NNSL Photo/Graphic

Canadian North

Home page text size buttonsbigger textsmall textText size Email this articleE-mail this page

Devolution comes to town
Residents at public meeting generally unhappy with deal

Shawn Giilck
Northern News Services
Published Thursday, May 16, 2013

Fifteen people attended a public meeting on devolution May 9 to express reservations and downright dissatisfaction with the proposed agreement the NWT has struck with the federal government.

In particular, people weren't happy with the "take-it-or-leave-it" attitude held by the government and Premier Bob McLeod.

"How much wiggle room is there in this?" asked Dave Kaufman.

The answer from government officials in attendance, including Shaleen Woodward, executive director for devolution implementation was short and to the point: none.

The negotiations, it was mentioned several times during the meeting by various people, including Bob Simpson, who helped negotiate it, had been stalled since

roughly 1995 when the NWT walked away from another proposed agreement.

"The talks have started and stopped four times," Simpson said.

some people in the audience were outright suspicious of the deal and questioned why the federal government was in favour of what the NWT is calling a very good deal.

"What is the federal government getting out of this?" asked Jennifer Rafferty. "He (Prime Minister Stephen Harper) doesn't seem like the type to give anything anyway."

Another participant, Gerald Inglangasuk, questioned the motives of the GNWT as well and its eagerness to have the agreement finalized.

"What protection do we have from Yellowknife?" he asked.

Those sentiments came during and after a presentation outlining the benefits of the agreement for the NWT.

The deal would mean more local control over the lands and natural resources of the NWT, the presenters said. Currently, the federal government controls all of the revenue generated from natural resources in the territory, other than what is provided to aboriginal groups under settlement agreements.

Under the deal, the GNWT will keep up to 50 per cent of annual resource revenues the "net fiscal benefit," which will be reviewed ever five years up to a maximum of five per cent of the GNWT's gross expenditure base.

Of the net fiscal benefit, 25 per cent will be distributed among aboriginal governments, distributed 70 per cent according to population and 30 per cent according to cost of living.

Transfer agreements and equalization payments will remain the same to the territory, up to a cap of $100 million a year by 2020.

Residents attending the meeting were less convinced by the whole concept. Shirley Kisoun asked several questions about the issue and still appeared unsatisfied by the explanations.

Other people questioned why, if the whole concept was to provide "province-like powers" to the NWT, it simply didn't apply to become a province.

The short answer to that question is because it would require a constitutional amendment, the audience was told, which would likely be almost impossible to achieve.

"We'll never be a province," said Kaufman. "And we're not ready for it yet."

Despite their reservations, it was clear the people in attendance were resigned to having the deal approved by April 2014.

"I feel like I'm at least more informed now," said Mary Olin, who just recently moved to Inuvik.

The NWT and Nunavut are the only two remaining political jurisdictions in Canada to not yet have a devolution agreement with the federal government.

E-mailWe welcome your opinions. Click here to e-mail a letter to the editor.