House of Commons Hansard #128 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was parks.

Topics

Opposition Motion—Forillon Park
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Opposition Motion—Forillon Park
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

All those opposed will please say nay.

Opposition Motion—Forillon Park
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Opposition Motion—Forillon Park
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

In my opinion the yeas have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Call in the members.

And the bells having rung:

The vote will be deferred until Monday, after government orders.

Opposition Motion—Forillon Park
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Gordon O'Connor Carleton—Mississippi Mills, ON

Madam Speaker, I ask that you see the clock at 5:30 p.m.

Opposition Motion—Forillon Park
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

Is that agreed?

Opposition Motion—Forillon Park
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Opposition Motion—Forillon Park
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

It being 5:30 p.m., the House will proceed to the consideration of private members' business, as listed on today's order paper.

The House resumed from November 3 consideration of the motion that Bill C-530, An Act to amend the Northwest Territories Act (borrowing limits), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Northwest Territories Act
Private Members' Business

5:15 p.m.

Saint Boniface
Manitoba

Conservative

Shelly Glover Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak against this somewhat disrespectful, paternal and unilateral NDP proposal.

Before discussing this proposal, I would like to emphasize that our Conservative government has been a strong supporter of the Northwest Territories and all territories since taking office in 2006.

Indeed, federal support for territories under our Conservative government is at an all-time high. For the territories, this totals almost $3 billion in 2010-11, a significant increase of nearly $800 million since 2005-06 under the former Liberal government.

This long-term growing support helps ensure that territories have the resources required to provide essential public services, such as health care, post-secondary education, and other services that families depend upon.

We have done much more to benefit the north as part of our ambitious northern strategy. For instance, we created the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency, headquartered in Iqaluit, with district offices located in Whitehorse and Yellowknife.

This landmark new regional development agency has a specific mandate to deliver federal programs specifically tailored to the needs of northern Canada. This is helping ensure a stronger more dynamic economy for northern families and businesses by directly empowering northern workers and businesses to take advantage of the resources and opportunities that exist in our own backyard.

I note that the creation of the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency was very well received in the north. For instance, the Northwest Territories Chamber of Commerce applauded the move by stating:

This is a huge step forward that will place us on an equal footing with the rest of the country.

Regrettably, the NDP member for Western Arctic voted against this landmark development. This followed his equally stunning opposition to increased tax relief for his constituents, when he voted against increasing the northern residents deduction. Little wonder more and more northerners are becoming more and more disillusioned with the NDP.

For many, this was cemented with the NDP's decision to ignore and punish northerners by rescuing the flawed long gun registry. Today's paternal proposal will only further contribute to that disappointment with the NDP among northerners.

Let me be clear from the outset, what the NDP is proposing here is an outmoded and paternalistic approach to federal-territorial relations that is more characteristic of a long ago era. For what the NDP would do with today's proposal is unilaterally have the federal Parliament in distant Ottawa impose a new borrowing limit framework on the Northwest Territories through a private member's bill.

The NDP would do this with absolutely no consultation with, and no input from, the territorial government itself. The member did mention to me just before this speech that he has since spoken with someone, however, to my knowledge, I cannot confirm that.

This is no way to address federal-territorial issues. This is not consistent with modern federal-territorial relations. More importantly, this is not consistent with our Conservative government's collaborative approach to federal-territorial relations.

We have worked and will work in partnership with our territorial partners when addressing issues that directly impact them, such as borrowing limits. Indeed, in a concrete demonstration of that, last year our Conservative government actually initiated a joint review of borrowing limits with the territorial governments.

As I mentioned, this review is underway and, unlike this flawed NDP proposal, we are focusing on the borrowing limits of all three territories, not just one territory in isolation.

I find it troubling and bizarre, frankly, for the NDP to suggest that Yukon and Nunavut be excluded for a review of territorial borrowing limits. To endorse this questionable NDP proposal would toss aside this joint, collaborative effort for a unilateral approach imposed by the federal Parliament in Ottawa.

