I have read Premier Bob McLeod’s statement along with various news stories in the past week about his “red alert” and his request for an urgent debate in the House of Commons to address the future of the Northwest Territories. I am puzzled by some of his statements and by his intentions, as I prefer a more collaborative approach to governance. As Member of Parliament for the Northwest Territories I wish to address some of his points.
There is no “permanent ban” on oil exploration and drilling in the Arctic despite what the Premier has repeatedly stated. There is a suspension of new exploratory oil and gas drilling licenses in the Arctic offshore while the Government of Canada works with Northerners and leaseholders to come up with a new, science-based approach to Arctic off shore oil and gas. This moratorium will be revisited in four years.
While I agree that the moratorium could have been better announced and implemented, I believe the timing could not have been better. Exploration activity in the Beaufort peaked in 2008 before sharply declining. In the previous five years only $7.2 Million went to NWT businesses from oil and gas exploration activity in the area. The last new project proposal for the area was indefinitely postponed in 2015. In 2016, Canada invested $9.5 million for a regional environmental assessment in the Beaufort Delta.
As the Premier stated “real reconciliation requires that Indigenous people have both political and economic self-determination”. I could not agree more. The Government of the Northwest Territories will receive over $1.3 Billion through the Territorial Formula Financing Agreement for 2016-2017 from the Government of Canada to provide their residents a range of public services comparable to those offered by provincial governments, at comparable levels of taxation. This amount is before investments through different federal departments for important investments in infrastructure, indigenous languages, and economic and skills development etc. In addition to these investments, I have been making the argument that any new programs should be funded with a formula that recognizes our small population and high cost of delivery through a “base-plus per capita amount” versus a straight “per capita” amount. Also, I have been advocating for Indigenous communities in the NWT to have access to funding that has previously been only accessible to southern reserves. This should be in addition to the funds negotiated and agreed to as part of modern treaty processes, including funding to support the drawing down of powers in self-government agreements. Accessing any additional funding can only be a good thing for our communities. I fully support a direct Crown-Indigenous relationship as part of a true and meaningful reconciliation process.
The Premier and I are in complete agreement on another issue he mentioned in his statement: “Decisions about the North should be made in the North”. This is exactly what is being done right now, through the development of the Northern Policy Framework that the GNWT co-chairs. Fifteen aboriginal governments are also involved in these discussions. So while we seem to agree that it should be Northerners determining their priorities for social, environmental and economic development, I cannot support nor fully understand the Premier’s request to have 334 Members of Parliament from south of 60 debating our future (just as I wouldn’t be of much assistance in advising the residents of Prince Edward Island on what should be in their economic strategy). In this context, his request is peculiar.
In February of this year, our Prime Minister the Honourable Justin Trudeau announced a Working Group of Ministers to examine relevant federal laws, policies, and operational practices to help ensure the Crown is meeting its constitutional obligations, adhering to international human rights standards and supporting the implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action. The Government of the Northwest Territories, of which I was a part of for many years both as MLA and Cabinet Minister, does indeed have a richness of experience and expertise to offer on this review and with Indigenous reconciliation. As such I support and encourage the Working Group to meet with all Indigenous governments in the NWT, as well as to meet with the GNWT as the Premier requested. I am certain it would be very informative.
No red flags necessary.
Member of Parliament, NWT