“We have all been waiting for this opportunity,” says Committee Chair Wendy Bisaro, MLA for Frame Lake. “We want to hear from the public about this legislation. We need to set priorities for the future. If devolution-related legislation is passed, the new laws will be reviewed in the same way as other territorial legislation, and may be amended in time if need be.”
The Northwest Territories Devolution Agreement was signed in Inuvik on June 25th, 2013. Responsibilities for public lands, waters and resource management are due to be transferred from the Government of Canada to the GNWT on April 1, 2014. In order for that to take place, Canada has introduced Bill C-15, and the GNWT will need to mirror about 27 federal acts and regulations, converting them into territorial legislation. These include:
- Northwest Territories Waters Act;
- Territorial Lands Act;
- Canada Oil and Gas Operations Act;
- Canada Petroleum Resources Act.
If Bill C-15 is passed as anticipated, and the Legislative Assembly passes the associated mirror legislation, the GNWT will also gain some responsibilities and decision-making authority under the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act, which is to remain federal legislation for the time being. These authorities will be delegated from the federal minister responsible. One such duty will be decisions on the granting of Type A Water Licences. However, Bill C-15 also overhauls the structure of land and water boards, despite significant opposition voiced by northern leaders.
In addition, the GNWT will receive 50% of resource revenues currently flowing to the Government of Canada (subject to a cap, and excluding its ownership share of the Norman Wells oilfield); of this, 25% will be transferred to Aboriginal Governments. The total potential new resource revenue for the NWT is called the Net Fiscal Benefit. http://devolution.gov.nt.ca/resource-management/resource-revenue/the-net-fiscal-benefit/
Transfer payments to the GNWT will also increase substantially to cover the additional cost of administering new responsibilities and authorities, supported by employees who are transferring from federal departments.
The provisions of the Devolution Agreement were years in development and negotiation. Several aboriginal governments participated in the negotiations and became signatories to the final agreement. Others may choose to participate in the benefits of devolution later on. The Devolution Agreement explicitly states that it will not delay, impair or impede ongoing or future land claims or self-government negotiations and confirms that devolution will not affect already settled claims, as the Constitution of Canada protects these agreements.
If all the devolution legislation is passed and becomes law in the Northwest Territories, the new acts can be amended by the Legislative Assembly in the future. The Standing Committee on Priorities and Planning is seeking comment from the public on these laws, and how they may evolve to better serve the NWT and its residents.
Last year between March and May the GNWT held many public information meetings about the Devolution Agreement and what it means for the Northwest Territories. A summary of these meetings was released in May, 2013: http://devolution.gov.nt.ca/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/FINAL-RESULTS-OF-DEVOLUTION-PUBLIC-ENGAGEMENT.pdf
The GNWT has published further information on devolution on its dedicated website: http://devolution.gov.nt.ca/
Submissions should be made to the Standing Committee on Priorities and Planning, c/o Committee Clerk Doug Schauerte: firstname.lastname@example.org, no later than February 28, 2014.