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Premier, MP meet with minister
Bob McLeod and Michael McLeod say sit-down with indigenous affairs' Carolyn Bennett was productive but light on specifics

John McFadden
Northern News Services
Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Both Premier Bob McLeod and his brother NWT MP Michael McLeod say they had a productive, encouraging meeting with Carolyn Bennett, minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada in Yellowknife on Saturday.

Bennett had a whirlwind stop in the NWT, holding meetings with families of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls in Yellowknife on Friday and flying to Norman Wells on Saturday to meet with aboriginal organizations on a range of issues. Bennett then returned to Yellowknife and sat down with the McLeods on Saturday. She was accompanied on her fact-finding mission by parliamentary secretary Yvonne Jones who is also the MP for Labrador.

Among the issues discussed were the devolution agreement and the still-on-the-table proposal for several regional land and water boards to be amalgamated into one "superboard," according to the premier. In December, the federal government put a hold on an appeal of a court order halting the merging of the boards.

Yellowknifer asked the premier whether he thought the superboard proposal was now dead in the water.

"I wouldn't go so far as to say that," said McLeod.

"It's a federal responsibility but there were certain things we were looking for that were pretty basic like being able to appoint our own board members rather than just making recommendations. We're a mature government and we should be able to appoint our own members rather than make recommendations to another government."

Currently, there are representatives of the GNWT, the federal government and aboriginal governments on each of the territory's land and water boards. Those bodies recommend board members to the federal government and the federal indigenous affairs minister makes the decision to appoint them to the boards.

Michael McLeod said his stance on the land and water board issue is clear, adding it was he who convinced the Liberal government to put its court challenge on hold.

"The request came in from the Tlicho ... it went to Minister Bennett and was also brought to the attention of the justice minister and I supported the request. I talked to the ministers and was very happy with the outcome," said Micheal.

The Tlicho Government had filed a court challenge of the former Conservative government's move to merge the boards. The Tlicho was granted an injunction of the amalgamation by the Supreme Court of the NWT last February. The Conservatives appealed that injunction but the Liberals have put that appeal into what's known as abeyance. That means the appeal of the injunction is on hold, according to Nuri Frame, a lawyer for the Tlicho Government. The Tlicho currently appoints two members to the four-person Wek'eezhii Land and Water Board. Under the proposed 11-member superboard, the aboriginal government would only have one seat.

Premier McLeod said he and Bennett both agree having the national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls make stops across the country is a good idea.

"I would be very supportive of having a session in the NWT. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission set a model where they held a number of sessions across Canada including the NWT," the premier said.

As chair of the aboriginal affairs working group made up of provincial and territorial aboriginal affairs ministers, the premier said he welcomes Bennett's plans to sit down with the group - something the previous Conservative government was not willing to do.

There were no specific talks about a new waterline for Yellowknife, said Bob McLeod.

During the federal election, MP McLeod vowed to advocate for funding for the replacement of the line that draws water from the Yellowknife River to the city's water treatment plant.

"We didn't get into those kinds of specifics. It was part of the larger infrastructure discussion," the premier said. "We said we were very pleased that the Government of Canada had committed to more than doubling infrastructure spending over the first two years."

The premier said that an increase in the Northern Residents Tax Deduction, climate change and housing were also part of the discussion. He said no firm commitments came from the minister on any of those issues but added it is still early days for the Trudeau government. Michael also said he has still not received a firm time commitment on exactly when the increase in the Northern tax deduction will take place.

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