While the premier of the Northwest Territories is touting the devolution agreement signed in Yellowknife on Mar. 11 as a “done deal,” federal Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development (AANDC) Minister Bernard Valcourt said last week the consensus draft is anything but final.
“No agreement has been reached yet. There is a consensus on the terms of the agreement. The consultation must take place, it is taking place and when this has been accomplished we will know what the conditions will be,” Valcourt said during a special committee of the whole meeting that focused on AANDC Thursday evening in Ottawa.
Valcourt’s words were in response to a question from Western Arctic MP Dennis Bevington asking why the federal government did not consult all the First Nations in the territory prior to negotiating the devolution deal with the territorial government.
Valcourt said the consultation is being done now, and that changes could still be made to the agreement following its completion.
“Indeed there is a wide and substantial consultation process that is taking place as we speak. In March we announced that a general consensus had been reached, but we are in the process of consulting with all First Nations throughout in order to not only meet our obligations but to ensure the success of the devolution for the benefit of Northerners,” Valcourt said.
“After those consultations have taken place and the accommodations that can be made have been made, there will then be an agreement. However, tonight I cannot talk about what the results would be before these consultations take place. The member ought to know better,” he added.
Bevington said he was confused by Valcourt’s response, given remarks made by NWT Premier Bob McLeod referring to the devolution agreement as a “take it or leave it,” “done deal” amid controversy over the territorial government’s supposed “public engagement” sessions, which have since been relabelled informational sessions.
“I am sure this is news to everyone who is listening in the Northwest Territories,” Bevington said to Valcourt.
Valcourt said the consultation was referred to by Prime Minister Stephen Harper at the devolution signing in Yellowknife.
“The Prime Minister was very clear. He said that the heavy lifting had been done and that there was a consensus reached on the terms for an agreement. I was present and he clearly said that consultations have to take place with the Aboriginal communities. Until that is done, there is no agreement.”
NWT open to change for ‘significant issues’
When asked whether or not there was room for change within the devolution deal, the NWT premier’s office said it was unlikely change would need to be made, but that accommodations would be looked at if “significant issues” arise.
“NWT Aboriginal governments have significantly contributed to the development of the devolution agreement throughout the last 10 years and the GNWT does not believe that it will affect Aboriginal or treaty rights,” stated the email received Friday afternoon.
“We do believe it is important that all NWT residents have the opportunity to learn more about devolution as we move towards implementation and have undertaken unprecedented public engagement in support of this. If significant issues arise during the course of this engagement or Canada’s consultations, we will certainly take a look at how those issues can be accommodated and addressed as the agreement is finalized.”