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Feds tackle regulatory red tape

Roxanna Thompson
Northern News Services
Published Thursday, May 6, 2010

SOMBA K'E/YELLOWKNIFE - The federal government announced plans this week to simplify investment regulations in the North, but not everyone is cheering.

Chuck Strahl, minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, announced the federal government's intention to streamline Northern regulatory regimes at an NWT Chamber of Commerce luncheon in Yellowknife on May 3. Strahl spoke disapprovingly of existing regulatory processes.

NNSL photo/graphic

Chuck Strahl, minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, announced the federal government's action plan to improve Northern regulatory regimes during a NWT Chamber of Commerce luncheon in Yellowknife on May 3. - Jeanne Gagnon /NNSL photo

"The current situation is, frankly, unhelpful. Prospective investors in Northern resource projects face complex and overlapping regulatory processes that are unpredictable, costly and time-consuming," Strahl said.

Companies want to invest where there's certainty and predictability, and the North will lose economic opportunities if this type of regulatory environment isn't provided, he said.

The goal of the action plan is to make a regulatory framework that is, "strong, effective, efficient and predictable," said Strahl. The action plan focuses on three areas, including legislative changes to reduce overlap and duplication, enhanced environmental stewardship and a strong voice for aboriginal people.

The federal government has committed $11 million over two years to streamline regulatory regimes in the North and $8 million over two years to support community-based environmental monitoring.

Changes to the regulatory regime will include structural changes to land and water boards in the territory, as well as amendments to the Mackenzie Valley Resources Management Act, the Northwest Territories Water Act and the Territorial Lands Act.

Speaking to reporters after his speech, Strahl said establishing a single land and water board for the whole territory would be ideal. Strahl has appointed John Pollard as the chief federal negotiator in the NWT, to lead consultations and negotiations with all parties on structural changes to the boards. Pollard has served as the finance minister for the Government of the Northwest Territories and as the mayor of Hay River.

Strahl made assurances that during the board restructuring resource development, commitments set out in settled land claim agreements will be respected.

The new system will need to respect aboriginal input from the regional level but also include timely decision making, he said.

The action plan announcement has raised some early red flags for the Dehcho First Nations (DFN).

As part of the Dehcho Process, DFN is negotiating the creation of the Dehcho Resource Management Authority, which would review potential developments in the region. The announcement calls into question all of the land claim agreements that established land and water boards in the territory, said Grand Chief Samuel Gargan.

If the boards can be removed, he said, there is no certainty in the agreements and in the honour of the Crown. Any changes would weaken First Nations representation.

"We don't need a weaker board, we need a stronger board," said Gargan.

The current situation with the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico illustrates that stronger boards are needed so more stringent rules can be applied to developments, he said.

Gargan said DFN is willing to talk with John Pollard, but only if he addresses them through the framework of the ongoing negotiations.

"John has to come to our table and tell us exactly what he is looking for," Gargan said.

DFN is holding their spring leadership meeting on the Hay River Reserve from May 10 to 14. The action plan is expected to be on the agenda.

Sectors that are supposed to benefit from the overhaul of the regulatory regime also questioned the announcement.

"We're pleased to see the government does recognize there are issues," said John Kearney, the president of the NWT and Nunavut Chamber of Mines.

The action plan, however, doesn't provide any timelines or information about how the acts will be amended. There are also no details about changes to the boards. The chamber is waiting to see what the details will contain, Kearney said.

The action plan is a positive step towards improving the current system, said Kearney. Everyone, including communities, the government, mines and the boards themselves recognize that there are problems, he said.

We welcome your opinions on this story. Click to e-mail a letter to the editor.