I would hope all parliamentarians would have more respect for Canada's territories than to endorse such a dismissive course of action. I ask parliamentarians to respect the ongoing review. Respect and allow the collaborative and positive work with all three territorial governments to continue. Not surprisingly, there has been exceedingly little support in the north for the NDP's proposal since it was unveiled last year.

I note and underline for parliamentarians that the Northwest Territories government has refused to lend its support for it. Even more damning, many other regional politicians are publicly questioning the NDP's unilateral action here.

I want to share with this Parliament in Ottawa what MLAs in the Northwest Territories are actually saying about this NDP proposal word for word, as reported in their Hansard of last November.

First, I ask you to listen to Dave Mackenzie, MLA for Kam Lake. He said:

--I’m surprised that our Member of Parliament for the Western Arctic is down in Ottawa trumpeting Bill C-530...The residents of this Territory would like to know who gave him his marching orders or, Mr. Speaker, is he marching to the beat of his own drummer?...To my knowledge, our government has never talked about a percentage of expenditures as a debt limit. The federal government is currently analyzing and reviewing the debt limits of all three northern territories. Please, let’s let them do that work.

Here are the words of Robert Hawkins, MLA for Yellowknife Centre:

Who had given the Member of Parliament marching orders to act on our behalf?...Who has he talked to in this particular government? My concern is, of course, he has not talked to me and I’ve looked around and only heard of one person he has specifically spoken to, and I’m not sure if that was any more than water-cooler talk at the time.

Finally, listen to what the NWT's own finance minister, Michael Miltenberger, had to say:

--we have indicated to the Member of Parliament for the Western Arctic that it’s his right to pursue a Private Member’s Bill...But we have made it clear that we have embarked upon a process with the federal Finance department and the other two territories to review our borrowing limit. That’s the process we’re engaged in. That’s the process we are committed to. That’s what we are paying attention to. That’s where we see the issues with our concern of the borrowing limit being addressed and it’s the one we’re fully engaged in...The Member of Parliament has a track that he’s on but we’re not involved in that.

Before concluding, I would like to take a few moments to delve in more detail into some of the NDP proposal's many shortcomings from the policy side.

Mainly, the proposal would set the NWT's borrowing limits at 70% of its estimated revenues for a given fiscal year, beyond which governor in council approval would be required.

This sounds simple enough, but there is one glaring problem: the NDP does not speak for the elected NWT government.

How do we know the NWT government actually supports a 70% limit? How do we know they do not support maintaining the current limit? Or, getting rid of the limit altogether?

Again, we have no idea as this made-in-Ottawa NDP proposal was concocted with no formal consultation with the NWT.

The member for Western Arctic's paternal and unilateral NDP approach to relations with NWT and the other territories is something Parliament must reject.

I ask Parliament to stand up for a more principled and appropriate approach on this issue by supporting the ongoing review being conducted collaboratively between the federal and territorial governments.

Northwest Territories Act
Private Members' Business

5:25 p.m.

NDP

Tony Martin Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity this afternoon to speak to this very important motion by my colleague from the Northwest Territories, the member for Western Arctic. I say that because I have watched him work over the last two sessions of the House as he has represented so ably and actively his constituency, all those who live there and all those who govern that wonderful territory. I have nothing but admiration for the efforts he has made to gather all of the background documents, statistics, and information that were necessary to place the bill in front of us here today.

In the member's own words, from the speech he made introducing the bill, “It is one of the keys to building a better north, a more prosperous north, a north that can better share its wealth with the rest of Canada”.

I am disappointed in the speech that was given by the member for Saint Boniface a few minutes ago, particularly the way she maligned and tried to lessen the importance of the work the member is doing and to somehow suggest it is less than in keeping and in tune with what the Northwest Territories wants for itself. She had some misinformation in her presentation. For example, she mentioned a member of the Northwest Territory government as Dave Mackenzie when in fact that member is Dave Ramsay.

