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OTTAWA — The Harper government is on the brink of making the Northwest Territories a province in all but name by ceding federal control over land, resources and water.
Much of the territorial government has arrived in Ottawa. Premier Bob McLeod, his cabinet, deputy ministers and aboriginal and business leaders begin two days of talks Wednesday with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and officials.
The people and government of the territory stand to benefit from hundreds of millions of dollars in new resource revenues under the agreement, which will see the territorial and not the federal government primarily responsible for approving resource developments.
Mining output in NWT is expected to almost double in this decade. And the move fits with the Conservative government’s determination to retreat from federal environmental oversight in most jurisdictions.
The principal aim is to finalize devolution, as it’s called, of control over natural resources from Ottawa to Yellowknife. “It seems like everything is coming together,” Mr. McLeod said Tuesday in an interview. The territory is “on the verge of achieving devolution. … We are advancing on many fronts,” he said.
Asked for a time frame, he replied: “I would say we are about two weeks away. We just have a couple of items to work out.”
It couldn’t come at a better time for the people of the territory. The Conference Board of Canada released a report this week predicting that global demand will push mining output in NWT from $732-million in 2011 to $1.3-billion in 2020. Four new mines are expected to open in 2015, and a fifth in 2017.
This will return mining activity in the territory to the level it enjoyed in 2007, before the recession and declining output created a slump.
“Mining is the future economic driver of Canada’s North,” the report concluded. The Northwest Territories will be doing much of the driving.
Jason MacDonald, spokesman for Aboriginal and Northern Affairs Minister John Duncan, confirmed that the government intends to reach a devolution agreement with NWT, though he would not commit to the timing of a final deal.
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