Good morning, Mr. Chair, members of the committee and fellow panellists.
I'd like to start by acknowledging that I'm participating from Ottawa, which is traditional Algonquin territory. Kara is participating from Edmonton, which is Treaty 6 territory and the homeland of the Métis people.
Thank you very much for the invitation to be here today to share our members' views on Bill C-15.
MAC members have a strong record of establishing respectful and mutually beneficial relationships with Inuit, Métis and first nations peoples. Our members are among the largest industrial employers of indigenous peoples in Canada and a major customer of indigenous-owned businesses. Across the country, there are examples of partnerships between mining companies and communities that are advancing reconciliation and contributing to the implementation of the UN declaration.
As an association, we looked to the UN declaration and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for guidance when we were drafting our recently updated indigenous and community relationships protocol as part of our sustainability initiative, “Towards Sustainable Mining”. We established a good practice level that includes a commitment to aim to achieve free, prior and informed consent for new projects or expansions where impacts to rights may occur. This is among many other criteria in the standard designed to facilitate strong relationships through effective engagement and decision-making processes.
We are supportive of the objective of incrementally and thoughtfully implementing the UN declaration through collaboration. We see potential for Bill C-15 to improve relations between the Crown and indigenous peoples and to help advance reconciliation, but this will require additional clarity on certain key issues, effective implementation and adequate resourcing.
Our understanding of Bill C-15 is that it is enabling legislation that will require the federal government to work with indigenous peoples to co-develop an action plan to ensure that the progress made to date continues. It acknowledges that the declaration is already used as an interpretive tool but that it is not meant to give the declaration direct, legal effect in Canada.
We raise our interpretation of the bill today because we recognize that there are differing views as to the purpose of this bill, and this growing spectrum of interpretations is creating confusion about what this bill means and what it is intended to do. We are concerned that, in the absence of a common understanding of the intent of the legislation, there will be unintended consequences, including unmet expectations, legal challenges and increased uncertainty, all of which impact the viability of natural resource projects and their associated benefits to indigenous individuals, communities and businesses.
To help avoid expectations diverging further, the federal government must be transparent with how it interprets the declaration and what obligations it sees arising from Bill C-15. This includes enhancing communications on the bill’s intent in Parliament with indigenous peoples, provincial governments, other Canadians and the investment community.
Clarity on the federal government’s approach to free, prior and informed consent and its relationship to existing duty to consult obligations is particularly important. There have been recent statements from the Minister of Justice and others explaining what FPIC means in principle and notably that FPIC does not grant a veto over government decision-making.
We believe there is an urgent need for further clarity on process, beyond whether FPIC equates to a veto. In particular, this includes the circumstances that give rise to the obligation to consult and, in some cases, to seek consent and the specific processes for each; the government’s approach when efforts to obtain consent have been unsuccessful or when consent is provided by some affected indigenous communities but not all; and whether existing indigenous engagement processes may change and the specific changes being contemplated.
While we recognize that, to some extent, government decisions will be made on a case-by-case basis by considering issues such as strength of claim, impacts on rights and overall project benefits, the current lack of clarity does create uncertainty for investment, and these issues need to be clarified before the legislation is passed.
In our submission we recommended that guidance, policies and training be enhanced to ensure that federal officials are able to effectively engage in relationship building and consultation with indigenous communities. The current “Aboriginal Consultation and Accommodation: Updated Guidelines for Federal Officials to Fulfill the Duty to Consult” are extremely outdated.
In addition to updating these guidelines, there are other practical steps that can be taken now to help ensure there is consistency across the federal government, including issuing a directive to federal officials informing them of the government’s interpretation of FPIC and the intent of Bill C-15. This should be done now to ensure there is no confusion at the working level about what Bill C-15 means.
Additional steps include incorporating the government's interpretation of FPIC and the bill into guidance training and policies; implementing oversight mechanisms to ensure that guidance and policies are consistently followed; and committing resources for ongoing training initiatives to respond to high turnover in key federal roles. This cannot be deferred any further. This guidance is needed now.
In looking ahead to the action plan, it will be critical that the process to develop this plan be transparent and well defined, given the wide spectrum of expectations with respect to this bill and the range of outcomes that are possible. This includes establishing a meaningful consultation plan, determining how actions will be identified and prioritized, and ensuring that the required resources are in place.
We respect and support the intent for the action plan to be co-developed with indigenous peoples, and we have asked to be engaged in the development and implementation of the action plan on any elements that may impact our sector.
With that, Mr. Chair, thank you again for the invitation to present today.
We look forward to the committee's questions.