Ottawa names Nunavut devolution negotiator
Dale Drown, 57, to “examine options”
The Harper government breathed new life into the long-dormant Nunavut devolution file May 18 by appointing a veteran backroom political official from Yukon to lead negotiations on the transfer of control over public lands and resources from Ottawa to the Nunavut government.
Dale Drown, 57, a former chief of staff to Yukon ex-premier Dennis Fentie, will serve as chief federal negotiator for Nunavut devolution.
John Duncan, minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, made the announcement in a news release issued just before the start of the Victoria Day weekend.
Drown, in talks with the Government of Nunavut and Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. will “examine options” on how to move ahead on devolution, the news release said.
The announcement also suggests Nunavut’s lack of capacity will continue to influence the pace of devolution discussions.
In addition to figuring out the next steps, Drown and other parties will “examine how land and resource management capacity can be improved in Nunavut,” the announcement said.
Though the process started nearly eight years ago, Nunavut’s administrative weaknesses have been a big factor preventing the start-up of devolution talks.
And Drown is the first federal official to hold the job title “negotiator for Nunavut devolution”
On Dec. 14, 2004, Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin promised, as part of his northern strategy scheme, to start devolution negotiations with Nunavut in 2005, with a final agreement in 2008.
“I live in a territory that includes the homeland of Santa Claus. I think Christmas came early this year, 11 days early,” Paul Okalik, then the premier of Nunavut, said that day.
But formal devolution talks between Ottawa and Nunavut never got started.
Martin’s Liberal government was thrown out of office in January 2006.
The new Conservative government’s northern affairs minister, Jim Prentice, got the process going again in November 2006, when he appointed Montreal lawyer Paul Mayer to act as his “ministerial representative” on the issue.
After studying the issue, Mayer produced, in 2007, a highly unflattering report on Nunavut.
Mayer concluded Nunavut is not ready, “in light of the significant challenges identified in this report that the GN faces in assuming its current responsibilities.”
He also said people in the mining and mineral exploration business are skeptical of the Nunavut government’s ability to take on more tasks.
“Industry representatives are ‘scared’ of the impact of devolution as they are aware of the many challenges that the GN has not been able to conquer and match since the territory was established and cannot see how it is possible for them to assume more responsibilities,” Mayer said.
But Mayer recognized that the “the devolution train left the station in December 2004” and that Ottawa must live up to its past political commitments.
He recommended a phased, step-by-step approach to Nunavut devolution, and that the first phase should concentrate only on land-based resources, with offshore oil and gas issues left to a later date.
In September 2008, the GN, NTI and the federal government signed a protocol to guide negotiations once they start.
In January 2009, Ottawa named a new ministerial representative for devolution, Bruce Rawson.
But the issue languished, even after Premier Eva Aariak launched a campaign in November 2010 to get talks going again.
Ottawa completed a devolution deal with Yukon in 2003 and in December 2010 reached an agreement-in-principle with the Northwest Territories.