Mr. Speaker, as always, it is a great honour to rise in the House. Today we are speaking to Senate bill S-6,
It is interesting that the bill is coming before us the week that the Yukon Supreme Court just struck down the efforts by the Yukon government, another right wing government, to ignore consultation, ignore environmental due process, ignore first nations in its push and attack on the Peel valley watershed. The supreme court said that it cannot do that. There is a social licence issue here when we are looking at development issues, and the court has thrown it back.
This is a pattern, and we are going to talk about it in the bill. The government thinks it can get ahead of social licence by just bringing in omnibus legislation, by stripping regulations, by doing things in the back room in order to kick-start mega development projects on which it has failed to do its basic due diligence and consultation, especially with first nations, who have enshrined constitutional rights under section 35. In doing so the government ends up creating a situation like the one we have now.
The government's militant advocacy of the big oil agenda has created a backlash across the country. It is a backlash where people say “You stripped the waters act of 99.999% of the lakes and rivers in our country so that the pipelines could get through without having to worry that there are basic protections in place.” Then it goes into the communities and they are saying “Are you kidding me? You're going to run bitumen through my town when there are no shut off valves on either side of the lakes and rivers?”
I represent probably one of the largest mining regions in Canada, if not in the world. When I talk to the mining companies in my region they get it. They understand the importance of having what we call “treaties on the ground”. We need to have the support of the local communities. Some of the ways to do that is by meeting environmental standards and through first nations consultation. Talk to anyone in the Ontario mining industry today about the possibility of getting a project off the ground, and they will say that without that consultation, it is not going to happen
We see a bill come forward like Bill that is unilaterally rewriting Yukon's environmental and socio-economic evaluation system. It is ignoring the issues of first nations consultations. It ignores the incredible economic value of the landscape and natural resource beauty in Yukon. This is another attempt to bypass the people of the country and create consensus on what development should look like. I believe it is only going to end up in another failure and impasse, going all the way back to the Mackenzie Valley pipeline days of these mega projects. If they are not done in a balanced manner, they are not going to get done at all.
Having travelled across the country from one end to the other, having done some of it in the back of a cheap little mini van with a band and other times as a sitting politician, I have never seen a section of the country that has taken my heart as much as Yukon. I love St. John's, Newfoundland, and my family roots—
Mr. Mark Strahl: More on Timmins. Shame.
Mr. Charlie Angus: Mr. Speaker, I am not going to let the member throw me off. I have been in Cape Breton. However, everywhere I have gone, my wife asks, “Is it as pretty as home?” I say in response, “It's nice, but it's not home.” When I went to Yukon for the first time, my wife asked me, “Is it like home?” I said, “Well, this is the one place that might actually move my heart.”
Fortunately, where I live in the incredible Cobalt—Temiskaming region, with the beautiful white pines at Temagami, there are incredible opportunities for canoeing—not that I canoe, by the way. If I cannot see it from a car window I do not go there. However, I encourage everyone else to come. I will stay where I am in northern Ontario. However, there is something magical about Yukon.
I say this in all seriousness, because when I am in Yukon and I go to the hotels and see all the people who fly over from Germany, when they come to Canada, their idea of Canada is about these incredible natural resources. They come to Yukon. They fly in from Japan and from all over the world.
Therefore, when we balance the incredible natural resources, we also have to balance the other interests. We certainly know that in my region, which is a very heavy mining region. It has the deepest base metal mine in the world, the Kidd Mine. It was discovered in 1964. It has pretty much the largest gold mines in operation. Hollinger Mines is just reopening now. My grandfather, Charlie Angus, was killed at Hollinger Mines. It was the largest gold mine in the western world. After a hundred years, it is being reopened. Dome Mine is still running. No matter how rich they are, these are finite resources.
We have to find ways to ensure value added. We have to ensure that when we develop these resources, it comes back. I have to admit that in Ontario, the Conservatives have not been very bright on this. Their idea of the north is that it is some kind of colony: the north gets the money and it goes down south. When a mine shuts down, they tell us in the north, it is too bad, so sad, we were never meant to stay.
However, we can do things better. In Yukon, with the spirit of the people there, the incredible natural resources and their sense of community, they have a right to have an active say in whether development will occur, and whether it will occur in mining, hydro development, in oil and gas, or if the land will be maintained in its natural state. That was the fight about the Peel valley watershed.
Bill would dismantle the environmental and socio-economic assessment that was developed in the Yukon, by Yukoners, for Yukon. There has been a complete lack of consultation with first nations, which is not surprising for the current government. The Conservatives just do not understand that these are constitutional obligations; they cannot get over it and they cannot get under it.
The Conservative government, with the full assistance of a local Conservative MP and the senator from Yukon, is forcing a pro-southern-resource agenda down the throats of Yukoners. That is what I heard when I was last in Whitehorse regarding what was happening in the Peel valley. Conservatives see this watershed and they know that there is incredible value in it.
Yukoners do not like that they are being sold down the river for the benefit of companies that are going to be fly-by-nighters, which might be here today but could be gone tomorrow.
There are a number of amendments in the bill that the people of the Yukon we have been talking with have been discussing and certainly the incredible workers of the New Democratic opposition in Yukon as well. The amendments would provide the with the authority to provide binding policy direction to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board. Yukoners are like northerners, so the idea that a minister in his office gets to decide what they are going to do is just not on.
