Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise today in support of Bill C-15, an act to replace the Northwest Territories Act to implement certain provisions of the Northwest Territories Lands and Resources Devolution Agreement and to repeal or make amendments to the Territorial Lands Act, the Northwest Territories Waters Act, the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act, other Acts and certain orders and regulations.
Before I actually start on the content of the bill, I want to take a minute to say what a stellar representative the has in its member of Parliament. This member is also the critic for the western Arctic. It is hard to imagine a person who devotes more time to representing a constituency. He exudes the love he has for the north. For many people in the House, he is a role model as a parliamentarian. We commend him for the amazing work he does. Yes, we come here to debate, but he realizes that one of the primary roles we have as parliamentarians is to bring our constituents' concerns and advocate for our ridings right here in the House. He is a stellar representative for the true north strong and free. I notice that this has made it into the news again, so I thought I would use it here.
I am speaking in support of second reading. I am very proud of the fact that both our critic and the leader of the official opposition, my leader, have committed to NDP support for the bill. We believe in devolution.
I also want to commend the leadership in the Northwest Territories for the amazing work they have done, specifically the premier, but also those who have gone before him, to advocate for the north breaking away from colonial shackles, so to speak, and moving toward self-governance.
The people of the Northwest Territories have worked hard for many years toward gaining more province-like powers. We have 10 provinces and our territories. I have had the pleasure of visiting the Northwest Territories, but I have to say that it was in the summer. I can honestly say I had an amazing tour of the Northwest Territories. I met such amazing people. They were very friendly and outgoing. However, the people do not have the same kinds of rights as Canadians who live in the provinces. They wonder why it is that in 2000, 2012, 2011, or 2013 they do not have the right of self-governance, the way the provinces do. They are not asking for more than the provinces. Their presentations have been very reasonable. Bill is a testimony to their hard work and advocacy.
We are way beyond the days when we thought we always knew what was good for the other person. I certainly hope so. One of the things we have learned as we have moved through history is that involving the people being governed, the people who live in an area, in decision-making is absolutely critical.
This is a step. I am not saying it goes all the way. I would like to have seen it go even further. It does not go all the way, but is a step in the right direction. That is why we are supporting it.
When it does get to committee stage, I know our critic is amazingly knowledgeable about this file. When I discussed this file with him yesterday, I found he already has ideas for amendments that would make this bill stronger and make it work for the Northwest Territories.
What does the bill do? There are a lot of people out there who would ask, “Did the Northwest Territories not already have the same rights as the provinces?” We in the House and in the north know they do not.
The bill rewrites the constitution of the Northwest Territories. It is the bill in this House that rewrites that constitution. That tells us a lot as well.
Unlike the provinces, the powers and authorities of the territories are set through federal legislation. We need to stop there and think about that for a moment, because here we are in 2013 and we have territories that still have their powers and rights totally under the federal government. That gives us some pause for concern.
However, there is always a silver lining in the clouds. Baby steps have been taken over the years, and some powers have already been devolved to the territories in such areas as education, health care, transport and renewable resources, specifically forestry and wildlife. These were all transferred in the 1980s.
When I look at the education system, at health care and transport in the Northwest Territories and at the limited resources that were allocated, I am truly impressed by the job it has done in this area. As of today, the Northwest Territories does not receive any revenues from resource development.
As we all know, the Northwest Territories is a rich territory. There is untold wealth that lies therein. However, for that existence and operating cost, the Northwest Territories has to rely on federal transfer payments. That in itself is a cause for some concern. There are some major issues with being totally dependent on another government to transfer money to run a state, province or territory.
In 2013, the Northwest Territories and five of the seven northwest aboriginal governments signed an agreement on the transfer of power around the devolution process. In order to implement the agreement we are here today. However, there are some flaws with this bill.
The government has a penchant for combining many things into one bill and then tries to push it through. It also tries to corner the opposition by putting in some good things and some not so good, and then say, “Gotcha”. In this bill, we do have major concerns. Our critic has pushed, and will continue to push, for the bill to be separated into two parts.
The first part of the bill is fairly straightforward. It makes changes to the Northwest Territories Act, an act that is virtually the constitution of the Northwest Territories, and all actions therefore under the Northwest Territories Act.
However, we have major concerns around the second part. That is because the second part brings in changes to the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act. It does away with the regional land and water boards created through land claim agreements with the first nations. They would now be replaced with a single superboard. That does cause some concern, because I have learned through my life experience that “when something ain't broke, don't fix it”.
This is one agreement, the MVRMA, that has worked incredibly well, and has been touted as a success story. With the new bill, it is not exactly clear that these negotiations would still happen in a year's time when they were scheduled, or whether this agreement is now subsumed and will fall under the superboard that has been created.
Members may not think that is really a big issue. It is there, and more power has been granted to the Northwest Territories, but I want them to know that the minister actually has the right to reject any member to the board, and that should give us cause for concern as well. We are saying the Northwest Territories will now have this board, but there is no consultation, power of veto or anything given to the Northwest Territories. The minister vests into himself the power to veto any nominee for this board, and that is a major concern.
I should not be surprised by this, because over and over again under the government we have seen more and more power being vested into the ministers' hands. We have seen it in environmental issues and in labour. I am very knowledgeable about the immigration file, where we have seen more and more power vested into the minister, so many changes can be made in the future without ever coming through this House or going through any parliamentary oversight. In this case, a board that was functioning well basically under this agreement does not really have any rights. A superboard is to be appointed where the minister actually has the final power to veto.
Not only that, but the Commissioner of the Northwest Territories also receives some pretty specific directions. This will really change things a little bit. Whereas the commissioner was moving more and more toward being similar to a lieutenant, governor general or ceremonial position, this legislation actually draws the commissioner right back into the fold of the federal government. Bill , clause 4 states:
The Commissioner must act in accordance with any written instructions given to him or her by the Governor in Council or the minister.
A position that was moving toward a ceremonial position would now suddenly be there to dance to the tune of the Governor in Council or the minister, and once again, more and more power being put into the hands of the minister is causing us some major concerns.
None of these issues we are raising should be a surprise to the government, because it has heard some of these concerns before from different groups from the Northwest Territories. There were a number of other regional boards that existed. With this legislation, those other regional boards would also disappear. So there would be a number of regional boards that would now be replaced by a superboard of only 11 members. Those 11 members would be looking at the whole gamut of issues with the full spectrum. Included under that would be the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act, which works, as I said, but when something works, the government does not really like it, so it tries to topple that as well.
When it comes to appointments to the board, there is absolutely no consultation with the Government of the Northwest Territories built into the legislation. If that were built in—and I am sure our critic will try to correct that oversight—we could say that the territories had been heard and they would at least have a say. What would be wrong with providing that consultation to the Government of the Northwest Territories? These are very simple amendments that could set things right.
The Northwest Territories has had environmental audits done. We know that the government across the aisle does not really like audits that much, and I do not really blame it because audits often see it wanting. They do not validate the volume of words the Conservatives use in this House.
Now we have a situation whereby all this falls under the umbrella of that superboard, and the ultimate controller of that superboard, of course, is Ottawa.
We need one government in charge of making decisions, and that should be the Government of the Northwest Territories in consultation with and working together with the first nations, who have a right to land and resources in the Northwest Territories and who we want to have as complete partners in the development of the Northwest Territories.
That last sentence is a direct quote from my esteemed colleague from the . I could not think of saying it any better than he did. It is a very laudable goal and it should be achieved in this agreement, but as we know, it is not.
There have been letters—and I have a copy of one of them—that have been written by the first nations community, raising specific concerns around both the Mackenzie area and other parts of the bill. We have read these and are paying close attention to them because letter after letter points out to us that the first nations communities are seeing real problems. They are really worried that the authority of the minister and cabinet are being increased through the MVRMA amendments.
We do have serious concerns about the power being held by ministers and the control of the appointment of the board not being there.
What is it we are looking for on this side of the House? We are strong supporters of the devolution of more powers and authorities to the territorial governments, and at the same time we see the bill as a step in the right direction, but it has some major flaws that we will try to address.
Under the agreement, the Northwest Territories will keep 50% of the revenues, which is a good thing, but it is still not the same as the provinces. As I said, it is a step in the right direction, a huge victory for the hard-working people and leaders in the Northwest Territories, and a great credit to my colleague from . New Democrats would say that this bill is definitely taking us in the right direction.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise in the House today to participate in the debate on Bill .
I want to say at the outset that my voice is a bit rough today. The NDP had a great party last night, with live music and great sociability. It went into the wee hours. I think everybody is feeling a bit rough this morning, but it was a good time to get together. Here we are back in the House this morning, ready to debate whatever is before us, so I am very pleased to speak to the bill.
I want to commend my colleague, the member for , who spoke just before me. She and I are both from metro Vancouver, so we represent ridings in Canada that are very urban. We face urban issues around affordability of housing, citizenship and immigration, poverty, transportation, infrastructure, and so on. We have a lot in common in terms of our ridings and the fact that we are both part of the metro Vancouver region.
However, I want to say that even though we are members of Parliament from the urban area, we have a sense of connection with our colleagues who represent ridings in the north, and certainly our colleague from the , who is the main critic on the bill we are debating today. When we visit other ridings and other communities with our colleagues, it is quite fascinating to learn about the experiences, the history, the culture, and the life conditions in those communities.
