Email this articleE-mail this story  Discuss this articleWrite letter to editor  Discuss this articleOrder a classified ad  Print this page

Devolution talks may stall

John Curran
Northern News Services

Inuvik (June 20/05) - The morale of the pro-devolution camp in the NWT took a major hit last week courtesy of former Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development Minister Robert Nault.

While moderating a June 15 panel discussion on finding common ground on the pipeline negotiations at the Inuvik Petroleum Show, Nault slammed NWT hopes of having a devolution and resource revenue sharing deal anytime soon.

"I wonder if people believe we'll have a devolution agreement before the pipeline is built?" he said. "I believe that's not possible."

Even with deputy Prime Minister Anne McLellan on the file working to transfer resource control and royalties to the territories, the former politician said Northerners should not expect such a big change in short order.

"I know how the federal government works," he said. "It moves slowly."

Nault's public comments definitely hurt the devolution cause, said NWT Premier Joe Handley.

"I'm not going to argue with him, but I think he's wrong," he said. "We'll have an agreement within two years."

Randy Meades, the senior official with DIAND who heads its Ottawa-based Pipeline Readiness Office, echoed Handley's optimism and disagreed with Nault.

"I think we'll see an agreement in principal sometime this summer," he said.

Earlier in the day, the premier raised fears the proposed pipeline may face further delays when he suggested its future progress hinges on the GNWT getting a devolution deal.

Handley wasn't alone in drawing a clear line between devolution and the pipeline. Inuvialuit Regional Corporation chairperson and chief executive officer Nellie Cournoyea did as well.

She went so far as to call devolution the second biggest issue blocking progress on the Mackenzie Valley project. She rated it behind only Imperial's negotiating of access and benefits agreements with aboriginal groups, but ahead of working out some type of social impact funding with Ottawa.

But while Handley sees the federal finance department as the biggest impediment to devolution, Cournoyea thinks the real problem exists within the NWT's own borders.

The Aboriginal Summit and the GNWT have a number of outstanding issues," she said. "If anything slows down devolution it will be deciding how to share the money."

Need resources

Industry, Tourism and Investment Minister Brendan Bell explained why a devolution deal sooner rather than later is so critical for the North.

"We need teachers, we need nurses, we need housing, we need social workers," he said. "We continuously see the highlights of our economy ... but we're not currently getting the revenue from our resources to reinvest in the NWT."

He said once you leave the major centres, smaller communities are crippled by unemployment rates of 40-50 per cent.

"A project like the pipeline can be liberating for those communities," he said. "But Northern governments need to be the primary beneficiaries of the development."

There is one final meeting between the GNWT and the feds scheduled to take place later this summer to talk devolution.

"The Premier and (Finance Minister) Floyd Roland have been working hard in the negotiations with Ottawa," he said. "We're about to see the fruits of those efforts."