Mr. Speaker, it is great to rise today to talk about Bill C-17. I apologize if I am a little groggy. I have not been to sleep since Saturday night. It has taken me since 4:30 p.m. yesterday to get here, with my three plane flights. However, we will go ahead.
It is seldom that we have a bill before Parliament with respect to only one riding. Therefore, I appreciate having Bill C-17 on the agenda. I appreciate that many members in the House, maybe all of them except the minister and parliamentary secretary, may know very little about this bill because it relates to just one riding. That is totally understandable. Therefore, I will try to explain it to make it clear to members what they will be voting on.
The bill removes four issues that were put into place through Bill S-6 in a totally inappropriate process. The four issues are timelines, reassessment of ongoing projects, ministerial policy direction, and a delegation to the Yukon government of that authority. Although first nations negotiated all of the other changes, they were not offered the opportunity to negotiate these four matters. Therefore, for the other 336 members who do not live in Yukon, I will try to put this bill into context.
On February 14, 1973, the chiefs of Yukon went to Ottawa and presented Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau with a paper entitled “Together Today for our Children Tomorrow”, which started the land claim and self-government process in Yukon. Negotiations went on for 20 years, until the modern treaty, the Umbrella Final Agreement, was signed on May 29, 1993 by the three orders of government: federal, territorial, and first nations. The UFA is constitutionally protected, so not even we, as legislators, can change it. It is truly a collaborative, negotiated effort, which is now sometimes used across Canada and around the world. However, we must remember that it took 20 years.
Part of that treaty prescribed the development of YESAA, the Yukon Environmental Socio-economic Assessment Act, again a unique Yukon creation and model, our own assessment act. Unlike most of the rest of the country, we do not fall under CEAA. However, it deals with assessments on the lands of all the governments: the first nations governments, the Yukon government, and the federal government. Creating YESAA was a negotiation exercise by the three partner governments. It took 10 years. YESAA was passed in 2003, and so far so good.
YESAA had a built-in five-year review. That review took five years, from 2008 to 2012. A five-year review is not supposed to take five years. It not only happened after five years, but it also took five years. However, there was a lot of hard work that took place in those five years. There were 72 recommendations agreed to by the three levels of government after all of that work. These were implemented either in Bill S-6, or administratively. Once again, so far so good.
However, at the eleventh hour, near the end of the five years of negotiation, the federal government said it was adding four new major clauses to Bill S-6, and it was not negotiating them. After 20 years of the three partners working together on the UFA, and 10 years working together on the YESAA legislation, would members not be outraged if one of their partners said they were adding four new major clauses and that they could not negotiate them? It is probably not in the letter of the law, and certainly not in the spirit of the law. If we have an illegal law, or a law created in contravention of the treaty, then it does not matter what is in it, it has to go.
We are now in a whole new era of partnerships and collaboration with indigenous people and first nations governments. Often, industry has led the way in making partnerships with first nations people. Therefore, I want to go on to talk about some of the elements that people have raised in the debate so far.
One of the elements was that it is very important for mining. The Conservatives made a good point about how important mining is to the economy of Yukon. It has been the biggest producer of our GDP since the gold rush. That is a very important point. That is exactly what this bill is supposed to do, help that along and add the certainty needed to go ahead.
I am going to quote a couple of speeches and letters. Paul West-Sells, the president of Casino Mining Corporation, one of the biggest in the world and a world-class mine, said:
On behalf of Casino Mining Corporation (Casino), I am putting forward our company's concerns regarding the fragility of intergovernmental relations in the Yukon surrounding Bill S-6 and the negative impact this is having on the territory's mineral industry.
He went on to say:
Casino believes that if YESAA has the full support of all levels of government, it will provide greater certainty for the mineral industry.
This is exactly what the Conservatives were saying, so it is great that they are supporting this.
To this end, we encourage Canada, Yukon, and Yukon First Nation governments to engage, work collaboratively and find a solution to address the outstanding issues within Bill S-6.
