In the Yukon and Nunavut each territory has one water Board and one environmental assessment Board. In NWT, there are several Boards. Now the federal government has given notice that it plans to streamline the NWT Boards into one water board and one environmental assessment board.
The passing of the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act in 1998 is responsible for the creation of this hodgepodge of boards. The aim of the legislation was to have resources co-managed by the federal government, the territorial government and the various aboriginal governments. Now Ottawa intends to have most of the changes in place in time for devolution, which happens next April 1. The changes, designed to speed up the permitting process for mining and oil and gas projects, were first suggested more than six years ago by the federal government, which said it wanted to fix the regulatory regime in Northern Canada.
In recent years there has been criticism of the NWT’s regulatory regime. The Mackenzie Valley Pipeline environmental approval process dragged out years longer than anticipated. More recently the demands by the Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board to a company to conduct an costly environmental assessment prior even to a project proposal to develop a gas well led to the cancellation of a large drilling project.
The federal government has released a document outlining the changes to mining companies, aboriginal groups, the territorial government and regulatory boards. Eliminating the three regional boards will not address the biggest problem now facing mining companies in some of the most resource-rich regions of the territory—unsettled land claims, and lack of a land use plan. In the NWT there are 7 land claims, but only four have been settled: Inuvialuit, Sahtu, the Gwich’in Tribal Council and Tlicho.
The details are not yet public. Having multiple water and environmental assessment Boards is not helpful to economic development within NWT. Devolution in NWT will enhance northern decision making. Streamlining the regulatory oversight regime should enhance resource development opportunities.