The House proceeded to the consideration of Bill , as reported (without amendment) from the committee.
Mr. Speaker, today we begin third reading debate on Bill , an act to amend the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act, or YESAA.
I want to acknowledge that we are gathered on traditional Algonquin territory.
We know that a sustainably developed resource sector is essential to the economic success of Yukon. A prosperous resource sector will serve as an important foundation for Yukon's future economic and job growth.
Yukoners have also made it clear that unlocking this economic potential must be contingent on environmental sustainability and on impacted indigenous communities being engaged as equal partners. They understand that this is not only essential to support reconciliation, but a legal obligation as well.
This is even more significant in regions like the Yukon, which are subject to comprehensive land claim agreements and self-government agreements. The original 2003 YESAA stems from the umbrella final agreement between Canada, Yukon first nations, and the Government of Yukon, which required a five-year review of the YESAA. This was carried out by the previous government and resulted in a number of mutually agreed upon recommendations.
Bill , the Yukon and Nunavut Regulatory Improvement Act, was introduced in the Senate in June 2014 and received royal assent in June 2015.
A large part of the bill implemented the consensus provisions based on the recommendations from the five-year review.
Unfortunately, despite spending years working with Yukon first nations on the comprehensive review, the previous government added four further controversial changes outside that process and pushed them through absent meaningful consultation. As members are now aware, these controversial changes included legislated time limits on the review process; exempting a project from reassessment when a authorization was renewed or amended, unless there had been a significant change to the project; the ability for the federal minister to provide binding policy direction to the Yukon environmental assessment board; and the ability to delegate the federal minister's powers, duties, or functions under the act to the territorial government.
This disregard for meaningful consultation reflected the previous government's unfortunate and misguided paternalistic approach regarding indigenous people in Canada. Rather than working in partnership with indigenous communities to find common ground and mutually beneficial solutions to issues, it forced indigenous peoples to resort to the courts to assert their rights. This not only led to unnecessary costs for all parties, but often caused unnecessary delay, legal uncertainty, and undermined reconciliation.
It also positioned the federal government to lose court case after court case.
In response to the passage of these four contentious provisions, three Yukon first nations launched a court challenge in the fall of 2015. The court petition claimed that the amendments were in violation of the Yukon umbrella final agreement and that there was inadequate consultation. Despite their court action, Yukon first nations entered into subsequent discussions with the governments of Yukon and Canada about how to resolve this situation outside of court. These discussions led to the signing of a memorandum of understanding in April 2016, which clearly outlines the steps required to resolve the first nations' concerns with Bill .
As a direct result of that collaborative process, the Yukon first nations pursuing legal action have adjourned their hearing dates while this bill proceeds.
This bill would re-establish trust with Yukon first nations and restore legal certainty for responsible resource development. It would also remove a key impediment to increased investment, development, and jobs in Yukon.
The vast majority of Yukoners support this bill.
In fact, a unanimous motion supporting Bill was passed by the Yukon legislature last spring. In addition, the Council of Yukon First Nations, Yukon government, and the Yukon Chamber of Mines issued a joint letter last March, urging the passage of Bill C-17, without change, as soon as possible.
The letter also stated that they looked forward passing the bill so, “the Yukon economy can benefit from the certainty established by the final and self-government agreements in Yukon.” My office spoke with the Yukon Chamber of Mines earlier this week and it confirmed its support for passing the bill on an expedited basis, with the understanding that issues, including reassessments and reasonable timelines, would be dealt with through other policy mechanisms shortly thereafter.
First nations and the Governments of Canada and Yukon agree that issues, including reassessments of projects and reasonable time limits for assessments, require a strong policy framework. Canada, Yukon, self-governing Yukon first nations, industry, and the board are all committed to working in collaboration through the regulatory process to establish practical timelines for the assessment processes and clear and sensible rules for when reassessments may be required.
The Conservative opposition told the committee that the bill should be set aside not just until the process moved forward, but until it was finalized.
The members claim that this is in response to concerns expressed by some industry representatives about delays in moving forward with the regulatory discussions I referenced above. Yukon first nations have been clear. Passing Bill is an important show of good faith and a first step in moving forward with these important discussions.
It is disingenuous of the Conservatives to cite delays they caused by filibustering this bill last spring as justification for further delaying moving the legislation forward and the subsequent needed regulatory discussions. By trying to further delay, or even derail the bill, the Conservatives risk driving this matter back into litigation and undermining the very certainty for industry for which they claim to be advocating.