On the one hand, there are really vast differences, but on the other hand, there are incredible similarities. Every time I have visited the Northwest Territories, whether it has been Yellowknife or smaller communities, I have always been struck by how different the scene is from my community in , which is very densely populated. There there are 120,000 people living there. We have communities like the Downtown Eastside and historic neighbourhoods like Chinatown and Gastown. In the Northwest Territories, we are looking at communities that are hundreds and thousands of miles apart, communities that are very self-sufficient because they have to be. They have to deal with the very harsh elements in the North, yet when I get to know people and talk with our member from , we find that we are dealing with similar issues.
I know, for example, that one of the issues my colleague from has tackled in a very passionate way is the living costs in the Northwest Territories, an issue that I think is very relevant to the bill we are debating today.
In fact, he produced a 53-page report in November, just last month. In that report, he lays out, with great analysis and factual information, the concern of increasing income inequality in the Northwest Territories. That is an issue I face in my riding as well. Income inequality is growing between the haves and the have-nots.
He identifies that one of the key factors in the high cost of living in the Northwest Territories is the high price of food, particularly in smaller communities.
When I visited Yellowknife, I was very curious about this issue, so I went to the supermarket in Yellowknife, checking out the prices for milk, eggs, cheese, and vegetables and trying to compare them with my own community in East Vancouver. I was really surprised that there really was not that much difference. I remember saying to my colleague, the member for , “The prices are not too bad. Everything is available”. Then he said to me, “Wait until you get to the smaller communities. You'll see an incredible difference”.
In fact, in his report, he documents that a family of four in Yellowknife would be paying about $11,000 for food, but the cost of the same basket of food in a smaller community further north could increase by 13% to 210%. That really gives us an idea of what people are facing in the north. For example, the member for points out in his report that the same basket of food that costs $11,000 in Yellowknife would cost a family in Colville Lake more than $21,000.
It gives us an appreciation of how difficult it is, particularly for people who live on a low income. There are some people making good money in the resource industry, but there are people who are struggling to make ends meet. I know the member has frequently, in the House on behalf of his constituents, raised issues of, for example, the nutrition north food program and his concern that it is actually making food prices higher not lower. He has raised these issues frequently in the House. He has also raised issues around the cleanup of Giant Mine in Yellowknife, as recently as just a couple of weeks ago here in the House of Commons.
I would echo the words of my colleague from who spoke about the member for and his passion for representing northern interests and the interests of his constituents. When he presented his comments about Bill , the bill that we are debating today, we were very interested to know what his thoughts were. Therefore, my comments today are very much based on the expertise, experience and knowledge of the member for Western Arctic who was elected in 2006. He was the mayor in Fort Smith, a small community in the Northwest Territories, from 1988 to 1997, so this is an individual who is very grounded in the local community. I have seen the member in action and how people know him and interact with him. His take on the bill and the expression of how we feel about the bill come from a place of immense knowledge and experience, and that is something that we very much rely on and trust.
As my earlier colleagues have said, we do support the bill in principle. That's what we are here debating today, second reading, which is the bill in principle. We have to examine the bill and determine whether the principles of the bill are enough that we think it should go forward to committee. Certainly for us in the NDP, the official opposition, we believe that the bill has made progress in terms of devolution from the federal government to the Northwest Territories. Therefore, it should be supported in principle. However, when it gets to committee there are numerous issues that would need to be looked at.
To look at the bill historically, we know that over the decades there has been a transfer of powers from Ottawa to individual territories, and that is a good and very important thing. In fact, the last major devolution of powers to the Northwest Territories was in the late 1980s, so it is not that long ago when jurisdiction over education, health care, transport and renewable resources such as forestry and wildlife were transferred.
The current process would transfer administration and control of public lands, resources and rights in respect to the waters of the Northwest Territories. That is obviously a major advance because the Northwest Territories is a very special place in our country. It is a place that is fragile. It is a place that has a history of people being close to the land, of people respecting the land and the environment, and understanding that the extraction of natural resources must be done in a way that is sustainable and protects future generations. Therefore, the bill before us, Bill , which would move into the area of the devolution process dealing with natural resources, is obviously a key milestone for the people of the Northwest Territories, and the Government of the Northwest Territories has been supportive of this.
It is quite interesting to note that until this devolvement goes through, the Northwest Territories does not receive any revenues from resource development, and in fact it has to still rely on federal transfer payments and taxes to deliver public programs and services. That is something that really is outdated. We need to ensure that the Northwest Territories and its government, which is duly elected by the people of the Northwest Territories, has control over not only things such as health, education, transport and renewable resources, but also over natural resources.
Bill does address that. Under the bill the Government of the Northwest Territories would keep 50% of the revenues collected from resource development on public land up to a certain maximum, and then the Government of Canada would retain the remainder. This tells us that it really does not go far enough at this point. It is not a total devolution. Nevertheless, it is a milestone and based on the consultation that has been done, we think it is something that is worthy of support.
It is a complex agreement. It will require the amendment of 42 different pieces of legislation. That is a lot to take on. In fact, my colleague who spoke earlier pointed out that the member for has advocated and is suggesting that the bill should be split because there are concerns about the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act. There are some major components in the bill that require very critical examination at committee. It would be a proper course of action to have the bill split.
Having said that, we have a very familiar pattern with the Conservative government where it likes to load everything up into omnibus bills and come up with these huge reports that one has to wade through. That is done deliberately. The Conservatives do not want transparency and proper scrutiny. How many times have we seen time allocation on bills?
Here today, we are debating this bill, a very important bill to the people of the Northwest Territories, yet other parties are absent from the debate. I find that quite incredible. The NDP is carrying forward the debate because New Democrats think it is important. We think it needs to be debated and aired in public and some of the issues addressed in public, before it is sent to committee. That is what we are here for. That is our primary job, to debate legislation in the House of Commons, to examine it and to hold the government to account. Bill would amend 42 other pieces of legislation. There may have been consultation and the government may feel there has been adequate scrutiny, but the House of Commons is elected to do due diligence. That is what we are doing here today.
One of our key concerns is that as a result of the devolution agreement, the amendments would replace the current structure of the regional land and water boards that have been created through the land claim final agreements. It was a very major process that was undertaken a number of years ago. This new devolution agreement would supercede that and replace the regional land and water boards with one single board. Immediately, that should raise some concerns because when there are regional land and water boards that means there is local representation on those boards. It means there are people who understand local issues in a vast territory. The idea that we could now rely on a single board that would be able to scrutinize what is going on is a tall order. This is something the member for has expressed concern about and something we would like to see addressed in the committee.
The amendments also reserve to the federal minister the approval of all land and water usage in the Northwest Territories, which would circumvent the powers transferred to the Government of the Northwest Territories through the devolution process. There is a bit of a contradiction there. We have devolution, yet the federal minister is still maintaining approval of all land and water usage. There is obviously a lot more to be done.
We hope that when the bill is sent to committee and the NDP brings forward amendments that those amendments would actually be considered on their merit.
I would like to take a couple of minutes to speak about that. I am on the health committee and I know that when we have had bills come forward, even private members' bills that were fairly straightforward, every single time that we sought amendments to improve the bill, not for some political exercise but to simply improve the bill, they have been voted down. Again, in talking to my colleagues, I know that this is basically what happens at every single committee. The Conservative members can act in a very arrogant way. It does not matter what amendment is put forward; it is shut down.
A bill such as this has far-reaching powers for future generations in terms of the way the Northwest Territories government can operate on behalf of its people. With the bill, particularly because it amends 42 different pieces of legislation, the process at committee of hearing witnesses and considering amendments will be especially important.
To my colleagues across the way, I really hope that when the bill gets to committee, they will actually consider amendments in the light that the bill could be improved. There are concerns that have been expressed, particularly from first nations. Through the parliamentary process, the democratic process and the committee process, and through hearing witnesses and expert testimony, I hope that some of the concerns in the bill can be addressed.
I hope that there is a commitment that the Conservatives will do this in good faith, and that we do not just see a repeat of what we have become so used to. It is really so disrespectful of the parliamentary process to dismiss whatever amendments are put forward.
In terms of the support for the bill, because it has gone through a process in the Northwest Territories, there are people who certainly support devolution. In fact, I would quote Robert Alexie, president of the Gwich’in Tribal Council, who said:
We don't have to fear devolution. It's a new beginning....
I would also quote Robert McLeod, who is the Premier of the Northwest Territories. He said:
This Assembly has a vision of a strong, prosperous and sustainable territory. Devolution is the path to that future. Responsibility for our lands and resources is the key to unlocking the economic potential that will provide opportunities to all our residents.
The Premier of the Northwest Territories made that statement in June of this year as the Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories approved the agreement.
We also have the president of the Chamber of Commerce, who pointed out that it is a very “historic agreement and one which will provide the Northwest Territories with the long-awaited and rightful ability to manage and control public lands”.
However, there are still voices that need to be heard of the people who have concerns about the agreement. For example, Jake Heron, from the Métis Nation, in speaking about the consultation process, said:
It’s very frustrating when you are at the table and you think you’re involved, only to find out that your interests are not being considered seriously.
As this agreement was being negotiated, obviously there were concerns being expressed. We have the same from an MLA in the Northwest Territories, Mr. Bromley, who said:
The federal government’s proposal to collapse the regional land and water boards into one big board is disturbing, unnecessary and possibly unconstitutional. ...a single board does nothing to meet the real problem, failure of implementation.
There are clearly concerns out there.
In the time that I have remaining, I would like to underscore the NDP's support for the bill in principle at second reading. We are committed to working in good faith at the committee level to hear from people in the Northwest Territories and from experts who were part of this process. We are committed to making sure that this agreement is what it should be, that it is something that the people of the Northwest Territories can live with into the future and will address their concerns and allow them the measure of self-determination that we in the NDP all believe in.
