Devolution - Canada

Canada

Although Canada is a federal state, a large portion of its land mass in the North is under the legislative jurisdiction of the federal government. This has been the case since 1870. In 1870, the Rupert’s Land and North-Western Territory Order effected the admission of Rupert’s Land and the North-Western Territory to Canada, pursuant to section 146 of the Constitution Act, 1867 and the Rupert’s Land Act, 1868. The Manitoba Act, 1870, which created Manitoba out of part of Rupert’s Land, also designated the remaining territories the Northwest Territories (NWT), over which Parliament was to exercise full legislative authority under the Constitution Act, 1871.

Since the 1970s, the federal government has been transferring its decision-making powers to northern governments. This means greater local control and accountability by northerners for decisions central to the future of the territories. Yukon was carved from the Northwest Territories in 1898 but it remained a federal territory. Subsequently, in 1905, the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan were created from the Northwest Territories. Other portions of Rupert's Land were added to the provinces of Ontario and Quebec, extending the provinces northward from their previous narrow band around the St. Lawrence and lower Great Lakes. District of Ungava was a regional administrative district of Canada's Northwest Territories from 1895 to 1912. The continental areas of the District of Ungava were transferred by the Parliament of Canada with the adoption of the Quebec Boundary Extension Act, 1898 and the Quebec Boundaries Extension Act, 1912. The interior of Labrador which was believed part of Ungava was settled in 1927 by the British Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, which ruled in favour of Newfoundland.

In 1999, the federal government created Nunavut pursuant to a land claim agreement reached with Inuit, the indigenous people of Canada’s Eastern Arctic. The offshore islands to the west and north of Quebec remained part of the Northwest Territories until the creation of Nunavut in 1999.

Since that time, the federal government has slowly devolved legislative jurisdiction to the territories. Enabling the territories to become more self-sufficient and prosperous and to play a stronger role in the Canadian federation is considered a key component to development in Canada’s North. Among the three territories, devolution is most advanced in Yukon.

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