The troubled northern dream

Linda Diebel December 6 1982

The troubled northern dream

Linda Diebel December 6 1982

The troubled northern dream


Linda Diebel

The irony was unsettling. Indian and Northern Affairs Minister John Munro had planned to announce that the federal government was going to move to overcome one long-standing problem posed by Canada’s vast North—an agreement in principle to the political division of the Northwest Territories. And he wanted his new parliamentary colleague Peter Ittinuar, who last week abandoned the NDP for the federal Liberals, to be standing with him. But the Arctic casually rustled up a show of the power of its natural forces, as if to teasingly remind southerners of its invincibility. A whiteout stranded Ittinuar in the Eastern Arctic centre of Frobisher Bay on Baffin Island, and Munro made his Ottawa announcement alone. Consequently, the 32-year-old Inuk MP from Nunatsiaq, enticed from the New Democratic Party, was left to deliver his opinion that the day was “an historic moment for the North” through a radio interview on the CBC’s Northern Service.

Afterward, Ittinuar cooled his heels, waiting in vain for the snowstorm to ease sufficiently to allow Munro to jet into Frobisher Bay and whisk him off for a tour across the territories to explain Ottawa’s position. (There are a number of proposals, but the concept of dividing the vast territory into smaller political entities has already been endorsed in an N.W.T.-wide plebiscite last spring.) If rumors confirmed by Ittinuar’s father, Ollie, by radiophone from Rankin Inlet are true, travel by government jet is only one of the treats in store for the newest Liberal MP. He could also be elevated to the cabinet as minister of state responsible for politi-

Despite new overtures from Ottawa, northerners still wonder if anyone is really looking after their interests

cal evolution north of the 60th parallel.

But little evolution is in sight. Munro was adamant that, no matter what new political entities may be in the offing, Ottawa is not prepared to cede control over what he called “the biggies,” ownership of land and resources. As for provincial status for the territories, “we all have dreams,” he mused, but now is definitely not the time. His rigidity left politicians and senior bureaucrats across the Yukon and Northwest Territories echoing a criticism that Ittinuar made in a Maclean's interview before his switch: that, as long as Bill C-48, the legislative arm of the National Energy Program, remains the effective controlling document over all oil and gas development in the North, any political decisions that do not include some type of resource ownership are just so much “window dressing.” As an NDPer Ittinuar dogged Bill C-48 through committee and the House of Commons because he believed that “No single piece of legislation has ever had such potential impact on northern native people.” He saved his most scathing comments for the Canadian Oil and Gas Lands Administration (COGLA), an agency established last March to run oil and gas developments in the Canada Lands, which include all lands north of the 60th parallel and all offshore areas, both east and west.

An area larger than all 10 provinces is controlled by COGLA, which has been operating discreetly, or, as its administrator, Maurice Taschereau, says, “under cover,” for the past year. COGLA decides both the pace of development for exploiting an estimated $40 billion in oil and gas by 1990 and which companies will get the contracts. But it also has responsibility for the protection of the environment and distribution of industrial benefits. And that is where its opponents—from native groups, opposition parties, environmental agencies and territorial legislatures—are encountering problems. The powerful agency, they charge, is showing signs of “Oil Patch fever” as it exercises a stranglehold over oil and gas development without proper environmental and socioeconomic checks and balances. The energy ministry holds sway south of the 60th parallel, but on all matters north of 60, including environmental and social concerns, Taschereau reports directly to Munro’s office—short-circuiting the branches that work most closely on the environment and land claims. A series of environmental safeguards is in place—but at the minister’s discretion. And Taschereau told Maclean’s in an interview that he has no sympathy for the “layer upon layer of government bureaucracy ” or for what he considers to be the endless costs and delays of environmental advisory panels.

The affable Marshall (Mickey) Cohen, former deputy energy minister under Marc Lalonde (and now Lalonde’s deputy in the finance department), lured Taschereau to COGLA over a couple of dinners in Montreal. The task was not difficult—Taschereau, 62, was only too willing to quit his post as president of the Asbestos Corp. in the fall of 1981 when it was about to be nationalized by the Parti Québécois government. He cherishes Cohen’s advice for operating effectively in Ottawa—“Keep your head down, run like hell, but make sure you’ve got the ball.” He said he was assured that he would have the power to set up a “one window” operation to streamline industry’s needs through a single agency. Taschereau commented, “If we have to run roughshod over people who get in our way, we will, but we haven’t had to do that.”

One reason Taschereau has not had to flex COGLA’s legislative muscle is that its powers have gradually smothered its rivals “like a giant pillow,” as one disgruntled federal official complains. Industry, buttressed by incentive grants, prepares its own environmental reports, but they are processed through Indian and Northern Affairs. In his Yellowknife office Arthur Redshaw, assistant director of renewable resources for the ministry, wonders why environmental conditions, such as provisions for precautionary diking around fuel bladders at Panarctic Oils Limited’s Arctic Island operations, are removed by officials at COGLA.

Taschereau has little time for the bureaucratic machinations of Indian and Northern Affairs, which co-ordinates information with the environment ministry. In 1977 Environment Canada warned that “massive, unplanned or premature industrial development could have catastrophic environmental consequences. The sensitive Arctic environment must be monitored.” A series of incidents ranging from oil spills and high-pressure natural gas and freshwater blowouts to reports of fish and baby beluga whale deaths, allegedly due to development, have been documented. Neil Faulkner, assistant deputy minister of Indian and Northern Affairs, recently completed a massive land use planning report covering the potential impact of development. Concluded Taschereau: “It’s a useless document.”

