Evidence of meeting #7 for Natural Resources in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was development.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Mitch Bloom  Vice-President, Policy and Planning, Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency
  • Janet King  Assistant Deputy Minister, Northern Affairs Organization, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development
  • Sara Filbee  Assistant Deputy Minister, Lands and Economic Development, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

4:20 p.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Northern Affairs Organization, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Janet King

There are some significant challenges. The north is quite vast; it's far away and it has a very severe climate. Because of its remoteness, size, and difficulties, infrastructure is a persistent challenge in the north--a full range of types of infrastructure.

Capacity, the population of the three northern territories--when I'm speaking, I'm speaking about the three northern territories primarily. There is a very small number of people available in the north, skilled and able to move forward natural resource development. So there are two.

I'm sure there's another one.

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Leon Benoit

Actually, Mr. Lizon, your time is up.

We go now to Mr. Trost for up to five minutes.

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Bradley Trost Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you to the witnesses for being here.

As I was looking through some of these notes, I was thinking of the times when I used to work in the north as a geophysicist. I was particularly thinking of one day when I was with the senior geophysicist. When you do exploration for ground-based projects you need to have a fairly basic grid on the ground where you number off some wooden pickets and some things like that, and myself and the senior geophysicist were spending the day numbering off the pickets. It's not a job you generally go through university to do, and I remember thinking two basic things. One, what a waste, because I knew how much it cost to get us up there and what they were paying; and two, what a shame that local people weren't taking up the opportunity to do this rather basic job.

This brings me to the question, how does one ensure that the maximum benefit is there for the local population, both from an efficiency perspective and from an overall economic and social development perspective? With that as a background, how do northerners directly benefit from mineral resource development? You can break it off into a specific section for oil and gas, because it's my understanding there are some things directly related to oil and gas.

That'll be my first question, and both Ms. King and Mr. Bloom can take that if they want.

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Leon Benoit

Go ahead, Ms. King.

4:25 p.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Northern Affairs Organization, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Janet King

I can respond and hand it off to Mitch, if he'd like to add anything.

I, too, have spent time with pickets up north, so I understand your perspective.

With respect to northerners' directly benefiting, it is common business practice now, and good corporate responsibility, for companies that are implementing and pursuing major projects in the north to establish impact-benefit agreements with the first nations communities, and not just those immediate to the project. They tend to be regional in nature, so they look to engage and sign formal impact and benefit agreements that touch on the economic and social aspects of the potential positive impacts of the project through its lifetime.

On the oil and gas side there's another approach. Again, it's a benefit agreement, this time in the legislation, to pursue an elaboration of the impact benefits. So again, there's a requirement to sit down with first nations and elaborate what potential benefits would accrue during the lifetime of the project.

4:25 p.m.

Vice-President, Policy and Planning, Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency

Mitch Bloom

I have a couple more to add. One is labour. There's a high emphasis, a high desire to be able to hire locally, especially in the north. With the cost of bringing labour in from the south and the ability to keep people working in the north, it's just way more expensive and way more complicated. Almost all resource project proponents would love to be able to maximize that. It becomes a matter of maximizing skills and abilities, and that's why it's also important to be able to build behind that. Everything from mining training simulators, which I know some territorial governments have helped support, to advancing literacy and things like that so that people can feel free to work on a mine site is really important.

I have two other quick points. One is business creation. A lot of project proponents are also quite interested, through the benefit agreements and other tools, in working with local businesses, and very often aboriginal-based businesses as well. So there's a real benefit there.

And at times, you'd be surprised, there are even social benefits. I remember hearing from a mine proponent talking about the importance of people on-site eating properly while they're there. They had to eat properly, and it ended up addressing issues of diabetes in the community, which ended up going back into the house, with proper eating habits there--amazing.

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Bradley Trost Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

Very quickly here, because I have about 50-some seconds left, you talked about the mining training simulators all the way down to basic literacy skills. Those are real issues. What would we be doing having a senior geophysicist do mining pickets?

Who coordinates that? Who takes the overall global view of how we integrate the full needs of the community for labour force development, right from basic literacy skills, showing up for job/work basic skills, right up to the top, looking for what we need for the more technical occupations?

4:25 p.m.

Vice-President, Policy and Planning, Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency

Mitch Bloom

I'll give you an answer that's probably not what you're looking to hear. There are many players. There are the territorial governments. There are multiple federal departments. There's the private sector itself, quite anxious to become involved. I think your question points to the importance of bringing people together and aligning them around understanding the labour market and the gaps. People are talking; it's going well. There's more distance to be crossed.

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Leon Benoit

Thank you, Mr. Trost.

We go now to Monsieur Gravelle, and Monsieur Lapointe, if Monsieur Gravelle finishes on time, for up to five minutes.

4:25 p.m.

NDP

Claude Gravelle Nickel Belt, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

My question is for Ms. King, and it concerns the Ring of Fire, the Cliffs chromite project. This is a huge project that is going to have a lot of effect on northern Ontario and the aboriginal people. There are a lot of infrastructure needs. It's going to provide lots of employment for the people, but it's also going to have an impact on aboriginal rights and their secret and sacred sites.

Two of the first nations--the Matawa First Nations and the Mushkegowuk Council, I believe, have submitted requests for consultations and negotiations to establish a review process. The CEAA announced on Friday the project would undergo only a comprehensive assessment. This is a unilateral decision that may have included the Ontario government and mining companies but did not include the aboriginal people.

Are you aware of this project, and what is your role?

4:25 p.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Northern Affairs Organization, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Janet King

Mr. Chair, that project lies under the responsibility of my colleague, Sara Filbee, so if I may, I'll turn to her for the response.

October 17th, 2011 / 4:30 p.m.

Sara Filbee Assistant Deputy Minister, Lands and Economic Development, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Actually, my response is going to be that the project lies under the responsibility of CEAA, which is responsible for the environmental assessment in terms of the determination. So we're not even, in this particular one, a responsible authority, which we would be, for example, if the project were directly on a reserve site. They are the ones that have made the determination as to the appropriate level of assessment that would go on.

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Claude Gravelle Nickel Belt, ON

But if CEAA is making a decision that concerns the first nations, with you being part of INAC, wouldn't it be your responsibility to make sure they make the right decisions?

4:30 p.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Lands and Economic Development, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Sara Filbee

Our responsibility is to work in supporting other federal government departments with respect to their consultation duties to make sure they're aware of them; however, we're not the police, so to speak. We're more of a resource for them in terms of their responsibilities. They, with their own policies and procedures, respond to the needs and the situation.

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Claude Gravelle Nickel Belt, ON

But if you're noticing that they're going in the wrong direction, would you intervene?