The federal government introduced the Northwest Territories Devolution Act in the House of Commons this week. Bill C-15 will transfer power over land and water to the Northwest Territories government.

The same act also includes provisions that will combine the four regional land and water boards into one superboard for all of the N.W.T.

Some people, including NDP MP Dennis Bevington, are unhappy that legislation to create the superboard is being lumped in with the devolution bill.

Both the Tlicho and the Gwich’in have publicly said they oppose the superboard.

The bill is now in the hands of parliament. Federal officials say it will be up to those parties to make their views known to MPs before a vote takes place. However, the Conservative government holds a majority vote in the House of Commons.

1. What is the superboard?

N.W.T. currently has four regional land and water boards. The new superboard would combine the Gwich’in, the Wek’èezhìi (Tlicho) and the Sahtu land and water boards into a single Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board. The new Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board will continue to operate with the same mandate.

The Mackenzie Valley Environmental Impact Review Board will continue to operate as usual.

2. Who makes the final decisions?

In many places, the bill refers to the federal minister as having the power to accept or reject land and water board decisions. However, officials say this authority can and will be delegated to territorial ministers.

3. Who will be on the board?

The federal government will continue to appoint board members to the new Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board.

The board will consist of 11 members:

  • 1 member appointed at the recommendation of the Gwich’in First Nation
  • 1 member appointed at the recommendation of the Sahtu First Nation
  • 1 member appointed by the Tlicho government
  • 2 members appointed after consultation with the unsettled land claims groups 
  • 2 members appointed upon nomination from the Government of the Northwest Territories
  • 3 members appointed by the federal minister,
  • 1 chair appointed by the federal minister, after conferring with board members.

There are no timelines in which the federal minister must appoint board members.

The chair may establish smaller committees of the land and water board. These may be made up of three or more members. Members from the regions affected by the review will be given right of first refusal to take part in these committees.

4. How long will the board take to assess applications?

The act lays out timelines for decisions on items such as licence applications and environmental assessments. It also requires the federal minister (or territorial minister, see above) to notify the board whether its decisions are approved or not within a set amount of time. The act also provides for extensions to these deadlines.

5. What happens next?

The Conservative government hopes to have the bill passed in time to start making changes on April 1, 2014. The federal government also promises a review of the regulatory changes within five years. The GNWT and aboriginal governments will have a chance to take part in that review.

For an audio primer on the new Bill, click on the link at the top to hear Up Here Business Editor Guy Quenneville in conversation with The Trailbreaker's Loren McGinnis.