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Trudeau to sign long-awaited devolution agreement with Nunavut Thursday

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meets with Nunavut Premier P.J. Akeeagok on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday, May 12, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meets with Nunavut Premier P.J. Akeeagok on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday, May 12, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press - image credit)

After nearly 25 years as a territory, Nunavut is expected to sign a devolution agreement Thursday with the federal government.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is scheduled to arrive in Iqaluit Thursday morning to sign the agreement alongside the territorial government representatives and Nunavut Tunngavik Inc.

The signing of this agreement essentially transfers responsibility of Crown lands and waters from the federal government to the territorial government.

The details of the agreement have not been released publicly, but will be available once the agreement is signed.

The prime minister is expected to land in Iqaluit Thursday afternoon and sign the agreement shortly after.

Nunavut's devolution has been a long process. In the 1960s, Canada began transferring decision-making control to the territories for areas of government such as healthcare and airports.

In 2019, the governments of Canada and Nunavut, as well as Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., signed an agreement in principle, which set a deadline of three years to settle outstanding issues, and five years to reach a final agreement.

At that time, land and water management — including resource development — was one of the final areas of negotiation.

Transferring responsibility for land and water would also make Nunavut responsible for Crown land in the territory. That land is currently managed by government of Canada employees. At the time of the agreement in principle, it was expected that those employees would be given the option to follow their job to the government of Nunavut or be transferred to another federal job.

Five phases of devolution

According to the Department of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs, the devolution process has five phases:

  • Nunavut passed the next hurdle, an agreement-in-principle outlining the main issues, in 2019

  • A final devolution transfer agreement was negotiated and, Thursday, is set to be signed by all parties

  • Then the groups put together legislation and mechanisms to implement the agreement.

  • Finally, those are implemented through a "series of legislative changes to be approved through Parliament and mirrored in the Nunavut Legislative Assembly."