Here is another one that is just typical of these guys. It would introduce legislated time limits for assessments. Conservatives wonder why their pipelines are going nowhere. Regarding public assessments, now people have to write and apply to be able to be part of the public consultation, and the government gets to decide whether people will be accepted. No wonder the National Energy Board is coming up with big blanks time and again. Using the same strategy they are using with the National Energy Board, the Conservatives want to be able to introduce these legislated time limits for assessments. We have certainly seen in northern Ontario that when they do that and ignore due process, there will be a backlash, because they are not respecting social licence.
It would allow the to delegate any or all of the responsibilities to the Yukon government. There are federal responsibilities here because these are federal lands, and also because of the fundamental legal obligations that the federal crown has to first nations. They cannot delegate those away just because they figure that the local government is going to be more amenable to ignoring their legal and constitutional obligations.
It would create broad exemptions for renewals, amendments, permits, and authorizations. I have seen that with the attempted development of resource projects. In our region in northern Ontario, we have seen that once they get a permit and it becomes a rubberstamp, they can vastly expand an operation and its impacts. They need to be able to go back to the people and say what the impact is.
The people of Yukon have lived there. The newcomers feel as passionately about it as the original people of the land. This is their land. They will always be there. The mining companies are going to come and go. They will change ownership and some of them will make money and go on and become another company or go bankrupt, but the resource they are playing with is the resource of the people of Yukon.
We have seen a number of really strong voices on this issue. I have enormous respect for Yukon NDP leader Liz Hanson and her passion for the people of Yukon. What is sorely missing is a willingness to engage in an open and honest manner. We need a relationship built on dialogue and respect rather than lawsuits and secret negotiations, which again is the fundamental pattern that is undermining development projects across Canada.
Conservatives believe that if they ignore consultation and public processes and do things through backroom regulations, lo and behold there will be all these pipelines and mining projects. I can say, from being on the ground in northern Quebec and northern Ontario, that if there is no social licence, that project is not going ahead, full stop. That is the end of it.
I have an editorial from the Yukon News. The title is, “Environmental assessment reform should be done in the open”. This is from June 13, 2014. It states:
A long list of people deserve raspberries for this needlessly shady behaviour
—that is not parliamentary, but I am just reading it—
for this needlessly shady behaviour. At the top of the naughty list are Senator Daniel Lang and [the] MP [for Yukon] who are supposed to ensure that the interests of Yukoners are represented in Ottawa. Instead, they’ve kept the public out of the loop, other than [the member for Yukon] uttering vague generalities about the forthcoming changes without offering any meaningful specifics. Shame on them.
That is a direct quote from the Yukon News.
We need binding policy direction, and we need it from the federal minister to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board. We need to make sure that the Conservatives are not undermining the basic rights of protection and consultation through the devolution process.
The government always brags about consultation but ignores the voices of the people who are mostly directly impacted. We have heard the Council of Yukon First Nations Grand Chief Ruth Massie say there was not adequate consultation and that if there is not adequate consultation before this bill is passed, the council will take legal action.
Once again, we see a government that decides that if it ignores its legal obligations, it somehow just might get away with it. The Yukon supreme court this week said no way, that it is not going to happen, so the Peel planning process has to start again.
There have been numerous pieces of legislation that the government has been warned do not meet the constitutional requirements of this country, but that have been forced through anyway and turned back. This is not how to develop resources in this country.
Before the election in 2004, I had the great honour to work with the Algonquin Nation in the La Verendrye park region of Quebec and up through the Abitibi region. At that time, the communities watched as millions and millions of dollars of development, hydro resources, forestry, and mining left the territories. No one local was ever hired. The only way they ever got attention was through blockades, threats of injunction, and protests.
The people in the community asked what would happen if they could put their resources into negotiating and building a relationship with the forestry companies so they could benefit from their territories and have them recognized as unceded lands. No treaties were ever signed, including for the Algonquin lands in northeastern Ontario. They said that if they put their efforts into consultation and building a relationship, communities and the regional economy might start to develop.
That conversation took place 14 years ago in northern Quebec and northern Ontario in the Algonquin communities I worked in, and in the 14 years since I have seen how dramatic the change has been. The mining companies get it. They will now go to communities and have discussions. It is not always easy. We have a long way to go and a lot of problems to work out, but we are a lot further down the road than we were.
I see northern communities like Timmins, Kirkland Lake, and Black River-Matheson that are dependent on mining resources. They get it that if they are not talking in partnership with the Mushkegowuk Cree, the Wabun Tribal Council, and their Algonquin neighbours, the development will not happen.
I ask my hon. colleagues on the government side why they are ignoring the pattern of the refusal to consult, the undermining of environmental regulations, and the stripping of local authorities and local people of consultation in order to pursue a mining, fracking, or oil agenda that is going to be defeated in the courts, just as it was defeated this the past week in the Yukon supreme court, and just as it has been defeated with Kinder Morgan and Burnaby Mountain. It is the issue of a social licence.
I want to go back to Bill . There are parts of this bill that are largely housekeeping, which can be part of any bill. The fact that it would dismantle the environmental and socio-economic assessment process developed in Yukon for Yukoners is a non-starter for the New Democratic Party. New Democrats are not going to go there, because we are on the side of ensuring sustainable development, development that is long term and based on the principle that we have been given.
