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Archived - Conclusion of Northwest Territories devolution negotiations

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11 March 2013
Yellowknife, Northwest Territories

Devolution is an important step in the political and economic development of the Northwest Territories (NWT). Under Canada’s Northern Strategy, the Government of Canada is committed to ensuring that Northerners have greater control over their resources and decision-making.

To this end, on March 11, 2013, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced that negotiators have reached consensus on the terms for achieving devolution, giving the NWT an innovative, practical and effective governance model for the territory that will contribute to jobs and economic growth.

The Government of the Northwest Territories currently makes decisions on behalf of its residents in almost all the same areas as a provincial government, with the exception of the administration and management of public lands, water resources, mineral resources and oil and gas management. Once finalized, the Northwest Territories Land and Resource Devolution Agreement will transfer this last set of province-like duties from the Government of Canada, to the Government of the Northwest Territories. This will promote the self-sufficiency and prosperity of the NWT by providing its residents with a greater say in how land, water and resources are developed, and by giving the NWT the power to collect and share in resource revenues generated in the territory.

There are typically five phases within the devolution process in Canada’s northern territories:

  1. A framework agreement or negotiation protocol is outlined
  2. An Agreement-in-Principle (AiP) is developed and signed by the key stakeholders
  3. A final transfer agreement is negotiated and affirmed, and Aboriginal residents are consulted
  4. A Final Devolution Agreement is signed and legislation and transition mechanisms are drafted
  5. The legislation and transition mechanisms are implemented

Negotiations began with the signing of the Agreement-in-Principle for NWT Devolution in January 2011. There are seven signatories to the AiP who were party to these negotiations: the Government of Canada, the Government of the Northwest Territories, the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation, the Northwest Territories Métis Nation, the Sahtu Secretariat Incorporated, the Gwich’in Tribal Council, and the Tłįchǫ Government. The conclusion of NWT devolution negotiations is part of the third phase of the typical process.

With the conclusion of negotiations, the Government of Canada will now begin a second round of consultations with Aboriginal organizations and other stakeholders. All comments and information received will be carefully considered and inform the Final Devolution Agreement. Legislation will be drafted for approval in federal Parliament and the territorial Legislature to give effect to an approved agreement.

Once finalized, the Northwest Territories Land and Resource Devolution Agreement will transfer decision-making and administration for land and resource management from the Government of Canada to the Government of the Northwest Territories. The territorial government will become responsible for the management of onshore lands, the issuance of rights and interests with respect to onshore minerals and oil and gas, and will collect royalties.

The Government of Canada will retain responsibility for the remediation of existing significant contaminated waste sites, the administration of the issuance of rights and interests to the offshore, the negotiation of land claims and environmental assessments. 

An implementation planning committee, with representatives from the Government of Canada, the Government of the Northwest Territories and Aboriginal partners are developing a devolution implementation plan. This plan will act as a guide for how the terms of the final agreement will be put into practice to ensure a predictable and transparent transfer of responsibilities. NWT devolution will occur once all responsibilities set out in a final agreement are transferred. The parties are working toward an effective date of April 1, 2014.

The main federal funding to the three territorial governments is provided through the Territorial Formula Financing (TFF) transfer. This is an annual unconditional transfer from the Government of Canada to the territorial governments to enable them to provide their residents with a range of public programs and services comparable to those offered by provincial governments, at comparable levels of taxation. The formula takes into account the higher cost of providing programs and services in the North, and the TFF grant helps fund services such as hospitals, schools, roads and social services.

In 2013-14, the TFF transfer to the NWT will be $1.121 billion.

The devolution process in the Northwest Territories has been underway since the 1950s with the successive transfer of responsibility for education, health care, local government and transportation. Over time, the Government of the Northwest Territories has taken on more province-like powers from the Government of Canada, aided by the financial resources provided through federal transfer payments.

Recent NWT Devolution Milestones

  • March 2004: Devolution Framework Agreement signed by the Government of Canada, the Government of the Northwest Territories and the Aboriginal Summit (a caucus comprised of NWT Aboriginal governments)
  • January 2011: Agreement-in-Principle signed by the Government of Canada, the Government of the Northwest Territories and the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation
  • February 9, 2011: AiP signed by the Northwest Territories Métis Nation
  • May 22, 2012: AiP signed by the Sahtu Secretariat Incorporated
  • June 2011: First meeting of the NWT Devolution Main Table
  • October 15, 2012: AiP signed by the Gwich’in Tribal Council
  • March 8, 2013: AiP signed by the Tłįchǫ Government
  • March 11, 2013: Conclusion of Northwest Territories Devolution Negotiations
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