The NWT: DEVOLUTION, WATER AND ONE MAN'S VISION
WaterToday talks with Michael Miltenberger, a man with many hats but one sustainable goal
On March 11, 2013, Canada and the Northwest Territories signed the final draft of a devolution agreement which will transfer control of public land, water and resources to the NWT for the first time. The deal, which has been a top priority for territorial premiers for over two decades, also allows the Territory to make the decisions about resource development and keep 50 per cent of resource revenue, up to an annual limit of about $60 million. A similar agreement was signed between Yukon and Canada in 1993.
Although a majority of the NWT Aboriginal groups have signed on to the agreement, a second round of consultations to gather input from Aboriginal organizations and other stakeholders in the NWT will now take place and lead to a Final Devolution Agreement.
Water is top priority in the NWT. It is the only province or territory to have passed a resolution declaring water as a fundamental human right in 2006. The Territory has developed a comprehensive Water Stewardship Strategy under the careful guidance of one man, Milchael Miltenberger.
Described as a northern visionary and a protector of northern values, Miltenberger is one of the longest-serving members of the Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories... and he wears many hats. He currently serves as Minister of Finance, Chairman of the Financial Management Board, Minister of Environment and Natural Resources, Minister Responsible for the Northwest Territories Power Corporation and Government House Leader.
Miltenberger believes Devolution will allow the NWT, "to move forward on implementing the NWT Water Stewardship Strategy in a number of key areas, including finalizing bi-lateral and multi-lateral transboundary water management agreements, developing a collaborative community water monitoring system and ensuring the ecological integrity of the ecosystems in the Mackenzie River Basin and throughout the Northwest Territories".
The most contentious transboundary water issue in Canada is without doubt the Mackenzie River Basin. And though in 1997, the governments of Canada, British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Yukon, and NWT developed a Transboundary Master Agreement, which set down the principles under which neighbouring jurisdictions could negotiate bilateral water-sharing deals, it has led to only one bilateral agreement between the Yukon and the NWT.
Miltenberger intends to quicken the pace of negotiations with Alberta and sign further bilateral agreements with Saskatchewan and British Columbia .
We spoke with Miltenberger at the recent Canadian Water network Conference in Ottawa and asked him how a sparsely-populated territory in the frozen north could succeed in shaping transboundary deals where the might of the Federal government had failed?
"Political will. If there is no political will, you have to build it from the ground up, through academes and NGOs and use the topmost concerns to focus, shape and drive the political will."
Under Miltenberger, the NWT is also developing a drinking water database with information on water sources, bacteriological and chemical test results for each of its communities. But that's not enough.
"We are still not ahead of the curve, there are huge gaps in our knowledge-base," he says. "In groundwater for sure, in the NWT and across Canada, there is no groundwater mapping anywhere, that's why we need a national water strategy. If you leave it to 13 entities, you end up with a patchwork. Civilizations have come and gone because they did not handle their water well.
According to Miltenberger, in spite of the fact that the Federal government has dropped the significant role it used to play in water research, because of budget cuts and change of priorities, they still have a careful unifying role to play in getting all the players to the table to shape a national policy.
"Ground water information is critical especially in the Mackenzie River Basin in view of the new fracking opportunities".
In closing, we asked Miltenberger if the concentration of power in one man holding so many crucial portfolios was not a prime target for corruption up North as it would be down here in the South.
"All those roles are connected, to influence things on a number of fronts and drive the sustainable agenda forward. But yes, when you're elected official you have all sorts of new best friends with all sorts of points of view, and just like in the south, money drives everything we do. You just have to stay focused, keep your priorities, keep your integrity and get things done. Don't forget that in the NWT we have a consensus government, there are no political parties. We have 19 constituencies where candidates get elected and come together to pick our premier and cabinet, and set our priorities. We've been very consistent through 17 Assemblies in moving toward devolution, and taking care of the land, the water and the animals."
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