Bill clearly demonstrates our intent to work closely with all partners, including Yukon first nations, the Yukon industry, and the Yukon government, to re-establish trust with Yukon first nations and restore legal certainty for responsible resource development.
I hope all members will support this bill.
Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to be here today.
I am pleased to speak to Bill at third reading. I speak from the traditional territory of the Algonquin Anishinabe.
In 10 words or less, today is all about Bill C-17 removing four clauses illegally put into law. We are all legislators here, and we should be the first to unanimously agree to pass the bill for that reason. That is why, as the minister said, the Yukon legislature was unanimous in passing the bill, including the Yukon Party, which is the Conservatives. I should in theory be able to sit down now and we would vote unanimously to pass the bill, as the Yukon legislature did.
I would like to thank every member in the House today for their thoughtful debate and co-operation in going through report stage very quickly.
I would like to tell a story to give a sense of the feeling behind all of this. People at home can participate in this exercise too. Think about someone who retired and decided he wanted to get into business with a couple of partners or friends of his. They all got together, spent a couple of years working really hard to get a business set up, perhaps a resort in a wealthy country. He would sit and have piña coladas and enjoy himself. His kids were going to high class school. He mortgaged his house. Everything was on the line. It was pretty important to his family and their lives. Then one day when he went to work, he saw a sold sign. One or two of his other partners had sold his dream business, his life savings, and put it into a factory in a third world country with millions of people, in a dangerous slum, where he would have to try to get his kids into school. How would he feel under those circumstances? Obviously he would be very angry. He would feel betrayed. He would be apoplectic. Under those circumstances, what type of relationship would he have with those two partners? Would he ever do business with them again? He could never imagine that.
In the case we are talking about here, the three partners are the federal government, the Yukon government, and the first nations government. They cannot just walk away. From now onward, indeed forever, they have to work together on things for their people. Imagine the great rebuilding of trust that would have to be done with those partners because of this situation.
How did we get here? As the minister said, after 20 years, not just the two years in the scenario we set up, the modern treaty or UFA was signed. It is constitutionally protected, so even we in the House cannot change it. It prescribed that YESAA would be created for assessments in Yukon. That took 10 years and was approved in 2003.
Imagine, as in the case I just talked about, after negotiating for 30 years, all of a sudden one or two of the partners added four significant clauses without negotiation. This is what happened. The four clauses are probably illegal, if not technically, then in the spirit of the law or the honour of the crown. Anything done illegally, regardless of the content, whether good or bad, had to be undone and cancelled. That is basically the end of the story today.
Normally, for that reason, I refuse to talk about any of the content of those four items. Nevertheless, because I have four minutes left, there were some concerns raised that I might try to alleviate a bit. The minister and the opposition have already mentioned the reaching out that has been done. The process will start right away to deal with timelines and reassessments.
I thank the mining association and the mining companies, because in the years when the government was not really following the honour of the crown, individual mining companies made partners with first nations. The chamber of mines worked with the Council of Yukon First Nations and took a great leadership role, so kudos to the mining industry.
In the second reading debate on April 10, 2017, members commented about the removal of time limits. They said that the Liberals were taking out time limits, that we wanted to remove all time limits, that we put time limits on the review process, that we removed timelines, that time limits do matter, that we eliminated timelines, that we would repeal the time limits, that we would remove the time limits. One would think that people watching this and hearing all those comments would think there were no timelines, but timelines were put into the bill when it was established.
In 2003, the bill explained how timelines were created through the rules of the board. They were gazetted and have been in place ever since. My understanding is that they have not changed in all those years. Since the first project was approved in 2005, the timelines have been there and are still working. The opposition said in the second reading debate that it was important to leave decisions in the hands of Yukoners, and that is exactly what this bill would do, because those timelines are created by Yukoners. I am sure that the opposition would rather have people in their ridings setting deadlines for important things as opposed to the government setting them in Ottawa.
Those timelines compare favourably with those in other jurisdictions. Some of the projects take half the time of British Columbia assessments. The timelines have not been lengthened in recent years. There are two categories of projects. For a district office, the average is only 70 days, and for small projects they are considerably shorter. The timeline put in Bill is 270 days. That is far longer than those projects' timelines. On the executive committee, the other category, the very serious projects, of which there have been only seven, the fault was in the other direction. There was just not enough time put in. What has happened is that first nations have not been able to do the appropriate analysis, nor have the territorial or federal technicians in various departments.
