Feds to start talks on merging N.W.T. regulatory boards

The federal government is gearing up for a round of consultations on merging the N.W.T.'s four regional land and water boards into one superboard.

Revamp aimed at speeding up permitting process for resource development

The federal government is gearing up for a round of consultations on merging the N.W.T.’s four regional land and water boards into one superboard.

The boards are responsible for granting — or denying — licences for mining and oil and gas developments.

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada sent the regional agencies letters just before Christmas stating plans to begin consultations on creating a superboard this year.

In 2007, the federal government had Neil McCrank, a former chair of the Alberta Energy and Utilities Board, review the regulatory systems in the North. McCrank’s 2008 report made a number of recommendations on how applications for development in the N.W.T. should be handled — including amalgamating regional boards.

To speed up approvals, McCrank proposed amending the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act to centralize regulatory authority into one so-called "superboard."

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development says it's to "ensure the regime works in a more timely and efficient manner."

Gwich'in leader says merging boards won't solve problems

Richard Nerysoo, president of the Gwich'in Tribal Council, says amalgamating the boards goes against the spirit and intent of land claims.

The Gwich'in Land and Water Board came out of the land claim and self-government agreement the Gwich'in signed with the federal government in 1992.

Nerysoo said merging the boards would reduce the authority and influence of the regions.

"The fact is that we reject that idea and recognize the need for us to respect the regional land claim agreements and the boards and agencies that were established under these new modern-day treaties and resulting really out of —  in many ways — the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act."

Nerysoo said eliminating regional boards would not solve any deficiencies in the current system.

He says much of the blame for delays lies at the feet of the federal government, as recommendations from boards often sit on the minister's desk in Ottawa for a long time awaiting approval.

Ken Coates, a history professor at the University of Waterloo who has studied aboriginal rights and Northern politics, said he doesn't think land claims will be threatened in the streamlining process.

"Those agreements are quite clear as to what role and responsibilities rest with First Nations communities, with First Nations government," he said.

"So I would feel relatively comfortable thinking that the process and the changes that occur will be done in a such away that they won't interfere with aboriginal rights."

Coates said merging the boards and simplifying the process would be beneficial as having regional boards adds to the cost of resource development and that scares off investors.