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Northern governance and the transfer or devolution of responsibilities and powers to the territories is a long-standing policy objective of the Government of Canada. Devolution in Nunavut is an essential step in the political and economic development of the territory.
Since the 1960s, the federal government has gradually transferred responsibility to territorial governments for matters such as:
- social services
Discussions to transfer and devolve responsibilities and powers for land and resource management to the Government of Nunavut have taken place at various times since the creation of the territory.
These responsibilities are currently held within Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada. By devolving these responsibilities to the territory, the parties aim to give Nunavummiut greater control for decisions on lands and resources, thereby strengthening regional governance and accountability while opening the door to new revenue streams and economic development opportunities.
Significant progress has been made in northern devolution with Yukon successfully managing its own land and natural resource since 2003, and the Northwest Territories devolution took effect in 2014.
How devolution works
Many responsibilities that used to be exercised by the federal government have been transferred to territorial governments over the years. These include health care, education, municipal services, and in the Northwest Territories and Yukon the management of public lands and resources.
There are typically 5 phases to a devolution process:
- Protocol: a framework agreement or negotiation protocol is outlined and used as a guide for negotiations
- Agreement-in-principle (AIP): an AIP is developed and signed
- This non-binding agreement allows the parties to arrive at a joint understanding on the main issues regarding the transfer of land and resources management from the Government of Canada to the Government of Nunavut.
- Final agreement: a final devolution agreement is negotiated and signed by all parties.
- Implementation and legislation: legislation and transition mechanisms are drafted and an implementation schedule is determined by all parties.
- Transfer of responsibilities: the legislation and transition mechanisms are implemented through a series of legislative changes which are approved through Parliament and mirrored in the Nunavut Legislative Assembly.
Signing of the Nunavut devolution agreement-in-principle
The parties to the Nunavut devolution process are:
- Government of Canada
- Government of Nunavut
- Government of Nunavut website.
The chief negotiators initialled a draft AIP in May 2019 and recommended it to their principles for signature. Section 35 Crown consultations with Indigenous groups holding asserted or established Aboriginal or treaty rights in Nunavut began shortly afterward after the AIP was initialled.
What an agreement-in-principle is
An AIP, is:
- An agreement between the parties on the main issues under negotiation
- a significant milestone in the negotiation process indicating that the parties have come to agreement on a broad range of subject matters
While not legally enforceable, the AIP generally contains the major elements of the final devolution agreement.
Generally, an AIP indicates:
- which parties will have jurisdiction over which responsibilities
- when and how that transfer of responsibilities will take place
- details of the funding levels to be transferred along with the associated responsibilities
Nunavut's AIP pertains to the official transfer of responsibilities for Nunavut's public lands, water and natural resources from the Government of Canada to the Government of Nunavut.
The AIP provides for the development and approval of human resources development strategies and identifies:
- financial resources required for completing and carrying out the devolved responsibilities
- the scope and conditions of the transfer
Section 35 consultations
The Crown's duty to consult stems from section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, providing constitutional recognition and affirmation of Aboriginal and treaty rights in Canada.
During the devolution process, the Government of Canada has consulted and continues to consult with Indigenous groups adjacent to Nunavut who may have Aboriginal or treaty rights or interests within Nunavut.
If something in it needs to change, or if it needs to be added to, because of concerns raised by other Indigenous groups, such changes can be made between the signing of the AIP and the Final Devolution Agreement.
After the agreement-in-principle is signed
The AIP will serve as a basis to develop a final devolution agreement.
It will take approximately 5 years from signing the AIP to when all responsibilities are formally transferred to the Government of Nunavut.
The timeline allows for:
- negotiation of a final devolution transfer agreement
- training for certain positions within the Government of Nunavut
- negotiation of an implementation schedule
- drafting of legislation to create the legal framework needed for the Government of Nunavut to take over the responsibilities
Read the AIP here:
Nunavut is ready for devolution
Nunavut has been negotiating for and preparing to take over decision making for land management for many years. The same process has been successfully undertaken in the other territories.
Existing responsibilities will be transferred, with the personnel and the legislative authority for them.
Since the protocol, the parties have been keenly aware of the challenges of implementing devolution in Nunavut. Additional measures have been taken to ensure a smooth transition. These include:
- an approximate 5-year timeframe to prepare for implementation
- additional funding and to develop and implement targeted training both before and after the transfer date
- News release: Nunavut Devolution Agreement-in-Principle signed
- News release: Government of Canada appoints new Chief Federal Negotiator for Nunavut Devolution (July 9, 2016)
- Biographical note for Chief Federal Negotiator: Fred Caron
- Mayer Report on Nunavut devolution
- Lands and Resources Devolution Negotiation Protocol
- Yukon devolution
- NWT devolution