August 2007

Phased devolution for Nunavut

By H. Ednie

A careful, step-by-step approach has been recommended should Canada work towards the devolution of new responsibilities to the Government of Nunavut, according to a report issued June 12 by Fasken Martineau DuMoulin’s Paul Mayer.

Mayer began working on the report last November, when Jim Prentice, the northern affairs minister, appointed him as the federal government’s ministerial representative for Nunavut devolution.

"I was asked to look at the issue of transfer of responsibilities to the government of Nunavut - I spent 50 days up there and in Ottawa,” Mayer explained. “You have to grasp the importance of devolution for the government in Nunavut, and the challenges they face. And, it’s key to note the importance of mineral wealth to the region - it is the only way out of their current fiscal impass.  But, what would be transferred? Also, the HR challenge exists in all levels there. My conclusion was that Nunavut is not ready today for full responsibility. They are having troubles with their current responsibilities, like education and governance. So, I recommended that we go forward with devolution talks, but do it in a phased approach."

Looking at how levels of government are working, when it comes to oil, gas, and mineral resources in Nunavut, Mayer said the current system is dysfunctional, and the mining industry has voiced complaints. Permitting an operation is time-consuming and expensive. “The timelines, certainty, and transparency are not there,” he added. Proper devolution could lead to an improved process.

While researching the report, Mayer consulted hundreds of people, at all levels of government. He determined one of the major challenges is Nunavut’s shortage of skilled professionals - this must be addressed before federal responsibilities are transferred. If Canada and Nunavut address this, and agree on a negotiating process, Mayer predicts an agreement-in-principle on devolution may still be possible by next year, and a final agreement by 2011 or 2012.

“No government is free of issues,” he said. “The challenges outlined in my report are a mirror image of the 2005 Auditor General’s report on the Northwest Territories - the robust regulatory system recommended would apply to the Nunavut situation.”

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