Environmental audit says NWT system is working but can improve

Madeline Lake begins to freeze over in October 2020
Madeline Lake begins to freeze over in October 2020. Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio

The NWT’s environmental regulatory regime is broadly working, an audit of the system found, while still making 40 recommendations for improvement.

The territory hired independent consultants to carry out the review, which must by law take place every five years. The audit examines how land and water use is managed and how environmental data is being collected and used.

“Overall, the system for managing land and water use in the NWT is working,” the review concluded.

“We didn’t see any big or new problems since the last audit in 2015. But there are still improvements to be made.”



The review’s authors identify 40 recommendations, mostly directed at either the territorial government, federal government, or the land and water boards that regulate what happens to the NWT’s environment.

Some of those recommendations were accepted by the governments and boards, though many were only partly accepted and a few were contested.

The bulk of the recommendations focus on co-management – the process by which various levels of government are supposed to jointly make decisions about the environment.

The audit found that Devolution had not made the process of working together any clearer, land use plans weren’t being regularly reviewed and updated, and the lack of settled land claims was continuing to cause issues.



Better legislation was, however, gradually being introduced with collaboration from the territorial and Indigenous governments, the review stated.

Clarity for industry

A section on environmental protection echoes what industry bodies have long maintained: that the NWT’s regulatory regime for mineral exploration can be “unclear and uncertain for industry.”

“Mixed messages and the current approach from government and boards may be hurting the mining industry,” the audit found, while “social and economic trends need to be better monitored and the results acted on.”

The regulatory process was praised in the same audit, though, for doing “a good job of protecting the land and water,” even if governments and regulatory boards may be over-reliant on industry when it comes to community engagement.

Responding to some of the audit’s recommendations, the NWT government said it was in the process of “refreshing” its mineral development strategy to address some concerns about the territory’s regulatory burden on industry.

A new version of that strategy, the GNWT said, would tackle “regulatory issues that are felt to be limiting mineral development, such as clarity on timelines and regulatory improvement opportunities,” following engagement with those involved.

More: Read the audit (including a plain-English version)

The audit found that many groups are “trying hard to collect environmental monitoring information using best methods,” but not everyone is using the same methods or standards.



Further, the review stated, “there are no rules about what should happen when monitoring shows bad trends in the environment.”

The review asks for a common set of rules to be drawn up so different monitoring programs can be used more effectively together.

Lastly, the independent consultants suggested the next audit – in 2025 – focus on the GNWT’s plans to combat climate change and mitigate its effects.

The territorial government said in response that a full, independent review of those plans is already scheduled for 2024.