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Premier says provincehood 'doable'

Mike W. Bryant
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Nov 24/04) - While insisting that devolution is still his top priority, Premier Joe Handley says he doesn't see any reason why the NWT couldn't become a province within five years.

"I think for the Northwest Territories five years is doable, particularly if the (Mackenzie Valley) pipeline goes ahead," said Handley.

He was responding to statements made by Prime Minister Paul Martin, who said Monday that Canada's three territories will "eventually get full provincial powers."

The prime minister made the admission while on a state visit to Brazil, where he was explaining the status of the territories to the governor of Sao Paulo, according to the Globe and Mail.

Martin told reporters it was important to start devolving powers to the territories, to "demonstrate unequivocally to the world that the Arctic is Canadian territory."

Handley said it was likely the prime minister and the Canadian reporters covering his visit, got caught up in the confusion over Martin's explanations to the governor, who was puzzled by the legal status of Canada's territories.

Nonetheless, he was pleased by Martin's talk of resource-revenue sharing and devolving powers to the territories.

The GNWT, territorial First Nations and the federal government are currently in the midst of negotiations over devolution.

"Philosophically, he is on the same wave-length as the rest of us are," said Handley.

"If he's offering us provincehood, I'll be hard pressed to turn it down."

Handley said he believes a majority of NWT residents would support provincehood, even First Nation groups seeking to form aboriginal governments within the territory.

"I think most aboriginal leaders would say there is going to be a need for a central government," said Handley.