Citation in Canadian Parliament hearings on natural resources

Yesterday, New Democrat MP for Vaudreuil-Soulanges Jamie Nicholls cited my recent article, “Nunavut, Greenland and the politics of resource revenues,” during a session of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Natural Resources.  He was questioning two senior officials from Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC), Michel Chenier and Mimi Fortier, on resource-revenue sharing in the North:

[Translation from French]

Mr. Jamie Nicholls: Mr. Chenier and Ms. Fortier, thank you for joining us today. I would also like to talk about progress. You talked about the benefits for the north, and I am very interested in that. The situation is often considered on a project-by-project basis and in the short term. I recently read an article by Anthony Speca, in the May issue of Policy Options. Here is a summary of that article:

“[…] assessment of Ottawa’s approach to sharing natural resource revenues with its three northern territories might go like this: Yukon got the least attractive deal, the Northwest Territories got a much better one—but Greenland got the best deal of all [through its agreement with Denmark]. Left on the sidelines, Nunavut has had to content itself with an advance look at the terms on offer, including the comparatively generous terms Greenland obtained from Denmark. Should Nunavut try to match Greenland’s revenue-sharing deal for itself?”

I am quoting this article because the north is facing some major challenges….


The Chair: Mr. Nicholls, sorry for interrupting. We’ll stop the clock for a minute. It came across in translation that you were quoting from a certain magazine. I don’t know whether you gave its name.

[Translation from French]

Mr. Jamie Nicholls: It’s the magazine Policy Options.


The Chair: Good. We’ve got it. Thank you very much.

Go ahead.

[Translation from French]

Mr. Jamie Nicholls: Could you tell me what the challenges in revenue-sharing are? Could improvements be made in Nunavut’s case? What is the department’s direction?


The Chair: Go ahead, Mr. Chenier.

[Translation from French]

Mr. Michel Chenier: Thank you. Ms. Fortier and I work for the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development. We are in charge of the rights issuance program for the north. Clearly, your questions are a bit more general. The Canadian government’s income transfer program for the territories and negotiations under an assessment process are issues that involve fiscal policy, which comes under the Department of Finance’s jurisdiction.

While Chenier’s response might seem like a bit of a dodge, he is right to point out that it’s Finance Canada and not AANDC that would handle any questions of resource-revenue sharing.  At the same time, AANDC would be responsible for negotiating all other elements of an agreement to devolve lands and resources from Canada to Nunavut.  This “two-table” negotiating process highlights how the federal approach to devolution disconnects the political vision of greater territorial self-reliance from the fiscal plan required to achieve it.  As I wrote in my paper regarding devolution in the Northwest Territories:

The NWT’s cap [on resource revenues shared with the federal government] is set at a round 10 per cent of its G[ross] E[expenditure] B[ase]—a mere fraction of a hypothetical and somewhat historically arbitrary proxy for the NWT’s expenditure needs.  This distinction suggests that one of Ottawa’s primary political impulses at the negotiating table was to limit the potential future cost of devolution to the federal treasury, rather than to help propel the NWT along the track of its political evolution within Confederation.  Ottawa’s practice of dealing with fiscal matters at a separate table once political matters have been settled only strengthens that impression.  The overall result was an agreement that appears to have aligned Ottawa’s presumable political and fiscal objectives first and foremost, not the NWT’s.

Download a full transcript of the May 10, 2012, session of the Standing Committee on Natural Resources from the website of the Parliament of Canada.

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