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Puzzle complete, devolution talks can begin

Former Ontario premier named federal negotiator

Nathan VanderKlippe
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Aug 30/02) - The federal government has named David Peterson its chief negotiator in devolution talks with the NWT.

The cost of Peterson's contract is $668,750 for 12 months.

The naming of the former premier of Ontario on Tuesday sets in place the final piece of the puzzle before negotiations can begin. According to James Moore, an assistant deputy minister with DIAND, talks about transferring more power to the GNWT could begin within several weeks after a 15-day waiting period following Peterson's naming.

"(Peterson) has got a political track record and history in constitutional talks," said Moore.

"He is an individual who has been able to bring diverse interests together over his career."

Premier Stephen Kakfwi recently made a number of forceful comments about the federal government's delays in naming a negotiator.

Kakfwi said DIAND minister Robert Nault had pledged a name by March. Now, he said, "We've lost a tremendous amount of time."

The territorial government named its negotiator, Hal Gerein, this spring. The GNWT has set aside $800,000 a year to fund a negotiating team.

Aboriginal groups have named Bob Simpson as their chief negotiator.

Devolution talks need to be completed before a pipeline is installed, and hopefully before a third diamond mine becomes active, said Kakfwi.

"We've all gone into proposing economic development -- more diamond mines, oil and gas development, a pipeline -- on the assumption that the prime minister's commitment in '91 to complete devolution in his time is going to happen in a timely basis," Kakfwi said. Federal control of the negotiating timeline will not give the government of Canada a definite upper hand, Kakfwi said.

"Just because there's somebody stronger, bigger, with more resources on the other side, it doesn't mean you're going to be given a losing hand," he said. "We know how to negotiate."

Kakfwi plans to be a part of that team, and is pinning his hopes on another term as premier.

"Why would I just walk off the stage at the end of next year?" he said.

"There's too much momentum, and I think I have an obligation to ... continue to offer to keep that momentum going."

Kakfwi said he met Peterson several years ago, but the GNWT has had no formal dealings with the Toronto-based partner in Cassels Brock & Blackwell.

"We know he's a very well-respected lawyer. ... Hopefully he'll bring the necessary experience, clout and presence to the negotiations to make it substantial and deliver on a timely basis. Because timing is everything."

Nault's office declined comment on the naming of Peterson.