Canada’s northern territories are a step closer to a simpler system to regulate development of their minerals, forestry and oil and natural gas.
A report to federal Indian Affairs and Northern Development Minister Chuck Strahl makes 22 recommendations, 18 of them directed specifically at the Northwest Territories, to overhaul a cumbersome regime that has been blamed for putting the Mackenzie Gas Project at risk.
NWT Premier Floyd Roland welcomed the proposals as “long overdue,” describing the report by Neil McCrank, former chairman of the Alberta Energy and Utilities Board, as “thorough, honest and accurate.”
Strahl said the status quo is “not an option and changes are needed to fix this cumbersome and confusing regulatory regime.”
He commissioned the report eight months ago in an effort to promote economic development of resources north of the 60th parallel to “maximize potential benefits of development projects” while protecting the environment.
To achieve that goal, he said the northern territories needed “predictable, effective and efficient regulatory systems.”
NWT has number of boardsBecause of aboriginal land claims and other agreements the Yukon and Nunavut territories are better positioned than the NWT to proceed in a more streamlined fashion when it comes to processing resource applications.
In the NWT a number of regional boards, stemming from various land claim settlements, all operate under different rules, creating a process that is confusing and frustrating for industry, according to Mike Vaydik of the NWT and Nunavut Chamber of Mines.
He said 17 boards regulating resource development in the NWT is “just too many when you consider there are only 42,000” people in the region.
The McCrank report presents two options to overhaul the entire regulatory regime in the NWT, taking decision-making powers away from the host of smaller boards.
One option single regulatorStrahl told reporters in Yellowknife that one route would involve opening up the land claims and doing a “stem-to-stern” change that would result in a single regulatory body for the Mackenzie Valley.
The other would see the regional boards survive, although their function would change.
The report conceded that a “fundamental restructuring would be desirable but difficult to achieve.”
Strahl said that once the report is presented to the federal cabinet this fall, the government will start the process of preparing a response by year’s end. He promised to consult with land claims groups before announcing any changes.
Roland said the NWT government will place the report before the next meeting of regional aboriginal leaders and consult with constituents before making a formal response.
Willard Hagen, chairman of the Mackenzie Land and Water Board, said that if the regions of the NWT want to become more progressive by attracting industry and attracting jobs and business opportunities, the role of the board is “something they will have to look at very closely.”