Whether it is Quebec, the Northwest Territories or the first nations, we believe that people have the right to their own determination. Fundamentally, that is what this bill is about. Therefore, we will support it. However, we will work hard to ensure the bill lives up to those expectations.
Mr. Speaker, I have the great pleasure of rising today to speak to Bill . I would like to first indicate that I will be sharing my time with the member for .
I would like to begin my speech in the chamber today by first congratulating the member for , who has done an immense amount of work on this file and represents his constituents very well. I would like to mention, most notably, his private member's bill in the House that he presented to increase the borrowing power of the Northwest Territories. He has worked tirelessly in the House to represent his constituents and ensure that the Northwest Territories develop in ways that are sustainable and to increase the ability of his constituents to participate in their own democracy.
Bill is an act to replace the Northwest Territories Act to implement certain provisions of the Northwest Territories Lands and Resources Devolution Agreement and to repeal or make amendments to the Territorial Lands Act, the Northwest Territories Waters Act, the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act, other acts and certain orders and regulations. The short title of this bill is the “devolution implementation bill”. The length of the title of the bill is an indicator of the length of the bill itself, a 240 page omnibus bill. Preparing for this speech, I went through many cups of coffee. As I will mention later, it is customary for the government to present omnibus bills in the House.
I would also like to congratulate Robert McLeod, the Premier of the Northwest Territories, for his work on this file as well.
Before delving into the content of this bill, I would like to briefly talk about the process and the form of it. As I mentioned, this is a 240 page omnibus bill. The Conservative government in this case has lumped issues that are less contentious in the bill, issues that the opposition parties could actually get on board with, such as devolution, with issues that are a bit more contentious, including the creation of a pan-territorial regulator for industrial projects in part 4 of the bill.
Unfortunately, rather than separating these parts of the bill in order to get the support of opposition parties, the government put them into the same bill. This has occurred in other bills and it is the common practice of the Conservative government, which has not behaved in a very democratic way in Parliament. We saw this occur in the case of Bill , the cyberbullying bill protecting Canadians from the online crime act, which was introduced by the justice minister last week.
The bill would stipulate up to five years in prison for individuals who published intimate images of people without their express permission and would also give police greater ability to investigate cyberbullying. This is something the opposition parties could get on board with, especially as we have seen these tragic cases of teenagers being cyberbullied across the country, with tragic results.
However, Bill includes measures that are completely unrelated to cyberbullying. It includes measures on terrorism, organized crime and hate propaganda. It gives police greater leeway to access online communications and contains provisions for jail sentences of up to two years for poaching cable and satellite TV transmissions. It is hard to see how these measures directly relate to the issue of cyberbullying. It is another cynical move by the Conservatives to try to push through their agenda in these bills that the opposition, unfortunately, cannot agree with wholeheartedly.
I will now discuss the content of Bill . As we know, this bill has four parts. Part 1 would enact the Northwest Territories Act, implement certain provisions of the Northwest Territories Land and Resource Devolution Agreement and amend and repeal other acts and certain orders and regulations. Essentially, the Northwest Territories Act is the territories' foundational act. Part 1 would transfer powers to regulate oil and gas pipelines from the federal government to the territorial government as long as these remained onshore.
Part 2 would amend the Territorial Lands Act, part 3 would amend the Northwest Territories Waters Act and part 4 would amend the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act. As we have heard from my colleagues on the NDP side, this is the part that is the most contentious, perhaps, and this is the section that replaces regional management boards with a single 11-member board.
Those listening at home and those in my home province of Quebec might be interested to know that the Northwest Territories actually has responsibilities similar to provinces. In the late 1980s, health services, administration of justice and the management of forestry were devolved to the Government of the Northwest Territories. The Northwest Territories government also has responsibility over education, social services, highways and airport administration, which are roles that would normally be considered to be under provincial jurisdiction.
This process has been ongoing throughout the history of the Northwest Territories, beginning with the Carruthers Commission in 1966, which actually moved the capital of the Northwest Territories to Yellowknife and brought a number of bureaucrats to Yellowknife. There is a history that leads up to the nineties, in which there were many constitutional development caucuses in the north, so this is a debate that has been going on for decades.
The NDP is in favour of devolution. This is actually the part of the bill we would support. As I explained, the people of the Northwest Territories have worked toward gaining more province-like power for decades. I would support the Northwest Territories in taking over federal responsibilities in the north. This is because we believe that the Northwest Territories knows best how its resources ought to be used, and ultimate authority should rest with the Northwest Territories. I commend the Premier, Bob McLeod, for his work.
However, there are many contentious issues with Bill , so we would expect the government side to listen to our suggestions in committee and to amend the bill in order to take into account the expectations of northerners and to address some of the concerns that were raised around the Conservatives' move to lump in changes to the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act. The role of committee is crucial to the bill, and the Conservatives should benefit from committee and bring in experts and stakeholders and actually amend the bill so that it has wide consensus from those whom it concerns.
At this point we are concerned with the government's previous inability to make amendments to bills in committee. Notably there is the case of the Conservatives actually rejecting an amendment from the opposition side. That was an amendment concerning a grammatical mistake that was found in a bill, but they categorically objected to this amendment simply because it came from the opposition. Following that, the Conservatives had to bring forward the amendment again to change the small grammatical error in the bill.
We would actually expect the government members to listen to opposition members and to testimony, instead of governing with their ears and eyes closed to those who would propose constructive changes to the legislation.
Part 4 of the bill, the creation of a pan-territorial regulator for industrial projects, we find contentious. On this point I would like to refer to the speech in this House of my colleague from the , in which he raised important concerns with this part of the bill: “There has been no consultation with the Government of the Northwest Territories included in that provision”. We do see that the Conservative government is trying to ram through its agenda without actually giving an adequate say to the Government of the Northwest Territories.
I will finish by citing the importance of taking into account the specific realities of the Northwest Territories in considering the bill, namely the presence of many aboriginal peoples in the north. Also, as my colleagues have raised, one of the main problems concerning land and water use certainty is the lack of progress in aboriginal land claim settlements.
We would raise that as a point, one which we could possibly discuss at committee. I would like to support the bill in principle. I would like to support the idea of devolution and giving the Northwest Territories more power, although I have serious concerns with the content of the bill and would suggest that the government accept our amendments during committee stage.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today and speak in support of Bill , which is the Northwest Territories devolution implementation bill.
I think the short title does not reflect what the bill is really all about. The bill is really an act to replace the Northwest Territories Act, to implement certain provisions of the Northwest Territories Lands and Resources Devolution Agreement and to repeal or make amendments to the Territorial Lands Act, the Northwest Territories Waters Act, the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act, other acts and certain orders and regulations.
The bill would do a lot, and I think it is important, in the debate we are having in this House today and then at committee, to truly look at all of the implications that Bill C-15 would bring forward.
As my colleague for mentioned earlier, it is truly important that we get this bill right, especially for the people of the Northwest Territories who have been working toward gaining province-like powers for decades. That is why members have heard from many of my colleagues today that the NDP is in support of the bill and of the Northwest Territories taking over some federal responsibilities in the north. Truly, who knows best about the territory and area? The people of the Northwest Territories do. They are the ones who should be deciding on how their resources ought to be used, and ultimately the authority should rest with them.
This brings up a few questions that we, as New Democrats, would like to see answered today or in committee.
First, considering that many first nations in the Northwest Territories are strongly objecting to the changes to the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act, why are the Conservatives ignoring these concerns and pressing ahead with the creation of a superboard?
This is a type of question that we definitely need to have answered. If we cannot get it answered today, it is something that will need to be asked in committee.
As we heard earlier from our Conservative colleagues, the creation of a superboard is for efficiency. Well, a superboard may not always be efficient if we do not bring forward the will, needs, wants and requests of all of the citizens of the Northwest Territories. We already know that many of the first nation groups within the Northwest Territories have some concerns.
I am hoping, through this debate and the opportunity in committee after second reading, that we can start getting some of these questions answered.
Another question: Considering the massive revamp the bill represents, why did the Conservatives reserve control over appointments to the environmental review board and main control over approval of licences?
Right off the top, I was talking about the importance of devolution and of the citizens and Government of the Northwest Territories having the control and ultimate say over their resources, their land and their territories. However, with Bill , the government is saying, “We can give you some, but all of those requirements are now going to fall right back to the minister”.
I think this is a question we need to get an answer to so that we can ensure we are doing this right.
For myself, coming from a resource-based community in northern Ontario, the great riding of Sudbury, that conversation comes up often. Why do we not have more say over the resources that are coming out of our ground in Sudbury? It is a conversation that many of my municipal councillors have with the province and that the province has with the feds. This is something we need to look at and ensure that conversation happens.
This begs the question then: Is it not premature to bring forward changes to the environmental review board creating a single superboard and eliminating the regional land and water boards before the completion of the land claims that are happening right now in the Northwest Territories?
Again, these are questions that need to be answered and we are hoping that this debate will allow for more of that.
Let us look at a bit of the history. The negotiations concluded with the Northwest Territories and the Government of Canada in March 2013, and the Legislative Assembly voted to approve the final agreement on June 5, 2013. There were several first nations, Métis, and Inuit organizations that all took part in signing the devolution final agreement on June 25. The agreement gives the Northwest Territories residents a greater voice in decisions about how public land, water, and resources are managed, how the economy is developed, and how the environment is protected.
If this is coming from the Government of Northwest Territories and the citizens of Northwest Territories, it is incumbent upon us, as federal parliamentarians, to work together to ensure that we have the debate to allow for them to have more of a say in lands, minerals, and development. That is why we have some concerns on this side of the House. We have some concerns when superboards are the ones that will be making the decisions or when the minister has the final say in appointments to these superboards. We cannot put the power in one person when it is representing such a large area with so many people.
