Mr. Speaker, I am happy to rise tonight to speak to Bill C-88, an act to amend the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act and the Canada Petroleum Resources Act.
As I said in my first speech on this bill, the overall position of the NDP is that northerners know best how to manage their own resources. We supported this bill at second reading and will support it again at the final vote, but we feel that there were some opportunities at committee to improve parts of it that were lost.
There is a lot of history to this bill and the measures taken over the years to bring more democracy to the north and to end the colonial style of government that has been in place since Confederation. It seems that with every step forward, there are a few steps back, and this bill is perhaps no exception.
This is a bit of an omnibus bill. It sets out to do two very different things. First, it would repeal parts of Bill C-15, the Northwest Territories Devolution Act, which was passed in the last parliament. Second, it would bring into force an announced moratorium on oil and gas exploration and development in offshore waters of the Canadian Arctic.
Bill C-15, passed in 2014, was also a bit of an omnibus bill in that it did two things. The bulk of that bill dealt with the devolution of powers from the federal government to the territorial government. The general public opinion in the north was that this was, as Martha Stewart would say, a good thing. However, the second part of Bill C-15 went back on that, eliminating four regional land and water boards and replacing them with a single superboard. The feeling was that this was not a good thing. Those four boards were originally created out of land claim agreements and negotiations with various first nations in the Mackenzie Valley area, and the new superboard significantly reduced the input those first nations would have on resource management decisions.
In passing, I will note that the previous Conservative government did similar things to the Yukon, so the present federal government had to remove contested reforms to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act litigated by Yukon first nations. This led to Bill C-17, which rescinded those contested reforms in 2017.
I will return to the Northwest Territories and a brief list of modern agreements and treaties. There are a few smaller ones I will not mention. The member for the Northwest Territories has told me that there are 10 more that are in the process of negotiation as well, but I will just mention four here.
First, the Inuvialuit agreement covers the northern part of the Mackenzie Delta, the Beaufort Sea and the Northwest Territories portion of the Arctic Archipelago. That region is outside the areas covered in the regional land and water boards covered in Bill C-88, but it does bear on the second part of the offshore and gas exploration part of this bill.
Second, the Gwich’in agreement covers the southern portion of the Mackenzie Delta and the northern part of the Mackenzie Mountains.
Third, the Sahtu Dene and Métis agreement covers the region around Great Bear Lake and the adjacent Mackenzie Mountains.
Fourth, the Tlicho Land Resources and Self-Government Agreement covers the area north of Great Slave Lake.
These agreements are modern-day treaties that create and confirm indigenous rights and are protected by section 35 of the Constitution. The Gwich'in, Sahtu and Tlicho agreements contain provisions for the creation of a system of co-management boards enacted by the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act. On each of these boards, there are four members and a chair. Two of the four members are nominated or appointed by the Gwich'in, Sahtu or Tlicho so that they have an equal partnership in those decisions.
In parts of the Northwest Territories where there is no settled land claim, the main board created by the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act, the Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board, is in operation. In the lnuvialuit Settlement Region, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency conducts environmental assessments.
This was all working well until the previous federal Conservative government came to power and was looking for ways to speed up resource development. It commissioned the McCrank report in 2007, which eventually put forward two options to streamline the assessment processes in the Northwest Territories, both of which would significantly affect the operations of the regional land and water boards. Option one was to eliminate the boards and replace them with a superboard. The McCrank report warned that this option would take a long time to implement, as it would necessitate renegotiation of the land claims affected and a lot more consultation on top of that. Option two would keep the boards but reduce their mandates. Again, there would be a lot of consultation needed but perhaps not a full renegotiation of the treaties.
In its habit of cutting corners and ignoring indigenous rights, the Harper government picked option one but dropped the pesky renegotiation and consultation requirement and then slipped that into Bill C-15, introduced in December 2013. Bill C-15 was primarily meant to implement the provisions in the Northwest Territories Lands and Resources Devolution Agreement. However, as I mentioned, it contained a kind of poison pill in the form of changes to the land and water co-management boards. The Harper bill eliminated the regional boards in favour of a single superboard consisting of ten members and a chair. These changes were widely and wildly unpopular in the Northwest Territories, and contrary to the wishes of northerners.
