Alternatives North report critiques GNWT on devolution consultations

Alternatives North report critiques GNWT on devolution consultations
Results from a March 2013 Alternatives North-commissioned poll on devolution consultation.Photo: EKOS Research Associates.

Results are in from an alternative string of consultations with NWT residents on the controversial devolution agreement, the majority of which do not cast a favourable light on the territorial government’s own public engagement process.

Northern non-governmental organization (NGO) Alternatives North released its own “What We Heard” report last week titled Democratic Devolution, based on a series of public discussions held over the last two months, before Cabinet was able to table its own in the House.

The forums were held counter to the public engagement sessions organized by the territorial government looking to explain the devolution agreement to NWT residents, which the group felt did not seriously consider feedback from residents.

Democratic Devolution is a question that we posed in the face of devolution negotiations being concluded by the territorial and federal governments. Promises of public consultation were equivocal, failed to meet timelines stated at the signing of the draft agreement, and were left to officials rather than carried out by elected leaders,” stated Alternatives North member Gordon Hamre in a letter to Premier Bob McLeod last Friday, adding his disappointment that the Legislative Assembly chose not to hold a plebiscite on the agreement.

“The engagement and consultation process for the Devolution Agreement should not serve as a model for other aspects of implementation and evaluation, or other major GNWT initiatives,” reads one of the recommendations made in the report.

“The Berger Commission and the Bourque Commission (to name two NWT examples) were much better at truly engaging the public in key developments in NWT history. Alternatives North offers its own definition of consultation – a form of public engagement where the views of the party being consulted can influence the outcome – and challenges the GNWT to enunciate its own definition if it is different from this,” the message to McLeod reads.

The report recommends a “meaningful public consultation in the review of the Devolution Implementation Plan and remaining schedules and sections of the Devolution Agreement,” including opportunities for people to submit written comments.

It also requests a public review of the agreement’s implementation on the second anniversary of the effective date, including a public conference and regional workshops, and advises consulting with residents and Aboriginal governments about the eventual transfer of authorities under the Mackenzie Valley Resources Management Act well before the planned five-year review.

Apart from concerns with consultation, the report highlights the need for ensuring the ecological integrity of land and water in the territory is protected, for a diversified economy built on self-reliance including renewable energy, and for relationships with Aboriginal governments to be improved.

The document also recommends a review of the current royalty rate, as well as the “fiscal sustainability” of providing an incentive for continued and increasing development of natural resources in order to increase the amount of money the territory will receive through royalties, currently capped at 5 per cent of the net fiscal benefit in the draft agreement.

The report also asks for a separate accounting of both the expenditures and benefits accrued in relation to the implementation of the devolution agreement for maximum transparency.

The premier responded over the weekend to the report, addressing Alternatives North via Weledeh MLA Bob Bromley on the issue of consultation.

“The GNWT has completed more than 44 public and stakeholder information sessions in all regions of the territory to provide residents with an opportunity to learn about the contents and benefits of the proposed Devolution Agreement and engage directly with knowledgeable GNWT staff,” part of the response states.

“The results of this extensive public engagement have been recorded and…all MLAs will have the opportunity to vote on whether the GNWT will approve and sign the proposed agreement. This level of engagement has been unprecedented. In all previous program transfers very little public engagement occurred.

“The GNWT has made every effort to include MLAs directly in the public engagement process and we encourage residents to contact their MLA to ensure their elected representative is aware of their views.

In this way, residents can affect the outcome of the process in a meaningful way,” McLeod stated.

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