What happens if there is an assessment without the appropriate input or analysis? Two things probably happen. First, for purposes of integrity, the project is rejected. The mining industry or developers would not want that. Second, a chance could be taken and it could be approved, but it could be challenged, especially by first nations, because there are requirements in YESAA for their input.
The final point I would like to make is on reassessments. I have 10 quotes, but I will not read them. There are two things I will say in the limited time I have. First, technically there are no reassessments. If something is exactly the same, section 40 of the act does not allow a reassessment. In fact, what has happened in reality is that when a project comes up, quite often, on the ground, the decision body will say that it is exactly the same, that it is just renewing a licence and it will not go ahead. A lot of the 100 projects the opposition member quite rightly brought up would not be reassessed under the present system, so there would not be 100.
The second thing that happened in that five-year review is that one of the policies changed and they have gone to temporal scoping, which is a good thing. That means that instead of scoping like they used to according to the licence and causing the reassessments that were of concern, they can scope a lot longer in the life of the project, resulting in far fewer reassessments.
For all of those reason and reassurances, I would like to go back to what I said at the beginning. We have to remove four improper clauses. I hope we can do that quickly, because it will bring back certainty for the mining industry, developers, and first nations and, hopefully, start to rebuild the partnership that is so important for any development in Yukon.
Mr. Speaker, it is certainly my pleasure to stand to speak to Bill . I first want to make a few comments in response to what the minister said, then I also want to go to maybe the 100,000-foot level, and then narrow it down into Bill .
The first thing I want to note is that the minister accused the opposition of filibustering and keeping the bill going. There could be nothing further from the truth. The Liberals have had two years in which to bring a fairly simple piece of legislation. There was some modest debate in the spring, but to be frank, the House leader and the government did not see this as a priority to bring forward. I know at committee we moved it through quite rapidly. We did our due diligence, as any committee should do, but we certainly did not spend inordinate amounts of time trying to delay the process. Then, as we saw by the earlier vote today, we passed it on division so that it did not have further delay. Therefore, I want to make note of the fact that, although it is the opposition that really has a responsibility to look at legislation, assess it, and bring forward some of these issues, I think is a bit disingenuous to suggest that we are responsible for the delay, when as a majority government it has all of the tools at its fingertips to move these pieces of legislation through.
To start, I want to speak to the big picture. There was a very difficult economic time. We had a global recession. Certainly, we had 10 years in government where not only did we use spending to drive Canada through the global recession but we did many things to try to set our economy up for success. Our plan worked. We did exactly what we said and got back to a balanced budget. Therefore, the current government not only had a balanced budget but also had a system that was set up to create success and to continue to power the economy. I think we all know that government spending cannot drive the economy. It takes business. In particular, it takes a strong natural resource sector to move us forward. I think it is important to recognize that not only did we get back to a balanced budget but we hopefully created an environment where things could continue to grow. There is a strong economy right now, and I think the current government can look to some of the benefits and wisdom of what we had done.
To go to the bigger picture, I first want to talk about natural resource development, about the north, and to some degree about the coasts. The government talks about caring about the north and its importance. However, it is interesting that it has no representation on the executive. Not a single minister resides north of the 60th parallel. As much as Atlantic Canada found it very difficult to have a minister for ACOA from downtown Toronto or Mississauga, I think the north in particular really notices the fact that its minister for economic development is again from Mississauga, and certainly more familiar with things like GO trains and Highway 401, and perhaps would have some problem identifying with some of the issues in the north. Therefore, the lack of representation is one challenge the Liberals have, and that lack of perspective can sometimes create challenges.
The next thing I want to note that the government has done that will make things very difficult for northerners is that it brought in a carbon tax, which will affect them more than any other place in Canada. The impact from climate change is felt more in the north, but the impact of things like the carbon tax will be felt in an extraordinary way by the people there. They rely on diesel to receive food and other vital supplies by boat, plane, and ice roads, and this carbon tax will increase the cost of everything. Therefore, when the government brought in this carbon tax, it was giving lip service when it said that it recognized that it would create a challenge for the north.
It was interesting yesterday. We had a piece of legislation that said to tell Canadians what the carbon tax is going to cost. It was a private member's bill. Even though the government knows what it is going to cost Canadians, it refuses to reveal that. The Liberals voted against a piece of legislation that would tell Canadians what a carbon tax would cost them.
As I understand, talking to some leadership from the north, there was a commitment that not only would the government do an analysis of what the impact would be but there would be measures put in place. As we travelled with a committee this week and talked to many of the leaders in the north, we heard that there has been nothing. We have no idea what the impact of this carbon tax is going to be, nor do we have any commitment in terms of how we will deal with that. Certainly, people will be affected disproportionately by climate change and will also be disproportionately affected by this particular initiative.
