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NWT government to merge its environment and lands departments

Last modified: May 17, 2022 at 11:40am


The Northwest Territories will spend the next year merging two departments that govern public land, the environment, and the territory’s climate change response.

The Department of Lands and Department of Environment and Natural Resources will complete their merger by April 1, 2023, the territory confirmed in a Tuesday news release.

Devolution spurred the Department of Lands’ creation in 2014 to assume administration of public land from the federal government. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources was created in 2005 when the Department of Resources, Wildlife and Economic Development was split into two (the other offshoot being Industry, Tourism and Investment).

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As of March 31 last year, the latest date for which figures are available, ENR had 343 employees and Lands had 105.

They currently share the same minister, Shane Thompson.

So far, there is no name for the new, amalgamated department. How jobs within the two departments will be affected is not yet clear.

Merging the two departments was raised, albeit in a somewhat flippant context, by Yellowknife North MLA Rylund Johnson in February.

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Responding to the territory’s proposed budget in the legislature, Johnson said the territorial government had been “losing the communications battle from day one” and needed “some headlines [to] build the political capital to make those tough decisions.”

His list of suggestions for “flashy headlines” included tying the minimum wage to inflation, creating a new holiday, and renaming the Mackenzie River or Mackenzie Mountains “in the interest of reconciliation.”

He added: “Perhaps we can merge ENR, Maca and Lands to save us a few million dollars. They all have one minister.”

Maca was not affected by Tuesday’s announcement.

Thompson, in a statement, said merging two of his departments “supports the evolution of the work being done in this area and will improve program and service delivery, ultimately benefiting NWT residents.”

He added: “Our goal is to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of existing programs while minimizing impacts on staff, clients, and departmental objectives.”

More broadly, the NWT government framed the amalgamation as “the next step” in evolving land and resource management powers handed over by Ottawa in 2014.

Uniting ENR and Lands will bring all functions related to key environmental legislation within a single department’s domain, the territory stated on Tuesday.

“The new structure will enhance clarity of roles, responsibilities and authorities, reduce delays, and streamline services and programs for clients. Amalgamating these departments is also consistent with most organizational structures across Canada,” that statement read.

“Initial work is under way and will provide a more fulsome understanding of the organizational design. This work will be reflected in the 2023-2024 budget.”

The NWT government last amalgamated departments in 2017, when agencies that oversaw transportation and public works became a single Department of Infrastructure.

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