The NWT has approved devolution legislation in a deal with the federal government, resulting in certain territorial functions being devolved from the federal government, access to royalties from minerals, and a consolidation of regulatory authorities.
NWT is catching up to the Yukon Territory that went through a similar devolution process 11 years ago. Of course Nunavut settled its devolution issues with the creation of the territory itself in 1999. Devolution will increase the size of the Government of Northwest Territories by about 7%, as it takes over certain functions from the feds like mineral resources, geo-science, petroleum resources.
The NWT will collect revenues from mining and resource development, expected to be about $60 million this year. A quarter of those revenues will be shared directly with aboriginal governments. With hopes of nine new mining projects by 2020, that amount could grow, subject to a cap.
Five of the territory’s seven aboriginal groups have signed on to the devolution agreement. The Dehcho and Akaitcho First Nations can still collect a share of the resource revenues, if they decide to support the deal.
One of the contentious aspects of devolution is the creation of a consolidated land and water board, rather than 4 separate boards that now exist. Two of the First Nations oppose the consolidated land and water board, yet the move is strongly supported by the territorial Chamber of Mines. A criticism of the current 4 Board system was that there were more people on the Boards than in the Legislative Assembly. As well the assessment process was often slow and bureaucratic. The timeline is for for the consolidated Board to start its work in 2015.
The current Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act spells out no timelines. The new process promises faster timelines: screening 42 days; environmental assessment 18 months; water license 3-11 months.
The NWT has a large number of resources projects on tap from diamond and gold mines to oil and gas exploration. Streamlining the regulatory process is bound to be beneficial in the long run. Yukon and Nunavut have done well by devolution.