Delay to N.W.T. land and water superboard brings mixed reactions

Reactions to a court action putting off the April 1 launch of a single board for permitting projects in the Northwest Territories' Mackenzie Valley are running the spectrum, from "Hallelujah!" to "investors don't care right now."

Aboriginal groups celebrate ruling; chamber of mines says investors have other things on their minds

The N.W.T. Supreme Court has issued an injunction that will delay the creation of the land and water superboard - a decision that's caused mixed reactions across the territory. (Chantal Dubuc/CBC)

Reactions to a court action delaying the Apr. 1 launch of a single board for permitting projects in the N.W.T.'s Mackenzie Valley range from "Hallelujah!" to "investors don't care right now".

On Friday, the N.W.T. Supreme Court granted the Tlicho government an injunction which will save the Wek'eezhii Land and Water Board from being dismantled — at least until the court can rule on whether federal legislation calling for the so-called superboard is unconstitutional.

Tlicho Grand Chief Eddie Erasmus in December 2014. Erasmus says "the Tlicho Government could not have asked for a better decision." (CBC)
The federal government says consolidating the N.W.T.'s four land and water boards into one would make the regulatory process more efficient and help boost the economy.

But the Tlicho government opposes the idea of having only one appointee involved in the permitting process, as opposed to the two Tlicho appointees who currently sit on the Wek'eezhii board. It also says the federal government didn't adequately consult aboriginal groups about the change.

Tlicho Grand Chief Eddie Erasmus welcomed Friday's decision.

"The Tlicho Government could not have asked for a better decision," he said.

"It shows that the court understood just how wrong Canada is, and its actions are, and how grave the consequences would be if Canada was allowed to continue on its unilateral path."

Decision affects more than one board 

The injunction also temporarily saves the Sahtu and Gwich'in boards from being folded along with the Wek'eezhii board. The Sahtu Secretariat had filed its own injunction to save the Sahtu Land and Water Board only days before the Tlicho injunction was granted.

"Hallelujah!" recalled Sahtu Secretariat chair Ethel Blondin-Andrew of her initial reaction to Friday's decision.

"We're happy for the Tlicho and we're happy for ourselves because the tone and intent is very clear. I think it bodes well for everyone."

The federal department that championed the superboard, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC), would not confirm whether it plans to appeal the injunction. 

But in a written statement, it said, "We will vigorously defend the new regulatory framework."

Investors have bigger issues on their mind: mining chamber 

The Wek'eezhii, Sahtu, Gwich'in and Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Boards will continue to operate as is, pending the outcome of the Tlicho Government's suit against the federal government. 

"Staff remain in place in all existing board locations, and clients will see no interruption to proceedings as a result of the ruling," the Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board wrote on its website yesterday.

The idea of a consolidated land and water board has its origin in a 2008 report, commissioned by the federal government, suggesting ways to improve a regulatory process deemed complex by mining companies. 

"Quite frankly, I think investors don't care right now because they don't have any money," says Tom Hoefer, executive director of the NWT Chamber of Mines. (CBC)
The N.W.T. and Nunavut Chamber of Mines has supported the general idea of amalgamating the boards, while also expressing concern about the loss of valued board members from the Wek'eezhii board.

"Our diamond mines have worked have worked with the Wek'eezhii board for many years now and watched that board go through its evolution, its learning curves," said Tom Hoefer, the chamber's executive director. 

"They're saying, 'They've become a good board with capacity to take on projects. That's a good thing.' Don't lose that, is what we told the federal government."

Asked if he thinks potential investors in the N.W.T. will be concerned about the delay to the superboard, Hoefer said, "Quite frankly, I think investors don't care right now because they don't have any money."


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