But Okalik slams door on municipal involvement in revenue sharing

Northern premiers unite on devolution fight


Premier Paul Okalik gave himself a birthday present this week: a new weapon in his battle with Ottawa to win a devolution agreement for Nunavut.

Okalik turned 43 as Northern premiers presented a 20-page "Northern Vision" document they hope will help Nunavut and the Northwest Territories wrest control over natural resource revenues.

The document envisions a North with an environmentally sustainable economy, and no outstanding aboriginal land claims, that is prepared for the impacts of climate change and contributes to Canadian sovereignty over the Arctic.

But to do that, the territories need money. The Yukon already has a devolution agreement with Ottawa, and both Okalik and Northwest Territories premier Joe Handley pressed for similar accords during a news conference in Whitehorse.

"Our government doesn't collect any royalties so it would be a wonderful day for our citizens when we don't have to go to Ottawa with cap in hand each year," Okalik said.

But the premier added that Nunavut welcomes mining, even without a devolution agreement.

The premiers framed their Northern Vision as an invitation for the federal government to work with the territories on devolution, and cited a speech made by Prime Minister Steven Harper, during a tour of the North last summer which called for an end to Ottawa's "paternalistic policies of the past."

In a news release Okalik also invited the provinces, the private sector, aboriginal and non-governmental organizations and "community governments" to help pursue the document's other objectives – such as more investment, infrastructure and a power grid that connects with southern Canada.

The Nunavut Association of Municipalities has called repeatedly for input on mining development and a share of any resource revenues forthcoming from Ottawa.

But Okalik said during the news conference it's too early to imagine how any resource revenue gets divided within Nunavut.

"To add more parties to the table, it's just not on," he said. "Negotiations are very detailed and confidential and to add 25 other parties to the table, it's just not going to happen and it will never happen."

To include Nunavut's municipalities at the devolution table would require the consent of both Ottawa and Nunavut Tunngavik, Okalik said.

"I'm elected to deal with these matters," he said. "Municipalities manage sewage, water and local affairs."

NAM, however, has never asked for a seat at the negotiation table. They say they want communities to receive a share of the money from resource royalties.

The premiers also fended off suggestions by reporters that the document bears a resemblance to the 2005 Northern Strategy, which sets out many of the same social goals and calls for devolution agreements between the NWT, Nunavut and Ottawa.

"As time goes on I'm sure we'll see new iterations of [the Northern Vision]," Handley said. "But more than anything else for me it forms the basis for how we work together as northerners."

Okalik also said devolution would help Canada solidify its claim to sovereignty over the Arctic archipelago "by giving local control [to] inhabitants who been there for thousands of years."

Handley said providing infrastructure to the communities of the Arctic islands is the best way to ensure people keep living there.

"It's not just an armed forces exercise, there's also a human side of it."

The entire document is available at www.anorthernvision.ca.

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