Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise in the House to speak to Bill C-88, an act to amend the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act and the Canada Petroleum Resources Act and to make consequential amendments to other acts.
Normally, I am even more pleased to rise in the House, but I want to point out that we are here sitting late in the session. At 10:15 in the evening, I am sure most other people are watching the Raptors game.
I want to point out that the Liberal government is rushing through a lot of legislation at the last minute. We have seen a bill today that was just introduced two weeks ago and that the government is moving closure on. The Liberals have moved closure on this bill in a big rush. They have woken up like a teenager at school and realized that the end of the session is upon them and they have not finished any of their assignments.
I am happy to be here and debate this legislation. I do not have any family or a spouse who would be an issue. However, a lot of members do have young families or spouses. We talk about this being a family-friendly Parliament. A lot of rhetoric often goes on by members on the other side, but we can see that the Liberals are using their powers as government to drive an agenda that is not family-friendly.
I would be remiss, as the shadow health minister, if I did not point out that these late sessions that go until midnight are not good from a sleep perspective. There are a number of more aged members of Parliament. It is not good for them either.
While it is worthwhile debating Bill C-88, the government should have done more careful planning so as to avoid coming to the end of the session and realizing that none of its legislation was passed.
I do not want to be accused of not being relevant tonight, so I will tell the House in advance what I am going to speak about so members will understand where I am going with this whole thing.
First, I am going to talk about what the bill would do and what it proposes to do, and then I will discuss my concerns about the bill. Then, I want to talk a bit about how the bill aligns overall to indigenous reconciliation in Canada, which is on the minds of all Canadians and I am sure is important.
Then, I will speak a bit about how the bill aligns to natural resource sector development. The natural resource sector is a huge part of Canada's GDP and our economic growth. It is an important industry, so every time we make a change to something that will impact that industry, it is important to look at how it will align to the overall plan. We have a strategy for the north. It is important to look at this bill and how it will align to our northern strategy. Does it fit in? Are there any concerns there?
The bill actually has three parts. The first part would amend the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act, from 1998, to reverse provisions that would have consolidated the Mackenzie Valley land and water boards into one.
These provisions were introduced by the former Conservative government within Bill C-15, the Northwest Territories Devolution Act. By way of history, we know that a major component of Bill C-15, where this originated, was the restructuring of the four land and water boards from the Mackenzie Valley into one. Following its passage in 2014, the Tlicho government and the Sahtu Secretariat filed lawsuits against Canada, arguing that the restructuring violated their land claim agreements.
In February 2015, the Northwest Territories Supreme Court issued an injunction preventing the board restructuring provisions from coming into force until a decision on the case was issued. The Liberals paused that legal battle shortly after forming government, and it remains an unresolved issue.
To try to consolidate the land and water boards into one seems to be, in my view, an efficiency, but again, it is important to consult and understand what the people who have the land claims are thinking.
For the government to leave it so late in the session, when there is a lawsuit that pertains to this, is troubling. When we rise from this Parliament, there will be an election, and whatever government is elected will not be able to get back to this matter in a timely way. That is unfortunate.
The second part of the bill would amend the Canada Petroleum Resources Act to allow the Governor in Council to issue orders, when in the national interest, to prohibit oil and gas activities, and it would freeze the terms of existing licences to prevent them from expiring during a moratorium. There are a lot of vague terms there. What is the national interest? How is that determined, and who determines that? I assume it is the Liberal cabinet, and I am not sure it would be necessarily unbiased in its definition. What are oil and gas activities? There is a bit of vagueness in the second part of the bill.
The third part of the bill, as we heard earlier, talks about the regulatory items that were brought forward from the previous Conservative bill, which I have heard members on the opposite side say were actually good. It is not surprising, because the Conservative government has, in the past, done a very good job with respect to regulations that have brought us forward in terms of emission reductions and a number of other items. I do not have much objection to the regulatory items. I agree the Conservative government brought them forward, and they are fine as they are.
Let me go to concerns about the bill. In addition to the litigation cycle that is hanging over this bill, I am concerned with the number of powers the government would have to politically interfere in the development of our natural resources as a result of this bill. We have seen lots of political interference by the government.
