Next Steps Towards Devolution
Premier Roland highlighted the next steps towards devolution today in the Legislative Assembly.
Mr. Speaker, the transfer of authority for public lands and resources to the Government of the Northwest Territories will create major benefits and opportunities for our people.
Approval of the proposed AiP will be a critical step in our negotiations with Canada, but it is just another step. It is not the final agreement and it will not be legally binding.
Throughout our negotiations, there have been other times when the parties have signed agreements confirming their plans and intentions. We saw this when Canada, the GNWT and Aboriginal governments endorsed the Memorandum of Intent in 2001. We saw it again when the Devolution Framework Agreement was signed in 2004. These earlier agreements confirmed the intentions of the parties to work towards a final Devolution agreement, set out a process and timeline for negotiations and identified the subjects to be negotiated. Entering into these agreements helped keep negotiations moving forward.
Like earlier agreements, the proposed AiP confirms the intentions of the parties to negotiate a final agreement, sets out the subjects for negotiations and describes the process. It does not answer all the questions or settle all the outstanding issues, but it isn’t supposed to. We are in the process of negotiations and the many of the issues that have yet to be decided are precisely the things we will negotiate before reaching a Final Agreement. The AiP is the roadmap for future negotiations. It was never meant to be the final deal. But we will not even get to begin these future negotiations if we don’t agree to an AiP first.
Mr. Speaker, Aboriginal governments are major land and resource owners in the Northwest Territories and have an important interest in Devolution. The GNWT and Canada have funded their participation in negotiations and there has always been a seat for them at the table. We have heard the issues and concerns expressed by Aboriginal governments at the negotiating table and we have made every effort to accommodate them.
I know that they still have concerns and I respect that. Some of those concerns can be solved through further Devolution negotiations, but some of them are well beyond the scope of Devolution. Devolution is about transferring the administration and control of public lands and resources to the GNWT. It is a program transfer between public governments like the ones we have seen before involving health, highways, airports and forestry management.
Mr. Speaker, several leaders have asked for a meeting before we make any decisions on the AiP. I would like to advise Members that tonight I will be meeting with leadership from all the regional Aboriginal governments to discuss their issues and concerns with the proposed agreement. I don’t know that we will be able to resolve all those issues this evening, but I do hope that we are able to arrive at an understanding about a way forward that will allow us to keep talking, and working together, towards Devolution.
Mr. Speaker, Devolution and resource revenue sharing has been a goal for the NWT for nearly as long as I can remember and it is one of the priorities of this Assembly. For too long decisions about our public lands and resources have been made in Ottawa. Over the past five years, we have missed out on an estimated $208 million in resource revenues and we will continue to miss out until we have Devolution. It is time that we brought that decision making power and those revenues home to the NWT. Getting control over our lands and resources – and the revenues associated with them – will be a key to unlocking a prosperous new future for all NWT residents. A more prosperous future that should be shared by all NWT governments.
Northern leaders have a historic decision to make over the coming weeks. A final Devolution agreement will put the people of the Northwest Territories in charge of their land and resources and will create real economic and political benefits for us all. But it starts with this AiP. Without it, we cannot move forward.
Northerners know that we are stronger when we work together. As we consider the AiP that is before us, I call on all Northern leaders to find the common ground we need to carry on with this process.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
For more information, contact:
Office of the Premier/Cabinet
Government of the Northwest Territories
Phone: (867) 669-2302