We have incredible resources in our country, and these resources have to be treated with the respect they deserve. Instead, we see this kind of gambler's economy.
I was talking with a Yukon MLA about the attitude of the Yukon government and the similarity with the Conservative government on the belief that if it could get the resources as fast as it could and get them out of the ground as fast as possible, and these are finite resources, that somehow everything would be better off and that we should not worry about the economic impact or the environmental impact. That is not a reasonable way to do development.
I would like to point out, as well, that in my region we have the Ring of Fire. It is part of the great region of Timmins—James Bay. It is another incredible resource. The Ring of Fire is sitting there among some of the poorest fourth world communities. There is Webequie on one side, with Marten Falls and Ogoki Post on the other. These communities have been left out of the economic development plans from the beginning.
We have an enormous resource to do it right, but it has to be done in consultation. Nothing will happen in the Ring of Fire without the input of the Matawa people and then down river from them the Mushkegowuk people. Then I go into the non-native communities, and I hear the same message, that they want this thing done right.
Coming from a mining family on both sides and representing mining towns and living in a town where half the men in my community travel around the world working in mining, if we asked them about the Ring of Fire, they would say that if it is not done right, then we should leave it in the ground. If there is no value-added plan, it should be left in the ground. One miner said to me that this was the capital for our children's future. He asked why they would strip the bank account now to make some easy cash.
Instead of moving on in a nation-to-nation relationship on the idea of respect, the government believes that it can just change the regulations and everything will be fine. It might get taken to court. If the government does get taken to court, it will lose.
If we look at the legal precedents in terms of all the decisions about the legal rights of the first nations people in this land, it is an unbroken string of victories. It defines more and more, from Taku River, with the second Haida decision, and the Delgamuukw decision. We have been moving on.
Each of these rulings make it clear, and they are boxing government in more and more. Part of the reason the courts are acting in this way is because of the lack of good faith from the crown. The honour of the crown is continually undermining and abusing its fiduciary responsibilities.
I will go back, before I go on to Yukon, to my region and Treaty No. 9. When Treaty No. 9 was signed, it was to share the land. There was a promise of education. At the time of the signing, Ontario was an economic backwater and Toronto was just a little town then.
Treaty No. 9 resources turned Ontario into an international economic powerhouse. It was the hydro, gold, copper, iron and the forestry from Treaty No. 9 that created the Ontario economy, which was the juggernaut of the 20th century.
What did the people who signed the treaty get out of that? They got put on these internal displacement camps. All their economic rights were stripped. It does not say anything in the treaty about having their economic, cultural, religious and education rights stripped, or that they would be made wards of Duncan Campbell Scott who came north to sign the treaty.
There needs to be a day of reckoning on this. The communities I am in say that the reckoning is the respect that we move forward with. We cannot fix the past. None of us can. Knowing what has happened and knowing our obligations, we can move forward.
When I look at a bill that will fail the fundamental test of legal duty to consult, that treats the people of the region as though their voices will be less valued than the voices and interests of southern mining, I am seeing another bill that will be challenged in the courts. Like the Peel Watershed decision in the Yukon court, it is another bill that is eventually going down in defeat, and we will be back at square one.
The only thing that will come from this is bad faith. People I know in the resource industry do not want bad faith. They want peace on the ground. I hear that all the time. They want negotiations. They get the idea that if people in the local regions are not happy, then the project will not move forward.
Mr. Speaker, I am glad to have an opportunity to participate in the discussion on Bill .
I am concerned about the way the government is moving forward in its dealings with first nation communities throughout this country. It is frankly embarrassing to me as a member, as a Canadian, that the government does not recognize its constitutional responsibility, its fiduciary responsibility, to deal with first nation communities on a nation-to-nation basis, as it has committed itself to doing.
My colleague from just mentioned a moment ago a meeting that was reported on yesterday. Representatives of a first nation community in Yukon met with the minister. They felt that they were insulted, because he suggested to them that they were not government, that in fact, participation in the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act agreement has somehow taken away their status as a government. Now it is only necessary for him to deal with the Government of Yukon. It is hard to fathom that a minister of the crown would have that kind of approach to first nation communities.
I am troubled by the direction the government is going. At every opportunity, it seems to get more focused on trying to find ways to quickly allow southern mining companies or national and international oil companies to go into the north, to frankly go anywhere in this country, to develop those natural resources and get them out of the ground and off to market as quickly as possible, regardless of the inherent dangers to the environment and the communities that will be affected by that development and regardless of the question of ownership of those natural resources. In this respect, I refer to the responsibility of the government to negotiate with first nations communities.
This is a classic example, really, of the way the government is approaching these issues, the ham-fisted way it is dealing with these issues as they relate to first nations treaty rights and responsibilities, land title, and the responsibility to not only consult but accommodate. The government has failed at every turn, it seems, in its responsibility to fulfill the directions provided by the Supreme Court again and again.
We can talk about oil and mining and talk about fish. As the critic for Fisheries and Oceans, I deal with first nation communities on our coast repeatedly. They are frustrated by the lack of responsiveness of the government in accepting its responsibility under the constitution, which has been reiterated, clarified, and enunciated by the courts time and time again at different locations around this country. The government has failed to act.
