Bill C-88 is on its way to Royal Assent after the Senate passed its third reading last Wednesday. Among other measures, the bill repeals a clause in the NWT’s devolution agreement that would force the amalgamation of the territory’s regional land and water boards into one.

Margaret Dawn Anderson is the NWT’s new senator, as announced Dec. 12. Photo courtesy of Margaret Dawn Anderson.

It was the first bill NWT Senator Margaret Dawn Anderson sponsored since she was named to the role by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in December.

“Bill C-88 is an example of a collaborative legislative process that recognizes and takes into account the perspectives of the people directly affected by the legislation,” Anderson said, June 19.

Nunavut Senator Dennis Patterson, a Conservative and a former NWT premier, was the bill’s critic. He joined Anderson in recommending the bill pass without amendment and congratulated her for her leadership. Both praised the collaboration they were able to achieve in reviewing the bill.

Patterson said senators are putting their faith in the government to consult meaningfully with industry and Indigenous people in determining whether to implement cost recovery regulations.

Bill C-88 allows the government to force resource companies to pay the costs of environmental reviews, also known as cost recovery.

Vice president of the NWT and Nunavut Chamber of Mines, Joseph Campbell said this move could cripple an already weark mineral industry in the territory. He noted that explorers and developers have no control of the cost or extent of the processes for which they’d be paying.

Patterson called cost recovery “another unnecessary financial burden on proponents seeking to operate in a part of this country that is already two and half to three times more expensive to operate in.”

Bill C-88 also allows the Government of Canada to prohibit activities under existing exploration and discovery licences in the Arctic offshore – i.e. oil and gas – under the criteria of national interest.

A moratorium on Arctic offshore oil and gas development was imposed in 2017 by Trudeau and will end in 2021 following a science-based review.

Patterson said he was made confident after James Fulford, the GNWT chief negotiator on offshore matters, told him the GNWT had faith in the safeguards this bill puts in place to stave off decisions being made unilaterally.

The bill also freezes licences that were set to expire during the life of the moratorium so that they might resume after suspensions are lifted.
There was considerable urgency in passing this bill. The Senate was expected to rise for the final time last week before the fall federal election. Any legislation leftover would have died.

Other bills that passed in the 11th hour were C-91, which guarantees long-term funding and supports to bolster Indigenous languages, and C-92, which allows governments to cede authority for Indigenous child welfare services to Indigenous communities.

When the NWT devolved land and resource responsibilities from the federal government in 2014, the Tlicho Government challenged in court the section that required the amalgamation of land and water boards in the territory.

They won a court injunction freezing the implementation of that section, as well as others that provide more certainty in the regulatory process.