Among other things that are important to mention is that the results of public engagement in the proposed Northwest Territories lands and resource devolution agreement were based on more than 40 public and stakeholder meetings in all regions of the Northwest Territories during April and May of this year. Forty public and stakeholder meetings is fantastic when we think about the involvement, by the Northwest Territories government, of its citizens on this issue.
Unfortunately, in this House, with the current government, too many times we have seen the elimination of public consultation and the reduction of stakeholder consultation. We bring certain issues to committee and listen to witnesses and testimony from stakeholders and citizens. They give testimony on how to make things work better and how to make a bill function within the laws of the land. What ends up happening in committee is that those ideas that are brought forward are not heard by the government members. The government will bring forward amendments, and its amendments pass. When we bring forward amendments on this side of the House, after listening to the testimony of our witnesses and stakeholders and putting in hours of work and research, they are sloughed off to officials to slam down. The next thing we know, they are defeated.
It is incumbent upon us as parliamentarians to ensure that we create bills, legislation, and laws that do the right thing so that we only have to do it once. Creating amendments all the time should be the exception, not the norm. However, what we see right now is amendment after amendment having to be presented, because unfortunately, what we have seen is the current government not always putting forward the best legislation but putting forward legislation that is based on a lot of politics.
Right now we have the opportunity in this House, in this debate, and in committee to make sure that the people of the Northwest Territories have that say, that they have the opportunity to have those powers to make sure that they are looking after their communities, families, and citizens. It is a great land. The member for talks often about the great people in his riding and the work he does for them. I am very proud to be able to work with the MP for Western Arctic on several issues when it comes to small businesses, tourism, and consumer affairs.
With that, I look forward to continuing the conversation during the question and answer period about the importance of this bill and the importance of devolution to the Northwest Territories.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for .
I would like to thank the member forfor his work on Bill . I have never had the opportunity to be in the north, but I feel that I have been there after speaking with him. He knows that part of Canada intimately and regales us with plenty of stories that let us feel as if we have actually been there ourselves, if we have not had the pleasure. This is why parliaments are essential. They bring people from different parts of the country together to discuss where there is overlap and interest but where there is also disagreement.
A well-functioning Parliament is essential to a well-functioning country. Sometimes I wish this Parliament would function a little better. There are a number of measures before the House, either motions or private members' bills, that I encourage everyone in the House to look at, because we need to make this place work a little better.
I am happy to say that we are supporting Bill C-15 at second reading. We favour devolution for the Northwest Territories. They have pushed for it for a long time, and I am happy to see that we are at least going part of the way to getting this right at the moment. However, there are a number of problems we have with the bill, as my colleagues have pointed out in their speeches. We are looking forward to discussing them at committee.
My colleagues here today have offered a robust discussion on the details of the bill, although it would have been nice to have had more comments and speeches from the other parts of the House, because what we are here to do is share and deliberate. Perhaps some of the questions from the other side will help us work through this a little more today.
There are two things I would like to do in my short time. One is to continue what my colleague, the member for , was speaking about, which was the idea of devolution and what it means. To talk about it in normative terms, what is it we try to accomplish by devolving? What are the themes, and what would we look at to determine whether devolution is a success or a failure? Second, if I have time, I will also look at the Yukon, which has been devolved for many decades now. There are lessons we can learn from that territory that perhaps we could transfer to the Northwest Territories.
Mr. Speaker, if you have free time on Friday night, there is an article you may want to peruse. It is titled “Assessing Devolution in the Canadian North: A Case Study of the Yukon Territory”, by Alcantara, Cameron, and Kennedy. It is from the academic journal Arctic, Volume 65 No. 3, published in September 2002. They actually have a very good case study. They conducted many interviews in the Yukon to ask a number of essential questions and to assess how successful the Yukon had been in devolving its powers. I recommend that to you, Mr. Speaker, and anyone else in the House. Sometimes the ivory tower can be useful, and in this case, it does give a good perspective.
What is devolution? All countries have constitutions, and constitutions lay out who has the ability to distribute resources and make rules. They distribute power within a country. However, if we remove the constitution and just say that we have a whole bunch of people living on a particular land mass, how would we write the rules that would determine who makes decisions?
In some ways, devolution is a reaction to our current constitutional situation. The provinces and the federal government are enshrined in our Constitution. They are actually given, under sections 91 and 92, the statutory authority from the Queen of Canada to execute laws and distribute resources in Canada.
In some ways, territories are not unlike municipalities. Sometimes that offends people, so I want to be clear that, constitutionally, provinces are recognized. They devolve power to the municipalities. Constitutionally, of course, the federal national government is recognized. It devolves power to the territories. However, there are some real differences between territories and municipalities, and there should be. Territories are much more like provinces in nature. For example, as we are seeing in this bill, they have more control over resources, such as a 50% split in the determination of resource revenues, whereas municipalities have much less power.
However, in nature they are similar because both territories and municipalities are not masters of their own fate. Where a province has certain constitutional powers to determine what they want to do without interference from the federal government, territories do not have that luxury.
When the federal government decides what kinds of powers it is going to devolve to territories, and provinces decide what kinds of powers they are going to devolve to municipalities, we have to make sure that the local population is getting the powers and the resources it needs to do the work it needs to do at the local level.
As my colleague from pointed out, devolution has been a major theme around the world, especially in the United Kingdom, for many decades. I had the opportunity when I was living in the U.K. from 1997 to around 2002 to watch as New Labour decided to move ahead with a very aggressive devolution agenda. For example, we had the Good Friday Agreement, which was signed and devolved some powers in Northern Ireland. Considerable powers were also devolved to the Scottish and Welsh legislatures, as well as the City of London, which is treated more in some ways like a province than a city these days.
There was a lot of negotiation about who would get what powers and where. The power to make the change is still with the Queen and with the U.K. Parliament, however these local bodies have become much more autonomous and independent. Universally, across the United Kingdom, this is a good thing. Local people have much more control over their own lives through their own legislatures.
I think devolution continues to be a popular idea, and it should be because, in general, devolution is a good thing. Why would we devolve? What are some of the normative reasons why we might devolve power to a lower level or a government that is closer to the people?
One of the first arguments as to why we would do this is that it increases efficiency. We have heard this from the other side of the House. It does appear in the academic literature. If, for example, there were no territorial government in the Northwest Territories, that would mean all the decisions made in the north would be made from right here in Ottawa. We would debate what is best for northerners with a couple of representatives here in the House, and the vast majority of people who do not live in the north would be making decisions for the north.
That is why a devolved legislature with distinct powers in the north is essential. It allows northerners to make decisions about their own lives. The extent to which these decisions can be made, the decisions that are determined by the federal government and/or the NWT government, is what is at the core of what we are discussing here, both in this act and I am sure, in subsequent acts as we move to devolve more powers.
The argument is that sub-national authorities, here territorial governments, are better positioned to access and make use of local knowledge and context when they are making decisions. If there were no Northwest Territories government and I was asked every few days to make a decision for people in the north, I would feel unprepared to do that, because I have not visited.
This is why it is so great that there is a very well-functioning legislature there. Devolution would lead to more efficiency within government. Therefore, efficiency is one reason to do it.
The second reason is that, most importantly, devolution encourages government responsiveness. Local people can hold local representatives to account. The more power that these local politicians and local governments have, the more people will take interest and participate in their own governance.
I will close by looking at voter turnout, for example in the NWT. In the late 1990s, it was around 70%. It was around 60% in the 2000s. Northerners are already very engaged in their own governance. I think devolving will increase interest in governance in the Northwest Territories, and for that reason alone it is a grand idea to devolve powers.
However, I wish that the government would debate more on this. I hope that it will encourage discussion and witnesses to come forward so that we can make sure that we get it right the first time around. This one has been a long time coming. We do not want to wait another 20 or 30 years before we do it again. We have to get it right, now.
I implore the government to at least listen to our side of the House as we move forward with the bill.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to start by thanking the member for for all the work he has done in the House and on the bill, in particular. Here is one man who represents a vast territory and does so very well, above and beyond what I would expect a member to do. He brings his work with him and I have great admiration for him. He brings the issue of Arctic sovereignty to the forefront in an authentically northern way. I will explain what I mean by an “authentically northern way” in my coming words.
It is not easy to represent an authentic northern perspective in the House and that is simply because, save for three seats, the rest of the seats are occupied by people from the south. Therefore, the priorities of the north depend on the voices of their three representatives in the House, of which the member for is one. I commend the member for doing so continuously and doing it to the best of his abilities.
I am a southerner, so I have to say right off the bat that my knowledge of the north is limited. The people of the north, from what I understand, embrace a philosophy that integrates people and places in a way that is hard for southerners to sometimes understand. Nevertheless, here we are again in the House making decisions for the north with the majority of MPs being from the south.
In my speech, I will depend more on experts, having said that my knowledge of the north is limited. I have never travelled to the Northwest Territories. I know what I have read in books, but I would like to depend on experts to explore some concepts surrounding devolution. I would first like to discuss Arctic sovereignty. The NDP is in favour of increased sovereign powers for the Northwest Territories. Other of my colleagues have mentioned province-like powers, but I would prefer to use the term “increased sovereign powers”. In doing so, we need to see the north's point of view of Arctic sovereignty.
