Western Arctic MP Dennis Bevington says the new session of the House of Commons, which began Jan. 30, may have a big impact on the North, most notably through possible changes to the regulatory board structure in the NWT.
“There have been a number of indications that the government is going to move forward with legislation that will directly impact the Northwest Territories in terms of environmental regulatory process,” said Bevington, adding those indications include comments by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
The New Democrat MP said the federal government apparently intends to move towards uniting regional land and water boards into a single board.
“But we haven’t seen the legislation yet, so we don’t really know exactly what they’re proposing,” he said.
Any change to the board structure would have to be done by amending the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act, so it would have to go before Parliament.
Bevington believes it is possible the Mackenzie Valley Environmental Impact Review Board might be affected, adding it is the only environmental assessment board in the NWT.
“If they bring that piece of legislation forward for amendment, they could be doing a number of things with it,” he said.
Bevington said there has not been open support in the NWT for combining regional boards into one board.
“Most talk about other things that can be done,” he said. “Over the next month or so, I’m going to be working to build a consensus among all the elements of the Northwest Territories as to what actual things we can do to improve the regulatory system that we can agree on.”
The MP suggested one improvement would be to take away multiple-agency scrutiny in Ottawa.
“Because many of the departments that have had their say at the board level, then go back to the minister and have a say (there) as well.”
Timely appointments of board members would also help, he said. “We’ve had an awful time with that over the last five years. It’s terrible. We’ve been waiting years to get people appointed to these boards to do the work.”
Plus, he said more training could be required.
The MP said the Inuvialuit region is covered by a separate act and would not be affected by the possible changes.
Bevington thinks the federal government may also be eyeing regional renewable resources boards.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen with those,” he said. “A lot of this is conjecture, but we have heard that they’re interested in combining those.”
Bevington also noted that, before Christmas, senior bureaucrats brought up the possibility of legislation to create a surface rights board.
However, he added, “What bureaucrats say and what happens in Parliament can be different, so I guess ‘may’ is still probably the operational word.”
A surface rights board would mediate between landowners and those with sub-surface rights for things such as mining or drilling.
Bevington is also “very concerned” about the possible impact of the coming federal budget, expected in early March.
“We’ve heard that we could see large number of layoffs throughout the civil service that would impact on the North,” he said. “The North will be part of that, you can be sure.”
Bevington said New Democrats will argue that it might be better to raise some taxes on big corporations making record profits on resources, rather than cutting back on government services.