And on Thursday, he inked his name to an agreement with the federal government on that he hopes will open up more opportunities for coming generations.

Akeeagok and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, along with other signatories, finalized on Thursday what is formally called the “Nunavut Lands and Resources Devolution Agreement.”

Simply put, the agreement transfers powers over public lands, waters and the non-renewable resources each contain to the territory and — more importantly — away from the federal government.


What are the benefits for the Canadian government to cede natural resources to the people of Nunavut? It seems that they're letting the people of Nunavut manage its own natural resources and benefit from it directly, but is there an advantage for the Federal government to do so? If not, then why did they decide to do so, is it because of external or internal pressure?


2 Answers 2


This has been a longstanding aspiration of the Nunavut people.

Since the fundamental role of government is not to profit itself, but to profit its people, the benefit to the government is that this benefits the people of that region.

It could potentially result in better land management, since the land will be managed by those who have a direct interest in its maintenance.

In democratic systems, it is normal to see a ruler doing something that seems against their self-interest. It is normal for a President to willingly stand down having lost a fair election. It is normal for the government to reduce taxes or increase services for the people, rather than seek to maximise profit or the personal wealth of the leaders. It is normal for a government to want to do the "right" thing, even if there is a cost. There is no need to suppose that every action of a government will be justified in terms of "the bottom line", or for the benefit of the ruling elite.

  • 8
    But how does this not run afoul of anti-discrimination principles? "The fundamental role of government is not to profit itself, but to profit its people" Who are "its people"? Its citizens? If so, why do some citizens have more rights based on their ancestry? Imagine if for example Germany enacted a law on property rights which benefited only those who can prove that their ancestors lived in Germany 500 years ago.
    – vsz
    Jan 22 at 5:04
  • 25
    @vsz you ignoring 500 years of history, and making the same categorical error that I discuss here You can't systematically treat a group differently and unfairly for 500 years, and then make a plea to "anti-discrimination principles"
    – James K
    Jan 22 at 7:35
  • 5
    @JamesK : Ah, so am I allowed for example to treat Turks unfairly? They were colonizing and oppressing my ancestors from the middle ages through even some years after slavery was abolished in the USA, so if in the USA it was not too long ago to stop the elapsed time from being a justification for reverse discrimination, then so should it be in my case, shouldn't it be?
    – vsz
    Jan 22 at 8:00
  • 11
    @vsz The facts of the past treaties and actions of the Crown and the ongoing colonialism in Canada notwithstanding, the specific action in the question is unrelated to ancestry. All Canadian citizens, regardless of ancestry, in Nunavut can vote in the elections of its legislative assembly and government.
    – xngtng
    Jan 22 at 9:06
  • 15
    @vsz And if you want to talk about anti-discrimination without any historical context, Nunavut is the only province or territory in Canada without the ability to manage its natural resources (there are more reasons to this.. but if you do not consider history or context). The devolution in question is not substantially different from Yukon and NWT, and in any case not greater than any powers vested in the confederated provinces.
    – xngtng
    Jan 22 at 9:08

What are the benefits for the Canadian government to cede natural resources to the people of Nunavut?

If you want to be more cynical, it makes Canada/Trudeau/Liberals/Harper/Conservatives look good. Why does it make them look good? Because (some) people care about the issue for whatever reason. This can be applied to most decisions by a democratic government. That's kind of the point of democracy, from some cynical point of view that I do not share. The non-cynical explanation that I agree with is given by the other answer.

One cynical view that I may agree with, is that the timing may be aimed to revive Trudeau or Liberals' declining popularity a little bit (or at least have some good news among all others). But it is worth noting devolution was always the plan (or rather a goal) when Nunavut was created in 1999. It is coming regardless of the party; the process was started by Harper, a Conservative.

The point of creating the territory is to give them more self-governance powers. But creating a mature government takes time, and Nunavut, due to its low population and remoteness, is generally considered to be less capable of taking on greater responsibilities.

The difficulty recruiting qualified employees has been a good part of the devolution negotiation. An overview of the challenges and issues for Nunavut devolution can be found in the Mayer report from 2007, for example,

The GN is also facing a significant governance challenge. GN is experiencing difficulties with its current responsibilities. They have very high turnover and vacancy rates in staffing. I have been told that: "the biggest challenge" in Nunavut "is the lack of qualified and competent human resources. They have such a high turnover, they should really be doing less but doing it better."

The devolution agreement foresees a three-year transition period, and contains provisions on human resources development strategies .

There are still some factors that may make this issue "easier" than other issues that may be of interest to more people.

The federal government cedes the control to the territorial government, but also cedes the responsibility. They may get less blame if anything goes "wrong". The cost to the federal government is low. In any case the territory will depend financially on federal transfers for the foreseeable future, and the development of its natural resources will take time before it reaches a reasonably profitable level.

It is also worth noting that Nunavut, like all territories, is completely subjugated to the federal government on a constitutional level. They do not have powers vested to the provinces by the Constitution. The ultimate authority in the territory is the Commissioner, who must follow instructions from the federal government or Minister. The federal Parliament can override any laws or decisions made by the territory, and can even disband it, except to the extent the federal government is constitutionally required to preserve the rights of the Indigenous peoples in Canada.

Finally, the federal government gains important benefits from a stable, settled North, since Canada claims much of the Arctic above it with significant potential for oil and gas development and shipping routes (that are more viable due to climate change that O&G development contributes to...).

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .