Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier.
I rise to speak to Bill C-47, An Act to enact the Nunavut Planning and Project Assessment Act and the Northwest Territories Surface Rights Board Act and to make related and consequential amendments to other Acts. The New Democrats will be supporting this bill despite the reluctance on the part of the government to adopt any of our amendments, which is surprising since it is such a lengthy piece of technical legislation. Even Conservative committee members acknowledged that it was not all of what anyone wanted, but refused to accept improvements to the bill as requested through witness testimony. The witnesses are the people who will have to implement or abide by the legislation.
Certainly the NDP supports consultation and consensus-based decision making that respect the autonomy of the government of Nunavut and the Northwest Territories. Yet it can easily be argued that this should have been two separate pieces of legislation. While that would have made sense, it is also important to move these two items forward.
Part of this legislation is related to mining in the Northwest Territories. My colleague, the member for Western Arctic, has given an articulate account of our thoughts on that matter. His insight reflects the history of mining in that area and frames the way forward through the challenges that have been dealt with, some of which, it must be said, not dealt with particularly well.
My colleague showed how mining was critical to the northern economy, but he also showed how there was a significant public cost associated with projects that went wrong. He explained how the government was on the hook for the environmental fallout associated with the Giant Mine. In that case, we are left with 270,000 tonnes of arsenic perpetually frozen underground and will have to be dealt with by future generations. This is the kind of outcome the New Democrats have been reminding the government about on all manners of projects and its reluctance to admit there are environmental costs that relate to natural resource projects is mind-boggling and speaks to a kind of wilful ignorance that creates a climate of mistrust on all manners of initiatives as a result.
Suffice it to say, the New Democrats feel that more consultation should have been allowed on the Northwest Territories Surface Rights Board Act part of this bill. However, that part of the bill does not sit in isolation and we are glad to see that the Nunavut land claims agreement is moving ahead, considering that it has been in preparation for almost two decades. Yes, that was even under the Liberals.
Certainly, that element of this bill is less contentious. This part of the legislation has been around this place for a number of years. It was originally introduced in 2010 as Bill C-25, the Nunavut planning and project assessment act. Given the length of time it has been in the works, we can understand that there may be some frustrations from the people who live in Nunavut. They have been waiting for their legislation to pass so they can move on and begin understanding how it will work.
In a landmark ruling in 1973 the Supreme Court of Canada confirmed that Aboriginal peoples’ historic occupation of the land gave rise to legal rights in the land that had survived European settlement. In 1982, the Constitution was amended to “recognize and affirm” the “existing aboriginal and treaty rights of the aboriginal peoples of Canada.” “Treaty rights” include rights under land claims agreements.
Those developments lead to the Nunavut land claims agreement of 1993, which lays out some key objectives that are related to the legislation before us. They are: to provide for certainty and clarity of rights to ownership and use of lands and resources and of rights for Inuit to participate in decision-making concerning the use, management and conservation of land, water and resources, including the offshore; to provide Inuit with wildlife harvesting rights and rights to participate in decision-making concerning wildlife harvesting; to provide Inuit with financial compensation and means of participating in economic opportunities; and to encourage self-reliance and the cultural and social well-being of Inuit.
The provisions of the Nunavut land claims agreement provide for the federal government and the Inuit to establish a joint regime for land and resource management in articles 10 to 12.
Article 10 sets out the criteria for the land and resource institutions to be created, while article 11 sets out the parameters for land use planning within the Nunavut settlement area. Article 12 details how development impact is to be evaluated.
Under article 10, the federal government undertakes to establish the following government institutions to administer the regime: a surface rights tribunal, Nunavut Planning Commission, Nunavut Impact Review Board and Nunavut Water Board. Part of this was dealt with when Parliament enacted the Nunavut Waters and Nunavut Surface Rights Tribunal Act, in 2002. The current bill meets the government's obligations as they relate to the other two institutions, the Nunavut Planning Commission and the Nunavut Impact Review Board. That said, we are well aware that both of these institutions already exist; they have existed since 1997, under the Nunavut settlement agreement. Bill C-25, and now Bill C-47, formalize their establishment in legislation and set out how they will continue to operate.
We can look to the legislative summary, which tells us that work on the Nunavut planning and project assessment act began in 2002. To fulfill its obligation for close consultation with Inuit, the Government of Canada established a Nunavut legislative working group, consisting of the Government of Canada, represented by Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., and the Government of Nunavut, supported by the participation of the NPC and the NIRB. The working group met regularly through 2007 to discuss and resolve policy issues, gaps that the bill should address, and resolve questions and legal interpretation of the agreement and how these solutions should be reflected in the bill. When these issues were satisfactorily advanced, in 2007, drafting of the bill began, with oversight and direction from the working group.
The government's backgrounder allows us to summarize the parts of the bill that are relevant to the Nunavut planning and project assessment act. It states that the proposed legislation would continue the functioning of the commission and board and clearly define and describe their powers, duties and functions, including how their members are appointed. It would also clearly define the roles and authorities of Inuit, federal and territorial governments. It would establish timelines for decision-making in the land use planning and environmental assessment processes, to create a more efficient and predictable regulatory regime. It would define how and why, and by whom, land use plans would be prepared, amended, reviewed and implemented in Nunavut.
It would also describe the process by which the commission and the board would examine development proposals and harmonize the assessment process for transboundary projects, by providing for a review by joint panels and an opportunity for the board to review and assess projects outside the area that may have an adverse impact on the Nunavut settlement area.
It would provide for the development of general and specific monitoring plans that would enable both governments to track the environmental, social and economic impacts of projects and establish effective enforcement tools to ensure terms and conditions from the plans and impact assessment processes are followed. It would also streamline the impact assessment process, especially for smaller projects, and provide industry with clear, consistent and transparent guidelines, making investment in Nunavut more attractive and profitable.
Given the fact that I do not have much time to finish my speech, I will end with this. It is clear that there is a fair amount of support for the Nunavut part of the bill. New Democrats will be supporting the bill, but we feel it should have been improved at committee. Unfortunately, government members refused to do this.
New Democrats will continue to fight for the rights of northerners and for the long-term prosperity of northern communities. In as much as the bill largely supports that idea, we will give it our support. Hopefully, through the questions, someone will ask me to finish my speech.