Evidence of meeting #15 for Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was land.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Paula Isaak  Director General, Natural Resources and Environment Branch, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development
  • Stephen Gagnon  Director General, Implementation Branch, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development
  • Andrew Beynon  Director General, Community Opportunities Branch, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development
  • Kris Johnson  Senior Director, Lands Modernization, Community Opportunities Branch, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development
  • Margaret Buist  Director General, Lands and Environmental Management, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Chris Warkentin

We will call this meeting to order. We're a little lopsided in terms the number of our colleagues here, but I think we'll proceed with the briefing.

This is the 15th meeting of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development. Today we again have departmental witnesses here to talk about the land management boards and land-use planning, specifically as it relates to modern treaties.

Today we have Stephen Gagnon and Paula Isaak. Thank you for coming back. I'm sure you'll be hearing from us in the next number of months.

We'll turn it over to you and, of course, we'll have questions to follow. Thank you.

11:05 a.m.

Paula Isaak Director General, Natural Resources and Environment Branch, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Thank you, Mr. Chair, and good morning.

As you mentioned, I'm accompanied by my colleague, Stephen Gagnon, the director general of our claims implementation branch. I'm the director general of natural resources and environment in our northern affairs organization.

I would like to thank the committee for this opportunity to speak about land management regimes in the north. Today I will focus my remarks primarily on the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, as land management and land-use planning were devolved to the Yukon government in 2003.

We have made significant progress in concluding land claim agreements throughout the north, and we are working together with territorial and aboriginal governments to implement these agreements. Implementing our northern land claim agreements requires a long-term commitment to working with the agreed institutions of public government or co-management boards, enacting necessary legislation and respecting the new relationship created through the agreements. Successful implementation of the agreements will produce positive and beneficial results for aboriginal people, northerners, and all Canadians.

Northern land claim agreements, which have been negotiated by Canada, recognize the traditional economic and spiritual relationship between aboriginal people and the land. They provide measures through which the parties to these agreements achieve certainty with respect to the ownership and use of lands and other resources. The agreements also define processes to ensure aboriginal people participate in decision-making concerning the use, management, and conservation of land, water, and resources throughout their traditional territories.

In Canada's north, the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act, the Territorial Lands Act, and provisions in the various land claim agreements establish the framework for land management in the NWT and Nunavut. Northern land claim agreements and their supporting legislation establish integrated co-management systems to manage public and private lands and waters. Co-management boards are responsible for developing land use plans and reviewing development proposals, and some also have the responsibility to issue certain land and water authorizations.

In the NWT, there are Mackenzie Valley-wide boards as well as regional boards for each settlement region that address their issues. Valley-wide boards include the Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board, the Mackenzie Valley Environmental Impact Review Board, and the NWT Water Board. There are five regional boards: the Gwich'in Land and Water Board, the Sahtu Land and Water Board, the Gwich'in Land Use Planning Board, the Sahtu Land Use Planning Board, and the Wek'eezhii Land and Water Board.

The Inuvialuit Settlement Region is managed under a separate regime with two additional boards: the Environmental Impact Screening Committee and the Environmental Impact Review Board, which conduct environmental assessments and activities in that region.

In Nunavut there are three territory-wide boards, namely the Nunavut Impact Review Board, the Nunavut Planning Commission, and the Nunavut Water Board, which have a role in land and water management and land-use planning throughout the Nunavut Settlement Area.

Combined, the north's regulatory regimes are designed to promote responsible environmental management and to balance industry's needs for investment certainty and predictability with the rights of aboriginal groups to make decisions that affect their lands and interests.

Over the years, there have been a number of reviews and reports about the northern regulatory regimes that looked particularly at the effectiveness of the regulation of land and water in the NWT. Criticism centred mostly on process issues and highlighted that existing processes were lengthy and unpredictable and that legislation and regulations were incomplete or inconsistent, pointing to a need for increased federal leadership.

In response, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada initiated the northern regulatory improvement initiative in 2005 to focus on key changes to areas of federal responsibility. In May 2010, the government announced the action plan to improve northern regulatory regimes with three objectives: providing more efficient and effective processes through legislative and regulatory change, enhancing environmental monitoring through implementation of the NWT cumulative impact monitoring program and the Nunavut general monitoring program, and reflecting a strong aboriginal voice.

Since the announcement, development of new legislation is well advanced. The minister of AANDC is looking to introduce the proposed Nunavut Planning and Project Assessment Act as soon as possible, and is targeting 2012 for introduction of the NWT Surface Rights Board Act. Work on amendments to the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act is also well under way. We anticipate that amendments to a number of other regulations should be completed by the fall of 2012. We have also designed, developed, and are now implementing the NWT cumulative impact monitoring program and the Nunavut general monitoring program. Significant stakeholder engagement is ongoing in all these initiatives.