Another issue in terms of the big picture and how I believe the government is failing the north is with respect to the critical importance of consultation and partnerships. Just before Christmas, the announced a moratorium on oil and gas development in the Arctic. There had been zero consultation with the people and the communities that would be most affected. It was a unilateral decision.
Two days ago, we heard from representatives of the Government of Nunavut at committee about this decision, which has the potential to impact their prosperity and lives. They were not asked or consulted. Rather, they heard about it 20 minutes before it was implemented. They got a phone call telling them about a decision that would impact their lives and their future.
Nunavut's premier, Peter Taptuna, stated:
We do want to be getting to a state where we can make our own determination of our priorities, and the way to do that is gain meaningful revenue from resource development.
And at the same time, when one potential source of revenue is taken off the table, it puts us back at practically Square 1 where Ottawa will make the decisions for us.
Northerners have been very clear that they want a greater say in their own affairs and more control over their own resources. Here we have a bill where the government says it gives more control. However, we see by every other action by the government that many have been unilateral in nature, whether it be carbon tax or moratoriums.
Protected areas are important, and parks are important. Many people care about having a system of marine protected areas and parks that makes sense. However, I think there has also been a worry expressed in the north that the government just wants it to be a park. It does not want to support resource development at all. It wants it to be this nice park where people can enjoy the protected area.
Another example where the government has taken unilateral action is the northern gateway pipeline. The government arbitrarily overturned a legal decision from the National Energy Board; it had approval. At that time, there were 31 first nations that were equity partners in the northern gateway pipeline and were profoundly disappointed with the government's decision. The first nations stood to benefit more than $2 billion directly from this project. For the indigenous band members, and especially their youth, it was a lost opportunity for jobs, education, and long term benefits.
Members have probably travelled, as I have, throughout the north. Resource development is absolutely critical for the future of people of the north. It is all right to say the government is going to consult, but it did not consult when it made an arbitrary decision around the northern gateway project.
I could go on about the B.C. tanker ban. It is in my home province. This is more legislation focused on phasing out the oil sands. That is the only purpose. Venezuelan oil and Quebec oil are okay. Saudi Arabian oil on the east coast is okay. Canadian oil is okay in Vancouver, but not in northern B.C. The Liberals have a tanker ban. What kind of conversation did they have? What kind of consultation did they have with the indigenous communities in that area before they arbitrarily made that decision?
When the Liberals suggest that the past government made mistakes in terms of not consulting properly, I would say that putting some timelines, assessments, and small parameters on projects in the environmental assessment process is much less egregious than the absolute lack of consultation the Liberals have had in terms of issues that are of incredible importance, such as oil tankers, pipelines, and moratoriums. I could go on, but I think I have made my point.
In spite of what the Liberals say, we had a trilateral process. There were many recommendations that were implemented. We heard from the member for that, in fact, they usually exceed the timelines, so why do we need those timelines? That shows that the decision to put in timelines was not that significant. We can talk about the reassessment process. The member said that the reassessment process would have been okay anyway, so it does not matter that there is in legislation a piece that finalizes it. Perhaps the trilateral conversation should have been stronger, but ultimately, the legislation and the pieces in it are not that significant.
Regarding funding transfers, we can again talk about lots of money going to the north. The stunned northern premiers by cutting $91 million from the federal transfers to the territories. It was not until February that they walked that back and dropped it to $24 million in core funding. That $24 million might not sound like a lot in terms of a federal budget, but I guarantee that in those three territories, that is a significant amount of money.
Another thing that just came out yesterday is that there are going to be new regulations for diesel. Diesel powers more than 200 remote communities. They need to keep the lights on in every Inuit community in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories. Where was the conversation about what the impact will be? I did not see anything on the impact and how the Liberals are going to offset it. I know there is a little money, but it is not a lot.
We talk about climate change. At the Alert weather station, where people are actually doing the important work of measuring, the Liberals are cutting back on absolutely vital environmental measures in Alert, and possibly in surrounding areas, for six months. There are a number of people who live in the north. These are well-paying jobs. I do not think that the training is so difficult that the Liberals cannot train people to keep that weather station in the north doing those important measurements on the environment and climate change. What did they do? They said that they could not find anyone. Well, let us get creative. Let us find someone and get someone in that station, because I believe that with a bit of creativity, we could easily have people there getting those measurements, which the government claims are incredibly important.
