A new government bill to amend petroleum and resource management legislation could salvage the NWT devolution deal that a territorial supreme court injunction marooned back in 2015.

Bill C-88, An Act to Amend the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act and the Canada Petroleum Resources Act, would re-write sweeping changes made by the Harper government including reversing the amalgamation of several boards and scope reduction of federally-mandated regulators in the NWT.

“The big driver behind this was to undo the superboard; the Tlicho (First Nation) filed an injunction against those changes,” said Tom Hoefer, executive director of the NWT & Nunavut Chamber of Mines. “I guess the Liberals decided they would fix these.”

Harper’s legislation collapsed existing territorial water boards and transferred regulatory authority to a single agency, the Mackenzie Valley Land & Water Board. This included rights to grant permits on traditional Tlicho lands covering some 160,000 square kilometres. Tlicho’s attorney Jason Madden, partner with Pape Salter Teillet LLP of Toronto, likened the changes to “telling Atlantic Canada they get a single regulatory board.”

Following the injunction, then-Minister of Aboriginal Affairs Bernard Valcourt’s office suggested the government would appeal, but it never followed through. Thursday, Dominic LeBlanc, Intergovernmental and Northern Affairs minister said Bill C-88’s amendments “would help maintain the efficient, predictable, and coherent management and use of land, water, and natural resources in the North.”

The territory currently has five land and water boards responsible for gauging community opinion and environmental impacts of development – these continued to operate and evaluate projects as the injunction kept the NWT’s regulatory revamp in limbo.

While devolution – transfer of federal authorities to the NWT jurisdiction – moved signing authority for permits and licenses to the territorial government, authority over the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act itself and its related boards still remain under the purview of the federal cabinet.

Hoefer told News/North that the chamber “always supported the undoing of the superboards.”

“For us it was more than just boards, our issue is in cost-recovery; we were dead set against that,” he said. “And we continue to be. This new legislation still allows the government to make regulations on cost recoveries; please don’t create these because we already suffer in a high cost environment.”

Project certification, required studies, the 10-day waiting period between a board’s preliminary screening decision and authorization to refer a project to an environmental assessment – features of Bill C-88 – “were all in the original act,” said Hoefer.

“I don’t see the Liberals doing anything different except for reversing the amalgamation of the boards,” he added.

Bill C-88’s proposed changes to the Canada Petroleum Resources Act, according to the government, “would establish a path forward for the strategic management of Arctic offshore oil and gas resources in collaboration with partners.”