Then we have issues like this. We have issues like the government trying to impose changes on the education system in first nation communities. It created such a firestorm that the government finally had to withdraw that legislation. First nations leaders and communities across the country responded in such a negative way to the unilateral imposition of something that is clearly the responsibility of first nations communities that they had to back off.
With respect to the changes to the Fisheries Act that began in 2012, the grand chief of the Assembly of First Nations went before committee and was utterly insulted himself and on behalf of other leaders across the country. Some 640-odd first nations were required to be consulted on matters like this that affect their rights, and the government completely ignored them. It went ahead and brought forward changes that affect those rights without any consideration.
It is that kind of disrespect and unilateral action that resulted in Yukon chiefs coming to town. Nine representatives travelled to Ottawa over the weekend to meet with the minister. What they said has been quoted. I think it is important to quote the article again:
The minister shut us down by telling us we were not real governments," says Little Salmon Carmacks First Nation Chief Eric Fairclough in a news release, "And therefore he does not need to make us active participants in changing legislation that arises from our treaties."
The government brought forward the Federal Accountability Act, and yet there is very little, if any, consultation. It has been threatening the leadership of first nation communities, telling them that they either go by the government's law or the government will be exercising unilateral punishment. That not only impedes the work of first nation communities and the efforts by many of the leaders to move their communities forward but is clearly an example of the government getting in the way of fulfilling its responsibilities in dealing with first nation communities.
Dare I bring up the reluctance of the government to deal with the issue of the 1,100 missing and murdered aboriginal women in this country? The government seems to be able to understand that the despicable act of killing a Canadians Forces member and a reservist and threatening other people in the House is a terrorist act. It has been able to clearly identify that as a terrorist act, yet it does not recognize and will not commit to making the changes and bring in the programs necessary to deal with why aboriginal women and their families have to fear for their lives each and every day in this country. It is unconscionable that the government seems to have this kind of attitude as it relates to the first nations.
Let me delve a little deeper into Bill . It would change the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act. This is an act that was established in 2003 in fulfilment of an obligation under the Yukon Umbrella Final Agreement. The Umbrella Final Agreement is a consultative process among first nation communities, the Yukon government, and the crown.
First let me add that there was a requirement in that agreement that there be a review after five years. The government decided that it did not like that review so it did not release it. It decided to impose its own changes, along with the government dealing directly with the government of Yukon, excluding any substantive consultation with the first nations communities. The amendments were developed through a secretive process. The non-union groups—the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada, the Mining Association of Canada, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, and Canadian Energy Pipeline Association—were all allowed input. However, there was no public process, and there continues to be very significant opposition not only on the part of Yukoners but also on the part of the Council of Yukon First Nations.
Why is the Conservative government moving forward in this fashion? What is the Conservatives' purpose? We have heard them talk about resource extraction repeatedly. What they want to do is speed it up and they want to get rid of the regulatory processes. They have changed the Environmental Assessment Act. They have changed the Fisheries Act. They have changed a number of pieces of legislation that deal with the protection of our environment and controls over resource development: the Navigable Waters Protection Act; the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act.
That was an interesting one right there. In the NWT, the Conservatives decided to get rid of all the local and regional water and resource boards that had the local first nations representatives on them and had the territorial and federal governments represented. There were a number of them throughout NWT, as is the case elsewhere, recognizing the particular interests of the first nations community in the area that is under discussion. The process that those boards used to follow was that a mining company or otherwise would present a plan to the board and the board would begin to review that proposal and ask questions.
Most importantly, and something that we could learn a lot from, is that they would go out into the community and meet with local first nations and hear from people directly about exactly what the impact was going to be. It was not the case that there was always huge opposition. There is no question that people in many communities are looking for work and for economic development opportunities and opportunities to generate wealth in their community that will benefit them, their children, and future generations. However, they understand how to look at things in terms of generations, not months or years; they had the long vision.
It was always important that they understood and that the development plans laid out how the development was going to happen and what the impact was going to be and that proper mitigation measures were brought to bear in order to ensure there was as little impact as possible in order to meet the particular objectives of extracting the resource, generating the jobs, and ensuring that some of the revenues were poured back into the communities and elsewhere. However, it was also important that, given whatever the stated life of that particular development might have been, there was built-in reclamation of the site or other ways that the particular site would be returned as closely as possible to its natural state.
That is the kind of process that was undone. It became apparent, and I had the opportunity the summer before last to visit Yellowknife and meet with representatives of some of these boards. I met with the Tlicho First Nation and learned a bit about their culture and about their approach to the management of natural resources to best benefit their community. I learned a great deal.
It was interesting. When I met with representatives of the boards, one of their concerns was that even then—and this was a couple of years ago—the federal government was increasingly withdrawing some of the supports that had been there. For example, if it was a development that would affect a particular watercourse, a lake or a river, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans biologists and officials in that local office would be involved. They would get involved, engage in consultation, and be able to go out and talk to citizens on the basis of their understanding of the land, the environment, and the fisheries. They were able to respond in a concrete, factual way about what the impacts would be.