We have heard the big picture in terms of how the government is failing the north. It is failing in terms of consultations and is perhaps setting up significant challenges down the road, because they have lopped off at the knees the ability of the north to create economic success.
I know that the minister's special representative is going around talking about parks. What she said was that parks are okay, but what people in the north are wanting to talk about is suicide, the housing crisis, and jobs and opportunities. If we look at the goal of the government to create whatever percentage of the area as a national park, it is way down the list of the conversations the people in the north want to have. They want to talk about how they can improve their lives. With these arbitrary decisions, the Liberals are certainly cutting off many opportunities.
In the Yukon, the mining industry contributes about 20% to the GDP. As a mining representative told the indigenous and northern affairs committee, reconciliation is not theoretical to them. In many ways, the rest of Canada has a lot to learn from the north in terms of how we move forward in partnership. There are many extraordinary examples of the ability of everyone in communities to work together for the benefit of all.
Jonas Smith, of the Yukon Producers Group, said:
...these are small communities. Everyone goes to school together. Their kids play hockey together. It is one community. It's not this academic concept in the Yukon. It's...everyday life.
Mike Burke, of the Chamber of Mines, told us:
We are really on the forefront of reconciliation. We're working in all the first nations' backyards, and the economic benefits...flow through to the community. It's not the old days where we just had employees from the local communities. We're seeking partnerships. That's what we're trying to do, and to make a difference in the Yukon especially in the communities that we're involved in.
We have talked about the process. We have talked about the items that went into legislation we passed and the items the government is looking to remove. I still fail to understand how the government, as it was taking two-plus years to move this legislation, which it committed to doing, could not actually have had the conversation at the same time on what it could replace it with. There was an opportunity missed, and I think that was a legitimate point brought up with industry.
It goes back to my “chew gum and run at the same time” comment. There is no reason the government could not have done those two things concurrently. To get this legislation passed, it still has to go through the Senate, so we are going to have a process there. The government does not plan to start talking until this legislation is passed. Meanwhile, it potentially will be creating some real problems.
Sheila Copps was on a panel last night, and she said we should not assume that regulations are going to do the job for everything. There are some things that really are important to have in law. Policy, as we know, is not as strong as perhaps having legislation or having things in the agreement. If there is anyone to be blamed for the slowness of this going through the House, I would put it in the hands of the government.
I encourage the government to start the work now, while it is still in the Senate, in terms of having the timelines that will be in place and a reassessment process that is going to be acceptable, so that when this legislation is passed, it has a new regime that will continue to support our industry and support Yukoners in the way they need to be supported, with strong and vibrant economic opportunities.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleagues. I can confirm that I will be splitting my time with my extraordinary colleague, the hon. member for .
I stand today as a New Democrat to speak in favour of Bill , even if there is much to criticize about what the government has done in terms of governance, business management, indigenous relations and environmental management.
I would like to take this opportunity to have a bit of fun. As the member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, I decided to crunch some numbers in an effort to compare my situation in Montreal to that of my hon. colleague from . The territory in question has a population of around 38,000 spread over 483,443 square kilometres, for a population density of 0.08 persons per square kilometre. My riding has a population of 110,000 in an area 11 square kilometres, for a population density of 10,000 persons per square kilometre. That is far more people than in the territory my colleague has the honour of representing.
I had the honour of visiting Yukon during the tour of the Special Committee on Electoral Reform. I had the opportunity to see Whitehorse for the first time in my life and to visit the surrounding area. My colleague represents a magnificent territory that must be protected by the proper environmental assessments, but I will get back to that.
I will digress for a moment. Since I was there with the Special Committee on Electoral Reform, I cannot help but think that we are in a system where one government does things and the next government undoes them. From our perspective, if we had a more consensual system of policy development, this defect in our system would be less apparent. We would stop wasting so much time, money effort, and energy. There ends my digression about electoral systems.
There are three things I would like to address concerning Bill . First, I would like to point out why it is important for men and women to become involved in politics. The values and principles of the party I belong to lead me to believe that the main reasons to do so revolve around fairness, social justice and human dignity. That is why, as a progressive party, we will fight inequality and insist on a fairer distribution of wealth and greater equality of opportunity.
Secondly, why are we in politics? I think that all political parties can agree on that. We do it to ensure the safety and protection of the public. That is the fundamental role of all governments, a role we believe must involve setting up sound environmental and socioeconomic assessment processes. Indeed, such processes not only help preserve our environment and ecosystems, but also ensure public health and protect the public from abuse by certain companies or from actions that would create pollution, illness and, indirectly, problems for Canadians living near certain industrial activities.
