Yukon is the only territory to have authority over its natural resources and it is clear that devolution has proven to be beneficial for the territory and its economy.
Nunavut is entering negotiations with Canada on devolution and the Northwest Territories has negotiated a devolution framework agreement with the government of Canada. Yukon’s work to develop a strong and modern regulatory regime and success at managing this authority should serve as a model for the future transfers to the other territories.
With the government of Yukon empowered to manage its own resources, the impact on local development has been profound. Yukon’s unemployment rate remains below the national average and GDP growth is projected to continue.
The government of Yukon inherited successor legislation and has embarked on a process to develop a modern and locally developed regulatory regime. Amending these Acts to reflect Yukon values and goals has been instrumental in facilitating a successful devolution of authority.
In 2003, Yukon adopted responsibility for lands and resource management, water, forestry and mineral resources. Since 2003, the Yukon government has amended and modernized the Forest Resources Act, Quartz Mining Act, Placer Mining Act and Miner’s Lien Act. The Waters Act and the Territorial Lands Act are further pieces of legislation that have been inherited as part of devolution, but have not yet been amended. The comprehensive consultation and review of these Acts prior to amendment has ensured that they reflect Yukon values and the regulatory regimes meet our needs in the North.
At the territorial level, Yukon has settled eleven of fourteen Final Agreements with Yukon First Nations. This governance environment with Yukon’s First Nations fits well with the devolved regulatory regime. The Yukon Environment and Socio-Economic Assessment Act (YESAA) stems from the Umbrella Final Agreement and establishes an assessment board that invites input from First Nation governments, local residents and interested parties prior to the commencement of any project. In an era with increased expectations for public input on development projects, desire for certainty from proponents on regulatory procedures and demands for public access to information, YESAA serves as an excellent tool to manage development in Yukon. A single assessment process with set timelines provides certainty to proponents, a public registry provides transparency of all projects under assessment, and the open submission portion of the review provides all parties an opportunity for input into the process.
Industry and proponents know that decisions are being made locally and this provides the basis for a maturing and sustainable economy in Yukon. The government has been able to work with industries and projects to explain our processes and assist them to navigate Yukon’s regulatory regime. This certainty and local access have created a successful environment for investment.
Governments involved must recognize that devolution is not a final product, but an evolving process. As Nunavut and Northwest Territories negotiate their own devolution agreements, they will impact Yukon’s agreement with Canada. The governments of Canada and Yukon announced a new resource revenue sharing agreement in August 2012 that provides Yukon with the opportunity to retain more of its own source revenue from mining, forestry and oil and gas development. This initiative stemmed from the devolution framework agreement that the government of Northwest Territories negotiated with Canada. The framework agreement proposes an increase in the government of Northwest Territory’s share of revenue in the resource revenue sharing agreement and Canada returned to Yukon to enable retention of the same share of own source revenue.
As devolution evolves in Canada’s North, Yukon will continue to be an example of the success that can be achieved when local governments are empowered to make decisions over their own resources.
Greg Komaromi is deputy minister of Energy, Mines and Resources for Yukon.