What they were finding even then, in 2012, was that as a result of the massive cutbacks at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, there was not the same number of officials, in Yellowknife for example. Rather than eight or ten scientists and managers who would work with these boards, they were reduced to two. They had to go to Burlington, Ontario, or Winnipeg, Manitoba, to try to bring that kind of expertise in. It was not local expertise, but they could bring that expertise in.
My point is that they were beginning to see that things were beginning to break down under the government as it related to local control over resource development.
Then we dealt with Bill , I believe, which created a superboard for the Mackenzie Valley, because the government thought it would take less time and be less cumbersome, and companies would only have to deal with one board, and they would be able to get the job done a lot more quickly, get at the resource, move it out, and make their money.
Speaking of that, there was just a story in the news this morning about how the Tlicho First Nation has taken the government to court because it believes the superboard ignores the intent of the self-government agreement. What the superboard does, in fact, is get rid of that local first nation control, and the Tlicho are fighting it.
I know we have heard the minister say, repeatedly, to first nations communities that if they do not like it they should take the government to court. We also know that costs hundreds of millions of dollars, federal taxpayers' dollars, to continue to fight against the rights of first nations communities in this country that are clearly defined by the Constitution. I do not believe that is right.
I do not believe that Bill is going in the right direction. I am disappointed in the direction the government is going in relation to its dealing with first nations communities.
As with the Peel watershed land development case that was struck down by the courts, if it keeps going in this direction, unfortunately, everything the government does is going to get struck down by the courts.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak on this bill. I met with the group of Yukon representatives yesterday, who raised a lot of concern about the fact that the government put in amendments that they had not agreed to. Not only did they not agree to them, but there was no discussion about them.
The member may be saying that is false, Mr. Speaker, but this is exactly what has occurred.
Let me first talk a bit about the bill. I am going to inform the House that New Democrats are opposed to the bill because there has been a flawed process. I am assuming that if my colleague wants to speak, he will have his turn later or can ask me a question.
Basically, the bill was developed behind closed doors. It actually originated out of the Senate, but it should have been a government bill. That is the lack of respect we see from the government when it comes to treaty obligations and constitutional rights.
There has been a lack of public input because of this. I can say that my colleague from the actually held a meeting on this issue in Yukon, and there was very little standing room at this meeting. That is how important this issue is to the people in Yukon.
I should provide a bit of background on the bill itself, because it has been a little while since we have talked about it and some people may not be familiar with it. Bill is an act to amend the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act and the Nunavut Waters and Nunavut Surface Rights Tribunal Act. The short title is the Yukon and Nunavut regulatory improvement act. It was introduced in the Senate on June 3, 2014.
The objective of Bill is to change the regulatory regime in Yukon and Nunavut. The bill is composed of two parts. Part 1 proposes a series of amendments to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act and Part 2 proposes amendments to the Nunavut Waters and Nunavut Surface Rights Tribunal Act.
The problem that needs to be emphasized is that the bill unilaterally rewrites Yukon's environmental and socio-economic evaluation system. The system is actually a product of the Umbrella Final Agreement, which settled most of the first nations land claims in the territory. The Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act, the short form of which is YESAA, is seen by most residents of the territory as a made-in-Yukon solution to the unique environmental and social circumstances of the territory.
The changes proposed in Bill are seen as being imposed from the outside to satisfy southern resource development companies. Again we can see that the issue is that the government is listening to industry as opposed to doing it from the ground up, which means starting with the people who actually live and work on these lands.
New Democrats are opposed to this bill, of course, because it was developed without adequate consultation with Yukon first nations and residents of the Yukon and is not supported by the majority of them. Although Part 2's amendments to the Nunavut legislation are largely housekeeping, the Nunavut Water Board did raise some concerns with this part as well.
It is extremely important for us to recognize that Bill would actually dismantle the environmental and socio-economic assessment process developed in Yukon by Yukoners for Yukon. We can see why people are actually up in arms about what the government is trying to push through.
There has been incomplete consultation, as I have indicated, with Yukon first nations before the amendments were made, but there must be consultations before such amendments are actually proposed. As New Democrats have indicated over and over again, the fact of the matter is that the government has put in amendments that nobody has actually talked about, and it is not the first time that we have seen the government do that. It is grabbing them out of thin air.
The Conservative government, with the full assistance of the Conservative MP and the senator from Yukon, is actually forcing a pro-southern resource company agenda down the throats of Yukoners, so we can see why people are really up in arms about this situation.
As I mentioned, my colleague, the member for , held hearings on this issue. However, the fact of the matter is that there are four changes that really upset Yukoners.
This is what my colleague said:
One of them is providing the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development the authority to provide binding policy direction to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board. This is something that was established in the NWT and there were real concerns with it there. The Yukon, which has been dealing with a different system for the past 10 years, is looking at anything like this as an abrogation of its rights and hard-fought authority over the lands and resources.
However, we have seen this over and over again with the current Conservative government when it tries to give rights to a federal minister to unilaterally make decisions. I think this is of great concern to these people.
On the second change, I will again quote from the speech of my colleague, the member for :
The second change is the introduction of legislative time limits for assessments.
