Statement made on 16 February 2011 by Senator Nick Sibbeston
Hon. Nick G. Sibbeston:
Honourable senators, a few weeks ago, the Governments of Canada and the Northwest Territories signed an agreement in principle to negotiate devolution. Devolution will transfer authority for the management of land, water and resources on Crown land from Canada to the GNWT. The agreement is a good thing. There are also provisions for resource revenue sharing.
This agreement is historic. Every premier of the NWT has aspired to transfer province-like powers from the federal government to the territorial governments. When negotiations are complete, the Government of the Northwest Territories will have virtually the same control over their resources as any province in southern Canada.
Two regional Aboriginal organizations signed on as parties to these negotiations. The remaining five Aboriginal groups in the North did not sign. They have expressed varying opposition to the agreement. Some feel it will impede their own land claim negotiations. Others feel the financial terms are not sufficient.
It is essential, however, for the Government of the Northwest Territories and all Aboriginal groups in the North to come to terms. I encourage them to be realistic, remembering that politics is the art of the possible.
Devolution of land and resources is not a surprise to anyone in the North. Three of the signed land claim agreements explicitly anticipate devolution. At one time or another, all Aboriginal groups have participated in the current negotiations that have been under way since 2001.
The agreement in principle makes it clear that Aboriginal rights will not be abrogated or derogated by the devolution process. When a conflict exists between a land claim or self-government agreement and the final devolution agreement, the former prevails. Moreover, devolution also impacts the management of Crown lands and not the jurisdiction Aboriginal people have negotiated over their lands.
The devolution process envisions government-to-government negotiations between the Government of the Northwest Territories and Aboriginal governments to coordinate management in their respective jurisdictions to promote economic development and ensure environmental protection. It also includes a process to share in the resource revenues that will come to the North as a result of devolution.
Devolution is not a new issue. It has been ongoing since the territorial governments moved North in 1967. The last major devolution — health services, the administration of justice and the management of forestry — occurred during my time in the Northwest Territories cabinet.
There were those at the time who opposed that devolution for many of the same reasons. Yet, because devolution gives control to the people of the North through time, hard work and made-in-the-North programs, people see the merits of devolution.
We have always said in the North, anything the federal government can do, we can do better in the North.