NNSL Photo/Graphic

Canadian North

Home page text size buttonsbigger textsmall textText size Email this articleE-mail this page

Devolution deal mimics Yukon
Transfer of power could result in 'the least favourable' of two options, MLA says

Kassina Ryder
Northern News Services
Published Monday, January 21, 2013

Sahtu MLA Norman Yakeleya says the Northwest Territories needs full - not partial - control over its future.

"You gotta be the boss of your dog team," he said.

With devolution negotiations wrapping up, some politicians are concerned about the territory possibly receiving "delegated authority" over its lands and resources rather than full control.

This means the territorial government would administer federal legislation.

Originally, negotiators were considering "mirror legislation" after devolution, which would have replicated federal legislation, but only until the territory established its own.

Weledeh MLA Bob Bromley said he does not support the idea of a delegated authority system in the NWT.

"I'd say that's the least favourable of the two options," he said.

Bromley said one of the biggest drawbacks is the territory will not have the power to employ its own regulatory systems when it comes to resource development.

Bromley said the territorial government has been working on the NWT Land Use and Sustainability Framework, which outlines the territory's plan for resource management.

Its guiding principles include guarding aboriginal rights and giving traditional knowledge and science equal importance during

decision-making processes.

It also states that NWT residents should make decisions about NWT resources.

"In that, we lay out our view - the NWT view - of responsible resource development that is environmentally and socially, as well as economically, responsible," Bromley said.

If the territory accepts delegated authority, it will have to administer a federal system instead of its own. He said changes to the environmental protection and other federal legislation do not reflect the values of the NWT.

"The federal government is changing its system through omnibus bills," Bromley said. "What we are inheriting is quite a different animal than when negotiations started."

Yakeleya said the NWT is ready to take control.

He compared the territory's connection with the federal government to a parent/child relationship.

"The children rely on their parents to keep them safe, secure and well-fed and housed until a certain time in life that the parents just got to say, 'son or daughter, it's time to make it on your own,'" Yakeleya said. "It's the same thing with us in the Northwest Territories."

In a June legislative assembly question period, Bromley expressed his concern about adopting delegated authority.

At that time, Premier Bob McLeod said Yukon had agreed to delegated authority 10 years ago and that it was successful there.

In an interview with News/North, McLeod said looking at the Yukon's system as a possibility for the NWT was always part of the devolution process.

"Yukon was the model the federal government is following," he said.

Bromley said while the possibility has always been there, he doesn't believe it was always being seriously considered as an option. He added that federal legislation was different when devolution talks began 10 years ago.

"The delegated authority means we have authority to administer the federal system and obviously that federal system is changing quite a bit from what we initially envisioned," he said.

Right now, the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development is still in charge of the territory's Crown lands, oil and gas, and water and mineral resources.

Yakeleya said a devolution agreement must allow territorial and aboriginal governments to benefit from development.

The federal government received $11,652,548 in royalties from the territory's oil and gas industry in 2011, according to Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada.

Part of that number is received through royalties from one-third of total production at the Norman Wells oil field.

"The government of Ottawa owns one-third of that oil field," Yakeleya said. "In the last 10 years, the Government of Canada has taken just about $1 billion of the Norman Wells oil field."

Devolution would allow the territory to keep up to 50 per cent of resource revenues, the AANDC website stated. Federal transfer payments would increase by 65 per cent to help cover the cost of the government's new duties after devolution.

Transfer payments would be decreased once the territory hit its "fiscal capacity cap," which is the equivalent of five per cent of its yearly spending.

Bromley said delegated authority would not affect the resource revenues agreement. However, he said he believes the costs of taking over and administering new responsibilities would quickly add up.

"Those costs alone would eat up any possible extra room we have there and, I suspect, a considerable part of our revenue," he said.

Yakeleya said more money means the NWT can do more for its communities.

He used Colville Lake School, which only received running water and flushing toilets for the first time last September, as an example.

"If we had our own funding that is coming to us, we could take care of people," he said. "We rely on the federal government. We're beggars in our homeland. That's not the way we want our relationship with the federal government."

McLeod said negotiations could finish by the end of January.

"We're expecting by the end of this month our negotiators will probably have reached the end of their mandate," he said.

McLeod said he could not comment on the impact a delegated authority system would have on a final devolution deal.

"It's too early to say what the deal will look like," he said.

E-mailWe welcome your opinions. Click here to e-mail a letter to the editor.