North

Clock ticking on bill that would eliminate N.W.T. superboard

'The timelines are getting really tight, says Michael McLeod, the Northwest Territories member of Parliament, referring to the looming federal election.

Bill C-88 to get 3rd reading this month, then on to senate

N.W.T. MP Michael McLeod says Bill C-88 needs to be made law before the rise of Senate at the end of June. (Avery Zingel/CBC)

Time is running short for a bill that would undo the previous federal government's move to replace regional land and water boards in the Northwest Territories with a single, so-called superboard.

"The timelines are getting really tight," said Michael McLeod, the Northwest Territories member of Parliament, referring to the looming federal election.

If passed, Bill C-88 would reverse changes to the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act that was included in the 2014 transfer of federal authority over land and resources to the territorial government. The land and water boards review resource projects and issue land use permits and water licences.

The bill has had its first and second reading. McLeod said he expects it will be reviewed by a standing committee of MPs in about a week, then get a third reading at the end of the month. It will then have to get the Senate's stamp of approval.

Though there's still five months until the federal election, McLeod said the time left to make the bill law is much shorter.

"It has to all be done before the rise of Senate, which is the end of June," said McLeod. "Of course, we have to recognize we're up against other pieces of legislation, so I'm really working hard with the government house leader to make sure we don't lose sight of this."

Tlicho Grand Chief George Mackenzie says the current system of regional land and water boards is one the industry knows, and one that respects the land claims that established the boards. (Randall McKenzie/CBC)

Hoping to avoid going back to court

When the previous federal government passed a law to amalgamate the Gwich'in, Sahtu and Wek'èezhii land and water boards into a single 'superboard,' the Tlicho challenged the law in court, arguing in part that it violates provisions of the Tlicho Agreement.

They won an injunction to pause the amalgamation. The then-Conservative federal government filed notice it was appealing, but ran out of time before the Liberal Party took power in the 2015 election. The Liberals abandoned the appeal.

Tlicho Grand Chief George Mackenzie, who served on the Wek'èezhii board for four years, said the Tlicho are hoping to avoid going back to court.

"It would be long and drawn out, it would not be good for us, the Tlicho government, and it would not be good for industry," said Mackenzie. "There would be too much uncertainty and it would take too long."

Mackenzie said he is confident Bill C-88 will become law. He said the Wek'èezhii board represents the interests of the Tlicho in a way that a superboard would not, because it is overseen by people who have an intimate knowledge of the land the board administers.

"We're not opposed to industry," he said. 

"Our young people today need jobs more so than ever before. Right now we've got young people in the mining industry getting into supervisory positions. All of that is created by industry. So we're not opposed to industry, but we want our land looked after good, like our elders wished."

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