J. Michael Miltenberger – Transboundary Water

6 novembre 2014
Déclarations et discours de ministres

Mr. Speaker, as a result of devolution, much of the lands and waters of the Northwest Territories are now the responsibility of our government.  We had prepared for this eventually by getting our policy house in order through the development of the NWT Water Stewardship Strategy and its Action Plan.  We built these documents collaboratively with our partners, in particular the Aboriginal governments of the NWT. They represent a huge success, and they demonstrate how innovative we are here in the North.

I am very pleased to report another critically important success.

Our post-devolution responsibility for water, and our commitment made in the NWT Water Stewardship Strategy, was to negotiate Transboundary Water Management Agreements with our neighbouring jurisdictions in the Mackenzie River Basin.

As of yesterday, our negotiating team has reached a stable Intentions Document with Alberta.  This is following having reached agreement on an Intentions Document with British Columbia earlier this year, in June.  So, we have now accomplished a critical stage with the two key jurisdictions upstream of us.  These two agreements cover over 85% of the Mackenzie River Basin.  With these two agreements in place we can confidently say that we are protecting the vast majority of the Mackenzie River Basin, and, because the Mackenzie River Basin is about 20% of the land mass of Canada, these agreements are of also national and international significance. 

Both Intentions Documents meet the strategic outcomes for these agreements that were approved by Cabinet in 2012.

First and foremost, they are ecological agreements that protect the health of the aquatic ecosystem while allowing for development by both parties.  This has only been negotiated in one other place in the world, in Australia, and in the face of drought they were not able to maintain their commitments to the aquatic ecosystem.  Because we will absolutely fulfill our commitments, we will be the first jurisdiction in the world to demonstrate how to truly protect the health of the aquatic ecosystem while allowing for development.

Further, the Alberta and BC Intentions Documents also create an adaptive framework for cooperative management of transboundary waters, set out cooperative decision-making processes and create clear notification, consultation, and information-sharing requirements.  With these agreements in place, we will no longer find out about upstream developments and events in the newspaper. We are building a much closer, more productive working relationship with our Mackenzie River Basin neighbours.

Throughout the negotiating process, the opinions and values of Aboriginal governments and other stakeholders were critical. Environment and Natural Resources has engaged deeply with Aboriginal governments over the last seven years as we worked together in meetings and regional workshops throughout the NWT to develop the NWT Water Strategy, and we worked even more closely over the last three years as negotiations proceeded.

We continued to engage repeatedly with Aboriginal governments, updating and briefing them, and then revising our positions to take into account their views.  The NWT Water Strategy Aboriginal Steering Committee was also updated regularly on the progress of the negotiations.  Just last month, on October 6 and 7, we brought all Aboriginal groups to Yellowknife to consult on the NWT-BC Intentions Document, and we received strong support that we will continue to build upon as we work with Aboriginal governments in implementing the agreements.  Following that meeting, we met with regulatory boards and NGOs from both within and outside of the NWT.

Traditional and local knowledge workshops and community-based monitoring have added valuable information to the engagement and consultation process.  People in the NWT are experts on the place where they live and work and we have and will continue to ensure they have a voice and opportunity to speak during this process.

We have discussed different elements of the Intentions Documents with governance and ecosystem science experts from across Canada.  They have all expressed strong support for what we have accomplished.

Aboriginal consultation and public engagement regarding the BC and Alberta agreements are coming to an end.  A Highlights document that includes the comments and concerns we heard during consultation meetings and responses to those concerns is currently being distributed to Aboriginal groups.  A FAQ document has been published recently to provide residents of the NWT with additional information to better understand concepts included in the Intentions Document.

We will continue to pursue Transboundary Water Management Agreements with Saskatchewan and the Yukon and are also planning on beginning the discussion with Nunavut.

Both Alberta and British Columbia are committed to signing these agreements in February after they have completed their consultations.  This will be a highly anticipated celebration, one we hope to host here in Yellowknife.

I want to recognize our small but very powerful and effective water team that got us these agreements, one of the best water teams in the country.  They drove the process and showed the other jurisdictions just how things are done here in the North.

Mr. Speaker, we are on the verge of taking a major step towards achieving the vision we developed for the NWT Water Stewardship Strategy: to develop transboundary water agreements that ensure the waters of the NWT will remain clean productive and abundant for all time.  We did this by working together.  I am proud of the work we have done and I believe that this work will be a legacy for future generations.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.