Premier McLeod defends criticism of federal environmental bills

Lack of consultation on premiers' letter critiquing natural resource rules, Frame Lake MLA Kevin O'Reilly says

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In a statement to News/North, Premier McLeod has defended his statements in a letter with five Conservative Premiers, which said new federal environmental rules were a threat to Canada’s economic well-being and “national unity” if passed without major changes.

Upon its release, Prime Minister Trudeau rebuked the letter, saying the Premiers were threatening national unity themselves, while Frame Lake MLA Kevin O’Reilly said McLeod’s signature revealed “colonial disregard.” McLeod’s brother, Liberal MP Michael McLeod, also said he was “surprised” to read the “odd” letter, which he noted contained little mention of Indigenous peoples and environmental concerns.

In his response, Premier McLeod said natural resource development impacted all Canadians.

Premier Bob McLeod defended his statements made in a letter with five other premiers in a Thursday statement to News/North.
Nick Pearce / NNSL Photo

“In the Northwest Territories, as has been the case throughout Canada, natural resource development is critical to the prosperity of residents, businesses and communities,” the statement read. “This is true for all Canadians, whether they realize it or not, and is especially true for the people of the Northwest Territories.”

Senate approved both bills — C-69, which revamps environmental assessment of resource projects and C-48, which formalizes an unofficially observed ban on oil tankers on the north B.C. coast.

After the Senate proposed slightly fewer than 200 amendments to Bill C-69, the government accepted 99 of its amendments — roughly two thirds of which were verbatim, while the last third was significantly revised.

In his statement to News/North, McLeod wrote that it was important to avoid adverse effects on potential pipelines to other jurisdictions and resource development projects in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region, which the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act regulates. Canada has an interest in getting its resources to market, and each project should be assessed individually, instead of through moratoriums, he wrote.

“Agreeing on a reasonable and practical approach to developing our country’s natural resource wealth so all Canadians can benefit from it – including Indigenous Canadians – remains one of the most important challenges facing federal, provincial and territorial governments,” he wrote.

He said GNWT works “hand-in-hand with Indigenous Governments and stakeholders to carve out a vision for our economic future that includes responsible resource development … (to) increasing investor confidence in the NWT.”

He trusts Canada will also work “collaboratively to come up with a solutions to the bills before them that is in the interest of Canadians recognizing and respecting each government’s jurisdiction,” he said.

The Premier did not directly respond to News/North’s question asking for reaction to the letter showing ‘colonial’ disregard, owing to its lack of consultation with regular MLAs, as MLA O’Reilly said.

O’Reilly told News/North he learned of the letter through media reports. He then quoted the consensus government’s Guiding Principles and Process Conventions, which says  members of Assembly should be made aware of and have opportunity to discuss major announcements, changes, consultations or initiatives before they’re released to the public or introduced to assembly.

“Use of the element of surprise is inconsistent with consensus government,” the document reads.

He said the letter, which was signed by six premiers and was sent to Trudeau concerning federal bills, counted as significant enough to fall under the document. “The Premier went off and did this by himself,” O’Reilly said, questioning if the cabinet ministers were aware and calling the move “unilateral.”

He plans to pursue the question when legislative assembly returns in August. “I just don’t think this is how consensus government was mean to work,” he said.

The assembly will reconvene on August 12.