I know that the member for Western Arctic has the support of the Government of the Northwest Territories and he is working in consort with them as they work with the government on devolution. I was there when he spoke to the finance minister, Michael Miltenberger, and I know of the support and enthusiasm of that very important member of that government for this initiative and how he sees this as adding to its ability to make those investments that will be necessary if it is actually going to be able to take advantage of the devolution that is taking place.

I want to speak for a few minutes about the member for Western Arctic to make sure people understand that this is a member who did not just by chance somehow arrive here, through some fluke of an election. The member has worked long and hard. He was born and raised in the Northwest Territories, knows the Northwest Territories, knows the people and communities of the Northwest Territories intimately, having served for over 10 years as the mayor of the wonderful town of Fort Smith. He served on the green funds council of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities which worked with him to better the lot of municipalities in the territories. He served as a special adviser on energy to the premier of the Northwest Territories. He also served as a board member on the Northern River Basins study and as a federal government representative on the Mackenzie Valley Environmental Impact Review Board. The member who has introduced the bill before us that we debate here today also served as a former chair of the constitutional development steering committee for the Western Arctic, and as co-chair of that committee, where the member learned how passionate northerners are about increasing their autonomy and becoming a jurisdiction equal to the provinces.

Bill C-530 is a small but very important step in this increased autonomy. It is something he has thought long and hard about, worked very hard on, and believes in passionately. He has consulted with and has the support of some very important officials in the Northwest Territories government.

As background for the people listening, in case they were put off by the member for Saint Boniface in her diatribe before us here today, the Northwest Territories has a government which evolved from a committee of bureaucrats at Indian and Northern Affairs to a full-fledged, democratically elected government with full ministerial responsibility.

From 1897 to 1905, the Northwest Territories had an elected government resembling a province, but in 1905, after the provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta were created, what was left of the Northwest Territories slipped back to the status of a colony. The member wants to remove it from that. For the next 60 years a commissioner and an appointed territorial council ran the territory from Ottawa.

In the 1950s, a return to an elected government for the territories began. In 1951, the Northwest Territories Act was changed to permit three elected members from the Mackenzie district to join the four appointed members and the commissioner on the territorial council. At this time the council also began to alternate its sittings between Ottawa and the Northwest Territories.

Between 1955 and 1966 the powers of the territorial council were gradually increased, and by 1966, elected members formed the majority on the council.

In 1967, the administration of the Northwest Territories moved from Ottawa to Yellowknife. In 1975, the territorial council became a fully elected body and its member began to call it the legislative assembly the following year.

In 1965, following consultations across the territories, the federal Carrothers Commission recommended a gradual increase in territorial responsibility through the setting up of a working territorial government. The Carrothers report had a lot of influence. In 1967, Yellowknife was made the capital of the Northwest Territories and the first commissioner to be permanently based in the territories was appointed.

Many province-like responsibilities were taken over from the federal government in the following years. This included such things as education, housing and social services. Other responsibilities like health care, forest management and fire suppression were taken over in the 1980s. Crown lands, oil, gas and mineral resources continued to be administered by the federal government.

Responsible government gradually developed after 1975. In that year the first two MLAs were appointed to the commissioner's executive committee. The executive committee later became the executive council or cabinet of the territories.

In 1986, Commissioner Parker turned over his last cabinet responsibilities to elected MLAs, a step that was authorized by the minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development under the Northwest Territories Act. This step marks full, responsible government.

Since the 1980s, the government of the Northwest Territories and the other territorial governments have gradually won the right to attend federal-provincial meetings along with the provinces. The GNWT now also participates in the western premiers conference and the annual premiers conferences. However, territorial governments are not counted for purposes of a formal amendment to the Constitution of Canada under part 5 of the Constitution Act, 1982.

Why the need for Bill C-530? The requirement that a mature government, like the Northwest Territories, must come to Ottawa, cap in hand, requesting permission to borrow is a holdover from the days when the territories were administered by a committee of bureaucrats from Indian and Northern Affairs.

