The three northern premiers, left to right, Peter Taptuna of Nunavut, Robert McLeod of NWT, and Yukon’s Sandy Silver, met in Yellowknife this week. (Maura Forrest/Joel Krahn/Yukon News)

Northern premiers talk sustainable future, Indigenous affairs

The Northern Premiers’ Forum wrapped up Aug. 31 in Yellowknife

The premiers of Canada’s three territories say they will be releasing a collective plan for sustainable development in the North by the end of the month.

The announcement came on the last day of the Northern Premiers’ Forum Aug. 31 in Yellowknife.

The plan, entitled the “Pan-Territorial Vision for Sustainment Development,” according to a press release, will focus on “resource development, economic diversification, infrastructure and innovation.”

During the forum, Yukon Premier Sandy Silver, Northwest Territories, Premier Robert McLeod and Nunavut Premier Peter Taptuna also discussed, among other things, carbon pricing, territorial governments’ relationships with Indigenous communities, the impact of climate change on northern communities and the ever-present need for infrastructure development and funding.

The possible impacts of the dissolution of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada into two separate departments was among the main topics of conversation, Silver said.

“This decision is finally looking back on work that was done 20 years ago with the Royal Commission, so we’re very pleased to see it happening, but …the devil’s going to be in the details,” Silver told the News in an interview following the forum.

Silver said he’s spoken to Council of Yukon First Nations Grand Chief Peter Johnson about the development and also plans to discuss it with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau when Trudeau visits Whitehorse this weekend.

“(Grand Chief Johnson and I) are both cautiously optimistic and willing to work under this split, but we will let the Prime Minister know, more communication always solves problems and more consultation up-front allows us to wrap our heads around the next logical steps as well and we’re looking forward to the next year, kind of figuring out how Ottawa wants to move forward with this,” Silver said.

The northern premiers also agreed that they’d like to see more “flexibility” when it comes to infrastructure funding and how costs are split between the federal and territorial governments, Silver said.

Currently, costs are shared 75-25, which is “hard to complain” about, Silver said, but the territories’ comparatively smaller budgets means that 25 per cent “represents a huge part of our capital budget … so it kind of locks us into Ottawa’s vision of what needs to be upgraded.

“There’s just lots of conversations we need to continue to have with Ottawa when it comes to much-needed infrastructure dollars,” Silver said.

“We understand the federal minister of finance and the minister of infrastructure, they have their mandate, and so (we just need) more communication to work on what we are working on already and maximize those dollars to find ways to make sure Yukoners are being put to work and to again maximize our access to these federal funding dollars.”

And although Silver said the premiers saw eye-to-eye on “95 per cent” of issues, there were differences on how to collectively refer to the region the territories make up, particularly when the federal government talks about an “Arctic” strategy.

“I think there’s a little bit of a disagreement there,” Silver said. “I said this to the other premiers… ‘It’s kind of rich and it’s kind of hard for us to say that Whitehorse is Arctic but a place like Pukatawagan, Manitoba, is not Arctic,’ right?

‘When you talk about access to resources and access to groceries and communities and community structures … let’s call it Northern, and let’s involve Newfoundland, Labrador, northern Quebec. There’s lots of northern Canadians, and I think too, if you were to speak to the other two territories, I think they would like it better to talk about Arctic and consider it Arctic that way.”

Nunavut will be hosting the 2018 Northern Premiers’ Forum.

Contact Jackie Hong at jackie.hong@yukon-news.com