The third change is allowing the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development to delegate any or all responsibilities to the Yukon government. That is an issue of huge concern to first nations, and Yukoners as well. Yukon has worked out an arrangement between first nations and public government that is critical to the future of the Yukon territory. I do not think anyone would deny that. That relationship is one that the provinces are having more and more trouble with every day. The failure to deal on a nation-to-nation basis at the provincial level is causing all kinds of grief in all kinds of projects right across this country. Therefore, there is concern about how the delegation takes place.
Again, I am quoting from the speech of my colleague from the Northwest Territories when this issue first came before the House:
Then there is the question of creating broad exemptions from YESAA for renewals and amendments of permits and authorizations. People look at that and ask what is going on and wonder how they we make sure it is correct.
Additionally, these amendments favour the Yukon government over Yukon first nations,
—members can see why there are challenges there right now—
the other partner in the YESAA process. The Council of Yukon First Nations has threatened legal action should the bill become law.
As my colleagues have mentioned throughout the debate, the Conservative government is putting forth legislation after legislation that ends up in the courts, and guess what? They lose over and over again. I think when it comes to first nations, the Conservatives have lost something like 200 cases, so we can see that it is not in the best interest of Canadians to table legislation that people are so opposed to.
There is a quick fix here. We can listen to what the changes are, make those changes, and the problem would be solved. It does not cost us a lot of money to do that. However, going through the courts is a different story.
As I mentioned, my colleague held a meeting on this in Yukon. Talking about the environmental assessment process and having discussions such as this do not normally tempt a lot of people, because a lot of people sometimes do not understand it, but Yukoners do get it. They get it so much that they actually packed that room. Therefore, I think that it is important for the government to listen to the debates that we are having here today, to listen to the comments that were made, to go back and listen to the testimony that was presented, and say, “Hey, maybe we should take a step back here. We can get it right.”
The Conservatives can get it right. All they need is the will to do it.
It is important for me to read some of the testimony that was given before the Senate committee. Grand Chief Ruth Massie of the Council of Yukon First Nations was glad to be there because she wanted to make sure that the council's concerns were heard, in the hope that the government was listening in good faith. She talked about the Council for Yukon Indians that represented Yukon first nations in the land claim negotiations and signed the Umbrella Final Agreement, the UFA, in 1993. The UFA directed the CYFN, Canada, and Yukon to develop legislation to implement the objectives and principles set out in the development assessment found in chapter 12. This is the legislation in the YESAA. They are prepared to do that, but the only thing is that the government has thrown a wrench in there.
I quote from Ruth Massie:
The CYFN has a membership of nine self-governing Yukon First Nations and we work in collaboration with the other Yukon First Nations, including the three unsigned First Nations, with respect to specific projects and initiatives.
This is an organization that has already built a foundation to be able to work together and has been able to move forward on working with mining organizations. It is willing to do that, but it needs to make sure that at the end of the day, mother earth is going to be protected.
She went on to say:
In particular, the CYFN and Yukon First Nations have worked cooperatively to deal with matters relating to the YESAA over the past fifteen years, including its development, implementation and review. The UFA directed the CYFN, Canada and Yukon to complete a comprehensive review of the YESAA in 2008. This is known as the “five-year” review since it was directed to take place five years after the federal enactment of the YESAA. Despite the claims of the federal officials, this review has not yet been completed.
Hold on here. The government put forward this bill, yet there was supposed to be a review but it has not been done yet. There is a problem here.
Grand Chief Massie continued:
For several years during the five-year review the federal officials maintained that no legislative changes would be made to the YESAA in order to implement any recommendations of the five-year review. Canada now proposes that Bill S-6 would amend the YESAA pursuant to its Action Plan to Improve Northern Regulatory Regimes. It is our position that certain amendments to the YESAA proposed by Bill S-6 undermine the spirit and purpose of the YESAA that implements treaty rights of Yukon First Nations and their citizens. These proposed amendments fundamentally alter the operation of the YESAA process. In some cases, these proposed amendments relate to matters that were never discussed during the five-year review or, in other cases, contradict agreements reached by the CYFN, Canada and Yukon during that review.
The government is actually contradicting agreements. We know that is true because we have seen it over and over again.
She went on to say:
If the amendments proposed by Bill S-6 are proclaimed, the Crown will have breached its duty to consult and accommodate owed to Yukon First Nations and its constitutional duty to uphold the honour of the Crown.
In our view, these amendments would infringe rights under our land claim agreements, including the right for independent assessment of certain projects to be carried out in accordance with Chapter 12 of the final agreement. These amendments would also serve to undermine the integrity and effectiveness of YESAA.
Imagine trying to put some legislation in place that undermines the integrity and effectiveness of the act itself. This means that the amendments proposed by Bill must be rejected or revised. That is why we on this side of the House are standing today to reject this legislation and asking that there be a revision.
There is much more documentation here that I do not have time to speak to.
However, I think it is important to reiterate the fact that representatives came to Ottawa yesterday to raise the issue, to ask that there be some revisions to a bill that will impact their lands and their ability to move forward in certain areas and on the protection of their environment, yet we have a minister who has basically shut them down.
I will quote Eric Fairclough, the chief of Little Salmon Carmacks First Nation, from a news release from the CBC, dated yesterday. He said:
The minister shut us down by telling us we were not real governments, and therefore he does not need to make us active participants in changing legislation that arises from our treaties.
