Premier changes numbers, but not his tune on energy self-determination

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Premier Bob McLeod issued a statement Thursday clarifying remarks he made last week expressing his frustration with the federal government intervention’s on energy extraction in the North.

Last Wednesday, McLeod issued a “red alert,” stressing the need for a renewed, nation-wide debate on the future of the Northwest Territories. In the initial release, McLeod slammed the fed’s decision to place a moratorium on northern offshore drilling, calling the move a return to “colonialism.”

NWT Premier Bob McLeod

Following the blistering indictment, the premier gave several interviews offering numbers to support his arguments. Today, McLeod is retracting some of the information he provided.

“I made the comment that 52 per cent of NWT’s land was protected, meaning land not currently available to the GNWT for development. I have since had those numbers verified and would like to clarify that 43 per cent of the land…is currently unavailable to the GNWT for development, ” the statement read.

McLeod went on to further clarify that resource development amounts to 32 per cent of the NWT’s economy – not 40 per cent as he had previously stated. The discrepancy, which McLeod attributes to fluctuations from year to year, doesn’t change the fact that resource development is the single largest driver of the territory’s economy, he said in the statement, adding that errant numbers don’t make his undermine the legitimacy of his claims.

“The confusion over the numbers is unfortunate, as it is shifting the focus from the real issue, which is that people in NWT must have a say in defining the future of their territory and can no longer be an afterthought in Ottawa,” McLeod stated.

“Whatever the actual numbers,” he wrote, “the fact of the matter is that our government has not received any clear indication that Canada has a coherent vision for NWT’s long term future…”

The following is his full statement from Thursday:

Last week I issued a public red alert calling for a national debate about the future of the Northwest Territories. This call was based on continuing questions the Government of the Northwest Territories has concerning federal plans for the North and their commitment to investing meaningfully in its ongoing social and economic development in a strategic and coordinated way.

In subsequent interviews, I made the comment that 52 percent of the NWT’s land was protected, meaning land not currently available to the GNWT for development. I have since had those numbers verified and would like to clarify that 43 percent of the land in the Northwest Territories is currently unavailable to the GNWT for development. This includes currently protected lands, lands withdrawn for conservation and lands proposed for conservation, as well as lands withdrawn for land claim negotiations and settlement lands held by Indigenous governments, as detailed in the attached map.

I also stated that resource development accounts for 40 percent of the NWT economy when measured as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), when taking both direct and indirect contributions into account. GDP changes constantly with activity in the NWT economy and there have been several years since 1999 where the direct and indirect impacts of resource development have accounted for 40 percent or more of GDP. As of 2015, the most recent year for which figures are available, resource development contributed 32 percent to the NWT economy. While the numbers change from year to year, the fact is that resource development has been and continues to be the single biggest driver of the NWT’s economy.

The confusion over the numbers is unfortunate, as it is shifting the focus from the real issue, which is that the people of the NWT must have a say in defining the future of their territory and can no longer be an afterthought in Ottawa. Whatever the actual numbers, the fact of the matter is that our government has not received any clear indication that Canada has a coherent vision or plan for the NWT’s long term future that is guiding decisions they are already making and implementing in the NWT. The federal government’s decisions have a significant impact on the NWT and its people and we are eager to partner with them to improve the lives of Northerners. But we need to be sure that Canada is prepared to truly listen and understand the NWT’s priorities and then commit to pursuing them with us.

Here is his “red alert” statement made Nov. 1.:

“Today I am issuing a red alert and calling for an urgent national debate on the future of the Northwest Territories.

The promise of the North is fading and the dreams of northerners are dying as we see a re-emergence of colonialism. For too long now policies have been imposed on us from Ottawa and southern Canada that, despite good intentions sometimes, and ignorance other times, are threatening our economic potential and the decades long work that we as a government have taken on Indigenous reconciliation. Whether it be ill conceived ways of funding social programs, or new and perplexing restrictions on our economic development, our spirit and energy are being sapped.

