Opening Statement to the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development
Sustaining Development in the Northwest Territories
8 March 2012
Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development
Mr. Chair, thank you for this opportunity to discuss our Office’s work related to aboriginal land use and sustainable economic development. Related to this topic, in December 2011, my colleagues briefed this Committee on Chapter 6 of the Auditor General’s Fall 2009 Report—Land Management and Environmental protection on Reserves. Today, I will be focussing most of my comments on Chapter 4 of the Auditor General’s Spring 2010 Report—Sustaining Development in the Northwest Territories. With me today is Frank Barrett, the Principal responsible for the audit, and Kim Leach, Principal, who also worked on this audit.
The federal government has a mandate to promote political and economic development in the Northwest Territories and to protect the environment. Our audit looked at whether responsible federal departments have laid the foundations for sustainable and balanced development in the Northwest Territories. Specifically, the audit focused on whether Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (or AANDC, formerly Indian and Northern Affairs Canada), Environment Canada, and Human Resources and Skills Development Canada had adequately implemented key measures to prepare for sustainable and balanced development.
These measures included
- settling comprehensive land claim agreements and self-government agreements,
- establishing and implementing a regulatory system that protects the environment, and
- supporting appropriate economic development and skills training programs for Aboriginal peoples in the Northwest Territories.
Comprehensive land claim agreements and self-government agreements set out governance rights and the ownership of land and resource rights. These agreements are therefore important for economic development. They help to provide a level of certainty and predictability for business, industry, communities and governments. Almost all of the Northwest Territories either lies within settled land claim areas or is the subject of ongoing negotiations.
At the time of our audit, four land claim agreements had been finalized. Other land claim and self-government agreements were under negotiation. We found that Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, or AANDC, had made constructive efforts to negotiate these agreements and had followed the established processes for their negotiation. As well, the Department had used alternative approaches when negotiations appeared to be stalled. While much remains to be done, in our view the efforts to settle land claim and self government agreements represent a significant achievement and an important step towards sustainable and balanced development in the Northwest Territories.
Mr. Chair, we also looked at the environmental regulatory system. Protecting the environment is important particularly because Aboriginal communities in the Northwest Territories depend on wildlife, water, and land for subsistence and for economic development opportunities. We examined whether AANDC and Environment Canada had established and implemented an adequate regulatory system in the Northwest Territories. We found that, in regions with settled land claim agreements, there are systems and structures that support land use plans and provide a means of adequate consultation with communities.
In regions without comprehensive land claim agreements in place, however, there was uncertainty about Aboriginal title to the land, how it may be used, and who should be consulted to make development decisions. Moreover, in those regions we noted a lack of specific mechanisms for developing land use plans. Without a formal land use plan, development decisions must be made on a case-by-case basis. Decisions related to project approvals may therefore take longer because it has not been determined where different types of development should take place and what conditions should be applied.
AANDC also has specific responsibilities for monitoring the cumulative impact of development. This information is important because it provides co-management boards with environmental information to support informed decision making on development proposals. Our audit found that, 11 years after receiving a mandate to do so, AANDC had not yet put in place a program to monitor cumulative impact. Similarly, funding for Environment Canada’s program that would support cumulative impact monitoring had ended in 2007. As a result, neither department had implemented this program.
Mr. Chair, our audit also examined skills training and economic development programs for Aboriginal communities. We found that Human Resources and Skills Development Canada had established clear objectives and targets for both of their programs that we examined but that AANDC’s economic development programs did not have clear objectives and that the Department did not monitor its programs’ performance or review information reported by funding recipients.
Overall, we concluded that Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada and Environment Canada had not adequately implemented key measures designed to prepare for sustainable and balanced development in the Northwest Territories.
Mr. Chair, in addition to the 2010 audit on sustaining development in the NWT, we have done other audits that have addressed broad issues around environmental protection and sustainable development that affect aboriginal communities. One issue that we hear about from communities, particularly in the North, is the impact of climate change. In another 2010 audit, we examined how the federal government is helping communities to prepare for and adapt to climate change. The federal government has confirmed that climate change is already underway, and that its impacts will affect every major economic sector, every region and many communities. Observed impacts are already underway in Canada’s North. We found that while good work is underway in helping community leaders understand the localized impacts of climate change, the demand from across Canada is outstripping the ability of the federal government to keep up.
In yet another 2010 audit, we looked at the capacity of the federal government to prepare for and respond to oil spills from ships. Last week the Auditor General was in Iqaluit, and heard from their Public Accounts Committee about their concerns around the possible opening of the Northwest Passage and the implications of an oil spill in the North. Finally Mr Chair, we have also audited different aspects of freshwater management. In 2005, and again in our 2011 Follow-up audit of programs for First Nations, we found that drinking water quality on reserves was significantly worse than what was found in most Canadian communities.
Mr. Chair, I should point out that these audits to which I refer are over two years old and we have not looked at these issues since then. This concludes my opening statement. My colleagues and I would be pleased to answer the Committee’s questions.