Evidence of meeting #3 for Subcommittee of the Standing Committee on Finance on Bill C-38 in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was environmental.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo  National Chief, Assembly of First Nations
  • Fred Denning  President, The British Columbia Coast Pilots Ltd.
  • David Schindler  Professor of Ecology, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Alberta, As an Individual
  • Terry Quinney  Provincial Manager, Fish and Wildlife Services, Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters
  • William Amos  Director, University of Ottawa - Ecojustice Environmental Law Clinic, Ecojustice Canada
  • Ron Bonnett  President, Canadian Federation of Agriculture
  • Kevin Obermeyer  President and CEO, Pacific Pilotage Authority
  • Scott Vaughan  Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, Office of the Auditor General of Canada
  • Clarence T. Jules  Chief Commissioner and Chief Executive Officer, First Nations Tax Commission

7:50 p.m.

Professor of Ecology, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Alberta, As an Individual

Dr. David Schindler

I would say if it were more specified, it would be a good thing.

7:50 p.m.

Conservative

Mike Allen Tobique—Mactaquac, NB

Okay.

Mr. Atleo, what is your take on the aquatic invasive species? I know we're doing a study on this in the fisheries committee, and it's a very interesting topic. I know it affects many of your fisheries, and first nations would be worried about aquatic invasive species. This seems to be a tremendous part of this act. What are your thoughts on that?

7:50 p.m.

National Chief, Assembly of First Nations

National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo

Again, in relation to what I've described, there really isn't a week that goes by when I'm not speaking with, for example, Byron Louis, of the Okanagan Indian Band in the interior of British Columbia about invasive species in that watershed. Whether it's cottage development, which has been mentioned, mining, or other developments that are happening on watersheds, each and every one of them relate to a regulation that's provincial or federal in which first nations' rights and title are being overstepped or overlooked.

We have a tremendous opportunity for first nations, like the one I just mentioned in that particular watershed, to be involved to a much greater degree to describe what sustainability looks like, including what prosperity looks like in those respective territories. For first nations, we see the challenges with both invasive species and the species at risk identification. All of these elements are being implicated in this major bill without the kind of consideration that's required.

It's less, Mr. Allen, about what I think about the invasive species in Lake Okanagan. It's more about what we need to do to make sure we are engaging with the chief, who has constitutionally protected rights and title, to give effect to their interests in the lake, which are not only water but are also food- and fisheries-related. It's resource-related.

Once again, to pull back to a specific question, we need to revisit the notion of how first nations are going to not just be consulted and accommodated, which is the current common law that we have in this country, but how they can achieve free, prior, and informed consent, which is the UN declaration and international customary law. Canada endorsed this after careful consideration just a few years ago.

7:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Blaine Calkins

Thank you very much. Unfortunately, the time has gone past. We have to move on now.

Mr. Sopuck, please, for up to five minutes.

7:55 p.m.

Conservative

Robert Sopuck Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette, MB

Thank you very much.

Dr. Schindler, related to the new subsection 35(1), it's very clear in terms of habitat protection. It says:

No person shall carry on any work, undertaking or activity that results in serious harm to fish that are part of a commercial, recreational or Aboriginal fishery, or to fish that support such a fishery.

Of course, that last part does deal with your concerns about forage fish.

Don't you think that a sharpened focus on fisheries of concern to people will actually result in greater habitat protection for those ecosystems?

7:55 p.m.

Professor of Ecology, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Alberta, As an Individual

Dr. David Schindler

I might if I didn't see what's happening to the departments in parallel. I don't see how it can happen when all of the habitat people for DFO are getting pink slips. The DOE projects to work on habitat are being cut. They've had very few biologists at all. I really don't see how any but those key species will even be looked at.

7:55 p.m.

Conservative

Robert Sopuck Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette, MB

But again, we're here to discuss the wording of the legislation. It's clear that under that legislation it is possible that increased habitat protection programs could result. Going back to your example about the culvert placement, you talked about the B.C. contractors being very keen on proper culvert placement. Under this particular regulation, I would argue that more attention will be placed on things like culvert placement and habitat protection for fisheries such as those off the B.C. coast that are of significance for commercial, recreation, and aboriginal purposes. Don't you think that's possible?

7:55 p.m.

Professor of Ecology, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Alberta, As an Individual

Dr. David Schindler

I suppose it's possible. I would prefer to see it specifically worded in the legislation, though, and not left to the whim of a minister who has no scientific background, period.

7:55 p.m.

Conservative

Robert Sopuck Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette, MB

That leads to the larger question that ministers are elected and responsible to the citizens at large, and that's something I'm very comfortable with, actually.

DFO's expansion, Dr. Schindler, across Canada started in 1999. As somebody who's had a career in fisheries management, I recall that the fisheries in prairie Canada, for example, where my work was, were in pretty good shape, by and large. One does wonder what the value-added of the expanded DFO habitat programs was.