At this point, I will share a quote with the House by John Ralston Saul. He stated:
Most of the sovereignty debate has been framed in old-fashioned western empire terms: We have a distant frontier that must be defended. This frontier is ours, not theirs, whoever they may be. It is only in this context that the people of the North are mentioned, as if the reason for their existence were to serve Canadian sovereignty. There is little sense in all of this that the well-being and success of the people of the North is a purpose in and of itself. And they do not need to be the guarantors of our sovereignty—even though they are—in order to deserve well-being and success. They deserve these exactly as any other Canadian citizen deserves them.
Some of my colleagues touched on the point of equality. In terms of devolution, what are speaking about here today? I have particularly enjoyed Anthony Speca's article in Policy Options. He stated:
Devolution means first and foremost that the territories’ own elected legislators, not distant southern ministers, make decisions in the local interest over the use and development of lands and resources. Perhaps no less importantly, it also means a share of the substantial revenues those lands and resources may generate.
In exploring those ideas about devolution and Arctic sovereignty, we must talk about what Speca mentioned in his article, which is resources. How will we treat them in this agreement? Again, I point to a quote by John Ralston Saul, which states:
...we are a northern nation. Two thirds of our country lies in what is normally categorized as North lands. One third of our gross domestic product comes out of the three territories and the equally isolated northern parts of our provinces. And that one third is what makes us a rich, not a poor, country.
One-third of our GDP comes from the north. This GDP is largely from the rich natural resources that exist in those territories.
The question we should be asking here surrounding Bill is this: are we more interested in prosperity for the south or true prosperity for the people of the north? This is an essential question that we should be asking in this House with respect to Bill . I am quite disturbed that government members are not standing up to give speeches, nor are members of the Liberal caucus, because it is a very important question that we should be asking.
In terms of devolution agreements, we have three that are in process. We have had Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut.
What Mr. Speca speaks about in his article is the agreement between Greenland and Denmark. I would like to share with the House, as briefly as I possibly can, his ideas about the agreement between Greenland and Denmark because of what he mentions in his article in talking about the agreement.
As a consequence of assuming self-government within the Danish Kingdom, Greenland obtained jurisdiction over not only its abundant onshore mineral deposits—gold, lead, zinc, iron, rare earths, rubies and so on—but also virgin offshore oil and gas fields that the US Geological Survey estimates contain a tremendous 40 to 50 billion barrels of oil equivalent...
He is talking about all of the resources Greenland has.
Mr. Speca said that through Denmark's agreement with Greenland, Greenland was able to realize growth at an astonishing rate. In 2002, the revenues from resources were about zero; they ballooned up to $600 million in 2010. Through its agreement, Greenland can hope to benefit handsomely from resource revenues in the coming years.
Mr. Speca goes on to say that had Denmark not handed this potential stream of wealth to Greenland, it would have flowed into the treasury of Denmark. Instead, both parties took a long-term view toward the prosperity and progress of the people of Greenland so that they could, in addition to the self-governance powers they got, also realize their own financial revenue and not depend so much on Denmark.
Mr. Speca goes on to say that under the agreement outlined in Bill , the Northwest Territories would not benefit as much as Greenland did from Denmark. We could look to this agreement to see an international perspective on a best practice for providing a better guarantee for the prosperity of the Northwest Territories.
The question I have to ask is this: does this agreement give the Northwest Territories the long-term capacity to guarantee their fiscal capacity to deliver northern-sourced solutions and services to the north, rather than what has happened so often in the past, which unfortunately was the south importing unimaginative southern solutions for northern people? Canada needs to catch up on our northern policy by looking at other circumpolar nations.
I will end with another quote from John Ralston Saul:
When you look at the heavy hand of the South on northern architecture or power systems or education methods or food supply systems, you begin to realize how difficult it has been and remains for the new Arctic leadership in particular to put a northern perspective in place. Not always, but very often, the insistent and unimaginative ideas coming from the South have solved immediate specific difficulties while creating systemic problems.
Mr. Speca also said:
...bargaining over resource revenues is both a political and a fiscal game. Following four years of political preparatory work by a joint commission on Greenlandic self-government, Denmark and Greenland together explicitly took the long view toward Greenland's potential emergence as an independent, postcolonial state, with full sovereign rights over its own lands, resources and the revenues that flow from them.
The NDP will be supporting this bill at this reading, but we will always be there to ensure that Bill will meet northerners' expectations and to discuss these questions at committee.
Mr. Speaker, it is important that we recognize right from the get-go the incredible effort of the many who people got involved and participated in a worthwhile project that ultimately allowed us to have this debate today. I am thinking of individuals like Premier Bob McLeod and his group of MLAs in the legislature in Yellowknife, the many first nations, Inuit, Metis and others, different stakeholders, who have a very strong vested interest in ensuring that good, solid policy decisions are being made.
I want to, first, recognize their efforts in that sense of commitment to give us a stronger and healthier Canada.
When I reflect upon my younger years, a number of years ago, in high school, I would get a sense of pride when we pulled down the map of Canada. It is a massive country land wise. I think we are number two in the world. Russia, I believe, is the only country that has more land mass than Canada. We all have our own sense of pride. I am from Manitoba and I am very proud of that. I love my city. I am a very strong nationalist. I am a Canadian first and foremost.
However, when we look at the map, we see that vast land to the north. At that time, the Northwest Territories looked quite different. We have seen some changes, even since I was in high school.
However, once all is said and done, I recognize, even as a high school student, that there is this great vast beautiful part of Canada, which I believe has so much opportunity into the future, not only for those who live in the Northwest Territories but for all Canadians.
As we become mobile as a society, we understand and appreciate all regions of our country, whether it is the prairie lands in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and a bit in Alberta, or our mountains in British Columbia, or the Shield in northern Ontario, or those beautiful cliffs and the Atlantic Ocean out east, or that vast land up to the north, which has so much to offer.
We are finding that more and more Canadians want to visit the north, and for good reason.
We can talk about the beauty of nature where we have things such as caribou, polar bears, bald eagles and great fishing. When I was in the military, there was often talk about the Arctic char on the Herc runs and how they would try to bring it back. When I was serving in the Canadian Forces, I had the opportunity to travel to Yellowknife. It was an absolutely beautiful sunny day. It was an incredible flight, but a little noisy. It does get a little noisy in the back of a Hercules aircraft. However, there were windows, so we saw how truly amazing this beautiful land was. However, it is not only the nature, even though the nature is very important.
I like to think that all political parties truly care about what happens up north. Talking of the beauty of the Northwest Territories, there is the Tuktut Nogait National Park, which has been on the books for many years. It was first recognized as a park in the making, because we had to respect all sort of other issues. We could not just proclaim that this was a park. However, it was an area that was identified for the development of a national park at some point, and it was designated that back in 1971 by Pierre Elliott Trudeau.
This ultimately came to fruition under Jean Chrétien in the mid-1990s. Paul Martin had something to do with the negotiating with first nations dealing with that park. All individuals will recognize that there is so much beauty in the north and it does need to be bragged and boasted about. We should feel very good about the Northwest Territories and what it has to offer all Canadians.
We also need to recognize the importance of ensuring it has the tools to do the types of things that many of us take for granted. I go back to my high school years. I knew it was a territory, but back then I made the assumption it would operate in the same fashion as a province.
There is a substantial difference. Provinces are incorporated into the Constitution as a provincial entity with certain powers under the jurisdiction of provincial control. It is quite different for the territories. The territories have had to evolve and the evolution has been somewhat slow, but one has to be careful as they evolve.
The bill before us will assist with that. There are some things that we take for granted. I have often made reference to the fact that I was an MLA for a number of years. We dealt with the delivery of health care, which is a provincial jurisdiction, and public education, again a provincial jurisdiction. We have had that for many years at the provincial level. It has not been that many years that the Northwest Territories has taken ownership or more responsibility in those areas.
Today, as we have seen in the past, we are seeing more power or authority being shifted over to the Northwest Territories. We see that as a good thing. We have had some incredible individuals, like Larry Bagnell, who I did not have the opportunity to know for very long. From discussions I have had with others in the caucus, I know he was an individual who contributed a great deal in making people aware of what was taking place.
We have an incredible critic from Labrador, who is a very strong advocate for the north and northern development. That is really what we are starting to see with this bill. The emphasis or the big push on this is about northern development, along with the natural resources and how revenue might be dealt with.
These are very important issues. As someone had pointed out earlier, this is something provinces have had for a good number of years, virtually since Confederation. It is only natural that we would see more movement toward it.
When the Liberal Party critic spoke on the bill, it was indicated very clearly that we would like to see the bill go to the committee stage. We believe the bill ultimately makes a positive difference. It takes a step in the right direction. I say that because of the idea of the federal transfer of authority, dealing with our natural resources. It is something that is long overdue. Because we are going to allow it more at that local level, as a result what we will likely see is more development taking place.
When I say more development, it is important we recognize that it is of a sustainable nature. We will see that because there will be more local input from the individuals who are there, who live and call the Northwest Territories their home. They are very much aware of their environment and obviously care about it.
It is great to see that we appear to have an agreement that would allow for the sharing of the revenues being generated. The actual dollar amount, I understand, is based on percentage, but two things need to be highlighted.
One is in regard to the royalties or percentage of revenue that is generated from resources, which will be a significant amount of money. We are talking about tens of millions of dollars that would remain in the territories, which is great news for a wide variety of reasons.
Equally important is to recognize that Canada continues to provide those transfer payments. The transfer payments play a critical role in ensuring there is equity among Canadians no matter where they live in the country. That is why it does not matter whether one is from a territory, province or whatever part of our vast land, those transfer payments play a critical role. From my perspective, in terms of social development, it is absolutely critical. It is great that we have had some comments highlighting the fact that there will be an ongoing transfers of dollars coming from Ottawa.
