FAQ: General Questions about Devolution

What is devolution?

‘Devolution’ refers to a transfer of responsibility from the federal government to a provincial or territorial government. This particular devolution initiative will transfer responsibility for the management of public land, water and resources in the Northwest Territories from the Government of Canada to the Government of the Northwest Territories (GNWT).

Why is this happening now?

The people of the NWT are ready to take charge of decisions that affect their future. After more than a decade of negotiations, we have now reached a Devolution Agreement that will provide significant benefits for all NWT residents, businesses and governments.

What will be different after devolution?

There will be two main differences after devolution:

  • Decision-Making in the NWT – Decisions about the use of public land, water and resources will be made here in the NWT. New jobs will be created in the territory to do this work.
  • Financial Benefit from Resource Development – The GNWT will keep up to 50% of the revenues from resource development on public land in the NWT. This will provide the territory with a significant source of new revenue. The GNWT has committed to share up to 25% of its portion of these resource revenues with participating Aboriginal governments.

What will stay the same?

  • Aboriginal and treaty rights – Aboriginal and treaty rights, including existing and ongoing land claim and self-governments agreements, are fully protected by the Constitution.
  • Aboriginal Land Ownership Rights – Aboriginal governments with settled land claim and self-government agreements will continue to have the same rights and authorities they already have with respect to their settlement lands.
  • Land and Resource Management Laws – The GNWT will initially mirror or copy federal legislation. In the future, the GNWT will work with Aboriginal governments, residents, investors and other stakeholders to ensure NWT laws, programs, policies and processes reflect northern needs and priorities.

Do we really need devolution?

It makes sense that the people of the NWT should make the decisions about the public land, water and natural resources in their territory. It also makes sense that all NWT residents should benefit from the lucrative resource development that happens here. The provinces and Yukon already have these rights and benefits.

Has devolution happened before in the NWT?

Yes. Since 1967, the NWT has received responsibility for health care, education, social services, highways, airport administration and forestry management in a number of separate transfers.

What will happen if we delay devolution?

The simplest answer is that delaying devolution would also delay the rights and benefits that come with it. Every moment we delay is another opportunity for decisions with long-lasting consequences to be made about NWT land and resources by people who are not directly affected by the results. Every day without devolution, the NWT loses up to $170,000 in potential resource revenues that could be used to build much-needed community infrastructure, pay down our debt, and create jobs.

What involvement have Aboriginal governments had?

All NWT Aboriginal governments were invited to be parties in devolution negotiations throughout the process, and the governments of Canada and the NWT have provided financial support for their participation. Many have been participants in the negotiations since 2001 and were active in drafting the Agreement-in-Principle (AiP). Five Aboriginal governments to date have signed the final Devolution Agreements including the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation (IRC), NWT Métis Nation, Gwich’in Tribal Council,  Sahtu Secretariat Incorporated and Tlicho Government. For more information visit our Aboriginal Government Participation page.

Will the GNWT own all public land in the NWT after devolution?

As a result of devolution, the GNWT will be responsible for managing most of the public land in the NWT. This will give the GNWT the ability to grant interests as an owner of land and resources in the same way the federal government can now. The GNWT will also have the responsibility to regulate uses of water and administer rights in respect of water in the NWT.

Why did parties have to sign the AiP in order to have a seat at the negotiating table?

Signing an Agreement-in-Principle (AiP) is an important step in the negotiation of complex and significant agreements. The GNWT, Government of Canada, Inuvialuit Regional Corporation, Northwest Territory Métis Nation, Sahtu Secretariat Incorporated, Gwich’in Tribal Council and Tlicho Government all signed the NWT Devolution of Lands and Resources AiP before joining negotiations for the final agreement.

Signing the AiP indicated an agreement with the basic premise of devolution negotiations – that the management of public land, water and resources in the NWT should be transferred to the GNWT. It also means that the parties agreed to work towards a final agreement on matters identified in the AiP.

Devolution provides an important opportunity for Aboriginal people to help shape the future of the territory and share in the economic benefits that will flow from it. The GNWT has welcomed all regional Aboriginal governments to become full parties to the negotiations. However, we respect the decisions of governments that do not wish to sign the Agreement and remain committed to working with them in other ways to ensure that their concerns and interests are understood and addressed.