Screening approach for Thaidene Nene 'inconsistent' with law, says review board

The Mackenzie Valley Review Board says Parks Canada's screening approach for Thaidene National Park Reserve was 'inconsistent' with the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act.

NWT & Nunavut Chamber of Mines says its concerns are 'vindicated' by report

Less than a week before the Thaidene Nene National Park Reserve is set to be officially established, concerns are being raised about Parks Canada's assessment approach for the park reserve. (Parks Canada)

The head of the Northwest Territories/Nunavut Chamber of Mines says his organization is "vindicated" by a report from the Mackenzie Valley Review Board even though it decides against ordering an environmental assessment for Thaidene Nene National Park Reserve. 

The chamber and the North Slave Métis Alliance had requested the review board order an environmental assessment following Parks Canada's preliminary screening of Thaidene Nene on July 5.

Parks Canada decided not to refer the proposal for an environmental assessment as it found there was "no reasonable likelihood" the park reserve would have a "significant adverse impact" on the environment. 

But the Métis alliance raised concerns to the review board about its members' ability to exercise their rights in the protected areas. 

And the chamber of mines expressed concerns that the park reserve does not allow for an access corridor. It also said the mineral and energy resource assessment was not sufficiently funded and missed areas with high mineral potential.

Tom Hoefer, executive director of the chamber, said it had proposed a corridor to the southeastern part of the N.W.T., a "very huge area that's underdeveloped and under-mapped and a very difficult area to get to." He noted corridors have been approved in other northern national parks like Nahanni National Park Reserve in the N.W.T. and Ukkusiksalik National Park in Nunavut. 

"They're inconsistent in their approach, we'd like to see some consistency," he said. 

'It is unlikely that an EA could change what Parliament has done'

The review board ultimately decided not to order an environmental assessment (EA) as it was not convinced this would address the concerns raised by the two groups. It said it's up to Parks Canada and the First Nations and Métis governments to "figure out how to proceed." 

Tom Hoefer, executive director of the Northwest Territories/Nunavut Chamber of Mines. (Hilary Bird/CBC )

"Even if the Review Board wanted to do an EA, it is unlikely that an EA could change what Parliament has done, and in the Board's opinion it would be legally problematic to try," it stated in its reasons for the decision

The review board, however, did take issue with Parks Canada and the N.W.T. government's screening processes. Particularly, the review board said action was taken to establish Thaidene Nene before the screening and environmental processes were complete, which is "inconsistent" with the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act (MVRMA) and the land claims it is based on. 

While the review period for Parks Canada's preliminary screening of the park reserve was not completed until July 5, amendments to the Canadian National Parks Act pertaining to the establishment and management of Thaidene Nene received Royal Assent on June 21. 

"The time of the legislative process relative to the screening is problematic," the review board stated.

 It added while it might be "theoretically possible" for Parliament to reverse or appeal its decision, "such an action is effectively impossible."

"I think we're vindicated by that report," Hoefer told CBC. 

"The review board is expressing considerable disappointment over it and of course we're disappointed as well."

He noted the chamber is not against establishing a national park but said this process needs to follow due process and be open and transparent. 

"I think the big concern is if you can't trust the law, what can you trust?"

Hoefer said the focus now should be on making sure the process is properly followed in the future. He added the chamber will "make a point" to express their concerns to the federal and territorial governments. 

"I don't think it can be left like this." 

The Thaidene Nene National Park Reserve consists of 26,376 square kilometres of land northeast of Lutselk'e, N.W.T.. At its core is a national park which is surrounded by a territorially protected area. 

Agreements for establishing the park reserve are expected to be signed by the Lutsel K'e Dene First Nation, Parks Canada and the territorial government in Lutselk'e on August 21.

With files from Juanita Taylor