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DIAND minister on hot seat

Jack Danylchuk
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Mar 14/05) - Indian Affairs Minister Andy Scott has some explaining to do when he visits the Northwest Territories this week.

Premier Joe Handley wants to know why Scott failed to give the territorial government advance notice of his choice of Todd Burlingame as chair of the Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board.

Todd Burlingame

"It demonstrates why we need devolution," Premier Handley said after he learned of Burlingame's appointment through media reports.

Scott is scheduled to visit Inuvik, Tuktoyaktuk, Hay River and Yellowknife where he will outline plans to develop a Northern Strategy through public consultation.

In making the appointment, Scott passed over three candidates recommended by the land and water board: interim chair Stephen Nielsen; former Dettah chief Richard Edjericon; and Fort Smith lawyer Joan Mercredi.

"We recognize that the choice is the minister's, but if he found the list unacceptable, he could have given the board an opportunity to submit other names," Handley said.

The premier noted that the board was established to give Northerners more involvement in development issues that affect them and said that "hiring a southerner doesn't meet the intent of the legislation."

Burlingame is the former chair of the Mackenzie Valley Environmental Impact Review Board and has been living in British Columbia.

The new appointment is for three years and carries an annual salary of $150,000. Northern Development Minister Ethel Blondin-Andrew apologized to Handley for failing to give him advance notice of the appointment, but defended Scott's choice.

"On the basis of merit, he is the best candidate and the most qualified; he has the experience and management skills," Blondin-Andrew told News/North. Blondin-Andrew said that Burlingame first came to the Northwest Territories in 1979 with his parents and worked in Hay River, Tuktoyaktuk and Yellowknife.

"His connection to the North is stronger than some who call themselves Northerners," she said.

Burlingame's appointment touched off a storm of angry protest from MLAs on the final day of the legislative session. Hay River South MLA Jane Groenewegen said the appointment was political and that choosing a non-Northerner is "an insult and a slap in the face" from the Indian Affairs minister.

Burlingame has also worked as a consultant to oil and gas companies. Groenewegen said he is too closely tied to Ottawa and the Liberal party to represent Northern interests.