Hay River residents remain divided in their opinions of the current devolution draft agreement.
“I’m still debating it,” said George Lafferty, who attended a GNWT information session on May 9 in Hay River. “This is the first information session I got to, but there are still a lot of things that seem pretty vague and others I just don’t agree with.”
Martin Goldney, the chief negotiation for devolution with the territorial government, was in Hay River on May 9 to host two information sessions to explain the benefits of increased resource revenue and greater accountability. The first, over lunch, targeted the business community through the Hay River Chamber of Commerce and drew approximately 30 people, while the evening session at the Hay River Metis Council offices attracted a crowd of 20.
While attendees at the second meeting were largely not opposed to devolution, many of them were keen to question some of the specifics of the agreement-in-principle.
Joanne Barnaby, a resident of the Hay River Reserve, questioned the clause that allows the federal government to take back devolved lands if it deems them to be of “national interest,” such as – but not limited to – for the creation of national parks and the settlement of land claims.
“It seems pretty wide open to me,” she commented.
Lafferty was particularly interested in the fate of existing waste sites in the territory, including the unknown status of the former mine at Pine Point.
“I’m from out around there,” he said. “I know they’re trying to re-open it and there are development plans, but does that mean that it’s not a waste site that needs to be cleaned up?”
Pine Point is not on the current list of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada sites under remediation or assessment for future cleanup.
According to Goldney, the existing waste sites will remain under federal jurisdiction after devolution and the GNWT will take responsibility for those created after. However, he noted that procedures have changed in the resource sector in the last few decades, and with an increased awareness of environmental science, the costs for reclamation are generally built into the cost of a project.
“Imperial Oil is the biggest corporation in the world,” Goldney said in reference to its development in Norman Wells. “We don’t expect them to go bankrupt any time soon.”
There is some ambiguity in the agreement-in-principle with regards to as-yet undiscovered waste sites, but Goldney assured those at the information meeting that, while the GNWT would be responsible for relatively small cases, the federal government would become involved in the event of a large discovery.
“We’re confident there is no other Giant Mine hidden anywhere,” he said. “But we made sure we can go back to Canada if we need to.”
Hay River North MLA Robert Bouchard attended both of the May 9 meetings and noted Hay River’s main concern is economic development related to the decentralization of control from Yellowknife.
“There was talk of where we would find office space for the new positions at the meeting over lunch,” he said. “There’s fairly good support for the agreement for the job potentials.”
Yellowknife-based watchdog group Alternatives North recently published a poll of NWT residents on whether they wanted a plebiscite on the question of devolution, with the results coming back overwhelmingly in favour of a vote.
Goldney said the price tag associated with a referendum on the matter would approach $1.8 million, and as a result, MLAs voted against holding one. He also said community meetings and information sessions are good venues to gauge public reaction and they would happen whether or not there was a plebiscite.
— Sarah Ladik