North

'Right on, Robert': Premier's tough stance on drilling ban surprises some, irks others

Many are applauding Premier Bob McLeod’s passionate defence of the future of the N.W.T. on Wednesday, while others say he should look closer to home when talking about reconciliation with Indigenous people.

Premier Bob McLeod issued 'red alert' on Wednesday, saying future of North in jeopardy

In a news release Wednesday, McLeod issued a 'red alert,' saying Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government was taking a colonial approach to the North, jeopardizing the region's economic future by imposing a five-year moratorium on oil and gas activity in the Beaufort Sea. (Sean Kilpatrick/CP)

Many are applauding Premier Bob McLeod's passionate defence of the future of the N.W.T. on Wednesday, while others say he should look closer to home when talking about reconciliation with Indigenous people.

In a news release Wednesday, McLeod issued a "red alert," saying Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government is taking a colonial approach to the North, jeopardizing the region's economic future by imposing a five-year moratorium on oil and gas activity in Arctic waters last year.

The owner of a Tuktoyaktuk-based business heavily invested in northern industry says the premier got it right.

"They are forcing us to be what we don't want to be — just live on hand-outs," said Mervin Gruben said, who runs E. Gruben's Transport.

"We want development, of course we want it done safely." 

Gruben says the region has never had any disasters, and the Liberal's offshore drilling ban hurts its economy.

Gruben is one of the contractors who built the Inuvik to Tuktoyuktuk highway, sometimes called the "Road to Resources" because of the hopes for offshore development.

"All our dreams we had of working oil and gas and different businesses up here, as we have for the past 30 or 40 years, it looks all dashed."

Many online were also surprised by McLeod's tough stance on the drilling ban.

"Just when I've written our territorial government off as useless. They redeem themselves in some measureable way," wrote Manny Kudlak on Facebook.

"Right on, Robert, we need to take control of our natural resources," said Linda Arychuk Walton.

No progress on reconciliation, says chief

But others online said "too little too late."

"Wrapping himself in the flag of other peoples victimhood to push through oil and gas projects. Despicable," said David Hooper on Facebook.

Premier McLeod also said Wednesday that policies such as the drilling ban go against the notion of reconciliation with Indigenous people, and the understanding that Indigenous people have rights to both political and economic self-determination.  

'I don't think we are making progress in reconciliation,' says Bill Erasmus, the chief of the Dene Nation. (Alex Brockman/CBC)

Dene National Chief Bill Erasmus says McLeod should look closer to home for concerns over Indigenous reconciliation.

"I don't think we're making a lot of progress in reconciliation," Erasmus said.

He said if the territorial government really wants reconciliation, it would have settled land claim negotiations with the Akaitcho and Dehcho First Nations long ago.

"The only way you can reconcile is to recognize the rights and the authority people have and to provide that."

Michael McLeod, the Liberal MP for the Northwest Territories, said his constituents largely support the five-year ban.

He said it's important for his government to make science-based decisions when it comes to development in the North.

Michael McLeod added that the federal government is working with the territorial government on an economic plan for the region.

With files from Marc Winkler

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