Climate better than ever for North to take control of resources
Yellowknife (Feb 28/00) - The only thing standing between the North and hundreds of millions of dollars is figuring out a way to share it.
For two decades, the territorial government has been lobbying Ottawa for a share of resource royalties from mines and gas and oil wells.
Resource revenue sharing has been touted as the only way of halting the rising $230 million territorial debt.
During his first two visits to the North, Indian and Northern Affairs Minister Robert Nault sent off all the right signals, saying the federal government was willing to move as fast on devolution as Northern leaders were willing to go.
Sharing royalties the federal government currently collects for mining and oil and gas development in the North will be the focus of a forum this spring that will include aboriginal, territorial and federal leaders.
"It's a very sensitive, delicate time," said territorial Minister of Aboriginal Affairs Jim Antoine last week. "We've been creating an environment for this to happen during the last year."
Antoine said the government has taken no position on how resource revenues should be divided.
Though that process has gone on for years, a spring leadership forum will be the first time the political leaders of all three governments will discuss it together formally.
One in a series of talks leading up to the forum takes place today in Yellowknife, when cabinet ministers host a dinner meeting with aboriginal leaders.
Time is right
DIAND's top bureaucrat in the North, regional director general Bob Overvold, said the climate for moving ahead on devolution -- the transfer of federal power to the territories -- is now better than it's ever been.
"Prior to the last two years, the approach to devolution has been that this is something to be sorted out between the federal government and the territorial government, in consultation with aboriginal leaders," said Overvold.
"What the two governments have said is we have to do more than consult aboriginal leaders, they have to be full partners in the discussion."
Overvold cautioned the new approach does not necessarily mean aboriginal leaders will embrace resource revenue sharing with open arms.
There is some reluctance, particularly among those whose claims and self-government negotiations are less advanced, to enter into resource revenue negotiations before self- government is defined.
During his Jan. 20 speech to MLAs, Nault reiterated another change in DIAND's position on devolution -- that no one group will be able to derail the process.
"There has to be a critical mass of support to get the process off the ground, understanding that there are no vetoes," Nault told MLAs.
The federal government has previously insisted that all eight aboriginal groups must be on side. Overvold said that, in his view, critical mass would consist of a minimum of six out of the eight groups.
Pot of gold
The proposal being considered calls for resource revenues in the NWT to be pooled, with the revenues being shared among all aboriginal groups and the territorial government.
North Slave Metis Alliance president Clem Paul said pooling resources is a good idea.
"I think it has to be that way," said Paul. "I think the region affected by the development should get a good share of it, but you can't have have and have-not communities."
Also to be negotiated is the impact any revenues would have on government transfers to aboriginal and the territorial government. The federal government is providing the territorial government with $522 million this fiscal year, 74 per cent of the government's revenue.
Federal funding will be reduced as resource revenues increase, but not on a dollar-for-dollar basis. How much each dollar made on resource revenues will cost in terms of federal funding remains to be negotiated.
Calls to Dogrib Treaty 11 Grand Chief Joe Rabesca, Gwich'in Tribal Council president Richard Nerysoo and Deh Cho First Nations Grand Chief Michael Nadli were not returned by deadline.