Everything we have built is in jeopardy. Reconciliation was a fact of life for our government years before it gained national prominence. Five of the seven cabinet ministers of the GNWT are indigenous. As am I. I was born in Fort Providence, NWT, a small Northern community where hunting, trapping and fishing continue to be important activities for most. I know this land and I know its people. We have forged a relationship and partnership with indigenous governments based on mutual respect and recognition, that is leading the way to increased self-determination, and more opportunities for indigenous participation in the economy.

We have formal government to government relations with NWT Indigenous governments, and the progress we have made on land and resource agreements is unparallelled anywhere else in Canada. We put our money where our mouths are; following devolution of responsibility for land and natural resources in 2014, we made the decision to unconditionally share 25 percent of resource revenues with NWT Indigenous governments. We are proud to be on the forefront of preserving Indigenous languages, of which there are nine in the NWT, all of them official languages of our territory. Indigenous and non-indigenous live and work side by side. Our children go to school together, and we all share the same health care system, built on and informed by local indigenous culture.
All of this is in jeopardy.

New funding approaches that distinguish between peoples may help to improve outcomes on reserve in southern Canada, but could divide Northern communities, threatening the services and programs all NWT residents have come to expect and enjoy. Policy makers need to understand that what works in the south doesn’t always work in the North before they make decisions that could stretch the social fabric of our communities thin.

Restrictions imposed on our vital energy and resource sector – 40 percent of our economy and source of middle class jobs and incomes for many of our people – are driving companies away, and with that go the jobs that sustain healthy families and community life. Staying in or trying to join the middle class will become a distant dream for many.

Decades before any other government in Canada, our government and its predominantly Indigenous leaders was making reconciliation a reality by working to incorporate the aspirations and priorities of their own people in the priorities and programs of the territorial government.  It pleases me to see the federal government taking action in this area, but we need to make sure it does not undo the hard-won progress that the North has already made, reflected in several settled land, resources and self-government agreements and devolution. This danger can be avoided if we understand that real reconciliation requires that Indigenous people have both political and economic self-determination.

This means that northerners, through their democratically elected government, need to have the power to determine their own fates and the practice of decisions being made by bureaucrats and governments in Ottawa must come to an end. Decisions about the North should be made in the North. The unilateral decision by the federal government, made without consultation, to impose a moratorium on arctic offshore oil and gas development is but one example of our economic self-determination being thwarted by Ottawa.

Protecting the promise of the North and saving the northern dream requires all Canadians to join together. It requires a national debate. Today I call on all Members of Parliament – regardless of political stripe – to facilitate a special debate on the floor of the House of Commons .The people’s house is where this conversation needs to start.

But we need to continue that conversation in the North, in dialogue with the people who live here. I am also asking the Prime Minister to bring his Cabinet to the Northwest Territories so that they can see firsthand the advances we have made in Indigenous reconciliation as well as the unique challenges in delivering critical services such as health care and education as well as the urgent need for investments in our infrastructure.

Today, I am publicly offering myself and the Cabinet of the Northwest Territories to meet with the Working Group of Ministers on the Review of Laws and Policies Related to Indigenous Peoples so that we can share our considerable experience and expertise with respect to Indigenous reconciliation.
The time is upon us to reset the course of the North. Meaningful reconciliation requires it, and the dream of a true north, strong and free, depends on it.”

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As the Yellowknifer’s crime reporter, it’s my job to keep readers up to speed on all-things “cops and courts” related. From house fires and homicides to courtroom clashes, it’s my responsibility to be there - day or night, rain or shine. When I’m not at court gathering stories, I’m in the office, making calls to lawyers, emailing RCMP and tracking down sources. After hours, I rely on the public to let me know what’s happening and where. Entering my second winter in Yellowknife since leaving my hometown of Peterborough, Ont., in October 2017, everyday on this beat continues to be challenging, rewarding and fulfilling. Got a story? Call me at (867) 766-8288 or shoot me an email at editorial@nnsl.com.