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‘Three amigos’ brief diplomats on North

The Northwest Territories has two diamond mines producing high-quality gems that sell for billions of dollars globally.

The Northwest Territories has two diamond mines producing high-quality gems that sell for billions of dollars globally.

“Those two mines alone have made us the third largest producer of diamonds in the world by value,” said NWT Premier Joe Handley at the 2006 Diplomatic Forum, which is being held this week at the Yukon Convention Centre.

“We also have the second largest new frontier base in oil and gas, next to Alaska, in the Mackenzie Delta,” Handley said.

But every penny of the NWT’s resource royalties goes into federal coffers.

It’s time for the territory to strike a better deal with Ottawa to control its own resources before they are tapped out, Handley told delegates.

“They are on traditional lands; they should be there for the territory to invest them back into the future of the territory and of the North, not out to Ottawa or southern Canada.

“The last thing we want to see happen is the resources to be gone and us be left with piles of gravel or rocks.

“We’re not an agricultural area. We don’t have a lot of options; tourism and culture are probably our main industries next to non-renewable resources,” said Handley flanked by Yukon Premier Dennis Fentie and Nunavut Premier Paul Okalik.

The three paired for a panel discussion on governance in the North before nearly 70 foreign diplomats gathered in the convention centre Tuesday.

“We’re often referred to as the three amigos by the rest of Canada because we work very well together,” said Okalik.

“It’s really by necessity that we work together.

“In a confederation numbers do make a difference, so, by working with each other, we can really have an impact on the rest of the country,” said Okalik.

Fentie also heralded the premiers’ partnerships in the North, which he called “Canada’s final frontier.”

“We hold enormous potential for the development of resources which are in increasing demand by the global economy.

“Yet we are more than simply a resource stock house,” added Fentie.

Currently, the Yukon is the only territory that has devolved control of its resources from the feds.

The three territories share an Arctic coast; and they each cover large tracks of land, but have relatively tiny populations

Although these similarities come with their own set of hurdles for the northern premiers, each territory is unique.

And as the leaders painted pictures of their homes, their challenges and concerns, visions for the future emerged.

While Handley focused on devolution, Fentie concentrated on developing relationships with First Nation governments, and Okalik on boosting Nunavut’s infrastructure and education system.

Fentie led the delegates through a whistle-stop tour of Yukon’s history from the gold rush to the Alaska Highway’s construction and its effect on small communities.

“Then First Nations people, who had been impacted by the arrival of Europeans and the massive change caused by the gold rush and the modernizing influence of the Alaska Highway, effectively ended their traditional way of life with devastating consequences for their society and, indeed, their culture,” he said.

Today, the Yukon has settled land claims with 11 of 14 First Nations, but still struggles to establish how the territorial and First Nations governments will work together.

“There are many issues to sort out and there is no pre-existing rulebook on how our unique model of governance can and should work in optimal fashion,” said Fentie.

While the Yukon and NWT must balance the interests of several First Nations groups, Nunavut’s 30,000 residents are almost all Inuit.

Although Nunavut’s homogenous population makes it easier to govern, its lack of infrastructure is a hurdle to delivering government services, said Okalik.

“Where on Earth can you travel and not be able to access two million square kilometres by road? Just picture that,” Okalik asked the foreign diplomats.

“All of your countries have roads; they may not be the best but you at least have some roads. In Nunavut, we’re still not there.

“We’re trying to catch up to the rest of the country. We’re trying to get educated so we can take on the jobs of tomorrow.”

Reporters were asked to leave when the time came for in-camera questions.

The forum ends Wednesday.