One of the things we need to have more dialogue on is the amount of money generated from the natural resources and the exportation of them. Not only does the Government of the Northwest Territories have a vested interest, but the Canadian government does as well. We are very much interested in hearing some thoughts and ideas, which is one of the reasons I posed the questions I did to my New Democratic colleagues. This will be one of those sticky issues and it will be interesting to hear today and in the future of what happens regarding the percentage or share of the revenue that will remain in the north compared to coming to Ottawa. It is important to know.
The second point I would like to highlight is the idea that through the proposed legislation we will be reforming the way in which we review resource development.
I have listened to questions and comments and I have had the opportunity to do a very limited amount of study on the issue, but there are a number of first nation communities that are also part of the agreement. From what I understand, there are still some outstanding issues that have not been resolved. As much as we want government to ensure it is doing the type of consultation necessary to build that consensus, we will have to wait and see what happens at the committee stage on this point.
From a personal perspective, I approach it with an open mind when the government says that it has X number of regional committees that are dealing with land development and its concept is to reduce that number to one, which has raised serious concern.
I have seen amalgamation of other boards. In Manitoba, we had a very heated debate when it came time to amalgamate school divisions. It was believed that having one larger board would be in the best interests of all Manitobans in that particular region, but it was a very emotional time and there was a great deal of protest. However, ultimately the NDP government felt it was important to do it. We will have to wait and see what takes place on that issue.
Whenever community input is reduced or removed, concerns will be raised. We want to hear arguments as to why the Conservatives felt that going down to one board was in the best interests of the Northwest Territories, and to what degree they have a consensus of support that would allow us to be favourable of that aspect of it.
One final comment is that within the legislation there are amendments to the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act.They are quite significant, because resource development and regional land and water boards could have been incorporated into the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act. An argument could be made that we would have been better off to have two pieces of legislation before us. As has been pointed out, it would be great to see government members expand on the legislation and provide more clarification on that issue. On the surface, one could easily say that it would have been better to have, at the very least, two pieces of legislation, since this bill would have an impact on 35 or 40 other pieces of legislation, which is quite significant in itself.
I conclude my remarks by stating very clearly that I am a big of fan of the Northwest Territories. It reminds me of Churchill in my home province. When I think of the north, I think of wonderful opportunities. I am not just talking about it from an economic point of view, but also from a tourism point of view. I realize that economics and tourism are tied, but there are many Canadians who truly value the Northwest Territories and how it contributes to the greater community of the country of Canada.
I am not suggesting that it is possible for VIA Rail to go all the way up to Yellowknife today, but I am sure that if we were able to provide an opportunity sometime in the distant future, we would have many more Canadians travelling to places like Yellowknife and the many different communities in and around the Northwest Territories. The point is that it is a beautiful land.
We look forward to the bill being passed. We give accolades to the many different stakeholders involved in bringing forward the legislation. We hope to see more from the government in answer to specific questions, and we anticipate that government members will be open to amendments at the committee stage to add strength to the bill and build upon the consensus that was achieved with the Northwest Territories legislature, which is a beautiful building in itself.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my colleague from .
It is an honour to rise in the House to speak to Bill , an act to replace the Northwest Territories Act, to implement certain provisions of the Northwest Territories Lands and Resources Devolution Agreement and to repeal or make amendments to the Territorial Lands Act, the Northwest Territories Waters Act, the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act, other Acts and certain orders and regulations, at second reading. I say it is an honour because the goal of devolution has been one that so many people in the Northwest Territories have fought and worked for over many years.
Last year I had the opportunity to meet with the Premier of the Northwest Territories, Premier Robert McLeod. He actually came to my home province of Manitoba for the Manitoahbee Festival, which is an indigenous music festival that profiles the amazing musical talent of the Northwest Territories. I had a chance to hear a bit from Mr. McLeod about the hard work that he and his team have done to get to this day.
I also want to acknowledge my colleague and friend, the member of Parliament for the Northwest Territories, who has worked tremendously hard on this initiative as well. He has been a solid representative and an extremely important spokesperson on the issues that matter to the people of the Northwest Territories.
I understand the issue, not only as a member of Parliament but also on a personal level. I understand the importance of the concept of devolution, autonomy and, not just self-respect, but the acknowledgement of the respect that is due to the people of the north. I say that because I myself am from the north. I represent the region known as Churchill, in northern Manitoba, but I am also from there. I was born in Thompson. I grew up in the north and I have a very acute understanding, an understanding that so many of us northerners share, of the way in which the north is often marginalized. It is marginalized overtly and covertly in so many ways.
I will give a few examples. Number one, we in the north are very much aware how important services are to us in northern Canada, like any Canadian; for example, health care. We also know that in the north it is oftentimes, unfortunately, more difficult to access the basic health care that is required, especially compared to that of our urban neighbours. What ends up happening is that we have fewer doctors. Sometimes when we have nurses, it is more difficult to have the same nurses come. We have many people who come in and out, who stay for a while and then leave, so it is impossible for us to build relationships with the people who care for us when we need them most. We also find that in terms of health care infrastructure it is a tremendous challenge. While in provincial jurisdiction communities in the north there is definitely an effort to invest in health care infrastructure in an equitable way, if one drives a few minutes down the road and spends some time on a first nation, which is federal jurisdiction, one understands how northern first nations in particular suffer as a result of their geographic location and the way systemic racism has come into play.
We understand that in health care, for example, we in the north have certain struggles, and we struggle more than people in southern Canada in some respects. However, what we also know in the other sense is that it is difficult to find health care services. It is also difficult to see the kind of infrastructure funding we need. If one lives in northern Canada—and anyone who has visited northern Canada knows—it takes a while to get to places. Communities are far away from each other and populations are spread out.
However, that does not mean that people do not need to leave. People need to leave on a regular basis for health care. People need to leave for education. In fact, young people in many of the communities I represent have to leave after grade 9 or grade 10 to finish their high school in an urban centre. People need to leave to go for post-secondary education or training. People need to leave to visit their families. People also need to leave to buy basic necessities, such as food and goods they cannot access in their communities or are too expensive in their communities. That means infrastructure that links them is extremely important.
I would argue that perhaps the greatest gap in terms of the reality that northerners face is the way in which infrastructure across the Canadian north is often subpar compared to that in the south. We can talk about gravel roads and roads that need to be fixed up, but we can also talk about the fact that many communities across the north do not even have roads to speak of. Unfortunately, the common thread throughout the story is federal inaction and, frankly, neglect when it comes to partnering with the province and partnering on first nations.
The irony is that a tremendous amount of wealth comes out of northern Canada. It comes out of the communities I represent and the territories—Nunavut, the Northwest Territories and the Yukon. It comes out of northern Canada as a whole. That wealth comes through mining, hydroelectric development, forestry and development. That creates a tremendous amount of wealth in terms of revenue for government and corporate wealth. It does create jobs in our communities but often not in a sustainable way or in a way where training is part of the deal so that people are able to have long-term, stable employment, can learn from their work and go on to better themselves and work in other workplaces. Unfortunately, that wealth is often not shared with the communities that help to produce that wealth.
I can certainly share countless examples in my neighbourhood in the north where that is very obviously the case. Perhaps the most stark is the way in which so many first nations still live in third world conditions and yet are surrounded by some of the richest deposits of minerals or oil. Companies make great profits off these deposits, and yet there is no understanding that first nations, on whose territory these people are working, ought to be part of the deal, both in terms of revenue and long-term benefits.
This brings me to the point that northerners best understand their experience. They understand that this relationship, which has been supported by the federal government, where the decisions are made in Ottawa, where the wealth often goes back to Ottawa and is not returned to northern communities, must be fixed. We have an opportunity to do that, but unfortunately the work is not done. We are debating this bill at second reading, and New Democrats support this bill at second reading, but we have said very clearly that we need to look at the gaps and particularly at the way in which the federal government, unfortunately, continues to play a big brother role in this relationship, a relationship that some people use the word “colonialism” to describe, a sentiment that has been very much felt throughout recent years.
New Democrats want to make sure that this approach to devolution, something that so many people in the territories want, is free of that top-down approach, the approach that insinuates that the federal government does not trust the people of the Northwest Territories to govern themselves or make the right decisions for themselves. We believe that the federal government, which has done serious work on this file, needs to take this to the final stage, where a devolution agreement can be the best it can be and the best possible deal for the people of the Northwest Territories, an arrangement that agrees that the people, the first nations and the Government of the Northwest Territories must be the ones to make the decisions for the betterment of themselves and all of us.
Mr. Speaker, Bill is one of the first government bills aimed at rethinking our entire approach to the far north. It is particularly important because the far north is poised to become one of Canada's economic engines, if it is not one already.
So much remains to be done in terms of infrastructure and support for the local population. It will be important to review all of the issues that affect the people who live in that territory.
It is quite normal for the people there to want the economy of their region to be developed in a way that benefits them first and foremost, whether from an economic, environmental, social or structural standpoint.
Canada needs to make massive investments in aviation safety. These territories are so vast that everything must be done by plane. Air transportation is therefore a fact of life, and it will be essential that we discuss it sooner or later.
I would remind the House that the riding of is the same size as western Europe.
When the member for wants to visit his constituents, he has no choice but to do so by plane. Furthermore, he cannot hope to meet with everyone in all the communities in one day, or even in one week. There are too many small, remote villages. Too often he has to travel.
The marine mapping of the area has not been done. We often talk about the Northwest Passage, but it is important to emphasize that, as a sovereign nation, Canada has not yet mapped its Arctic coastline. This poses a problem in terms of territorial sovereignty, particularly when it is disputed.