That is exactly what Bill C-17 does.
Another speech was made at committee by Ms. Allison Rippin Armstrong, vice-president, lands and environment of Kaminak Gold Corporation, which has a good chance of being the next mine to open in Yukon. She said:
Kaminak is concerned that the process through which YESAA is being amended is creating increased distrust between governments and uncertainty in the assessment of regulatory process for current and future projects in Yukon.
As the Conservatives have so rightly said, it is exactly that uncertainty that this mining vice-president is talking about that we want to fix. She went on to say:
Our Coffee gold project is yet to enter the YESAA process. If Bill S-6 is passed and challenged in court, the Coffee gold project and our presence in the Yukon is uncertain. Kaminak urges the federal government to resume discussions with the first nations to work collectively toward reaching consensus on the proposed amendments to YESAA and avoid a court challenge.
Again, that is exactly what the bill does. It is what everyone is asking for.
I want to go on quote from a letter, once again in light of the Conservatives' emphasis on mining letter. All these documents I am quoting from are much longer and emphasize the situation, but we would not have time to go through them all.
This letter is signed by Sandy Silver, the Premier of Yukon. As the Conservatives and the NDP have said, it is important that decisions are made by Yukoners. This is signed by the Premier of Yukon; Peter Johnston, grand chief; and Mike Burke, president of Yukon Chamber of Mines. Once again, it is important for mining to get that certainty back. It says:
Repeal of these amendments and addressing industry concerns through collaborative framework is critical to re-establishing confidence in the development assessment process in Yukon and to honouring the intent of Final and Self-Government Agreements.
We were pleased to see Bill C-17, which removes these contentious clauses, introduced in the House of Commons on June 8, 2016.
[...] The Government of Yukon, self-governing Yukon First Nations, Council of Yukon First Nations and Yukon Chamber of Mines look forward to seeing Bill C-17 passed, without change, as soon as possible.
Before I go on to some of the other points that have been made in this debate, I want to mention that the honour of the crown is incumbent not only on the federal government, but also on the territorial governments.
As recently as March 22, and this is mostly to make sure that the lawyers in the various government departments and the House of Commons are aware of this, during the Supreme Court appeal hearing, Justice Rosalie Silberman Abella discussed the responsibilities of Yukon government in relation to first nation states, particularly the Yukon government, to whom the honour of the crown attaches.
It was 18 years earlier, in 1999, Justice Vertes' ruling in 1999, Supreme Court of the Northwest Territories, in the case of Donald Morin v. Anne Crawford, reflected on the constitutional status of the territories which had direct relevance to their function as the crown.
I do not expect anyone in the House to understand this complex legislation, because it only applies to Yukon, and it was a treaty between three governments there. That is why I am trying to explain some of the facets of this.
First of all, there was the comment that the people of Yukon should decide. That is exactly what this bill would do. What happened is that Bill S-6 came forward with the four clauses being thrown in at the end. As I said, it was great in the sense that 72 things got approved, either administratively or in Bill S-6, 72 things that the three governments negotiated and agreed on. However, the four things thrown in at the end really aggravated the people of Yukon. They did not like them being imposed, without being able to negotiate. Two large town hall meetings, with around 100 people each, spontaneously occurred. People were enraged about this imposition by the federal government, and rightly so.
Let us remember the 20 years of negotiation for the constitutionally protected treaty, the 10 years of negotiation for the YESAA legislation, and the five years of the five-year review. Obviously people were outraged when, all of a sudden, four items were added to their environmental legislation, by Ottawa, without allowing them to negotiate, as they had with everything else.
Another item that was raised, and it was a very good point, by the Conservatives is about northern strategy. As I responded to that, it is being developed right at the moment and, once again, by Yukoners from the bottom up. The chiefs, the premiers, and the people who live in Yukon will put their input into this northern Arctic policy framework. We really look forward to seeing this, in these days and times.
