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Toronto: September 29, 2004
Headlined by a former Prime Minister and a former Premier of the Northwest Territories, World Wildlife Fund Canada (WWF-Canada) held a press conference on Parliament Hill today to express its strong expectation that the federal government must commit to sustainable development and conservation in the Northwest Territories’ Mackenzie Valley.

On September 10, in Calgary, Stéphane Dion, Prime Minister Martin’s Environment Minister said that, “long-term economic success is no longer possible without environmental sustainability.” WWF-Canada’s President Emeritus, Monte Hummel, is in favour of that kind of message from government, but says that WWF-Canada and others are looking for the corresponding action. After numerous meetings with key Ministers and their officials over the past few weeks, Hummel argues that the federal government is dragging its feet and in danger of “snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.”

The “victory” would be implementation of the Mackenzie Valley Action Plan as part of the Northwest Territories Protected Areas Strategy, the product of a unique collaboration led by Aboriginal communities, and supported by territorial and federal governments, industry, and conservation organizations like WWF-Canada. The Protected Areas Strategy and the Action Plan lay out a way for communities in the North to identify lands with natural and cultural significance that they wish to protect from industrial development.

The “defeat” has been the inability or unwillingness of the current federal government to commit publicly to the Protected Areas Strategy and to fund its full share of the cost of implementation - $9 million over five years, or just $1.8 million per year. This, despite the fact that the other groups who signed onto the Protected Areas Strategy have committed to raising a matching $9 million.

Stephen Kakfwi, former Premier of the Northwest Territories, indicated that he too wants to see adequate federal support of the Protected Areas Strategy. “Northern communities want the chance to identify and reserve areas important to them now, while they still can. Every minister of Indian and Northern Affairs has supported this work so far, and I’m hopeful that the new Minister, Andy Scott, will do so as well. We’re already six months into the fiscal year to which this funding is supposed to apply, and there’s a backlog of community requests to get moving”.

Former Prime Minister, the Rt. Hon. John Turner, went even further, “In the mid-nineties, when the first big Arctic diamond mine project proposed to proceed sequencing conservation second, I personally oversaw
WWF-Canada’s filing to the Federal Court which resulted in us getting a Protected Areas Strategy. So, no one should doubt our resolve to uphold conservation first. It’s time to do right by the North and the people who live there”.

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