Hurry up and wait: Players in place, but few details on quest for Nunavut’s devolution deal

Nunavut’s ongoing devolution negotiations have another new bargaining partner at the table.

The federal government appointed Fred Caron to the position of chief federal negotiator on the Nunavut devolution file in July. Caron will work with Simon Awa, the Government of Nunavut’s chief negotiator, and Udloriak Hanson, chief negotiator for Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. (NTI), representing Nunavut’s Inuit under the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement.

A deal to transfer responsibility for the 80 percent of Nunavut lands now administered by the federal government to the government of Nunavut has sat on the federal government’s to-do list since a negotiation protocol was signed by the three parties in 2008. During her time as Nunavut premier between 2008 and 2013, Eva Ariak pushed Ottawa for a deal but the parties made no progress.

The cameras whirred in 2014 at a press conference announcing new personnel to oversee the file. While the parties expressed hope then that an agreement-in-principle could be reached within a year, talks were postponed after the Harper government called the 2015 federal election. After Ottawa’s most recent negotiator appointment, Awa expressed hope that the parties could meet by late September of this year. 

A Government of Nunavut spokesperson said the territory is working toward having an agreement-in-principle completed by March 2017, with formal talks starting “in the coming weeks.”

But Awa’s federal counterpart won’t commit to a timetable. Caron “will formally reach out to his counterparts in Nunavut, including the Government of Nunavut and Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated (NTI), to discuss the timing and plans for a restart of formal negotiations,” according to an emailed statement from Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada. Devolution will advance “within a mutually agreeable timeframe.”

Nunavut Premier Peter Taptuna could give few details about how many jobs might be transferred from the federal to the territorial government when questioned in the Legislative Assembly this spring. He said 138 jobs were transferred after the Northwest Territories signed its final devolution agreement, but said Nunavut’s job numbers will only be known “down the line” since “there is no real development that’s happening on Crown lands at this time.”  

The Northwest Territories celebrated the implementation of their devolution deal on April 1, 2014, while Yukon’s agreement went into effect 11 years prior. 

A NTI spokesperson said they will wait until the federal government sets their devolution mandate before commenting on the coming talks. But with little more than government websites touting devolution’s benefits and no dates set for formal discussions, the box beside “sign devolution deal” on the government’s checklist will likely remain blank for some time to come.◉

 Photo credit: Brian Pehora

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