I would remind the House that Denmark and the United States are disputing Canada's right of passage in its own waters. Russia, the United States and Denmark have launched border disputes regarding the 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone. The government needs to have a closer look at these issues.
Bill deals specifically with the transfer of certain powers from the federal government to the Government of the Northwest Territories.
The NDP applauds and approves of this important first step. We hope that it will not be the last. It will allow these communities to take charge of their own futures, which only makes sense. Local officials, elected by the people, are in the best position to understand the specific problems and difficulties these communities face with regard to housing, infrastructure, access to drinking water, educational institutions and the preservation of their culture. These are all rather important things. In this regard, it is true that we support this first step.
Of course, we hope to be able to present amendments. We hope that all of the committee members will listen to what we have to say so that recommendations are considered on their merit and not on the basis of a party line, which all too often results in a failure to listen to the witnesses who appear before the committee.
The Northwest Territories know best how their resources should be used, and they should have the final say in that regard.
These people will have to ask themselves the following questions: should we empty our mines in 10 years or should we extract the materials more gradually over a period of 50 years in a way that is more advantageous to the local community?
How will the waste generated from the development of these natural resources be disposed of? These issues are of particular interest to the Northwest Territories. They do not want a small but immediate gain at the cost of a huge environmental, generational and financial deficit later on.
I sincerely believe that if all hon. members explained this bill to their provinces, it would not pass. We would not allow our respective provinces to be limited in the ways this bill will limit the Northwest Territories.
I would like to remind hon. members that there is a significant limitation on the transfer of powers and revenues from development. The Government of the Northwest Territories will keep up to 50% of the revenues from the development of resources on public land and the Government of Canada will keep the rest. On the one hand, the government is saying that the territory is entitled to only 50% of the spinoffs and, on the other, it is saying that the territory can receive a set maximum amount.
I would like to know whether any of us would agree to let such a limitation be imposed on the government of his or her province. I can guarantee that the answer would be a resounding no, from British Columbia all the way to Newfoundland. This is probably the most questionable feature of the bill. Fortunately, this is just the first piece of legislation. In five years, it will be accompanied by other laws and a review of our overall approach to the far north as it relates to first nations communities.
I will tell this House right now that these people will not agree to have the government give them just part of the whole. If they have a right to democracy, then they have it fully and completely. Infrastructure should be tailored to their needs. As for airlines and distribution centres, they want them at home because they want these jobs to be created at home. This makes sense, because these are well-paying jobs, just like the jobs in the mines.
Currently, the business practice is to establish a mine and a residential centre—not a town or hospitals, but rather a huge hotel where the mine's employees stay for two weeks and then take a plane home to Montreal, Sept-Îles, Toronto or Windsor, where they stay for another two weeks.
Therefore, northerners do not have these jobs and do not benefit from them in any way; everything is shipped by air or by boat from the large ports of Montreal, Vancouver and Halifax, or from major airports like Toronto, Winnipeg and Edmonton. How do they benefit from this? Aside from seeing the ships carrying ore go by under their noses, there is no advantage for them.
We will therefore support this first step because it is useful and, at least, finally gives this government the authority to assume and define the interests of the local population itself.
I would like to remind the House that global warming also affects the far north. Moreover, and all meteorologists agree, nowhere in the world does global warming have a greater impact than in the Canadian Arctic. Global warming can even damage infrastructure. If we put a road on the permafrost as it thaws, the road will be destroyed.
I thank all the members for listening to my speech and I hope they will listen just as carefully to the witnesses' recommendations.
Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to rise on behalf of the people of to speak to this important bill, Bill , on the issues of devolution and the further development of the far north.
Through representing a far north region in Ontario, I really appreciate and understand the importance of the devolution of power to the communities and regions that are very different from the rest of Canada, and that they be allowed and given the tools they need to advance.
Unfortunately, the government has failed on so many levels in dealing with issues of the far north. In my own region we see complete failure of infrastructure in community after community in the far north. The Conservatives' only attitude is very colonial. They want the resources, and they want them out as fast as they can get them. They treat the people who live there like they are a subject population.
I see also how they bungle these projects, because their idea of fast is to try to get things as quickly as possible without thinking about the need to develop the economy in any sustainable, long-term or cohesive manner. I point to the bungling of the Ring of Fire.
The Ring of Fire is in my region of . It may be one of the largest mining discoveries in the last half century, $3.3 billion of value at this point. There is an important need to get it right because we have seen how often things have been done wrong.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for .
In my own region where I live in Cobalt, I see the poisoned lakes. I see all the wealth that was taken out of communities such as Cobalt. Not a single paved road was left in any of Coleman Township, which at one time was the richest municipality in all of Canada. I have seen the cave-ins from the mines that were left. I see that all across northern Ontario and northern Quebec, wherever I travel.
The idea was that we would take the resources out and leave the communities behind with whatever they could get by on. I look at the issue of devolution in terms of the revenue agreement. In the far north of Ontario, all our resources go to Queen's Park. We have one of the richest diamond mines in the world right near the impoverished little community of Attawapiskat. All the royalties from that mine go to Queen's Park, yet the people of Attawapiskat are basically living in shacks on top of each other. They do not even have the room to build a proper townsite. We would have to get that permission from the province. If we asked the Province of Ontario about Attawapiskat, we would be told it is not Ontario's responsibility, because those are federal people. Of course, the feds have shown a complete disinterest in Attawapiskat.
It is amazing, nobody else lives up there except the Mushkego Cree. They do not even have access to their own land. As one women in Kashechewan told me, it is like being raised in a prisoner of war camp in her community. There are little postage stamp communities, while the vast resources around them are controlled by the province, which takes the resources out and they are sent to southern Ontario, paving the roads down there. The issue of devolution and the development of communities is something we really understand.
Going back to the Ring of Fire, the minister from Muskoka was to be our great leader on this. He was to be the man who got it all done, just like he got everything else done around here, and Cliffs has walked away from the project. They said they are tired of the lack of action, the lack of planning. The first nation communities are still sitting at the table saying they need the environmental issues dealt with. What happened to the big leadership of the member for ? He shrugs and says it was a provincial responsibility.
That was not what the Conservatives were saying a few months ago when it looked like they would try to get some of the glory of the Ring of Fire. We notice that the issue of the Ring of Fire is vital for the development of northern Ontario, sustainable, planned, ensuring that the rivers and the lakes are not polluted, putting a proper road and transportation system in, working with the provincial Ontario Northland Railway to get a railway in there, to build sustainability. The feds walked. They blew it.
We have a motion at committee to look at the Ring of Fire, to find out what happened. However, the Conservatives go in camera and kill the study of the Ring of Fire, the same men and women who stand up and say they are the defenders of resource development and they understand the economy. They only understand their excuses when they blow it.
I am very interested in the issue of devolution, but there are some issues that have been raised that are very concerning. One is the amendment on the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act, which would create the environmental screening process for the Northwest Territories. The amendment will replace the current structure of regional land and water boards, which were created through land claims final agreements with the Northwest Territory aboriginal governments, with a single board.
Here is the kicker. The amendments also reserve to the federal minister the approval of all land and water usage in the Northwest Territories, which could easily circumvent the powers that were transferred to the first nation communities through devolution. Would any Canadian trust any minister on that side to do the right thing when it comes to water management or land management?
Let us just look at what the Conservatives did in their last omnibus bill. They stripped the environmental protections for 99.997% of all lakes and rivers in this country. Why is that? It was so they could push pipelines through faster, so they do not have to worry about the shut-off valves and can just go through any of the waterways.
It is funny. There are only 97 waterways that are still protected in this country. The rest of it is open season for these guys. If someone wants to dump tailings or run a pipeline through, this is their baby. Out of the 97 lakes and rivers that are protected, 12 of them are in the riding of the Muskoka minister. Lake Rosseau where Goldie Hawn gets her feet wet in the summertime, that property is protected. Twelve lakes in his riding are protected.
Do members know how many waterways in Quebec are protected? Four. In the massive region of Quebec, four are protected. The member for squirrels away 12 so that he can be happy with all his rich friends down at the cottage, and maybe they will invite him over to the barbecue and he will get Jeff Bridges' autograph. Twelve, that is the same as what the Conservatives have reserved for the entire province of British Columbia.
This is about a government that has turned environmental protection and planning into an absolute mockery, which is why Canada is seen more and more as an international outlier. While the Liberals and Conservatives go down to Washington to try to promote the Keystone XL pipeline and outdo each other, our reputation is that this is a government and a third party that no one wants to deal with. The government has systematically undermined and trashed environmental standards so that its friends with the big oil agenda can get things as fast as they want, as quick as they want, and it is too bad about the planet.
We want to move towards devolution but we do not want to see anyone on that side able to put their fingers into the development of waterways and the environment in the far north. We know that the Conservatives' only attitude is to get it as quickly as possible, and too bad about the next generation.
I want to go back to the lakes and rivers, and the importance of it. Our friend, the Muskoka minister, who blew the ring of fire, was the man who allowed Vale and Xstrata to take control of the two greatest mining companies that Canada has produced, the international giants, Inco and Falconbridge. They were pretty much run into the ground under his watch.
The man who has grabbed 12 out of the 100 lakes to protect for his rich friends, is he not the same guy who took $50 million of border infrastructure money that should have been used to stop gangs and guns from coming across the border? What did he do? He was building fake lighthouses in Muskoka with it. Of course there was no paper trail.
Normally people who take money like that and spend it in such an egregious fashion get the bounce. In the government, if someone is that bad, they get promoted. He is now the , the man who is supposed to ensure that everyone else accounts for their dollars. We see him kicking the crap out of the poor civil service, blaming them, going after them and going after their pensions.
