Mr. Speaker, the long-term health of our land, water and environment is critically important to Northerners. Devolution has given the Government and Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories new powers for managing the land and its resources sustainably and responsibly. The new Department of Lands has been established to help fulfill our new responsibilities and meet the expectations of Northerners. I am pleased to speak to Members today about the work that the new Department has been doing since April 1st.
The role of Lands is to manage, administer and plan for the sustainable use of public land in the Northwest Territories in a fair and transparent manner that reflects the interests of its people. It is responsible for land use administration, including permitting and securities and for compliance and enforcement in relation to land use. It plays a key role in coordinating our government’s participation in reviewing projects going through the development approval process. It is also responsible for developing land use sustainability standards, guidelines and policies guided by the Land Use and Sustainability Framework released in the last Session.
Mr. Speaker, the new Department is successfully meeting the challenge of protecting the Northern environment already. On our first day there was a spill incident. When the spill was reported, inspectors were immediately called into action. Our quick assessment and enforcement advice ensured the spill was cleaned up in a timely fashion without harm to the environment. In total, there have been 38 inspections completed by the regional office inspectors since the beginning of April, and of those, there is one compliance issue under formal investigation.
Project assessment coordination is an important component of the resource management function that Lands became responsible for post-Devolution. The Department of Lands is responsible for coordinating GNWT participation in project reviews, ensuring government takes a consistent, thorough, and timely approach to reviewing development applications. Since April 1st the Department has provided technical advice or coordination and input into nine project submissions on behalf of the GNWT. Our effective and efficient process for environmental assessment coordination supports the responsible, sustainable management of NWT resources and ensures that Ministers have sufficient time to review and agree on a government response and forward that information to the Board.
Managing Northern lands and natural resources sustainably requires clear priorities and a consistent approach that is supported by land use planning. The Department has already begun discussions with Aboriginal governments on land use planning processes in unsettled regions, a land use plan for the Dehcho region, and a review of the Gwich’in land use plan. Research and development of a recreational leasing policy has also begun, as this is a pressing issue in the Northwest Territories. This important work is detailed and complex, Mr. Speaker. Although I expect to see progress immediately, I also recognize that this will take some time in order to ensure that all parties are comfortable with the proposed plans before moving forward.
Requiring securities as a part of the development approval process helps ensure potential environmental liabilities can be remediated and the Northern environment protected. Under Devolution, GNWT departments now have responsibility for administration of securities related to their respective legislative mandates. Lands is responsible for holding and coordinating land-based securities for resource projects such as securities related to land use permits or surface leases. In order to institute a coordinated and government-wide approach to management of financial assurances and potential liabilities on public lands, the Department of Lands proposed the creation of a Liabilities and Financial Assurances Division. I will be moving to establish this office in the coming months and will update Members on its role and activities as work proceeds.
Since April 1st, staff have been developing departmental processes and procedures, filling vacant positions, implementing a building relocation plan, developing consultation, French language, communications, and divisional work plans, and attending required training. This work has provided the foundation for the Department to begin focusing on its priorities.
As a new Department and in taking on new legislation, there were several immediate matters that needed to be attended to. Several small legislative amendments were required, a plan to create the NWT Surface Rights Board was developed, and Lands continues to work with the federal government to implement the changes to the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act, resulting from the federal government’s Regulatory Improvement initiative, including the implementation of timelines.
Although much has been accomplished since establishing the Department of Lands on April 1st , Mr. Speaker, there is still a lot of work to complete. One of the most important priorities for Lands is the amalgamation of the Northwest Territorial Lands Act and the Commissioner’s Land Act. This work will begin soon, and will be a significant effort which will take several years to complete.
Mr. Speaker, I am confident that the team we have established is well placed to make significant progress on the priorities that have been outlined for Lands. Again, recognizing it will take some time, we are committed to working with all land owners to responsibly and sustainably manage the lands, waters and natural resources of the Northwest Territories for the benefit of current and future generations.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.