Experience in the north and elsewhere shows that environmental management and regulatory processes are enhanced by sound planning. Land-use planning processes guide decision-making related to the conservation, development, and management of land, water, and natural resources. Operating at a regional scale, land use plans define where resource developments may take place and under what conditions.

Using a conformity determination approach, land use plans establish regional zones and broad criteria to evaluate and screen project proposals before they proceed to environmental assessments or regulatory permitting. Generally speaking, zoning provisions identify areas that are well suited for industrial development; areas that can support industrial development while respecting some cultural or ecological restrictions; and areas where, for established cultural or ecological reasons, development should be prohibited.

To conform with screening requirements identified in the land use plan, a project proposal would have to demonstrate that it is located in a suitable area and that mitigation measures for environmental management have been adequately considered. Once a proposed project is deemed to have conformed with the land use plan, the application would proceed to the environmental assessment and regulatory permitting phases to sequentially identify and confirm the more detailed environmental mitigation and management measures.

Effective land use plans are expected to appropriately balance environmental protection, promote social and cultural values, and maintain opportunities for economic development.

Within the NWT and Nunavut, four regional planning processes are currently under way. The Gwich'in plan, the only approved plan in place to date, is undergoing a five-year review, which is expected to be submitted to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development by the board very soon. The Sahtu plan is in it's third draft. The board is currently considering comments from parties to the plan, and a final draft is expected in the spring of 2012. For the Dehcho region, an interim Dehcho plan is currently being discussed as well.

In Nunavut, approved regional plans are in place for the North Baffin and Kivalliq regions. A draft plan is in place for the West Kitikmeot. Planning work has been completed in the South Baffin region. This work is currently being updated for incorporation with a territorial-wide Nunavut land use plan, which is currently under development.

Consistent with co-management, land use plans require approval by federal, territorial, and aboriginal parties. Once implemented, these plans play a valuable role in development of effective, predictable, and clear regulatory regimes. From a land management perspective, the Government of Canada considers land-use planning an important tool for balancing investment and development opportunities with environmental stewardship and community aspirations.

We continue to build on our successes and learn from our experiences to improve our performance. The investments we are making will help ensure that the regulatory systems in Canada's north work in a more timely and efficient manner to allow for sustainable resource development that is balanced with environmental protection. Through the advancement and the predictability and certainty of the regulatory processes, these investments respond to industry needs, as well as show an ongoing commitment for comprehensive land claim agreements and high environmental standards.

I thank you very much for this time to present our work, and I welcome any questions you may have.

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Chris Warkentin

Thank you very much.

Ms. Duncan, for seven minutes.

11:10 a.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan Edmonton—Strathcona, AB

Mr. Bevington is going to lead on this.

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Chris Warkentin

Mr. Bevington, for seven minutes.

11:10 a.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington Western Arctic, NT

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

And welcome to the witnesses.

Some of the material that you provided us with here today is very interesting, with the different acts that you're proposing to bring forward.

How much consultation has been done with first nations and the NWT/Nunavut government on these acts that you're proposing to bring out in the spring of 2012 or the fall of 2012?

11:10 a.m.

Director General, Natural Resources and Environment Branch, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Paula Isaak

Consultation has been ongoing on all the pieces of legislation. The NPPA Act that I referred to in NPPA has had a number of years of consultations with NTI, the Government of Nunavut, the Nunavut Planning Commission, and the Nunavut Impact Review Board. The consultations have been extensive and over a number of years.

Consultations are currently under way on the NWT Surface Rights Board Act. They're in the second round of consultations on that proposed act.

11:10 a.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington Western Arctic, NT

Can you provide some details to us on this Surface Rights Board Act. If it's coming out in the spring of 2012, can you provide some details as to the major thrust of it?

11:10 a.m.

Director General, Natural Resources and Environment Branch, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Paula Isaak

The NWT Surface Rights Board Act is the last piece of legislation to be created in the NWT. There are surface rights board acts in both Nunavut and Yukon, which provide a forum for the management of access disputes between a developer and landowner, for example. Should there be a dispute, it provides the legislative framework through which access discussions can occur, so that the landowner—

11:15 a.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington Western Arctic, NT

Is it the final arbitrator of the dispute?

11:15 a.m.

Director General, Natural Resources and Environment Branch, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Paula Isaak

I'd have to get back to you on all the details of the act. I'm sorry, I don't have all the details of the act in front of me.

11:15 a.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington Western Arctic, NT

This act is going ahead in the spring of 2012?

11:15 a.m.

Director General, Natural Resources and Environment Branch, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Paula Isaak

That's the target. The work is well under way.

11:15 a.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington Western Arctic, NT

And you don't know whether it's the final arbitrator?

11:15 a.m.

Director General, Natural Resources and Environment Branch, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Paula Isaak

I'm not an expert in that particular act, but I'd be happy to get more information for you.