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'Take it or leave it,' says premier
As devolution agreement enters public consultation phase after visit from PM

Laura Busch
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, March 13, 2013

A draft devolution agreement is non-negotiable despite the fact the territorial and federal governments are now entering a public consultation phase on the details of the deal, Premier Bob McLeod said Tuesday during question period in the legislative assembly.

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Prime Minister Stephen Harper, left, congratulates Premier Bob McLeod on the signing of a devolution consensus agreement in the legislative assembly Monday. The signing of the agreement signifies the end of devolution negotiations and the beginning of public consultation. - Laura Busch/NNSL photo

"This is a take it or leave it. We will be explaining it to the public," McLeod said, one day after a consensus on devolution was announced when Prime Minister Stephen Harper visited Yellowknife Monday.

However, the plain language version of the lands and resources devolution agreement released by the GNWT's Office of Devolution - an office overseen by the premier - states the draft devolution document can be changed.

Political leaders including Harper signed a consensus agreement on devolution at the legislative assembly Monday, stating they had reached a deal they could all agree to.

"Our government believes that the opportunities and challenges here will be better handled by the people who understand them best," said Harper. "That is to say, you who live here in the Northwest Territories. Whenever possible, you should be making the decisions about regional matters. That, ladies and gentlemen, is what devolution is all about."

The signatories on the declaration, not including witnesses who signed later, include Harper, McLeod, Nellie Cournoyea, CEO and chair of the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation, Garry Bailey, president of the Northwest Territory Metis Nation, Ethel Blondin-Andrew, chair of the Sahtu Secretariat Inc., Robert Alexie Jr., president of the Gwich'in Tribal Council, Eddie Erasmus, grand chief of the Tlicho Government, and newly-appointed Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Minister Bernard Valcourt.

"Today, we mark the conclusion of devolution negotiations between our governments," said McLeod at the legislature. "With the end of negotiations, we are poised to take a major leap forward in Northern governance and take on province-like responsibilities for our territory - a long-held goal for all of us."

The document signed Monday was a consensus agreement, not the final devolution deal. The consensus agreement marks the end of negotiations between the territorial government and the federal government. Now that negotiations are complete, the draft agreement has been released and public consultations will begin.

This was Harper's sixth visit to Yellowknife, and he had nothing but praise for the city, which he described as "a city that so perfectly captures the imagination and spirit of our North. A booming city, a city with its best days ahead of it. I always feel optimistic about Canada's future whenever I visit so it really is wonderful to be back."

Security was tight at the legislature for the prime minister's visit. While some members of the public were allowed in the gallery, most of the seats were filled by government bureaucrats and dignitaries. Other members of the public were allowed to view the proceedings from the Great Hall. All visitors were screened heavily upon entering the building.

The mood during the announcements was jovial, with several deafening rounds of applause and an extended standing ovation for McLeod when Harper thanked him for his hard work on the devolution deal.

However, not all who attended Monday's event were in such a good mood.

Weledeh MLA Bob Bromley had some serious concerns over what exactly the territory is signing on for.

Under the agreement, the territory is not getting powers over environmental stewardship, as was previously promised, said Bromley.

"We have the authority to go out and mine and drill - and we're encouraged to do so - and we have to trust that the land will be looked after by the federal government," he said.

One regular member of the public who made it into the legislature was Yellowknifer Peyton Straker.

"I came here because I am an aboriginal lady and I'm severely uncomfortable with Stephen Harper and I just wanted to come and find out what's going on," she said, adding she decided to opt out of the Idle No More protest outside of the legislature to be closer to the action. "I think, ultimately, (devolution) will not be good. I think a lot of things Stephen Harper is doing will be not good."

The prime minister's visit and its purpose was shrouded in secrecy until Sunday. It caught many people off guard, including Dene National Chief Bill Erasmus.

"I don't know what happened today because I wasn't informed," said Erasmus at the legislature Monday. "I found out in the media."

To him, it is a sign of disrespect that visitors on Dene land from southern Canada would not place a courtesy call to the national chief before holding a meeting.

Bromley also took issue with the secrecy surrounding the event, saying the public should have been given more of an opportunity to participate. He also found the fact that the terms of the deal were not immediately made public very troubling.

A plain language summary was released late Monday afternoon, followed by the actual draft agreement on Tuesday.