That might have been a roundabout way of putting things, but it just goes to show why we need to pass legislation that ensures that the public and public health are protected. We are taking a step in the right direction today.
This bill is also important and useful in terms of respect for first nations. The Liberal government likes to talk about its nation-to-nation approach with regard to the relationship between the federal government and every first nation on the ground.
What is really unfortunate, however, and I noted it in my question to my Conservative colleague, is the frontal attack that was launched at the time by the Harper government against the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act in relation to mining projects, without having first consulted first nations.
I think that the bill before us corrects things in that regard. It also respects a desire that clearly appears to be shared by all major stakeholders regarding this issue in the Yukon. It is a sign of respect toward first nations and that shows openness and dialogue. That has been hailed by people who were critical of the somewhat cavalier attitude of the previous Conservative government. In that way, it is a good thing.
Regarding our ability to maintain respectful and equal relations with first nations, I would be remiss if I did not add that, although Bill is a step in the right direction, or rather a return to a better direction, the Liberal government's actions do not always reflect their words, sadly. I will give two quick examples, starting with the Liberal government’s refusal to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which says a lot about the government’s posturing. It is unwilling to apply changes that would benefit all first nations communities across the country.
Therefore, I want to remind everyone listening to the debate in the House that we have a Liberal government that is refusing to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The minister told us that all of a sudden it could not be implemented even though several countries have done so. That is unfortunate. I am asking the government to revisit its position on the matter.
I am also asking the government to revisit its position on all court challenges involving indigenous rights and treaty adherence, and especially involving health care for children. My colleague from reminded us today that the government has already spent $6 million of taxpayers' money to challenge indigenous rights in court, especially the right to children's health care. It is disappointing to hear the same old rhetoric from the and the entire Liberal cabinet while the government uses taxpayers' money to challenge the legitimate claims of indigenous peoples.
What else is missing from Bill ? Earlier, the minister seemed open to changes, and I hope that is the case. Some of the environmental assessment issues have been resolved, but many first nations chiefs and representatives also said that, when the previous government did this, it unilaterally imposed a new fiscal approach on them. The new fiscal approach is extremely restrictive and, in their opinion, it contradicts the treaties the federal government signed with first nations. Once again, many people are telling the government that there is still work to do, there are still things that need changing. That is very important.
I would like to quote Eric Fairclough, chief of the Little Salmon Carmacks First Nation. In February 2016, he appeared before the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development and had this to say about the new fiscal approach, which Bill C-17 does not change:
The fiscal approach contradicts and violates our final agreements. In several fundamental ways Canada cannot implement its fiscal approach and meet the modern treaty agreement commitments under self-governing Yukon first nations.
It's a step backwards for self-governing Yukon first nations. Its implementation will violate the commitments of the Yukon first nations final agreements rather than promote reconciliation. It's not what the Prime Minister said, and it's not what the INAC minister said either, according to their own words.
Although we are pleased that the measures Yukoners called for are back, the job is not done. There is still a lot of work to do to change this new fiscal approach.
I would like to quote one more witness. Ruth Massie was the grand chief of the Council of Yukon First Nations. Speaking before that same committee in February 2016, she said:
This fiscal policy is being imposed. We have not accepted it because of the language in our agreement. How is it going to affect us if it goes forward? We will have no choice but to defend our agreements. That means going back to court, because that's not what the provisions in our agreements say.
I am calling on the Liberal government to finish the job. I understand that a discussion is currently taking place, but if we want to be consistent, we need to be able to change this fiscal approach, which was imposed on the indigenous peoples of Yukon.
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to join in the debate. Normally one of the first things we do when we rise is to establish our bona fide credentials on what we are about to talk about, and I have none of that. The fact of the matter is that I love the north. I have been to Resolute in the Northwest Passage, and I urge members to take the time to see this magical place, a historical place. It gives a sense of the vastness of this beautiful country. The flight alone, being in a big jet and flying for hours and hours and looking down and knowing it is all Canada, is an amazing feeling, and it is a very magical place.
I want to say parenthetically that one of the things that struck me about Yukon was its beauty. At the risk of giving my friend from problems with his own constituents, when he came back, he said it was so beautiful that he could live there. Remember the beauty of Ontario's north is also stunningly beautiful. Yukon is a wonderful place.