The territories government has a long history of balanced budgets and being responsible. Today it prudently administers $1 billion-plus budget. It is time Canada treated the Northwest Territories like the mature jurisdiction it is.

I urge members of the House, as they do all other provinces and jurisdictions in this great land, to trust this territory. Trust the member of Parliament for Western Arctic who has been sent by the people of the Northwest Territories to this place to speak on their behalf, as he does so well, day in and day out in this place. He asks us to allow the territory to have borrowing power so it can make the investments it needs and the infrastructure that will be necessary when devolution finally and ultimately takes place.

I hope that members of the House will ignore what was said by the member for Saint Boniface previously and look at Hansard to see what the member for Western Arctic said when he introduced this bill and what I have said here today, and vote in favour of this important initiative.

Northwest Territories Act
Private Members' Business

5:35 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

The hon. member for Western Arctic, for the sponsor's right of reply.

Northwest Territories Act
Private Members' Business

5:35 p.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington Western Arctic, NT

Madam Speaker, I will comment briefly about my participation with the Government of the Northwest Territories prior to my mission with respect to this bill. This bill was given to the Government of the Northwest Territories. I attended meetings with the premier of the Northwest Territories and the finance minister.

When we talk about what is going on here in terms of the dialogue over this bill, we must remember that the Government of the Northwest Territories has a gun to its head with respect to an improved borrowing limit. The NWT legislative assembly has talked about this issue. If the Northwest Territories does not get its borrowing limit approved because all of its borrowing powers are taken up with self-liquidating loans. Most of it is self-liquidating, but it still counts against its borrowing limits. This is a problem.

Under my bill, the Northwest Territories would be able to borrow up to 70% of its estimated annual revenue. This would give it an ongoing increase as the government increases in size.

My bill proposes a process that is a common practice in other jurisdictions that exist under legal statutes in Canada, like municipalities exist in provinces. That is where the Government of the Northwest Territories is at. All of its authority comes out of the NWT Act.

Discussions are underway with the territorial government concerning the borrowing provisions in the Northwest Territories Act. Unless these discussions lead to an amendment to the act, they are nothing more than a continuation of the current colonial process. The federal government does not have the authority to give the Northwest Territories more autonomy with the process it has entered into. The NWT Act needs to be amended. My bill, taken in a non-partisan fashion, would provide that authority to the federal government if it wants to participate in it.

The parliamentary secretary argued in the first hour of debate that my bill could not be supported as the government prefers to treat the three territories the same. That is not a defensible position considering that in the last two weeks the Minister of Indian Affairs signed a devolution agreement in principle with the Government of the Northwest Territories while refusing to talk with Nunavut about a similar devolution agreement. Yukon has not expressed the need for a change to its borrowing limit. We all have different requirements. We are three different territories, three completely different jurisdictions.

It has never been clear to me why the federal government must approve territorial borrowing. The letter from the Parliamentary Budget Officer indicated quite clearly:

With respect to Bill C-530, our review indicates there will be no incremental costs arising from adoption of these legislative amendments.

This is not an issue of cost to the federal government. This is a political issue about the nature of the type of control that the federal government holds over the territories.

With a gun to his head, what can our premier say to the government if we do not go ahead with this? The NWT is in a very difficult position. If we can come to grips with what the real issues are, what the real needs are for our three territories, then we could come to better solutions for the people of the north.

There is no solution for the people of the north other than amendments to existing legislation. Without this bill, the Conservative government does not have the legs to do what it needs to do for the Northwest Territories.

I plead with all members to send the bill to committee where officials of the Government of the Northwest Territories could tell us about its borrowing limit problems. The NWT government can tell parliamentarians where it stands. By approving this bill at second reading we would accomplish that. We would give a voice to the Government of the Northwest Territories here in Parliament.

I plead with all members to support this bill and get it to committee.

Northwest Territories Act
Private Members' Business

5:40 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

The time provided for debate has expired.

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Northwest Territories Act
Private Members' Business

5:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.