Status quo 'not an option' on northern regulatory process: Strahl

Federal Indian and Northern Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl released a long-awaited federal report Thursday on how to simplify the process of regulating development in the Northwest Territories.

A long-awaited federal report on how to simplify the process of regulating development in the Northwest Territories proposes to take regulatory processes out of the regions and have the Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board deal with all applications for new development.

Indian and Northern Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl was in Yellowknife on Thursday to release the report by retired Alberta Energy and Utilities Board chairman Neil McCrank, who was appointed by Strahl in November 2007 to review the licensing and approval processes in Canada's North.

"A consistent message was heard during these hearings that the status quo was not an option, both for people who say, 'I don't want any development' or somebody who says, 'I want to develop everything.' What comes back is … there's no system in place to give us timely decisions on where we want to go," Strahl said Thursday morning.

"It's so complex it's difficult to know even where to begin. So we need to change that, and northerners have been saying status quo is not an option."

McCrank's review of the North's regulatory regime was spurred by frequent complaints by both development proponents and critics that the process was slow, inefficient and complicated.

His report, which focused on regulatory systems in the Northwest Territories, calls for a restructuring that includes making the Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board the only body to handle new development applications in the territory's Mackenzie Valley.

The report also suggests that the Mackenzie Valley Environmental Impact Review Board give the final recommendation on applications in that area.

Current land and water boards in the region could become administrative regulatory bodies, according to the report.

McCrank also suggests ways to improve the regulatory process, recommending that the federal government:

  • Work with regulatory boards to establish water quality standards.
  • Clarify how consultations with aboriginal groups should be conducted.
  • Develop an official policy on forming impact benefit agreements with aboriginal groups.
  • Create effective timelines for applications to be processed and reviewed.

The report also says priority should be given to completing land use plans across the N.W.T. and Nunavut, and ensuring those plans get approval from the federal government.

McCrank also had several recommendations for regulatory systems in Nunavut, suggesting that Ottawa complete the Nunavut Land Use Planning and Impact Assessment Act in collaboration with the Nunavut government, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. and the Nunavut Impact Review Board.

As well, the report has one recommendation for the Yukon, calling for a five-year review of the Yukon Environmental and Socio-Economic Assessment Act.