I can say that my view of the strategy for the north is that it first has to start with the people of the north. There will be great sovereignty and great success in the north if we focus on the people.
Another item I want to talk about that was raised is the reassessments. When a project needs to change, expand, or do something else, in the old days there was a reassessment that had to occur at the exact time that the next permit came due. Permits are what trigger assessments in this particular act, permits by various orders of government. Some people were concerned about that. It was mentioned in debate.
As I outlined, this system has been changed, through the recent amendments that have been made, and as I said, of the 72 some were policy and some were legislative. Now the assessments that YESAA can do are not limited to the next trigger, let us say the five years when the next water licence or mining permit is due. The assessment is not limited to that time frame. The assessment can be for as long as the assessment board and the proponent think is reasonable, a time that fits with the project. Therefore, reassessments would not be due in those particular time frames, as was talked about earlier.
The other aspect is this. Let us say that a project has gone on for 10 or 20 years, and the permits are expired; water permits, assessments, everything has expired. That does not mean things are going to be exactly the same. There is a number of things that have changed: the climate, patterns of wildlife, the amount of wildlife affected by the road, and the air and water affected by the tailings. Even though nothing is new in the particular production, there could easily be things that have to be changed.
The present system where that can be decided between the board and the deciding bodies makes a lot of sense, and that those assessments are only done when required.
We talked about barriers to mining, barriers to investments, disincentives to investment, and as I said earlier, that is a very important point raised by the Conservatives because that is exactly what this bill would do. It would remove those barriers, the ones that have been holding assessments in limbo. I will explain a little later about how that happens through this bill, and how this would clear it up. The minister talked about some of that in her speech.
I want to talk about the barriers that would leave it in limbo. Unique in the country is this partnership of the three governments that signed the treaty. The three governments all have particular roles to play in the assessment. If we were to change it and totally aggravate one of the parties, these changes are likely illegal but are certainly not in the spirit of the treaty. There would be huge uncertainty in the assessment process.
We first have to realize who will be on the board. The board is made up of the three parties. If one of the parties to the board makes these decisions, obviously there will be a problem. As the NDP also said, there are section 35 constitutional rights, which is, once again, why we have to have the first nations onside. They each have settlement land, over which they have total control and make decisions in light of what YESAA recommends. The way the UFA works, the entire Yukon is divided into all 14 first nations' traditional land. They have certain influence and say about their traditional land as part of the treaty, which included the huge quantities of land they gave up.
With these three huge types of influence in the process, if we make them furious by circumventing them and not acting in the honour of the crown or in good faith in the negotiations, obviously there is going to be huge uncertainty in getting environmental assessments done. That is why we have the letters from mining and from the Chamber of Mines, because they want to negotiate things correctly in the future and have a partnership. As I said earlier, there are some great partnerships between first nations and mines in the Yukon, and they are leading the way.
The last item I want to talk about is the timelines. Once again, it would be hard for people who do not come from the riding to understand how this works. It looks as if we are getting rid of all timelines, and that is not true. The timelines are set out in the regulations as a matter of policy and, as we know, there is a process regulations have to go through. If it were the riding of other members, would they not want something sent by the economic experts, environmental experts, first nation experts, and Yukon government experts, as opposed to it being imposed by Ottawa? That is exactly how it works. It is the same as the executive board decisions being made by the rules of the YESAB. Therefore, the timelines are there.
Finally, as was said a couple of times, even without timelines, the YESAB has a great record and was making decisions in less than the timelines, almost all of the time, anyway. In a way, it was a solution to something that was not a problem.
Let us have a new beginning. Let us have negotiations, which may be tough, but will include the three legal signatories to the treaty, with the federal government, the first nations government, the Yukon government, and industry now all onside working collaboratively. Hopefully all of us, as parliamentarians, will join this partnership, put this quickly behind us, and get on with building a fair and prosperous country for us all.