Prentice moves on Nunavut devolution

“To be on our own – that’s our goal,” Okalik says


The Nunavut government crawled a few millimetres closer this past weekend towards control of public lands and natural resources within the territory.

That was when Jim Prentice, the minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, introduced Paul Mayer, the man who will represent Ottawa in devolution talks with Nunavut and then gave him his marching orders.

Mayer is a Montreal lawyer with a background in dispute resolution, negotiation and real estate law.

He’s chair of a Quebec body called the “Fonds d’indemnisation du courtage immobilier,” which compensates victims of fraudulent real estate transactions. He also holds a doctoral degree in international relations and community law.

“I’m very happy to roll up my sleeves. I’m here to listen to people, as long as they want to talk to me, open ears, open mind,” Mayer told reporters.

For Paul Okalik, the Nunavut premier, the start of devolution talks provides hope that one day the Nunavut government will be less dependent on money from Ottawa.

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“To be on our own – that’s our goal,” said Okalik, who has been waiting since 2004 for the talks to start.

“I know that this file is close to over a year late. I know that you will have some sleepless nights trying to catch up,” Okalik said.

Prentice admits that Mayer is not familiar with the North, but he says he wants a devolution representative who will bring an objective, unbiased approach to his work.

Mayer, who started his new job Dec. 2, threw himself into a series of meetings that began last weekend and continued through Tuesday, including talks with Nunavut devolution negotiator Tony Penikett and officials at Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., the GN and the federal government.

NTI, as the guardian of Inuit rights in Nunavut, will play a big role in the talks, but it’s still not clear how big.

For his part, Okalik says his government has already agreed that NTI would participate in talks.

“They have a big stake in the ownership of minerals throughout the territory and the environment so they will be at the table as full parties as per the agreement between NTI and the GN,” Okalik said.

But when the devolution deal is done, it’s the GN that will get the new responsibilities and obligations, Okalik said.

Standing beside “my friend Premier Okalik,” Prentice promised that his government is committed to achieving a devolution agreement with Nunavut.

“This is something that the premier impressed upon me from the very moment I was sworn in as the minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, the importance of moving forward on the devolution file,” Prentice said.

At a gathering held earlier that day to honour workers at the Resolution Island cleanup project, Prentice signaled that his Conservative government is ready to give more responsibility to territorial governments.

“We have a vision of the North, not as it is, but rather as the North could be, stronger, more prosperous and liberated from the paternalistic policies of the past,” Prentice said.

A devolution agreement would give Nunavut control over the management of public lands and resources that are now INAC’s responsibility. And a key element in any devolution deal would be a big share of royalty money from mineral and oil and gas production.

Prentice, however, said that Mayer and Penikett have a lot of work before real talks can get started: gathering information, working out a schedule, and figuring out the scope of negotiations.

After that work is done, they will report to Prentice with their recommendations.

Prentice said he believes a devolution deal for Nunavut can be done faster than in the Northwest Territories, where the first attempt at such an agreement was launched in 1988.

But the process has been delayed for many years because of the numerous aboriginal groups in the NWT who want a say in the talks and a share of natural resource revenues.

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