'I'm glad to see this government saw the light and decided to move forward.'

Devolution protocol hammered out with feds


It's not a devolution deal, but it's a start.

The Government of Nunavut, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., and the federal government announced Sept. 5 they've hammered out a protocol to guide future negotiations on how to give the territory province-like powers over public lands and natural resources.

"I'm glad to see this government saw the light and decided to move forward," said Paul Okalik, the premier.

The deal sets out the terms, though not a schedule, for a devolution deal between Nunavut and Ottawa.

The protocol sets out a phased, step-by-step approach to devolution. The first phase would cover land, inland waters, and mineral resources only.

Highly contentious issues such as oil and gas, and the status of seabed resources would be put off until a second phase, some time in the future.

Inuit Child First, Indigenous Services Canada

The protocol paves the way for talks on all the associated legal issues, land and resource management and future revenue sharing.

The protocol also proposes a human resources strategy to ensure that the GN has the workers it needs when – or if – it takes over federal programs.

"The results of the negotiations are sure to be profound," said Chuck Strahl, the minister of Indian and Northern Affairs in a speech delivered in Ottawa.

"When they are finished, we will have an agreement that places decision-making authority in the hands of the people of Nunavut. This will enable them to make the decisions that will shape the years ahead.

"With that authority comes much greater influence over the destiny of their lives, their families, their communities, and their land," Strahl said.

A devolution agreement would include a share of any royalties from mineral development on what are now federal lands.

That could bring more cash into the territorial government. But it's oil and gas production that promises to create the biggest revenue streams, and that issue won't be discussed in the first phase of devolution talks.

But it also means that many regulatory functions that now lie with Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, Natural Resources Canada and other federal departments would be done by GN employees.

In a June 2007 report, Paul Mayer, the federal government's point man on Nunavut devolution, wrote that devolution cannot happen unless the GN can ensure the jobs that would be transferred from the federal government would remain staffed.

For that, and other reasons, Mayer recommended a go-slow approach, with devolution talks occurring in phases.

It's also an open question whether federal workers would want to give up their status as federal civil servants – and perks like staff housing, which the GN may not offer.

The protocol doesn't contain the promise of any federal money for training, but it does call for "the development of a strategy to ensure that the GN will have the necessary human resource capacity to discharge the responsibilities it receives from the [Government of Canada]."

"We have to maintain the industries that rely on the regulatory system," Okalik said. "So we want to have a smooth transition, but at the same time we have land claim obligations to make sure that there's Inuit employees."

In 2004, Okalik said he wanted to see a devolution deal completed before the next election. That election is now less than two months away, and while there won't be a devolution agreement in place by then, Okalik said he's not disappointed.

"We've gone through two different [federal] governments during this process so it took a little longer than I had hoped for," he said.

Okalik said he can't give a timeline for how long a deal would take to be finalized. But he said there likely won't be any talks until after the federal and territorial elections are over.

It now appears as if NTI will play a big role in devolution talks, because they are listed as a "party" to the protocol.

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