Could you comment on that?

7:55 p.m.

Professor of Ecology, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Alberta, As an Individual

Dr. David Schindler

I can comment for Alberta, which is where I was. DFO did very little, but the province did very little as well, specifically on the oil sands. We heard all the rhetoric about duplication and four million data points being collected. After six panels reviewed the data, they found that we have not had a reasonable monitoring program, period. We don't know where the baseline was and we don't know where the baseline is today. That's what I'm afraid of with ambiguously worded legislation.

8 p.m.

Conservative

Robert Sopuck Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette, MB

I have done environmental work in the oil sands myself and have heard the hyperbole that the companies operate willy-nilly, irrespective of provincial and federal legislation. As someone who was part of enforcing that legislation, I find it appalling that this kind of rhetoric is out there.

But in terms of the oil sands, I think some perspective is in order. The total area of the oil sands is some 143,000 square kilometres, of which 600 square kilometres has been exploited, less than one half of one percent, and 60 square kilometres of that has already been reclaimed. If we look at hydro developments in Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec, we are looking at approximately 35,000 square kilometres of land that has been inundated in the boreal forest. Which of the two had a more serious impact on fish?

8 p.m.

Professor of Ecology, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Alberta, As an Individual

Dr. David Schindler

Obviously the flooding of reservoirs did, if you count things like high mercury and the abolition of food for native people, but we don't want another case of that happening. The problems with the Athabasca fishery are that they haven't been properly investigated. We know from both the word of native fishermen and Environment Canada employees who worked in that area for 30 years that there has been an increase in tumours in the fish. We don't even know if those reflect increased levels of contaminants. We don't know if they're reflected in numbers because nobody has studied the numbers sufficiently well.

I'd say that what we should be getting right now is an enhanced level of investigation. We've had a handshake between provincial and federal ministers. I have not seen a document to support any agreement. Certainly there are no federal-provincial studies ongoing, although they were promised last July. I'm very uncomfortable with the expansion that's going on. These 600 square kilometres that you're referring to are the pits. In-Situ is going to take in a much bigger area. It shouldn't affect surface water quality. Nobody has looked to see whether it affects ground water quality, but they have looked to see that it's a big problem for habitat, for creatures like woodland caribou and the seven species of large predators in the area.

8 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Blaine Calkins

Thank you very much, Mr. Sopuck. Your time has expired.

Mr. Julian, go ahead, please.

May 29th, 2012 / 8 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair

Thanks to all the witnesses for being here this evening, and particularly to Chief Atleo and Dr. Schindler. You've had the most compelling presentations that we've heard thus far on the reasons why there is so much controversy around Bill C-38.

I'd like to start with you, Chief Atleo. You've said that this reduces that duty to consult and to accommodate. You said that first nations certainly oppose the bill, and you requested that the government withdraw part 3. The government has not been thus inclined so far. Hopefully that will change with any sort of accommodation or amendments on the bill.

My question to you is, what is the logical outcome? Lobbyists might say this process that we want to put into place would create more certainty. But given the exclusion of large bodies of the public, given the very compelling testimony that you've given us tonight, does it not mean that we will have more potential uncertainty around approval projects because of how the government has approached this?

8 p.m.

National Chief, Assembly of First Nations

National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo

First nations often experience this notion that first nations are being sought to deliver certainty somehow to somebody else, whether it's the market or whether it's process, etc. Really, I think if we dig deeper to certainty, we're looking for clarity of process, first of all, so comments around what consultation and accommodation are. How do you give effective implementation of the spirit and intent of the treaty right, of the constitutionally protected right?

I think the UN declaration offers an excellent framework for defining a way forward that could forge a path towards certainty. I said earlier that first nations aren't opposed to development; they're just not supportive of development at any cost. We have excellent examples, perhaps not perfect: the James Bay Agreement forged with the Cree; Minister Penashue, in a former iteration, forging agreements in Labrador; and the leaders in Haida Gwaii forging agreements in their respective territories.

First nations being involved from the very beginning and working in full partnership, as our rights suggest, must occur. To have a shift from before, under previous processes, where our traditional knowledge was included, to the proposed changes that they may be included sends a very strong signal that we're moving away from, not towards, the notion of mutual respect and recognition of aboriginal title and rights. There is enhanced uncertainty, and in fact perhaps greater conflict.

The Prosperity Mine example in British Columbia stands as an example of what we need to be learning from. What I see occurring here is that rather than working together to achieve a shared sense of what certainty means going forward, this is creating a great uncertainty for first nations. As I said, and I have to really emphasize this, the economic uncertainty and potential conflict remains, I think, a very real outcome of an effort we're seeing here.