In committee, we heard from a number of witnesses about the negative effects of Bill C-15 and the legal battle it unleashed. I would like to quote, first, directly from the testimony of Chief Alfonz Nitsiza, of the Tlicho government. He testified:
The Wek'èezhii Land and Water Board [the Tlicho board] and other boards in the Northwest Territories would be replaced with a single super-board. Instead of appointing 50% of the board members, as our Tlicho agreement requires, the Tlicho Government would appoint only one out of 11 members on this super-board. The Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act amendments could allow decisions about Wek'èezhii to potentially be made by a panel of the super-board that could lack Tlicho Government appointees entirely. This was unacceptable to us. Tlicho were promised something different in their treaty from what was designed in the Northwest Territories Devolution Act. The treaty promise was broken with no good reason, so we went to the courts for justice.
The Tlicho Government immediately sought an injunction from the Supreme Court of the Northwest Territories. That injunction was granted. It prevents the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act amendments from coming into force, and remains in effect to this day. You should also know that the underlying lawsuit also remains active, pending the results of this legislative process. The injunction will remain in effect until either a new law is passed [this one] or our lawsuit regarding the Northwest Territories Devolution Act runs its course.
The Gwich'in representative at committee, David Wright, also mentioned the damage that even this temporary dissolution of regional boards would do to regulatory capacity in the Northwest Territories. He said:
The injunction says the Tlicho, in particular, because they were the primary litigant in that case, would suffer irreparable harm if those amendments were brought into force, because what it would mean is that the Tlicho, Sahtu and Gwich'in land and water boards would be dismantled. Picture staff being sent packing, corporate memory and resources and capacity being disbanded, and the single Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board being created.
The irreparable harm is at that institutional bureaucratic capacity level, and it would take a lot to get that engine going again if the court result was ultimately favourable and was in line with the findings of Justice Shaner, I believe, in the injunction case.
In other words, depending on what level of court this stopped at, if the result was, yes, indeed, this is an unconstitutional set of amendments that go against land claim agreements, then you would have to restart these boards years from now, which would just be lost time and waste and uncertainty.
We also heard from Bob Mcleod, the Premier of the Northwest Territories, regarding the need for the timely passage of Bill C-88. The premier said:
The Government of the Northwest Territories supports swift passage of Bill C-88. The implications of not proceeding with the bill within the lifetime of this government and retaining the status quo are significant. Amendments to the MVRMA have been on the books for five years, and we don't want any more uncertainty associated with our regulatory regime. Resource developers are contemplating investing in developing the Northwest Territories' rich natural resources, and everyone benefits from regulatory certainty.
Here we are with Bill C-88 before us. Part of this bill is what the Northwest Territories wants. It wants the devolution of powers. It wants to keep the regional boards.
However, there is a part 2. This is kind of a mini-omnibus bill. I will now go to the second part of Bill C-88, which deals with the Canada Petroleum Resources Act. This began in late 2016, when the Prime Minister was meeting with President Barack Obama and they both gave what was called the “United States-Canada Joint Arctic Leaders' Statement”.
In that statement, President Obama said that the U.S. was designating the vast majority of U.S. waters in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas as indefinitely off limits to offshore oil and gas leasing. At the same time, it seemed that Canada felt obliged to designate all Canadian waters as indefinitely off limits to future offshore Arctic oil and gas licensing, to be reviewed every five years through a climate and marine science-based life-cycle assessment. The Prime Minister made this decision without properly consulting any form of government in the north. He made a phone call to everybody 20 minutes before the fact. Northwest Territories Premier Bob Mcleod reacted by issuing a red alert, calling for an urgent national debate on the future of the Northwest Territories and saying that the Prime Minister's announcement was the re-emergence of colonialism.