I have been to Iqaluit a couple of times, Yellowknife a couple of times, and Pond Inlet once. I represent downtown Hamilton, where we do not do a lot of mining, so it behooves me to try to find what I am going to do. I could come here and read a canned speech that covered all the details, which I did not fully understand. However, I decided I wanted to listen to the debate. I have read the material, and it is not that complicated a bill, but it is not straightforward either. It really does help if people sat in on the hearings or they live there.
It is a great feeling to see wrongs righted—and to be a part of that is a good feeling—aside from the politics of it, which need to be mentioned. The Cons are not in power now, but they were and they are not finished paying their price for all the things that many of us did not like. However, it is not the main focus today, and I will not be spending a lot of time on it, unless someone provokes me.
I was struck by the debate. Since I have been here, particularly when we are talking provincial or territorial specific issues, there have been some things that affect Ontario uniquely, but not that many. In the main, it usually affects broader parts of Canada, and I do not get a lot of Hamilton legislation per se. If I represented a territory like Yukon and a bill came forward, I really would hope that hon. members would try to ratchet up the honour of the debate just a bit, to recognize that it is not quite like all our other files. Because of Yukon's size, it does not always get a whole lot of attention, certainly not nearly as much as it deserves, but this is its moment.
As much as possible, it is important for us, particularly those of us from completely opposite parts of our great country, to show as much respect as we can, a little more than when we deal with regular business. I have been very pleased that is the debate here. There are some criticisms. It is hard to be have debate without any of that, but it is not the main focus. The main thing has been what is in the best interests of Yukon, the people, the first nations, and also what is fair and what is right, so I am pleased to support this.
I am very much moved by my colleague who is, I am sure this House will appreciate, the member for . When he speaks on issues affecting first nations, we can hear a pin drop in our caucus. We could hear a pin drop in this House when he speaks, and what he had to say about Bill sort of set the tone for me as I came into this honourable chamber. In speaking to Bill C-17, the member said:
I want to acknowledge the importance of this legislation. There is a lot of talk today about nation-to-nation reconciliation and so on and so forth. This is one example of how to get it right. This is one example of how to proceed.
That alone, I have to say, would be enough to make me vote for this bill.
I want to also just mention, as an aside, that my friend from happened to mention, “from a 100,000-foot level”, and then went on to make a couple of comments. I just want to take a few seconds to tell this great story. It is about a colleague of hers. We were at committee. One of my favourite expressions when we are doing things like this is “from 30,000 feet”. That just happens to be the number I like. I said, “from 30,000 feet”, and then I went on and on as of course I can do. Laurie Hawn, a former Conservative MP, a great guy, took the floor right after I said my “from 30,000 feet” and really went after them and tore them right apart, and he said, “Chair, I have to say that I am a former fighter pilot and do you know what you see from 30,000 feet? Nothing.” I always thought that was one of my favourite committee stories, and it certainly speaks to Laurie's sense of keeping us all on our toes.
As members can tell, I do not have an incisive speech on the details, and if my friend from wants an opportunity to lay me wide open on that issue, now is that opportunity.
However, I did want to stand and express my respect for the government. I want to express my respect for the minister and for the member for for righting a wrong. I believe there has been a certain level of co-operation even on the part of the official opposition, which along the way has taken a couple of cracks, but in the main, this House is showing the kind of respect and concern for a part of our country that does not get talked about a lot but is clearly one of the jewels of our great country. I look forward to standing up and casting my precious vote in favour of Bill .
Mr. Speaker, I wish to inform you that I will be sharing my time with my colleague from .
One thing is certain: the hon. member for is a great speaker and therefore a tough act to follow. I must say that I share his respect and admiration for Canada's territories, namely, Nunavut, Northwest Territories, and Yukon. I have admired that region ever since I was a little boy. In my childhood and teenage years, I had a specific dream, one that I have not totally given up on but is fading as time goes by. We will see what happens in the future. I used to dream that I would live out my old age on Great Bear Lake. I would build a house and live there from about the age of 75 or 80 until the end of my days.
When I was 14, I took a flight from Toronto to Osaka, Japan. Just like the member for described it, I flew over the Northwest Territories, Yukon, and Alaska. It is true that it is hard to believe just how huge our country is. There are millions and millions of lakes. It sometimes seems that there is more water than land in the north. It is almost frightening. That is when I really understood why winters are so important there for travel, because the ice creates roads everywhere, and so people do not have to go around the many lakes.
