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Handley gets specific on devolution

Jack Danylchuk
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Mar 28/05) - Premier Joe Handley spoke with Northern News Services recently on the specifics of devolution. He says he want's an agreement in principle this spring.

Premier Handley

NNSL: What's the timeline for devolution?

NWT Premier Joe Handley: We want an agreement in principle this spring. It will identify the basic principles behind the negotiations. For example, how we will share resource revenue, and the time frame for negotiations between ourselves and the aboriginal governments.

NNSL: What is the state of negotiations?

Handley: We have a negotiation session (federal, territorial, aboriginal summit) at the end of March to arrive at an agreement in principle. That could take up to six weeks. Once we have that done, we will go at each chapter in the final agreement which we should achieve some time in 2006. At the end of 2006 we will have a trilateral agreement on devolution and resource revenue sharing.

NNSL: What about First Nations that are outside the Aboriginal Summit?

Handley: We'll discuss with them what is going on and we'll try to work on an agreement that doesn't compromise or infringe on any issues that they may be negotiating as part of the Akaitcho or Deh Cho, or Metis processes. If they were to negotiate a self-government agreement that included a share of resource revenues, then that would take precedence over what we might have negotiated.

NNSL: When will the people of the NWT get a look at the agreement?

Handley: When it's finalized. We're not going to share a lot of specifics while we're in negotiations. If everything goes well, we could see something in May.

NNSL: Will there be an opportunity for public input.?

Handley: Some, but this is a negotiated agreement. There won't be a referendum on it.

NNSL: When will residents of the Territories see the first impacts of devolution?

Handley: Probably 2007; those could be increased resource revenue to the territorial and aboriginal governments.

NNSL: Where will the aboriginal governments be in relation to the territorial government?

Handley: It will depend on their land claim agreement. Some have already bought in to the Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board concept. They would continue to have input on that sort of regulatory board. They would also have increased revenue from royalties. Depending on the level of self-government they chose to take on, they could have additional responsibilities through land claim negotiations. They might take on health, education or any one of the programs now administered by the GNWT.

NNSL: Would the territorial government have an overall responsibility for insuring continuity in health care and education?

Handley: If we had regional or community-based self-government agreements, they would negotiate to provide delivery of the service. We as a government would provide the overall legislation and framework that puts some parameters around the standards, expectations, certification and delivery. You couldn't have a different standard for each region. But they can deliver it their own way.

NNSL: How would the money be distributed - directly from Ottawa or through the territorial government.

Handley: Probably most would come from Finance Canada. If an aboriginal government is to have their rights administered through DIAND then the money could flow directly to them from Ottawa. The GNWT would be the central government of the territories.

Most are negotiating that they would be regional aboriginal public governments.

They would primarily look after the needs of their own people, but would at the same time keep their programs and services open to non-aboriginal people who live in their area, the same way that the TliCho people have done.

NNSL: On resource revenue, former premier Stephen Kakfwi suggested a three-way split between Ottawa, the territories and aboriginal governments.

Handley: Why would it go to the federal government? We would argue that 100 per cent should come north and be re-invested in people, services and programs. Ottawa wouldn't get any money until we reached the status of a "have" jurisdiction. We would expect the same deal that Newfoundland has.

NNSL: When the talks stops and the action starts, what will residents notice first?

Handley: In terms of administration, it should be seamless. But people will notice we will no longer have to go to Ottawa, persuading, negotiating and begging for money. We'll have our own resource revenues. Fiscal certainty will make a big difference. With certainty on royalty revenues, we could make a long-term investment. Some projects are impossible now, like a road up the Mackenzie Valley, we don't have the money or the borrowing power, so we're building bits and pieces. If we had devolution, we could borrow and pay for it over 20 years with resource revenue. Fiscal certainty will make a big difference.

NNSL: Are communities hearing that argument?

Handley: I think some understand the rationale about why we need to move ahead. Some are focused on settling their own claims first.

I'm meeting with Akaitcho and we'll talk about doing this in ways that doesn't infringe on anybody's rights, but yet moves ahead quickly.

I just had a meeting with one of the diamond mine companies. They had just written a cheque to the federal government for $100 million. That comes right off Akaitcho land and none of us are getting the benefit from it. The federal government is never going to pay us retroactively. So if we sit here another two or three or five years quarrelling over this we just continue to lose money.

NNSL: How important is it to get this done in the term of this government?

Handley: I want to keep everyone on schedule; take some risks, make some decisions. But I think we're better to do a deal with this current government rather than wait for after an election.

A new government could stall us for another two or three years. The players all change and you start over again. We'll be looking at 30 years of negotiation.