A year later, in October 2017, I spoke to Duane Smith, the board chair of Inuvialuit Regional Corporation. This was at the Generation Energy Forum meetings in Winnipeg. A year later, he was still hopping mad and very concerned about this issue. In 2016, he stated, “There was a total lack of consultation prior to the imposition of the moratorium. This and the subsequent changes to key legislation impacting our marine areas are actions inconsistent with the way the Crown is required to engage with its Indigenous counterparts.”
These concerns were again heard loud and clear in committee testimony. Merven Gruben, the mayor of Tuktoyaktuk, said:
I just didn't want this to be seen again as another case of Ottawa throwing in this moratorium and showing us what to do—do as I say, you know. That's what I didn't like. I thought we were going to be...but there was no negotiation. You just do this. Ottawa says if you do this, you do that.
In response to the concerns of northerners, Canada began a consultation process and agreed in October 2018 to begin talks with the territorial governments and the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation to reach a co-management and revenue-sharing agreement. Meanwhile, the current oil and gas development moratorium remains in place to be reviewed in 2021.
I would like to comment briefly on the rushed timelines faced by this bill. Here we are in June 2019 debating a bill that everybody knew was coming before the election in 2015. Consultations began on the Mackenzie Valley part of this bill right after the election and if my understanding is correct, the consultations were largely finished by the summer of 2017, yet this bill was not tabled until just before Christmas. It sat in limbo for 18 months. I can speculate that maybe it was a decision to bring the oil and gas moratorium into the legislation that caused this delay because it needed more consultation, but whatever it was, here we are staring the end of this Parliament in the face and risking the untimely death of this bill in the Senate. When legislation is literally being forced upon us by the courts, it behooves the government to move quickly, and that would have been to keep the two issues separate so the Mackenzie Valley act could proceed first.
I will mention a couple of ways Bill C-88 could have been easily improved. New Democrats brought amendments forward in committee, but were unsuccessful. New Democrats are disappointed that the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is not mentioned at all in this bill, despite the fact that of all the bills before us in this Parliament, Bill C-88 seems to be the one most needing this reference. The bill deals specifically with resource development, precipitated by litigation put forth by indigenous peoples, pointing out, with good reason, that treaties have been broken, their views ignored and consultations not done.
The Liberal government supported the private member's bill of my colleague, the member for Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, on putting the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples into every appropriate legislation that the government produces, but there is no mention of that at all, nor the underlying concept of free, prior and informed consent in this bill. This was brought up in committee testimony as well.
In its brief, the Northwest Territories Chamber of Commerce argued that the final decision to prohibit certain works and activities in the national interest “needs to be approved by the Indigenous Nation of the prescribed area who are the stewards of the area but also rely on the land to provide economic independence” to their membership.
In its brief, the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation said:
Further, while the Oceans Act and CPRA include non-derogation clauses, the requirement to consult with those who hold rights in marine areas is not clearly articulated. It is important to note that the imposition of the Moratorium by the Prime Minister was done without consultation with any Inuvialuit in contravention of the IFA [Inuvialuit Final Agreement] and with the framework established and the promises made under the Northwest Territories Lands and Resources Devolution Agreement.
The IRC added:
The proposed Section 12(1) introduces “national interest” as a further basis for “freezing” licenses indefinitely. The national interest criterion is problematic as it elevates the national priorities of the day vis-à-vis Inuvialuit priorities within our traditional territory.
David Wright of the Gwich'in suggested that if it could not be inserted into this bill, reference to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples should at least be seriously considered when the Mackenzie Valley agreement itself is reviewed in the near future.
The second place that Bill C-88 could be improved is through a real commitment for intervenor funding in the review processes that the bill puts forward. While there is a separate funding source available for indigenous intervenor funding in the north, it is not enshrined in legislation and it is not available for non-indigenous groups.
Intervenor funding is included in Bill C-69 and it should be included in this bill as well. It is a critical part of any proper consultation.
To conclude, I will reiterate that the NDP will support the bill and hopes to see it move quickly to royal assent before Parliament is dissolved.