The “Red Alert” Premier Bob McLeod issued late last year was downgraded this week after the new federal minister responsible for northern development dropped into the legislative assembly.Dominic LeBlanc, federal minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, Northern Development and Internal Trade met with McLeod to discuss priorities of the North to be taken cabinet.
The meeting was part of LeBlanc’s first tour through the three Northern territories since being named to the position in July.
Among the concerns discussed included continued devolution under the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act to allow more northern control over resource development, bringing proposed mining projects into production, helping Indigenous people access federal programs and funding, oil and gas development and the sharing of revenues, and co-managing the protection of marine life.
Other issues mentioned included investment needs for the North in the 2019 budget, like hydro expansion, alternative energy to get communities off diesel fuel dependency, and road transportation like the proposed Slave Geological Province corridor.
LeBlanc said his government will have a “big announcement” in the coming weeks to address concerns about the five-year moratorium on oil and gas licenses in the Arctic Ocean.
“Our objective is to start the process to come to a co-management agreement with the government of the NWT so that we can be at the table together to have those discussions, to review the science to look at the economics,” he said.
“The premier makes a compelling case about the potential economic benefit and we don’t disagree at all with his government.”
Last November, McLeod sent a dire message to the federal government which called for a national debate on the future of the Northwest Territories.
In the document, he complained about a re-emerging colonialism and that the territory’s economic future was in “jeopardy.”
Much of the letter was based on the GNWT’s sense that the federal government was preventing the North’s right to economic self-determination, especially with the oil and gas moratorium.
Much of those criticisms appeared soothed on Monday, however.
“In my view the circumstances have improved significantly since the Red Alert was issued,” McLeod said. “With the appointment of Minister LeBlanc, we have worked very well with him before (in his previous role as Minister of Fisheries and Oceans) and he has a good understanding of the North.
“With the discussions that we have had, he has indicated that the prime minister has given him a very strong mandate to work on behalf of the North and for the North.”
LeBlanc said he intended to take what he heard to his federal government’s cabinet upcoming retreat in Nanaimo.
LeBlanc said he sees his responsibility as coordinating with other ministers in the federal government to address the needs of northerners, whether that be housing solutions unique to the North to infrastructure funding to finding services adequate for Indigenous peoples, he said.
LeBlanc said he was familiar with the Red Alert document and that the federal government heard those concerns.
“I respect and understand why the premier and his government felt there was an urgency that they were facing” LeBlanc said. “My job is to work with the premier to go down the list of concerns he has – and had – and also other issues that will come up over the months and years. I want to make sure he has the full support of the Government of Canada to address those issues and that we can be a valuable partner for his government.”
LeBlanc promised there would be more successes than frustrations under this new partnership.
“I don’t want him to issue another flashing Purple Alert or something,” he joked. “With the Red Alert, I thought it (had to do with) our election and that it was good.”