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One board to rule them all
Ottawa includes super board in devolution bill

Laura Busch
Northern News Services
Updated Monday, December 9, 2013

The last piece of the puzzle that is the devolution of lands and resources - the devolution implementation bill - began grinding its way through Parliament in Ottawa last week.

NNSL photo/graphic

AANDC Minister Bernard Valcourt, left, and Premier Bob McLeod celebrate in Ottawa Dec. 3, the day Bill C-15, the Northwest Territories Devolution Act, was introduced in Parliament. - photo courtesy of AANDC -

Bill C-15, the Northwest Territories Devolution Act, is a 240-page omnibus bill that groups devolution together with the more contentious changes to the territory's regulatory system.

This bill would eliminate the three five-member regional land and water boards - the Sahtu, the Wek'eezhii and the Gwich'in boards - and replace them with a single Mackenzie Valley Land and Water board comprised of 11 members.

Ten of those members will be appointed by the federal minister. Seven of those will first be nominated by either the territorial or First Nations governments. As was negotiated in their land claim agreement, the Tlicho retain the right to directly appoint their board member.

The elimination of the regional boards has come under fire. Both the Gwich'in and Tlicho governments have previously publicly opposed the changes.

The people of the Sahtu also want to keep their regional land and water board, said Sahtu MLA Norman Yakeleya.

"We set up our land and water board to be as close to our communities in the decision-making process as possible because of the importance we put in our land and our water," he said.

"That was one of the selling points in order for us to settle our land claims. We didn't want to see the kind of super boards that are being proposed right now."

In its land claim agreements with the Tlicho, Gwich'in and Sahtu people, the federal government retained the right to create this super board, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada Minister Bernard Valcourt said on Dec. 4, the first day the Bill was debated in the House.

"Every aboriginal group with whom these comprehensive land claims agreements were concluded knew that at one point a board could cover the whole of the Northwest Territories," he said.

Yakeleya took exception to this. As a former negotiator, he said the understanding was a single board would only become necessary after all NWT First Nations had settled their land claims.

"It's a matter of interpretation. That was on the basis that all of the other unsettled areas were going to be settled."

"It seems like a step backwards and certainly a slap in the face in terms of respect," said Western Arctic MP Dennis Bevington. "The resource boards as they have been designed through the land claims I thought were more responsible and more in tune with community needs."

Premier Bob McLeod was in Ottawa last week to promote the devolution implementation bill, and told News/North his government supports regulatory reform because an "effective regulatory framework" is necessary to bring more resource jobs to the territory.

"The way we see it is devolution will transform the economy of the Northwest Territories. Devolution will provide for increased jobs and opportunities for the Northwest territories," he said when asked his thoughts on the two major pieces of legislation being grouped into a single omnibus bill in Ottawa.

In a written statement on behalf of the Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board, executive director Zabey Nevitt stated much work has already been done to streamline the regulatory process.

"The boards have been working for several years now to develop clarity and consistency in our decisions-making processes through the establishment of valley-wide policies and procedures that are applicable in all regions of the Mackenzie Valley," he stated.

In a more strongly-written reaction to the proposed changes published when the federal government's intentions became clear in 2011, the land and water boards stated: "We feel that the land use permit and water licence system in the Mackenzie Valley is not broken; rather, the system that is meant to support it is incomplete."

While in the nation's capital, Premier Bob McLeod met with Valcourt, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau and NDP leader Thomas Mulcair.

"They all indicated they would support devolution," he said.

Bill C-15 must pass through a senate and parliament committee before it can officially pass through the House.

McLeod and Deputy Premier Michael Miltenberger, defended the bill before a senate committee and a parliamentary committee on Dec. 5, respectively.

The Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada plans to hold formal hearings in Yellowknife toward the end of January, Bevington said during the meeting on Dec. 5.

NNSL photo/graphic

Proposed changes to land and water boards in Bill C-15, effective 2015

One 11-member Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board, headquartered in Yellowknife

  • One member nominated by the Gwich'in, appointed by the federal minister
  • One member nominated by the Sahtu, appointed by the federal minister
  • One member directly appointed by the Tlicho
  • Two members nominated from the unsettled regions, appointed by the federal minister
  • Two members nominated by the GNWT, appointed by the federal minister
  • Three members directly appointed by the federal minister
  • One chairperson, directly appointed by the federal minister

Source: Bill C-15: Northwest Territories Devolution Act

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