Chuck Strahl, Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, announced the federal government’s three-pronged plan to improve the regulatory process in the Northwest Territories during a presentation to the Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce on Monday afternoon.
Strahl said the government’s new Action Plan will ensure that the present regulatory regimes are more effective by removing “the obstacles that are impeding activity in the North.”
“The current situation is, frankly, unhelpful: prospective investors in northern resource projects face complex and overlapping regulatory processes that are unpredictable, costly and time-consuming,” he said.
Strahl said billions of dollars in potential investment are not being realized due to problems with the current regulatory system.
“The regulatory regimes in the North are too complicated and they are chasing away potential investors,” Strahl said during his speech. “We want to get a system in place to make sure we can attract investors and keep them here, not only to do their exploration work, but to do their long-term work here as well.”
The plan has three key elements: legislative changes that will improve Northern regulatory processes by eliminating overlap and duplication and create a business environment that has more certainty and timeliness; improved environmental stewardship; and building on strong relationships with Aboriginal groups.
The legislative changes will include a new NWT Surface Rights Act, which will help the government effectively resolve land access disputes; amendments to the NWT Waters Act to ensure it represents the area it applies to; and amendments to the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act to provide for more effective and efficient processes.
Strahl also said the plan should send a strong signal to investors that the federal government is serious about regulatory improvement and want companies to invest in the North. A total of $11 million has been set aside to improve the regulatory regimes, with a further $8 million earmarked to support community-based environmental monitoring.
“Our government is committed to working with northerners and Aboriginal groups to remove the obstacles that are impeding economic activity in the North,” Strahl said.
“We want to see a strong and prosperous North, as do all of you, that realizes the region’s incredible resource potential while also protecting the environment.”
Mineral exploration has declined across Canada, with $1.74 billion invested in 2009 – a decline from $3.2 billion in 2006.
The NWT was the hardest hit jurisdiction, with suffered an 81 per cent decline in exploration expeditures.
“We’re taking a disproportionate hit in the North,” Strahl explained. “It’s something we need to fix.”
Strahl also announced the appointment of former Hay River Mayor John Pollard as the Chief Federal Negotiator. Pollard’s role will be to lead consultations and negotiations with the Government of the Northwest Territories and Aboriginal leaders as part of the plan to legislative amendments.
“John’s task is a big one,” Strahl admitted. “But the goal is the right one.”
Monday also represented the grand opening of the Northern Project Management Office in Yellowknife, which is part of the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency (CanNor). The new office will be a centralized federal source of information and advice to clients, Strahl said.
“Resource companies have told us unless we invest and fix the regulatory system, they won’t invest and they won’t develop,” he said.