very warm. I did not detect anything negative."