Legal action threatened by the Tlicho Government will not stop the government of Canada from passing its devolution bill, federal spokespeople told The Journal last week.
Michelle Perron with the department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development (AANDC) said in an email response to questions that the lawsuit launched in early February will not prevent the bill from being passed or attaining royal assent.
MPs debated Bill C-15 in the House of Commons last week after it was reintroduced with amendments on Tuesday morning before moving on to another meeting of the Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources.
Citing extreme disappointment with Canada’s move to table the devolution bill as an omnibus bill tied to changes to the NWT’s regulatory system, Tlicho leaders recently said they would not allow their Wek’eezhii Land and Water Board to be eliminated along with the territory’s other regional boards in order to establish a superboard.
Tlicho Grand Chief Eddie Erasmus wrote to AANDC earlier this month, asking Minister Bernard Valcourt to “reconsider the path Canada is currently on” in relation to the regulatory changes made to the Mackenzie Valley Resources Management Act (MVRMA).
“Canada is proceeding with an approach that is inconsistent with a proper interpretation of provisions in our Agreement and will constitute a breach of our Agreement and the honour of the Crown,” the letter states. “This would result in the MVRMA being constitutionally unsound and of no force and effect to the extent that it breaches our Agreement. Canada’s current approach will also damage our relationship and create regulatory uncertainty…We hope this does not come to pass. There is a better way to move forward.”
Though the Tlicho Government argues the proposed changes to the MVRMA tied to the bill will weaken environmental protection and take away Aboriginal governments’ say on development, Perron said the amendments are designed to strengthen and modernize the regulatory regime through measures such as time limits on decision-making.
“The mandate of the Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board will not change,” she said, noting that the terms of Aboriginal representation are set out in all three settled land claim agreements in the territory, which accommodate Aboriginal representation into the 11-member superboard.
Perron said accommodations have been made through “extensive consultation” with Aboriginal groups over the past three years to address the Tlicho, Gwich’in and Sahtu desires to be represented regionally on issues of development in the territory.
“As a result of consultations, for example, an accommodation measure was incorporated in to Bill C-15 to require the chairperson, unless it is not possible, to designate the First Nation/Tlicho member from the region, to which that application relates, to the smaller three member committee of the board,” she said.
She said the federal government continues to seek engagement with all Aboriginal groups and provide financial assistance toward their participation in the devolution and regulatory review process.
Tlicho Government officials did not want to comment on the lawsuit, but are not the only party in the North with concerns about the regulatory changes contained within Bill C-15.
Northern policy think tank Alternatives North and environmental NGO Ecology North expressed their concerns again last week, arguing that the amendments give the federal government more influence over the boards, which could see decisions made for political reasons rather than evidence-based ones.
“The minister has the power to force policy on the land and water boards now, but this will be changed to also include the land use planning boards, the Environmental Review board and the territorial land and water board. The minister will also appoint the chairperson of the territorial board,” the groups stated in a new document called Our Land, Our Water, Our Responsibility.
Rather than eliminate the regional boards, the two groups advise the federal government to finish its outstanding land claims and land use plans with many of the territory’s First Nations.1 comment