If the government side of the House is trying to tell me that is not what the government said, then there is a problem. However, I cannot see anyone saying that the minister told them they were not a real government. They would not just grab that out of the air. That is a serious allegation.
He went on to say that it “...flies in the face of recent court decisions that have affirmed the duty to consult First Nations.”
Again, it is not just this chief who has actually made the comment. I could go on with respect to another northern aboriginal group that governs a New Brunswick-size chunk of the Northwest Territories, who has already asked the Territory's supreme court for an injunction against a similar federal law to the one we are speaking about today. They indicate that it violates their hard-won treaty. That is the Tlicho. They say:
....the law, to take effect next April, would dilute local decision-making by replacing environmental regulators created by land-claim settlements with a single board controlled from Ottawa.
Critics have said the superboard was the price the—Conservatives—exacted from the territorial government in exchange for rules transferring resource royalties to the territory, which were contained in the same bill.
It is not just in Yukon. It is not just in Ontario. It is not just in New Brunswick. We are seeing this in every province and territory where the government is tabling legislation, pushing it through despite concerns about it, with the result that we find ourselves yet again before the courts.
It is imperative for us to indicate that for legislation to work properly and to foster good relationships, and not just good relationship but great working relationships with our first nation, Inuit, and Métis people, we need to make sure that we have that proper dialogue. We need to make sure that we actually listen to changes that they know will impact them negatively. We need to make those changes before we pass the legislation and end up in court.
Another important thing is that we know that our leader would approach resource development in the north in a respectful and consultative manner, unlike the Conservative government. We need to recognize that the nation-to-nation dialogue is extremely important. We need to ensure that any steps taken in northern development are done with the full participation of northern communities.
It is also important to note a few more things. This is from Grand Chief Ruth Massie and Chief Eric Fairclough. The first nations have four concerns: policy direction to the board, delegation of federal powers to Yukon government, exemptions for renewal and amendments, and timelines for YESAA assessments.
I will close by saying that we must emphasize the fact that the government needs to recognize the necessity of making these changes to the bill. I know that the leader of the Yukon NDP has been working very closely with first nations and supports the position taken by them in calling for these amendments to be made to the bill.
With that, I will close and wait for further questions.
Mr. Speaker, it is with pleasure that I rise today to speak to Bill , a bill that would have a significant impact upon us all, no matter what region of the country we happen to live in. Obviously, it would have a larger impact in our northern region, in particular, Nunavut and Yukon.
I would like to start off by, first, acknowledging and welcoming the suggestion, the possibility of a standing committee being able to travel to get direct input on issues such as this, as it would have a very positive effect in certain situations. We will have to wait and see, through the critics and the minister, whether or not that will actually take place. I was under the impression that the official opposition party was not allowing for committees to travel, but I would hope that position has changed, when in fact there is legitimacy for committees to travel. We will have to wait to see.
One member across the way made reference to the aboriginal affairs committee. I, for one, would welcome the aboriginal affairs committee doing something more tangible on a very important issue, which we saw raised inside the House today; that is, the hundreds of murdered and missing aboriginal women and young girls.
Having said that, I will go right back to Bill .
When I think of Bill , a number of thoughts come to mind. I have been listening very closely to a lot of the questions that have been put forward to the New Democrats, in particular, with respect to the whole issue of consultation. I have had the opportunity to ask some questions, again, with respect to the idea of consultation. I recognize that the bill itself would make some very significant changes. Consultations were in fact warranted, and I think there is a huge question mark in terms of to what degree the government did, in good faith, go into the consultation process.
What I do know is that I have had the opportunity to receive some feedback from a couple of people in particular, from the north. One individual who I had known very briefly when I was first elected in the by-election was the former member of Parliament from Yukon, Larry Bagnell. He was sure that we had an understanding that it would appear as if there was a genuine lack of consultation that had taken place and raised a number of concerns that we felt were important, and one would question why the government was unable to build the consensus that was necessary to get more of a consensus in passing the legislation we have here today. I do not think they have achieved that.
We start to get wind of that, whether it was individuals or stakeholders making contact with caucus critics or caucus offices, but we get that sense in terms of the way in which the government also responds to the legislation.
We have Bill , which has already been time allocated. That says something in itself. It means there will be a limited number of members of Parliament allowed to speak on this legislation. I suspect there might be keener interest from certain members of Parliament, quite frankly, over others, but at the very least, I think that all those who would like the opportunity to share their thoughts on this legislation should in fact be afforded the opportunity. However, like other pieces of legislation, Bill was time allocated
It does seem, on the surface, that the government uses it as a form of process, that the way it gets its legislation passed in the House is to bring in the time allocation tool.
The unfortunate aspect of that is that we have legislation before us that, ultimately, would have been much better had the government been successful in being able to consult in good faith—and I underline the words “good faith” for the simple reason that many of the answers from the government side are that it has consulted. I have even heard quotes from the government side saying that it has consulted. I suspect that, to a certain degree, it has conducted some form of consultation, but obviously the type of consultation the government espouses has not been effective because of the response we are hearing, that there seems to be a genuine need for the government to go back to the drawing board.