The mystery of who is listening to whom as far as the Arctic environment is concerned becomes even more unfathomable as a result of information contained in a confidential exchange of letters last May between then Energy Minister Lalonde and Environment Minister John Roberts. Lalonde warned Roberts that “We may have to deal with some issues related to the Beaufort Sea prior to the expected completion date of the environmental review,” and asked him how to speed up the Beaufort Sea Environmental Assessment and Review Panel. An apparently indignant Roberts pointed out that the oil companies had delayed in providing environmental reports and reminded Lalonde of his Energy Program promise to protect the North. He wrote that “it will be difficult to explain that we have had $400 million to accelerate exploration in the Mackenzie Delta, $2 billion to assist the industry—both objectives to which I subscribe—and no funds to discharge our own statutory [environmental] responsibilities.” Roberts’ letter warned against “coercing” the panel.

Native spokesmen throughout the Arctic express their environmental fears simply. “Our concern is about the land, the waters,” Chief George Kodakin of Fort Franklin told the Beaufort Sea panel. “We make our living off it, and if there is any damage to it, we will in the end suffer as humans.” In the long term, rapid oil and gas development affects their lives; in the shorter

term, it affects their land claims. Munro emphasized that claims must be settled before any political division of the Northwest Territories can even be considered—a tricky political issue because of the various polarizations of northern politics. The general rule of thumb divides the territory into eastern and western portions with a rough diagonal along the tree line from the Mackenzie Delta to Hudson Bay. In the east the Inuit Tapirisat of Canada hopes to create the state of Nunavat, and in the west the Déné Nation foresees its own state, Denendeh. However, such a solution ignores both the overwhelming opposition to division among non-native peoples in the west and the Committee for Original Peoples’ Entitlement representing the Inuvialuit people of the Mackenzie Delta. Tagak Curley, territorial MLA for Keewatin South, says the federal government has created a Catch-22 situation. “You have separated land claims from political developments,” he told Munro in Yellowknife. “Yet you say, ‘Settle land claims and we will talk division.’ ”

One big stumbling block to both land claims and N.W.T. legislative powers is COGLA’s direct control of the administration of Bill C-48. “Division is somewhere off in the future, but resource development is occurring right now,” said one territorial official. “Ittinuar’s appointment won’t stop us from trying to get control of resource development.” Déné Nation President Georges Erasmus fears that if COGLA achieves its aim of renegotiating all existing leases in the Canada Lands before next March 5, while land claim negotiations percolate slowly, there won’t be any valuable land left for natives. In May, 1981, PetroCanada leased three million acres of rich Mackenzie Valley land with no prior consultation with the Déné.

The lack of consultation is an accusation levelled by native peoples against COGLA. Just a few weeks ago the Déné discovered that COGLA is quietly renegotiating leases with PetroCan in the Colville Lake area in “the heartland of Denendeh, where some of the richest hunting, trapping and fishing lands lie.” In the past six months massive exploration agreements have been wrapped up with Esso Resources Ltd. and Panarctic Oils Ltd.—to name two— and agreements with Dome Petroleum and Gulf Oil Canada Ltd. in the Beaufort Sea are pending.

The experience of COPE, representing the 2,500 Inuvialuit of the Western Arctic, puts the frustrations over consultation in perspective. In 1978 COPE formulated an agreement in principle with the federal government for authority over 57,000 square miles and a lumpsum payment of $45 million. Included in the deal was a wilderness park carved out of the Yukon North Slope, as recommended by the 1970s Berger pipeline inquiry and the National Energy Board. In February, 1981, Munro wrote to Senator David Steuart, chief government negotiator with COPE, instructing him

that “compromises are essential.” He suggested that the negotiations continue to include the park but reserved “the right to establish transportation corridors and onshore facilities in the vicinity of King Point without parliamentary consent.” Munro did that despite written assurances to the Inuvialuit that Ottawa would honor the agreement in principle. Now, COPE President Peter Green is wondering what Munro has up his sleeve for the North Slope. Particularly intriguing to Green is a letter Munro wrote a week ago to NDP environment critic Jim Fulton (in answer to a written query) verifying that Gulf has asked for permission to proceed with feasibility studies for a marine support facility at Stokes Point. Wrote Munro: “I

regard a requirement for a small marine support base during the exploration phase of oil and gas activities as being outside the Beaufort Sea Environmental Assessment process and, in any event, something that government should readily allow to proceed in a carefully controlled manner.”

Peter Green is not so sure. While COGLA’s Taschereau jokes that the frustrating consultation process means that all 46,000 residents in the Northwest Territories are consulted “at least once a week,” Green considers his lack of involvement to be a serious problem. His grandmother, Jessie Green, lived a “long and good life,” to the age of 100. She had, he says simply, a “very strong dignity, a very strong self-respect and a very strong integrity.” And the one thing she always told her grandson was to respect the land and the elements. The forces of nature, as Munro and Ittinuar had demonstrated for them last week, are too powerful to control.


Sandra Souchotte

in Yellowknife,

Carol Goar

in Ottawa and

Linda Bailey

Carol Bruman


Ann Finlayson

in Toronto.