Mr. Speaker, I am happy to take part in the debate at third reading on Bill C-33. The NDP caucus has been quite supportive of the bill from its onset. We welcome the opportunity to lend our support to the very important issue of helping the newly formed territory of Nunavut take its independence and control over water management, land use and other associated issues.
Members of the New Democratic Party have followed the debate with great interest. We have followed it much farther back than when it was introduced in the House as Bill C-33. We note with interest that as long ago as 1996, in the 35th parliament, a similar bill was introduced, Bill C-51, which, unfortunately, died on the order paper. In the 36th parliament, Bill C-62 was introduced, which was largely the same in scope and content and sought to achieve the same goals, but it too died on the order paper. In other words, the people of Nunavut have been waiting patiently for a long time to see this bill finally come through all the stages of the House of Commons.
It is worth noting that the Nunavut land claims agreement called for land use, water and environmental assessment boards to be established as institutions of public government within two years of the ratification of the agreement. That was in June 1993. It is scandalous that nothing has happened.
The surface rights issues were to have a similar institution within six months of the June 1993 ratification. We are almost a decade late in implementing this important enabling legislation which essentially hands over to the Nunavut water board the jurisdiction to make important determinations as to the use of water and putting waste into water in the territory of Nunavut.
This is an issue that most people are able to relate to. In fact, ever since we have been putting codes of conduct on paper or codes of practice into writing, we have dealt with water rights. The Magna Carta in 1215 referred specifically to water rights and water use issues. It is something that every democracy and every free society has to wrestle with and has to establish because it is so critical. People downstream deserve the courtesy of fair treatment from those living upstream, and water being an essential commodity.
After working with the people of Nunavut, members of the NDP did try to move amendments at the committee stage. The people of Nunavut actually came to the committee and made compelling arguments for things they sought to achieve in the bill. The one improvement in the bill that I will point out, and which I readily concede is actually an improvement over Bill C-51 and Bill C-52, is that at least Bill C-33 contains a non-derogation clause. This is important. In anything dealing with aboriginal rights, a non-derogation clause has become standard practice, in that nothing in this newly signed agreement will derogate or in any way diminish rights that are inherent within the charter of rights and freedoms or the constitution. The inherent rights that aboriginal people enjoy cannot be signed away by any document.
However, we were critical, and it was one of our amendments, that the non-derogation clause that was chosen for Bill C-33 differs from other non-derogation clauses in recent aboriginal legislation. We were suspect, as were the people of Nunavut, as to why it varied. It was only natural for the Nunavut people to assume that this clause was deliberately changed for a specific purpose.
A person can be presumed to have intended the probable consequences of his or her actions but, by the same token, the government can be presumed to have intended something of the literal meaning of what they have put forward and chose to deviate.
We recommended that the non-derogation clause in Bill C-33 should state as follows:
Nothing in the bill should derogate from any existing aboriginal or treaty rights of the aboriginal peoples of Canada under the Constitution Act, 1982.
The amendment was simple and straightforward but unfortunately it did not succeed at committee.
We went further than a non-derogation clause. At committee stage, members of the NDP recommended that we go farther and put in a positive interpretation clause, not just a non-derogation clause but a positive interpretation clause so in the event of some ambiguity in the bill it would always be interpreted in the best possible light for aboriginal people. We felt that was important. It was a safety fallback position that would give some comfort to the people of Nunavut in the event the bill was challenged in the courts or in the event there were two points of view over a particular clause. The interpretation clause would give some guidance to arbitrators down the road to view the people of Nunavut in a more positive light. That too failed at committee stage and we were disappointed and critical of that.
We also point out that Bill C-33 is essentially a step toward self-government for Nunavut, for control and jurisdiction over its own land and water use. However, within the bill, the minister still has the right or the ultimate sign-off to any licences or permits that are granted within Nunavut. In other words, the Nunavut water board can issue a licence to Echo Bay Mines, or whatever the institution is that seeks a water licence, but it has to be signed off by the minister. In other words, Ottawa, the central federal government, still has the ultimate control, the right to veto anything the people of Nunavut do.
We suggested in an amendment that the powers of the minister under that section should sunset on the 10 year anniversary of the signing of the agreement, not the signing of this bill but the signing of the Nunavut land use agreement in June 1993. In other words, in June 2003 the powers of the minister would no longer exist and the people of Nunavut would make their own determination about their own land and water use in that territory. I thought that was a very reasonable amendment and I expected the support of my colleagues even on the other side, especially the member from Nunavut who sits on that committee. I thought she would have had a very real interest in seeing that step toward true self-government and true self-determination take place. That also failed as an amendment. We were trying to be reasonable and we did not succeed in any of these.
The last thing we sought to achieve in Bill C-33 we again failed to achieve. The Government of Canada can still levy a fee or a charge to any user of water in Nunavut. There are no exemptions to this. We moved an amendment that would have allowed the government to charge a permit or licence fee to Echo Bay Mines or any other user group, but we wanted to make sure it did not intend to charge the people of Nunavut for using water that flows through their own land. That is exactly what is contemplated in this agreement. If the people of Nunavut wanted to start a water bottling company as an economic development agency, they would have to pay a fee to Ottawa to use their own water. Is that self-government? Is that self-determination? Is that control over one's own resources and territory? That struck me as absurd.
You, Mr. Speaker, with a hockey background, would understand the analogy that was used at the committee. The people who came to the committee said that if they wanted to flood the hockey rink in their community they would have to pay a fee to Ottawa to pump the water out of their river to flood the ice so their kids could play hockey in a place where there is a great deal of ice and water. It struck us as absurd. On their behalf we moved what we thought was a very reasonable amendment to say that the Government of Canada could charge user fees, service fees or licence fees, except in water on, in, or flowing through Inuit owned land.
In other words, on crown property the government could absolutely charge whomever it wanted whatever it wanted. It could charge whatever the market would bear and ding people for all it could. However it should not charge the people who live there for the right to make a tray of ice cubes in their own fridge. That struck us as ridiculous. It did not succeed either.
We were frustrated at committee. As much as we wanted to support Bill C-33 and agreed with the tone, content and sentiments inherent in the bill, we were terribly frustrated that reason could not have prevailed in those few areas.
Having said that, we must now either move forward with a bill that is not everything the people wanted or delay and deny the people of Nunavut what they have been seeking for many years. Given that choice the NDP caucus will be voting in favour of Bill C-33 at this stage.