Devolution of Lands and Resources
Today, the Premier spoke about Devolution and the Agreement-in-Principle.
Mr. Speaker, Devolution is another step in an ongoing process that has seen the Government of the Northwest Territories take more and more responsibility over the decisions that affect all of us. Decisions about our land and our resources should be made by people who live here; by a government that is accountable to NWT residents.
The Devolution Agreement-in-Principle (AiP) allows negotiations to continue towards a final agreement, which will benefit all residents of the NWT. If the deal were in place today, approximately $60 million dollars from resources revenues this past year would be staying in the NWT. This is money that could be directed to programs and services that directly benefit all residents of the NWT.
More importantly, devolution is about the transfer of already existing authority over public – or Crown – lands from the Government of Canada to the Government of the Northwest Territories. It will not create any new powers. Only lands and resources that are already subject to the development decisions of the federal government will be affected. These are powers already exercised on behalf of their residents by the governments of ten provinces and one other territory. Residents of the NWT deserve the same opportunity that people in the rest of Canada take for granted. Devolution will bring important decisions closer to those who will be most affected. This is something that can be celebrated by all residents of the NWT.
No deal is perfect, but even the report recently released by the Gwich’in Tribal Council recognizes that the current deal will be beneficial to the people of the NWT. If we wait for the perfect devolution agreement we will never have one, and millions of dollars will continue to flow out of the NWT. We still have some details to work out, like the issue of increasing the A-base funding offer originally made in 2005, but that is something that can be addressed during negotiations towards a final agreement.
Some leaders understand this urgency and are willing to continue working together towards a final Devolution agreement. Others aren’t ready to take that step yet, and I respect their positions, although I hope that they will soon join us in working to pursue this long outstanding goal for our people.
Mr. Speaker, the GNWT fully recognizes and supports Aboriginal and treaty rights, and the GNWT has involved all Aboriginal governments who are willing to participate in Devolution. That said, Aboriginal governments cannot have a veto over what happens to public lands and resources, by simply choosing not to get involved. The settled Dene claims also make it explicitly clear that nothing in them shall prejudice the transfer of authority from Canada to the GNWT, a fact often overlooked in public comments about Devolution.
Obviously, the GNWT will continue its efforts to include Aboriginal governments, and wants as many Aboriginal governments as possible at the table, but it must be appreciated that Devolution is about transferring public lands and resources from Canada to the GNWT and is not about settling Aboriginal or treaty rights disputes.
The fact is that Devolution does not impact treaty or Aboriginal rights. These rights are recognized and affirmed under the Constitution. The AiP clearly notes that any legislative authority that is transferred will be subject to those rights, just as the Government of Canada is subject to them now. The AiP also makes clear that the settlement of land claims and self-government agreements will remain a priority and those processes will not be affected by Devolution.
The GNWT takes its commitment to consultation seriously – a commitment that we have honoured. With the right to be consulted comes a reciprocal duty to participate. Aboriginal governments that decided to walk out of negotiations, or to boycott the process, cannot now demand a veto and expect to overturn the AiP.
Mr. Speaker, as a public government, the GNWT represents 100% of the residents of the NWT, and must consider the interests of the territory as whole. The GNWT and Aboriginal governments might not always agree in our positions. In standing up for the best interests of the territory, however, this does not mean that the GNWT is being disrespectful. All residents of the NWT should be given the opportunity to manage public lands and resources through their public government. That is the objective of the Devolution negotiations.
It is my sincere wish that respectful and constructive dialogue among the GNWT and all Aboriginal governments will carry on. I offered to meet with regional leaders on January 25th and 26th before the AiP was signed, but they did not take me up on that offer. I have since written to them, offering to meet with them in their regions to address their issues and concerns about the AiP. Last month I had good meetings with the Sahtu leadership and look forward to meeting with them again. The GNWT will continue to invite Aboriginal governments to join Devolution negotiations. Those that choose not to get involved will be kept informed and Aboriginal and treaty rights will continue to be respected and protected.
For more information on devolution: http://www.executive.gov.nt.ca/initiatives/Devolution/
For more information, contact:
Office of the Premier/Cabinet
Government of the Northwest Territories
Phone: (867) 669-2302