Nunavut likely to miss its target on reaching agreement-in-principle on devolution

Nunavut is likely going to miss its target on reaching an agreement-in-principle on devolution — the process of transferring federal government powers to the territorial government.

MLA John Main urges slower pace as devolution talks drag on

The first sitting of the fifth Legislative Assembly of Nunavut began this week in Iqaluit. (Jane Sponagle/CBC)

Nunavut is likely going to miss its target on reaching an agreement-in-principle on devolution — the process of transferring federal government powers to the territorial government. 

The territorial government's 2017-2020 business plan aimed to have such an agreement by the end of March. But Nunavut Premier Paul Quassa says there are "significant gaps" in the negotiations.

An agreement-in-principle, signed with the federal government and Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., would serve as a guide for the negotiations on the final devolution agreement. 

Nunavut is the last territory to begin the process.

"The parties are at the negotiating table in Ottawa, as we speak," Quassa said in the Legislature on Wednesday. "And certainly there are some areas that they'll be dealing with. In particular, financial requirements and the geographical scope of the agreement.

"The gap is significant and will involve difficult negotiations, but the parties did agree to the main table draft schedule for the remainder of the 2018 calendar year, and that's where we are right now."

Bad deal worse than no deal, MLA says

Arviat North-Whale Cove MLA John Main grilled the premier in question period, asking for more details on the gaps Quassa referred to. He didn't get much more information.

Main then went on the offensive, urging the government not to rush into a deal.

"My concern is a bad devolution deal would be worse than no devolution deal for Nunavut," Main said.

"There are so many issues that we have as a government, without additional responsibilities that would be given to us under a devolution agreement."

Many territorial government jobs vacant

Main questioned whether Nunavut was ready to handle such responsibilities, given that 25 per cent of territorial government jobs are vacant, according to the most recent quarterly employment report.

"However, a big part of any new devolution deal would see us taking on significantly new responsibilities in the area of land and resource management," Main said.

"We need to recognize that filling this capacity gap, by transferring over a significant number of current federal employees to the GN would likely have a negative impact on our own goals of achieving higher Inuit employment in the public service."

Main said the process shouldn't be driven by "artificial time tables," and asked whether Quassa and the new government shared his view.

Quassa only replied that "securing a good deal is in the best interest of Canada and Nunavut, and is a priority of the Government of Nunavut."

He did not elaborate on whether achieving a "good deal" and doing it at a slower pace were mutually exclusive.

Devolution process

According to the Department of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs, the devolution process has five phases: 

  • In 2008, the three parties signed a devolution negotiation protocol agreement, which outlined how the process would work.
  • Nunavut had aimed to pass the next hurdle, an agreement-in-principle outlining the main issues, by the end of this month.
  • Once the agreement-in-principle is complete, a final devolution transfer agreement will be negotiated and signed by all parties.
  • Then the groups will put together legislation and mechanisms to implement the agreement.
  • Finally, those will be implemented through a "series of legislative changes to be approved through Parliament and mirrored in the Nunavut Legislative Assembly."

N.W.T.'s devolution agreement took effect in 2014. Yukon's took effect in 2003.

About the Author

Nick Murray is a CBC reporter, based in Iqaluit since 2015. He got his start with CBC in Fredericton after graduating from St. Thomas University's journalism program. He's also worked two Olympic Games as a senior writer with CBC Sports. You can follow Nick on Twitter at @NickMurray91.