Today, I participated in a debate on Bill C-101, a bill about the government politically interfering in the steel market. We have the USMCA agreement with the U.S. and, as members know, there were tariffs on steel for nearly a year that were very punishing to our businesses. In order to get rid of those tariffs, the Liberal government traded away our ability to strategically put tariffs in place on the U.S., which, ironically, is how we got rid of the tariffs on steel in the first place.
It is troubling to me, having the knowledge that the U.S. may again put tariffs on steel, which it is not prohibited from doing under the agreement that has been signed, that the government would immediately virtue-signal to the steel industry that it is doing something. It came forward with a bill two weeks ago, with the dying days of Parliament before us, trying to rush it through in order to make it seem as though it is doing something, when, in fact, it is trying to politically interfere in the free market for steel.
That is not the first time, as I mentioned. There is a pattern of behaviour that I want to talk a bit about. We saw with Bill C-69, the no-more-pipelines bill, that this bill would hugely interfere in projects that are proposed to be built in Canada. It would give the environment minister powers to, for any reason, at any time, reset the process and start the clock again, to veto the process. That is a huge amount of power, and it causes great uncertainty. Those looking to invest and do large projects in Canada are not going to want to invest billions of dollars, knowing that at the whim of the environment minister, projects may die on the vine.
I will talk a bit about the reason the government brings these bills forward and the reaction in the indigenous community. Part of the bill would allow the government to put a moratorium on oil and gas development. I heard in some of the speeches earlier the comment that just before Christmas 2016, the Prime Minister travelled to Washington, D.C. to make an announcement with then U.S. president Barrack Obama, even though there had been no consultation with northerners, despite consistent rhetoric about consulting with Canada's indigenous peoples prior to decision-making. The Prime Minister's Office made this decision and, with 20 minutes' notice, elected leaders in Canada's north were made aware of the announcement. Some of the comments that followed from the community are probably worthy of note.
Wally Schumann, who is the Minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment and the Minister of Infrastructure for the Northwest Territories, said:
I guess we can be very frank because we're in front of the committee.
When it first came out, we never got very much notice on the whole issue of the moratorium and the potential that was in the Beaufort Sea. There were millions and millions, if not billions, of dollars in bid deposits and land leases up there. That took away any hope we had of developing the Beaufort Sea.
The mayor of Tuktoyaktuk, Merven Gruben, said:
I agree the Liberals should be helping us. They shut down our offshore gasification and put a moratorium right across the whole freaking Arctic without even consulting us. They never said a word to us.
The Hon. Jackie Jacobson stated:
It's so easy to sit down here and make judgments on people and lives that are 3,500 klicks away, and make decisions on our behalf, especially with that moratorium on the Beaufort. That should be taken away, lifted, please and thank you. That is going to open up and give jobs to our people—training and all the stuff we're wishing for.
Merven Gruben further said, “We're proud people who like to work for a living.” He spoke of the increasing reliance on social assistance.
Here again we see that the people who are living there are looking for that economic development they so badly need, but the current government, without any consultation whatsoever, shut it down and put a moratorium in place. Clearly, that is not acceptable.
The pattern of reversing what Conservatives have proposed or put in place is not new to this House. I would say that it has been done on a number of bills. I will pick a small sampling to back up the point.
We had a housing first program that was lifting people out of homelessness. Of the people on that program, 73% ended up going into stable housing. When the Liberal government came in, it decided it was going to have its national housing strategy, but instead of keeping something that was working, it tossed the baby out with the bathwater on that one.
I would say the same was true regarding a bill in the previous government, Bill C-24, which suggested that if people had become a Canadian citizen and gone off to fight against Canada, their citizenship would be revoked. We see that we are in a situation now with people who have been involved in terrorism trying to come back and the government is struggling to get the evidentiary proof to file charges. That would be another example.
One of the first bills the Liberals passed in this Parliament was to remove the financial transparency and accountability for the first nations people on the funding they receive.
Therefore, there is a previous pattern of behaviour of the Liberal government reversing things the Conservatives did when those things were not necessarily bad things.
With respect to the themes we are talking about today, I have expressed some concerns about the bill, but I want to talk about how this bill aligns to indigenous reconciliation, because there has been a lot of rhetoric in the current government about lining up to indigenous reconciliation and consulting with indigenous people. I would say that it is forever consulting but never listening.
