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Handley praised, pummeled as term's end draws near

Jack Danylchuk
Northern News Services
Published Monday, August 20, 2007

YELLOWKNIFE - Taking stock of four years as premier, Joe Handley believes his government will be remembered for "stability, and holding a good, solid, steady course."

"Two major issues are outstanding - resource revenue sharing and devolution," Handley said this week as he prepared for the final days of the 15th legislative assembly.

"But we've moved the devolution file farther than any government in the last 20 years; we're very close - we could have a deal," said Handley, who confirmed that he will not seek re-election in Weledeh, the constituency he has represented for two terms.

"I think we've achieved a lot," he said, and then added: "of course some will disagree" - but mostly, they didn't.

Yellowknife Mayor Gord Van Tighem said that history will judge Handley "quite favorably."

"There is a new deal for municipal governments," said Van Tighem. "We've gone through a sort of mini-devolution with legislation that gives us more authority over our capital spending. The circle of northern leaders has made municipal governments part of the future."

Van Tighem described Handley as "a practical planner, an engineer and builder" who took the dreams of his predecessor, Stephen Kakfwi, "and put those things in place."

The harshest assessment came from Western Arctic MP Dennis Bevington.

"The premier and cabinet never rose above mediocre in their vision and direction," Bevington said. "Fortunately we have a good and responsible government service that performs regardless of leadership."

Bevington was critical of the government's approach to energy and resource issues that focused almost exclusively on the Mackenzie Gas Project and made no headway on developing hydroelectric power.

He questioned Handley's legacy project, a bridge across the Mackenzie River at Fort Providence that will end Yellowknife's two months of early and late winter isolation.

"We have a government committing to one of the territory's largest ever capital projects and leaving its successor to pay for it," said Bevington.

"That's some legacy."

Bill Erasmus, national chief of the Dene Nation, said Handley and his government performed "pretty good, generally.

"They didn't make any big mistakes and maintained good contact with people in the communities."

But like many other First Nations leaders, he sees the territorial government as an interim step on the way to a system where power is shared with aboriginal governments that control their own resources.

"We don't see the territorial government as having authority over the people," Erasmus said. "The next leader needs to have a vision that includes other governments like the Tlicho, who must sit at the same table on key issues, like resource revenue sharing."