Mr. Speaker, the Department of Lands has made significant progress since taking over the management of public land in the Northwest Territories as part of Devolution last April.
Much of the Department’s progress to date has been due to the hard work of its employees. While about 75 percent of our positions were filled by existing federal and GNWT staff when Devolution came into effect, the remainder of the Department’s positions had to be staffed.
Mr. Speaker, April 1st was just the beginning. Since its creation, the Department of Lands is setting priorities, planning and managing new issues as they arise. As a new department, Lands is responsible for developing or revising policies and frameworks that will guide how we manage and administer land in the NWT. Extensive work has been undertaken to develop policy frameworks for recreational land management, land use planning as well as environmental liabilities and financial assurances. These are not short-term projects, Mr. Speaker, and involve a considerable amount of research, consultation and analysis.
The Department of Lands has engaged with Aboriginal governments, stakeholders and the general public in all regions of the NWT to gather input on a variety of initiatives, and will continue to do so in the future.
One of the first organizational changes to be made in the Department of Lands was the establishment of the Liabilities and Financial Assurances Division. I announced the creation of this office last fall. Since that time, the division, with the support of ITI, ENR and the Department of Finance, has been working on a comprehensive policy framework for making decisions related to the nearly $600 million we have in posted securities. As well, work was done to conclude a surety bond for $253 million for the Ekati water license.
All this while job descriptions were being finalized, staffing actions started, and work on an informatics system to manage securities for the entire GNWT was being commenced. This Division has also provided expert advice, support to government-wide decision-making and departmental coordination for significant resource development security reviews.
Mr. Speaker, the transfer of responsibility from the federal to the territorial government for setting up the Surface Rights Board was a major milestone for the GNWT. I expect to announce the appointments to this Board by the end of March, with members assuming their substantive functions on April 1st, 2016.
At the core of the Department of Lands is the Land Use Sustainability Framework, and its implementation and monitoring represents one of our key responsibilities. A component of this work includes promoting and supporting effective land use planning in all regions of our territory, and developing a land use planning policy framework. A critical step in doing this is engagement. Earlier this month, the Department hosted an interdepartmental workshop to develop best practices for reviewing and implementing land use plans. In March, external engagement will begin with a forum for Aboriginal planning partners to allow open dialogue and to develop relationships with our partners.
Mr. Speaker, the Department is the home department for the Informatics Shared Service Centre. This division supports Lands, Industry, Tourism and Investment, and Environment and Natural Resources. We are working towards the establishment of the Western Arctic Centre for Geomatics. The Centre is an opportunity to improve strategic partnerships between our stakeholders, including Aboriginal governments, federal departments, and academic institutions by providing better information, coordinating remote sensing projects and developing operational monitoring programs. The establishment of this new office in Inuvik will build regional capacity to use remote sensing tools and technology for baseline monitoring that supports economic decision-making and enables ongoing environmental management. This is also a great opportunity to encourage our youth to pursue this type of career path.
All of these major accomplishments occurred while the Department was busy doing its “day job” of managing and administering land and resources in the NWT. Lands is managing hundreds of leases and other land dispositions, has conducted over 600 inspections as of December 31st, 2014. We have created five Regional Superintendent positions and set up their associated offices, developed plans for new garage and equipment storage facilities for two regions, conducted a full inventory review and developed a movable assets management plan for our equipment. As well, Mr. Speaker, our Superintendents and senior inspectors have developed a comprehensive entry-level Recruitment and Training Program for our new Resource Management Officer 1 inspector positions. I will have more to say on this later in the Session.
Finally, led by our Project Assessment Branch, Lands has also coordinated our Government’s input into several large scale project preliminary screenings and concluded our first decision as the Minister responsible for Environmental Assessments. This demonstrates our government’s commitment to supporting balanced, responsible development of NWT resources and timely decision making.
Mr. Speaker, we have a strong and hard working group of employees and I am confident that we will continue to make significant progress on the priorities that have been outlined for Lands. The Department is committed to working with all landowners to responsibly and sustainably manage the lands, waters and natural resources of the Northwest Territories for the benefit of current and future generations – that is our mission, because Land is Life.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.