Simply put, those territories are incredible, and I want to say right off the bat that I speak here today with utmost humility. As the member for was saying, we are talking about Yukon, and it is rare for the people of Yukon to have the opportunity to be heard in the House. I hope my comments convey how much respect I have for the people of Yukon. I will try to raise a few points that the opposition sees as essential to our discussion in the House.
I want to address some of the comments that were made, including one by the hon. member for . She said that the opposition should be ashamed of the way it treated indigenous peoples when it was in power. I find it rather hypocritical for a Liberal member to say that because one of the first things the Liberals did when they came to power was abolish the First Nations Financial Transparency Act.
I can say that as soon as that happened, our indigenous affairs critic got a lot of mail. We heard from a lot of indigenous people. That decision affects indigenous women and it affects indigenous peoples. We developed that legislation to ensure that leadership and the indigenous elite, the first nations chiefs, were accountable not only to the departments, but also to the people living on their reserves. I think that was very respectful toward indigenous peoples to do that. It was something that they wanted. One of the first things that the Liberals did was abolish that legislation. When I go door to door, people often tell me that they think that was an awful decision. My colleague from was talking about it and I completely agree with what he had to say.
I would also like to say that, despite how humbling it is for me to participate in this debate, we must not forget that the Yukon is a territory that belongs to all Canadians. Make no mistake: a territory does not have the same status as a province. For centuries, Canada's north has played an important role in the country's economic development and in weaving the fabric of our country and economy. Yukon has a role to play. It is only natural that the federal government decides when to intervene in the affairs of the Yukon because it is indeed a territory. If we want to make the Yukon a province, then that is another debate.
The member for said that everyone in his territory, in his riding, which is huge, supports his bill. I understand that. However, I think that there were some good things about Bill , which we introduced in 2015, even if the government does not agree. I also think that there are some negative things about the bill that is currently before us, even if the government thinks that there is nothing wrong with it.
I would like to talk a little bit about those negative aspects. One of the problems I see with Bill is that it follows the Liberal government's tendency toward centralization.
Why am I talking about a pattern of centralization? The government did away with the regional development ministers and gave all the responsibility to one minister of economic development for Canada, who lives in Toronto. That is an obvious example of centralization. The government also did away with the position of political lieutenant for Quebec, since the claims to be the province's general—
Mr. Speaker, I totally understand the member's reasoning. However, as the NDP member said, we are talking about Yukon, so I think that we should proceed, and that that is a good thing.
I would now like to talk about centralization. A carbon tax was imposed on the provinces without consulting them. As for health transfers, the government imposed conditions that the provinces opposed but were bullied into accepting. This brings me to the central theme of my speech: devolution.
In the 1980s, under Mulroney, and again under the Harper government, we began a positive process of political devolution that focused much more on Yukon than Nunavut or the Northwest Territories. This bill, Bill , not in its entirety but certainly some of its clauses, works against the very devolution that I believe to be good for the people of Yukon. Why? Because it will eliminate the federal minister's ability to transfer ministerial powers, duties, and functions to a territorial government.
I was very proud to learn about this legislation in 1995. I thought it was fantastic that a Conservative government had introduced it. It is a truly Conservative measure because we support decentralization. As is the case with Britain's Conservatives who ceded power to Scotland, which now has a quasi autonomous parliament, western Conservatives support decentralization. We ceded very important powers to the Yukon government over time.
It actually started with a Liberal government. With the advent of responsible government in the Yukon in 1978, political parties were formed for the first time. Under Mulroney in the 1980s and 1990s, there were transfers of very important federal powers. In 1992, at the end of the Mulroney era, the first nations and the government entered into an agreement. Under the Martin government, Yukon was given all the powers that other provinces had, except over criminal prosecutions.
In Yukon, mining is the main industry. Therefore, it is very important for the people and their government to make their own decisions about environmental assessments and the projects they will accept.
For me, the problem with the Liberals' Bill is this desire to roll back the powers we delegated to the Yukon government to approve or deny proposed mining and resource development projects. This bill is a definite step backwards in terms of devolution.
This is what the member for was just referring to when he said that one government takes one step forward and the next takes one step back. I think that if there is one thing that successive governments should not go back on, it is this type of important policy on territorial devolution. Yukon was one of the territories that benefited the most. In spite of its flaws, Bill , which was passed in 2015, did a lot for devolution.
In short, it is a shame. That is pretty much all I wanted to say today. In closing, I would like to add that my colleague takes the prize for hardest-working MP. He is a very brave and courageous man, because taking the plane every week as he does must be gruelling.