What would Bill actually do? When we read the summary of the bill, we find that it would, in essence, establish time limits for environmental assessments and a cost recovery regime. It further states:
It also amends that Act to provide for binding ministerial policy directions to the Board and the delegation of any of the Minister’s powers, duties and functions to the territorial minister, and allows for a member of the board who is participating in a screening or review to continue to act for that purpose after the expiry of their term or their removal due to a loss of residency in Yukon, until decision documents are issued....
Part 2 amends the Nunavut Waters and Nunavut Surface Rights Tribunal Act to modify the maximum term of certain licences, to establish time limits with respect to the making of certain decisions, to allow for the making of arrangements relating to security, to establish a cost recovery regime....
Very substantial things would be applied through Bill to two pieces of legislation.
Issues have been brought forward. When I say that there was lack of consultation, a few points were specifically brought to my attention. The government is now proposing some new measures through Bill , and it is questionable as to whether there was consultation to the same degree on these new measures.
The bill would provide sweeping powers for the minister to issue binding policy direction to the assessment board; the minister could unilaterally hand over his power to the territory without the consent of first nations; and there could be exemptions of assessment renewals and amendments to projects. There is also the issue with regard to timelines and whether they are unrealistic. These are some of the areas. The general feeling is that there was no real, genuine consultation on those points, and I suspect others.
In terms of the potential development in the north, it would be wrong for us as a nation, as we continue to evolve and develop, not to recognize the potential of the north, in terms of how Canada as a whole would benefit if it is done properly and well under good stewardship; we can all benefit. That benefit goes beyond just finances. Quite often, when there is legislation of this nature or when we talk about the north, we do not put enough emphasis on the environment, the natural beauty, and how we can help the north become that much more alive for people who have a desire to get the northern experience. There is so much more we can do.
The Liberal Party supports assessing resource wealth in the north in a sustainable way. Unlocking this economic activity is contingent on environmental sustainability and on the impacted aboriginal communities being engaged as equal partners.
The government as a whole has fallen short when it comes to the development of our natural resources. That does not necessarily apply just up north. If we look at the Prairies or any other region in Canada, there has been a vacuum created by the in terms of leadership. We have not seen leadership coming from the Prime Minister's Office on the development of our resources.
We could come up with a number of examples. We could make reference to the legislation before us today or to the controversial issue of our pipelines, where one province is negotiating with another province and the Prime Minister is just standing at the side, not providing any form of leadership to bring the different stakeholders together to try to build consensus.
If we want to develop and promote our resources, we need to build that social contract. Ottawa has a responsibility to be engaged with the different stakeholders and to demonstrate strong leadership. That has been lacking for the last number of years, at a great cost to our community, both economically and socially in terms of development. Opportunities have been lost because the Prime Minister has not seen fit to demonstrate strong leadership in building that social contract.
I have had the opportunity to speak on a number of occasions on legislation affecting our first nations and our aboriginal peoples. If there is a common theme, virtually on anything affecting our first nations or aboriginal peoples, it has been the issue of consultation. That is one of the biggest criticisms, once again.
How can the Conservatives expect an opposition party to get behind legislation if the stakeholders are saying that they were not adequately consulted? We are getting feedback that there are legitimate concerns about the legislation and the impact it would have on development. The government seems to have the attitude that it knows best and does not necessarily need to consult. It wants to say that it consulted, but is it genuine consultation that has taken place?
Eleven self-governing first nations have made it clear that the federal government has not held enough adequate consultation on the bill to merit support. That is a substantial statement. They do not feel that they were adequately consulted. The government has brought things into the legislation that they had no idea were going to be incorporated into the legislation. Were they in fact consulted on all aspects of the legislation that has been brought forward? Based on information we are being provided, that has not been the case, and it has been at a great cost.
I have had the opportunity to fly over, and on one occasion be in, Yellowknife. I used to be a serving member of the Canadian Forces, and what a privilege it was. I was posted out in Lancaster Park, just north of Edmonton. We had the C-130 Hercs, and we would do that northern run for the char up north. Everyone loved having that beautiful fish.
Flying over Yellowknife, one gets a good sense of just how vast our country is. There are so many opportunities there. We can talk about gold, silver, copper, zinc, and many more that are being mined in the north. The potential development there is overwhelming.
The entire population of the north is probably somewhere around 100,000 or maybe a little bit more. We need to play a role, but we need to be working with the territorial governments. We need to be working with the Inuit, our first nations, people of aboriginal heritage, and the communities, those who actually have intelligence on the ground on how we can best develop the north for future generations. It is not just about extracting; it is where we might be able to have additional value.
If we want to move forward, the first priority in bringing in legislation of this nature should be to build consensus. I do not think the government has been successful in building consensus.
I do not think the Liberal Party and the member for would oppose the idea of the standing committee going to the north to get a better understanding and see first-hand some of the things that are taking place.
At the end of the day, Bill would have a significant impact. We are looking to the government to deal with the issue in a conciliatory fashion and to respect consultation. That is a word I might have said a dozen times in my speech.
If we are not prepared to do the work, we should think twice before bringing in legislation. If we fail on consultation and force through the legislation, what can happen is more confrontation and problems in the future. It is better to get it right the first time and work in co-operation. If that means taking the extra month or two to get it right, let us take the extra month or two. The attitude the government has demonstrated, even by passing this legislation and bringing in time allocation, speaks volumes.
I realize that my time has expired, so I will leave it at that.