"In terms of the process of the announcement here, I think the prime minister of Canada is known as a bit of a control freak and he certainly controlled this situation," Bromley told Yellowknifer. "I think it's very irresponsible (for our government) to not be making the agreement immediately available to be transparent."

  • With files from Simon Whitehouse

NNSL photo/graphic

Devolution consensus agreement Timeline

March 2004: Devolution Framework Agreement signed by the GNWT, the Aboriginal Summit and the Government of Canada

January 2011: Devolution Agreement-in-Principle (AIP) signed by GNWT, Inuvialuit Regional Corporation and the Government of Canada

June 2011: First meeting of NWT devolution main table

Feb. 9, 2012: NWT Metis Nation sign AIP

May 22, 2012: Sahtu Secretariat Incorporated sign AIP

Oct. 15, 2012: Gwich'in Tribal Council sign AIP

March 8, 2013: Tlicho Government sign AIP

March 11, 2013: All parties at the table sign a consensus agreement, marking the end of devolution negotiations


Public engagement: All participating governments will consult with the public. This is expected to take up to 60 days, although Premier Bob McLeod said in the legislature Monday during question period it would take the GNWT 40 to 50 days.

Approval: All participating governments must decide whether or not to approve the devolution agreement.

Signing: There is as yet no official date when the final deal will be signed.

Implementation: It will take months for the GNWT to absorb the positions that will be transferred from the federal government and create legislation to mirror existing federal legislation, among other tasks.

Passing new legislation: Once the mirror legislation has been drafted, it must be approved by the legislative assembly.

April 1, 2014: Devolution scheduled to be in place. The projected date for the transfer of power to the GNWT from Ottawa. Also the first day affected federal employees will become employees of the territorial government.

  • Source: The Prime Minister's Office, GNWT Office of Devolution

What is in the devolution draft agreement?

What devolution is:

The transfer of responsibility for public land, natural resources and onshore waterways to the Government of the Northwest Territories from the Government of Canada.

The finances:

The GNWT will keep up to 50 per cent of annual resource revenues. The amount the GNWT receives will be called a net fiscal benefit.

The maximum net fiscal benefit is capped at five per cent of the GNWT's gross expenditure base.

The net fiscal benefit will be reviewed every five years.

The federal government will pay the GNWT a one-time amount of $26.5 million to pay for the transfer. Ottawa has already paid $4 million.

The federal government will provide an annual allowance of $67.3 million for the delivery of transferred programs and responsibilities. Inflation will be taken into account.

Finances for aboriginal governments signed on:

All of the aboriginal governments who are party to the deal at the time of devolution will receive up to $4 million one time from the federal government to help pay for transfer costs. Ottawa has already paid $853,226.

All aboriginal government parties will share 25 per cent of the GNWT's annual net fiscal benefit.

This money will be distributed based 70 per cent on population and 30 per cent on cost of living, according to Ethel Blondin-Andrew, chair of the Sahtu Secretariat.

The two aboriginal governments who have not signed the agreement-in-principle, the Deh Cho and the Akaitcho, can choose to sign at any point.

Land ownership and rights:

Current land ownership and land rights will not be affected.

No constitutional rights will be affected.

There will be no affect on aboriginal land claim agreements, self-government agreements, or rights claims agreements.

Canada reserves the right to take back land from the GNWT for the settlement of land claims.

Waste sites:

Current waste sites on public land will not be transferred to the GNWT

Future waste sites on public land will be the responsibility of the GNWT

Future waste sites on settlement lands will be the responsibility of the aboriginal government, unless they come from encumbering rights.

Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act:

The GNWT will be able to issue water licences, manage land and water inspectors and track effects of land and water use over time under the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act (MVRMA).

The federal government will retain the right to change the MVRMA, choose board members, and manage environmental assessments and the Environmental Impact Review Board.

Five years after devolution, the management of the MVRMA will be reviewed.

Oil and gas development:

The federal government will keep its one-third share of the Norman Wells Proven Area. However, royalties from Imperial Oil's two-thirds share in the oil field will be paid to the GNWT.

Negotiations will begin on how offshore oil and gas development will be managed within 60 days of devolution.

Human resources:

All affected federal employees will be offered a comparable job with the GNWT.

If the GNWT job pays less, the employee will receive a "transition allowance" to make up the difference for up to five years.

Affected employees can transfer unused vacation time and sick leave.

  • Source: Northwest Territories Lands and Resources Devolution Agreement: A Plain Language Summary, GNWT Office of Devolution

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