Canada and Nunavut sign devolution agreement, here’s what it means

At the moment, Canada currently makes all the final decisions for the development of minerals and oil and gas on Nunavut’s public land and has the authority to collect royalties from those resources.

Devolution will change this – allowing Nunavut the final decision-making authority and the tools to have a greater voice in the management of its resources. It will further transfer the authority to collect royalties and the ability to amend land and resource management legislation.

What is devolution?

Devolution is the transfer or delegation of authorities from a central government, in this case, the federal government to a local or regional government – which is Nunavut. Nunavut Devolution means the territory will be taking over responsibility of its Crown lands and resources from the Government of Canada.

In 2003 Yukon signed its devolution agreement with Canada followed by the Northwest Territories in 2014.

Devolution does not amend the Constitution of Canada, nor alter the constitutional status of Nunavut, but it does allow for the last remaining “provincial-like” powers to be transferred to the territory and completes a decades-long process that was envisioned as part of the land claims process for Nunavut.

The “Parties” to the Nunavut Devolution process are the federal government, the government of Nunavut and Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., the organization that represents Nunavummiut’s treaty negotiations and responsibilities.

In Nunavut, the Devolution Agreement will outline the transfer of responsibilities (also referred to as administration and control) for Nunavut’s public (Crown) lands, fresh waters, and resources from Canada to the government of Nunavut. This transfer will allow Nunavummiut, through their public government, more direct access to decision making.

There are five phases to this Devolution process:

  1. Protocol: a framework agreement or negotiation protocol is outlined and used as a guide for negotiations. This was completed in Nunavut in 2008 when the Nunavut Lands and Resources Devolution Negotiation Protocol was signed.
  2. Agreement-in-Principle: the agreement in principle, signed by Canada, Nunavut and NTI in August 2019, outlined the main agreed-upon conditions, funding and framework regarding the transfer of land and resource management responsibilities to the GN.
  3. Devolution Agreement: building on the core elements set out in the agreement in principle, the final Devolution Agreement sets out the arrangements of the transfer and legally binds the Parties to the process. The Chief Negotiators of the government of Canada, Nunavut and NTI will initial the final terms of the Devolution Agreement once the consultations with Indigenous organizations are complete.
  4. Implementation and Legislation: once the final Devolution Agreement is signed it will be implemented over several years. Some implementation, such as drafting legislation and negotiating tripartite implementation plans, will take place between the execution of the Devolution Agreement and the date that responsibility is transferred. Some aspects of implementation, such as human resources management and contaminated site assessment, will continue well beyond the date of transfer.
  5. Transfer of Responsibilities: As of a specific transfer date, a series of legislative changes and transition mechanisms will go into effect. Parliament must pass legislative changes, including amendments and repeals of certain statutes and regulations, while the Nunavut Legislative Assembly must introduce and consider “mirrored” versions of what will be repealed federal statutes and regulations. Various coordination and cooperation agreements will remain in effect well beyond the date of transfer.

The transfer will take place on April 1, 25 years after Nunavut became a territory.

Nunavut devolution
Polar bears roam outside of Resolute Bay, Nunavut. Photo: Danielle Paradis/APTN.

The Devolution Agreement has 13 chapters:

1. Definitions and Interpretation: contains a list of defined terms and provisions to guide the interpretation of the Devolution Agreement;

2. General Provisions: sets out the legal status of the Devolution Agreement relative to other laws, and other standard contractual terms;

3. Transfer of Responsibilities: sets out the powers and responsibilities that Canada will be transferring to Nunavut;

4. Administration of Petroleum Resources: sets out a framework for the transfer of management of onshore petroleum resources (oil and gas) and for cooperation concerning offshore petroleum resources;

5. Post-Devolution Coordination between Nunavut and NTI: gives effect to a separate agreement, attached as an Appendix to the Devolution Agreement, in which the Parties agree to coordinate and cooperate concerning managing lands and rights on public lands and waters and Inuit Owned Land;

6. Impacted Sites: provides a framework for the management of the transfer of contaminated federal sites from Canada to Nunavut.

7. Human Resources Development, Employment and Article 23: provides human resource development strategies for maximizing Inuit employment among new jobs created by Devolution, while ensuring Nunavut has the capacity to discharge the new responsibilities transferred from Canada.

8. Affected Federal Employees: sets out options and safeguards for the government of Canada employees whose positions will be transferred to Nunavut as a result of Devolution. It also sets out information-sharing requirements to ensure the government of Canada’s role as an employer to those positions transitions smoothly to the government of Nunavut;

9. Properties, Assets, Records and Contracts: sets out what property Canada will transfer to the government of Nunavut, including land, buildings, records, contracts and other assets, and provides a process for facilitating that transfer;

10. Financial Matters: sets out the amounts and timing of funding that Canada will provide to the Nunavut and NTI to facilitate Devolution. This includes “one-time” funding to support the process of transferring responsibilities, and ongoing funding to support GN’s ongoing management of these additional responsibilities;

11. Net Fiscal Benefit: sets out the formula through which the government of Canada shares resource revenues for minerals, oil, gas and water with Nunavut.

12. Implementation Matters: requires the Implementation Planning Committee to develop an Implementation Plan, and requires the Parties to jointly appoint an Implementation Representatives Table to oversee the work of the Committee.

13. Dispute Resolution: sets out a framework for resolving disputes between the Parties about the interpretation, application or implementation of the Devolution Agreement.

Information was provided by the government of Nunavut

Nunavut Premier P.J. Akeeagok sat down with APTN’s Trevor Wright for more on the territory’s devolution signing.

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