Here is the man who took $50 million and does not have a piece of paper that he can show for it. Then, of course, we did find there was a lot of paper in his office, he just pretended there was not. We managed to find that through access to information.
These are not the kind of people we want to allow anywhere near environmental planning. We want to keep them away. We have to have some sort of ring fencing to keep them away and to keep their hands off it.
We think devolution is really important, but devolution has to be based on the principle that it is the people on the ground, the people in the far north, who should always have the final decision-making about what happens in their region.
Mr. Speaker, many government members and a member of the third party have talked about Bill . We probably all agree that transferring additional powers to the Northwest Territories is a good thing.
Nevertheless, I wanted to speak today because I think that transferring powers to the territories is an important thing worth paying special attention to. I want to begin by congratulating the people of the Northwest Territories, especially the five aboriginal governments that are part of the process, the Inuvialuit, the Northwest Territory Métis Nation, the Sahtu Secretariat, the Gwich'in Tribal Council and the Tlicho government.
I work very closely with the Manawan Atikamekw First Nation. Respect for aboriginal government is essential. Even though these situations are quite different, I think it is interesting to see how this legislation can transfer responsibilities smoothly and for the good of everyone.
I would like to talk about my reasons for supporting this bill and discuss some unclear elements that will need more in-depth study. Changing a constitution is never simple. However, in the case of the territories, which do not have the same authority as provincial governments, it is necessary.
That is especially true as Canada works harder to assert sovereignty in the north. Accepting that residents of the Northwest Territories are equal to all other Canadians is the bare minimum.
The last devolution of powers to the Northwest Territories took place in 1980, when it acquired jurisdiction over education, health care, transportation and renewable resources, including lumber and wildlife.
However, for devolution to be more than just a legacy of British-style indirect rule, much more had to be done. This transfer of powers will enable the Northwest Territories to operate as independently as possible despite being so remote.
The bill before us goes a little farther by transferring the administration and control of public lands and resources, as well as rights in respect of waters, to the Northwest Territories.
The aboriginal governments identified earlier, as well as the Government of the Northwest Territories, signed a transfer of power agreement with the Canadian government on June 25. Now it is our responsibility to move forward.
The situation in the Northwest Territories cannot be compared in any way to that of the people in the provinces. As an example, I almost had a culture shock when I contacted the Manawan Atikamekw people, who live in the far northern area of the riding of Joliette. Although we share the same country, their administration is vastly different.
In the case of the Northwest Territories, this inconsistent policy is still evident today in the fact that the territory does not receive income from resource development and must rely on federal transfers for the delivery of programs and services. This situation can only be described as outright dependency.
Under the agreement signed in June, the Government of the Northwest Territories will be able to retain 50% of the revenues from resource development on public land up to a certain maximum, and Canada will retain the rest. The agreement will also enable the Government of the Northwest Territories to collect revenues from oil development.
However, here again, there will be a cap on revenues and any surpluses will be deducted from federal transfers.
Since these revenues derive from resource development, I do not really see anything wrong with the government withdrawing when marginal revenues based on the needs of the province are met; again, “when the needs are met”. Indirectly, this allows for a transfer of the wealth produced by this development.
However, as I said at the time, such a bill is not that simple. In the case of Bill , 42 laws will be amended, making this a truly mammoth bill. In addition, the AANDC deputy minister appeared before the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development in November. The deputy minister confirmed that Bill C-15 would, among other things, amend the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act.
I will take the time to talk about this amendment because it has received some criticism, particularly from the Gwich'in Tribal Council and the Tlicho government.
The amendment to this act would transform the current structure of regional councils for land and water, created under final land claim agreements with aboriginal governments. This structure would be replaced by a single board.
In addition, the amendments will give the federal minister the authority to approve how the land and water in the Northwest Territories is used, which means that the transfer of powers we are working towards would be jeopardized. At least, that is how some people feel. As a New Democrat, I believe that the regional boards should make the decisions.
However, since the Government of the Northwest Territories has finally rallied behind the proposed changes and because the legislation will be reviewed in five years—which we will have to keep a close eye on—I will be supporting this bill anyway.
During the review, there will be an opportunity to evaluate the possibility of transferring other powers to the Northwest Territories, including the power to amend this law. To my mind, that alleviates some concern.
However, I would like to make a general comment about the Conservative government's tendency to concentrate power in the hands of a few and to give more power to the ministers who, ironically, have less input within their own caucus. I would like to take advantage of the opportunity I have here today to ask that such schemes do not become the norm.
As for the concerns that certain groups still have about amending the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act, I would like to point out that those of us on this side of the House will take their concerns into account when studying these amendments in committee.
The goal here—and I think that we all share it, even though some people feel absolutely no need to talk about it—is to ensure that Bill meets the needs of the people of the Northwest Territories. Until I hear proof to the contrary, I would say that we all agree on that point.
Mr. Speaker, I will share my time with my colleague from , a member who represents a northern riding. He will certainly bring an interesting perspective to this debate.
I think it is important to commend my colleague from , the member for the Northwest Territories, who works very hard and does an extraordinary job. It is a huge territory and a big riding. When I compare the size to my own riding to his, I realize how impressive it is to represent such a vast territory and to do it so well. I wanted to say that, because this is a very important bill for him and for all of us.
Before I get into the details, I want to take a step back and look at the circumstances in which we find ourselves.
A number of my colleagues, both Conservatives and members of my own party, have spoken about the constitutional nature of this situation.
In Canada, natural resources are an interesting issue. Powers are shared, but provinces also have power over their resources. This has created an interesting situation, since over the years—and now in 2013—energy and natural resources have become very important issues, not just for us, but for the entire world.
There is a lot of talk about pipelines and developing different resources. Quebec is having some important, interesting and essential debates on issues such as shale gas and pipelines.
We are very concerned about the division of powers for natural resource management. Although the constitutional powers were divided a certain way at the time, I think it is very important to move in this direction and devolve more powers to the Northwest Territories. That is something we support, obviously.
This is the first time since 1980, if I remember correctly, that the federal government has devolved additional powers to the Northwest Territories. We are very happy to see that.
That being said, I think that there are some major concerns to keep in mind. I talked about energy-related concerns. Bill made a lot of changes to environmental assessments for various projects.
Under the circumstances, I think it will be important to arrive at a better understanding of the bill during the committee's study and to know which powers will belong to the Northwest Territories and which to the federal government, directly and indirectly.
At first blush, this bill seems to have some tricky parts, but it is not quite clear. That is why the committee work will be so important. I feel optimistic; I think that the government has good intentions with this bill.
When the bill goes to committee, there will be questions about exactly how powers will be divided and how to ensure that there are no loopholes enabling the federal government to retain control over matters related to selection of projects, specifically regarding natural resource development and royalties.
These are very complicated issues. Many of my colleagues are better equipped to discuss them than I. My colleague, the parliamentary secretary, talked about how it is important for people in Toronto and Montreal not to impose their way of doing things on the Northwest Territories. Even though I am an MP from suburban Montreal, I completely agree with him. As an MP from Quebec, I have a pretty good understanding of the relationship between the federal government and our communities, the division of powers, the importance of a respectful relationship and the desire to be in a position where we are not being told what to do.
That being said, I can understand the concern. I think it is important that each one of us talks about managing natural resources, no matter where we come from, because there are fewer and fewer borders when it comes to this issue.
However, that does not mean that we should set aside the principle that the provinces—or territories in this case—must have some input and are responsible for managing natural resources. We understand that the federal government has a role to play because these issues affect everyone.
Take pipelines, for example. In my riding, the Portland-Montreal pipeline goes under the Richelieu River. This issue is of great concern to the people of my riding, but we all know that it extends beyond the boundaries of my riding.
With that in mind, we need to rigorously debate this issue in order to fully understand the bill. We also need to have a rigorous, in-depth review of the bill in committee, one that takes into account the concerns of the witnesses. They will likely have an interesting perspective to share.
Speaking of interesting perspectives, I would like to take this opportunity to highlight the work being done by our caucus with regard to northern development and protecting the rights of the people in those communities.
For example, yesterday, I listened to the speech given by the hon. member for during the debate on Bill . His views are extremely relevant and interesting, given the role he played in the negotiations between the Cree government, the Government of Quebec and the Government of Canada on the treaties that have been signed over the past few decades.
At home in Quebec, we set aside political differences and accomplished an historic work in James Bay. When we think about the work that the Government of Quebec accomplished in the early 2000s, we understand the importance of a nation-to-nation dialogue or even a dialogue among three nations, if we count the Quebec nation as a third player.
There is hope for this bill. The government has made a good start by engaging in a dialogue with the first nations and with the people of the Northwest Territories. In my opinion, that is extremely important. This is a complex, worthwhile and important constitutional issue.
Earlier, I mentioned my colleague from , but the NDP also has other members. I am thinking of the members for , and in northern Ontario and all my other colleagues from that area. They know the importance of these issues, and I know that they will bring an extremely relevant and interesting perspective to this debate.
We have a great deal of respect for the people who live in these areas. My colleague from does an outstanding job when it comes to these issues. Out of respect for these people, it is important that we all participate in this debate, because issues related to energy and natural resources are of the utmost importance to all Canadians and Quebeckers. I am also thinking about the people who live in my riding. It is essential that we participate in this debate.
I hope that the government will take into account what is said in committee. To date, the debate seems very healthy. I hope that this will continue in committee and that we can make amendments, if such is deemed necessary by the witnesses, who will conduct an assessment of the bill that will no doubt be very interesting.
I look forward questions from my colleagues and I thank them for their attention.