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Canada Nunavut Premier seeks devolution pact, eyes control over land, resources

Premier Peter Taptuna wants Nunavut to reach an agreement for devolution and control over its resources and royalties.

Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Nunavut's premier is eyeing a tentative devolution pact with the federal government as early as this fall – a major stepping stone toward the eastern Arctic territory getting province-like powers over its land and resources.

Peter Taptuna, who is making the rounds in Ottawa, said a final deal might not be far off once the two sides reach an agreement-in-principle.

He said the talks could follow the template of the neighbouring Northwest Territories, whose own devolution took effect last April, a year after the territory reached its own agreement-in-principle with the federal government.

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"We know how to use the examples that were used in the Northwest Territories and experience and learn from there and speed up the process," Mr. Taptuna said in an interview Tuesday.

Nunavut is the only one of Canada's three territories without a devolution pact.

The Northwest Territories' devolution agreement with the federal government took effect last April after two decades of talks, while the Yukon has long had control over its land and resources.

The Nunavut government, Ottawa and the Inuit land-claim group have been working on a deal that would give the territory greater control over its resources and royalties since 2008.

Last October, the federal government appointed lawyer Brian Dominique as its chief negotiator to work towards a devolution deal. He was also the chief federal negotiator in the Northwest Territories deal.

"Devolution is a long-term goal," Mr. Taptuna said. "You're not going to see royalties rolling in after an agreement is signed. We still have to develop our natural resources by putting in infrastructure."

Chasing those infrastructure dollars is part of why Mr. Taptuna stayed behind in Ottawa after last week's meeting of provincial and territorial leaders. He is making the rounds as the Conservative government prepares its upcoming budget.

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Mr. Taptuna – armed with binders and feasibility studies – met Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Monday to talk about ways to improve the territory's aging infrastructure and economy.

But the Premier, who was coy about how much money he'd like to see for Nunavut in federal Finance Minister Joe Oliver's spring budget, acknowledged the Conservatives are in a tough spot as they try to balance the books with less money coming in from oil royalties.

"One thing that we are trying to respect, you know, as politicians, we don't create expectations that may or may not, you know," he said.

"Again, it's very difficult when the federal government has loss of revenues, with oil prices going way down."

The Premier also met Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt and Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq, who represents the territory in the House of Commons.

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