Madam Speaker, I know our friends to the south consider us to be the north, but it is a real pleasure today to speak about the actual north. That said, We, the North.
I am thankful for this opportunity to speak once again before the House on Bill C-88.
To begin, I want to acknowledge that we meet here today on the traditional territory of the Algonquin people.
I am appearing before this House on behalf of my hon. colleague, the Minister of Intergovernmental and Northern Affairs and Internal Trade. Our thoughts and well wishes are with him during this difficult time. I know we all wish him a speedy recovery and look forward to having him back in the role that he did so well, advocating for northerners and northern issues.
Bill C-88 proposes to amend both the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act and the Canada Petroleum Resources Act.
In terms of the MVRMA, the bill was focused on repealing the previous government's decision, through Bill C-15, to arbitrarily merge four land and water boards in the Mackenzie Valley into one superboard. This decision violated constitutionally protected indigenous land claim and self-government agreements. The bill also seeks to reintroduce a number of positive changes introduced by the previous government through Bill C-15, which have not been implemented because of a court-imposed injunction focused on stopping the imposition of this so-called superboard.
The MVRMA includes four land and water boards in the Mackenzie Valley, which are central to comprehensive land claim and self-government agreements of several local indigenous governments and organizations. It creates an integrated co-management regime for lands and waters in the Mackenzie Valley and provides legal certainty for resource development investors in the area.
As this House will recall, Bill C-15 was passed by the previous government in 2014. Among other changes, it merged the Mackenzie Valley land and water boards into one single entity. The legislation was immediately challenged in court, alleging among other things that it violated indigenous land claim and self-government agreements.
In early 2015, the Supreme Court of the Northwest Territories granted an injunction that suspended the proposed board restructuring, along with other positive regulatory amendments included in Bill C-15. Rather than improving the regulatory process for the Mackenzie Valley and enhancing legal certainty for proponents and investors, among others, the previous government's approach landed these MVRMA regulatory reforms in Bill C-15 into court.
Our government believes that a sustainably developed resource sector is essential to the success of the Canadian economy and, if we get it right, will serve as an important foundation and example for future economic and job growth. Unlocking this economic potential must be contingent on environmental sustainability and on impacted indigenous communities being engaged as equal partners. The current situation is untenable as it creates legal uncertainty, and the positive regulatory changes are now tied up in court.
In November 2015, discussions with indigenous organizations and governments in the Northwest Territories began about the government moving forward with legislative amendments to resolve this matter. Bill C-88 has been developed through consultation with indigenous governments and organizations, most notably the Government of the Northwest Territories, industry and resource co-management boards. This bill will resolve the litigation regarding the restructuring of the boards and reintroduces the positive policy elements of Bill C-15 that are currently prevented from coming into force by the said injunction. It will re-establish trust with indigenous partners in the Northwest Territories, respect their constitutionally protected land claim and self-government agreements and restore legal certainty for responsible resource development.
As David Wright, legal council for the Gwich'in Tribal Council, stated before the indigenous and northern affairs committee:
[T]he consultation process on Bill C-88 has actually helped restore some of the trust between Canada and the [Gwich'in Tribal Council]. That trust would be eroded by any further delay, or at worst, failure to pass this bill in a timely manner.
The Tlicho government and the Government of the Northwest Territories have also clearly expressed their support for the passage of this bill, stating that the negative implications of the status quo are significant.
In terms of the CPRA, Bill C-88 proposes to provide new criteria for the Governor in Council to prohibit existing exploration licence-holders and significant discovery licence-holders from carrying out any oil and gas activities in the case of the national interest. It would also freeze the terms of the existing licences in the Arctic offshore for the duration of any such prohibition. This is exceedingly important for industry.
The term “national interest” refers to a country's national goals and ambitions, whether economic, military or cultural, and it is not a new legislative concept. There are numerous references to the national interest in Canadian legislation and specifically in this case in northern legislation. For example, the term appears in section 51 of the Yukon Act and in section 57 of the Northwest Territories Act. The decision to move forward with a moratorium on new Arctic offshore oil and gas licences in federal waters was a risk-based decision in light of the potential devastating effects of a spill and limited current science about drilling in that area.
It is important to remember that at that time there was no active drilling occurring in the Beaufort Sea and no realistic plans to initiate drilling in the short or medium term. It was announced in conjunction with a five-year science-based review as well as a consultation on the details of that review. Territories, indigenous and northern communities, our partners in the science-based review process and others, including industry, are being actively consulted. The outcome of the review process will inform next steps in the Arctic offshore.
Freezing the terms of the impacted existing licences in the Arctic offshore was a key priority expressed by industry. We heard that in our discussions regarding the implementation of the moratorium. The proposed amendments to both the MVRMA and the CPRA are essential to ensuring the responsible, sustainable and fair development regime in the Northwest Territories and the Arctic. That is why I urge this House to pass Bill C-88. I look forward to questions from the members.