If we think about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommendations, early in the mandate of the government it unanimously adopted all 94, and where has the action on those gone? Crickets.
We have seen the mess of the inquiry into murdered and missing aboriginal women has been, with the number of people who have resigned en route and the fact that many indigenous people feel they were not allowed to participate. Here we are four years down the road, with $98 million or something like that having been spent, and no action.
Many indigenous people felt the tanker ban, Bill C-48, would be bad for them, especially those who were trying to get the Eagle Spirit pipeline built. They were saying this was going to deprive them of an opportunity to have the kind of economic development they need, the same kind of economic opportunity that we see in Bill C-88, which the people there are looking for. Now we have this moratorium on the Beaufort Sea.
Another issue we need to consider when looking at Bill C-88 is how it fits into our northern strategy. If we think about the needs of people who are living in the north, we know there are a number of issues. We know that there is a food insecurity issue in the north. Will this help with that issue? When the government is depriving people of economic development, I am not sure that it is helping that situation.
In terms of the broadband problem, the government has had four years to address the issue. I know I have an inventor in my riding, and I put ideas forward to the innovation minister that for less than $20 million, I have somebody who knows how to put that kind of broadband Internet access across the north, with satellite balloons that are solar powered, incidentally, but to no avail.
The health care in the north has huge issues, from dental hygiene to tuberculosis and just even access to care. There are those things and the sovereignty issues. We have sovereignty in the north, but we have Russia and China really starting to pay a lot of attention to that area. We need to have a plan for how we are going to defend that area, along with the natural resources that are there and what we need to do to protect those. I do not see any plan or any discussion about how this fits into that northern strategy. I think that is something that needs to be looked at.
Another thing that is really affecting the northern area is climate change. We are seeing a thawing of the permafrost. As an engineer who used to work in construction, I am paying close attention to some of the horrendous things that are happening, in terms of roads that are developing huge crevices as the permafrost shifts and buildings that are collapsing after months of construction because the foundations are no longer solid. There really does not seem to be a strategy for how we are going to make sure that, in the north, we are setting them up for success, that we are protecting the assets that are in place. These are places where, if people cannot get to them, any hope of economic development would be lost. There is something to be done there.
Many times this week we have heard that the government has a tax plan, not a climate plan. This is just one more thing that I would add to what needs to be part of a comprehensive climate plan, how we are going to address the results that we see as the climate shifts.
As we look to this bill, in the dying days of the 42nd Parliament, it looks to me, again, like something that may not even make it through in the remaining days that we have, and it may not have a good chance of being implemented. Certainly, with all of the things the government promised to do but never did, I reflect on the 42nd Parliament and I think, “What did the government really do?” The Canada child benefit and the legalization of marijuana, I will give it those two. Other than that, I am not really sure what has been accomplished.
As we look to the summary of Bill C-88, we have talked about what the bill does, some of the concerns of the political interference that exists and how people are not being listened to in the north. People want this economic development, and the government now has the power to shut them down and is using that power.
I do not think the actions being taken by the government align well with the overall theme of indigenous reconciliation. I feel this will be more fanning of the flame, when people in the north want this economic development and the government is standing in the way or is interfering in the ability of the people to support themselves. That will not go over well.
I also think it is part of a bigger rhetoric on the natural resources sector. We know that the carbon tax has been a huge problem for small businesses. In my riding I have a lot of refineries. Now the government has exempted all the large emitters, 90%, from the carbon tax, but it has also put on a clean fuel tax, which is costing billions of dollars. One refinery in my riding has just gone up for sale, and another one has said that if it does not get an exemption from those clean fuel taxes, it may be unsustainable as well.
The government has a clean pattern of undermining the natural resources sector. We know that it has killed all kinds of natural resource projects: energy east, the northern gateway, the Petronas LNG and, of course, the Trans Mountain pipeline has gone absolutely nowhere.
Until the government can come with a clear message about the natural resources plan and support for that plan, and support for people in the north who want that economic development and are looking for the government to support them and not interfere, then I think that Bill C-88 is not going to go a long way in achieving what is hoped.