moved that Bill C-15, An Act to replace the Northwest Territories Act to implement certain provisions of the Northwest Territories Lands and Resources Devolution Agreement and to repeal or make amendments to the Territorial Lands Act, the Northwest Territories Waters Act, the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act, other Acts and certain orders and regulations, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, it is my privilege to open debate today on Bill C-15, the Northwest Territories devolution act.
It is my privilege to open debate today on Bill C-15, the Northwest Territories Devolution Act.
The introduction of the Northwest Territories Devolution Act marks the culmination of decades of hard work towards the devolution of decision-making powers over lands and resources to the people of the Northwest Territories.
This is a critical juncture not only in the political and economic evolution of the Northwest Territories, but also in the constitutional development of our great country.
We know that the north has always held a distinctive place in the life of our great country. A frontier, a homeland, rich with vibrant people, potential and culture, the north defines Canada and what it means to be Canadian.
The Conservative government, under the leadership of the Prime Minister, has consistently demonstrated a strong commitment to the north. Indeed, I am proud to say that no previous federal government in Canadian history has done more for the north than this Conservative government.
One of the first things we did after coming to power in 2006 was to put in place a comprehensive northern strategy, which was built on four pillars. The first is exercising Canada's sovereignty. The second is promoting social and economic development. The third is protecting our environmental heritage. The fourth and final pillar is improving and devolving northern governance.
While the introduction of the Northwest Territories devolution act is another important step in the implementation of this northern strategy, I would say it is a milestone. We recognize that a key feature of Canadian history has been the evolution of our nation's vast northern region into self-governing territories with resource development as the mainstay of their economies.
Our records stand in marked contrast to those of my friends, the Liberals, who for decades treated the north as an afterthought and northern resources as a federal treasure chest.
Soon after my appointment as Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, I was privileged to be in Yellowknife with the Prime Minister and the Premier of the Northwest Territories, along with five of our aboriginal partners in the Northwest Territories: the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation, the Northwest Territory Métis Nation, the Sahtu Secretariat Incorporated, the Gwich’in Tribal Council and the Tlicho Government. We marked the conclusion of negotiations on the Northwest Territories lands and resources devolution agreement in March of this year.
The Prime Minister said it best at the AIP signing in March, when he said:
Our Government recognizes that Northerners are best placed to make the important decisions about how to run their economies and how to maximize use of their resources.... Once finalized, this historic agreement will provide the Northwest Territories...with greater decision-making powers over a range of new responsibilities which will lead to jobs, growth and long-term prosperity across the Territory.
Our government believes that the opportunities and challenges in the Northwest Territories are better handled by the people who understand them best, and that is the people of the Northwest Territories.
This act will do exactly that. It will allow the people of the Northwest Territories to seize control of the lands and resources and benefit from those tremendous resources in their own backyard.
For those who may be skeptical about what this bill can achieve, look no further than the Yukon to see the benefits that devolution and a modern regulatory system can have on an economy. It is not merely coincidence that this year is the 10th anniversary of devolution in the Yukon and the territory is in its 10th straight year of positive GDP growth.
Investment is up, unemployment is down and the Yukon has not looked back. To complete the decades-long devolution of decision-making responsibilities, this bill is required to bring the Northwest Territories Lands and Resources Devolution Agreement into effect.
Bill C-15 would amend the Northwest Territories Act and bring this agreement into effect. It would modernize this legislation by updating its language, by clarifying key provisions and removing archaic ones, and by updating territorial authorities that draw their power from the act. Finally, amendments to the Northwest Territories Act would enshrine current practices in the territory that support responsible government.
The Government of the Northwest Territories has seen significant political evolution since 1967—the year Yellowknife was established as the capital of the Northwest Territories and the seat of government was moved from Ottawa. Since that time, the federal government has transferred to the territorial government power over health care, housing, forestry, education and social services.
Devolution of province-like functions has been a long-standing and shared priority of the federal and territorial governments. Over the last four decades, most of the province-like functions have been devolved to the territorial governments. The devolution of province-like powers over their lands, waters and resources is the last of the major province-like functions in the Northwest Territories which remain with the federal government.
To put it simply, this bill achieves devolution for the Northwest Territories. It gives the territory the tools to chart its own destiny, a destiny we know will end in success.
To reach this goal, we have worked tirelessly with all our partners in the north. In the Northwest Territories, we worked with the territorial government under the impressive leadership of Premier McLeod. If it were not for the rules, I would signal the presence of the premier, but I know I cannot. We also worked closely with various aboriginal stakeholders and governments including the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation, the Gwich’in Tribal Council, the Sahtu Secretariat, the Tlicho Government and the Northwest Territory Métis Nation, all in order to reach a comprehensive devolution agreement for the territory.
I also want to take a moment to acknowledge the work of my predecessors. I had the privilege today of introducing this bill and opening the debate on it, but I want to acknowledge the work of the current chief government whip, the member of Parliament for Vancouver Island North, as well as the Hon. Jim Prentice and the Hon. Chuck Strahl, who have all worked hard to make this day happen. Of course, none of this would have been possible without the steady hand of the Prime Minister.
This past June, I was in the Northwest Territories again, this time in Inuvik, to sign the final devolution agreement on behalf of the Government of Canada, along with the Government of the Northwest Territories and five aboriginal groups. We continue to work toward a target effective date of April 1, 2014, as requested by the premier of the Government of the Northwest Territories and agreed to by the Prime Minister and all parties to the devolution agreement. It is also our shared objective with the Government of the Northwest Territories to devolve a modern, efficient and effective land and water regulatory system with the Government of the Northwest Territories in accordance with our 2010 action plan to improve northern regulatory regimes.
Unlike my friend, the member for Western Arctic across the aisle who believes that resource development has not reduced poverty, our government knows that resource development creates jobs and economic opportunity for northerners and all Canadians. We also know the Northwest Territories is full of opportunity, in particular, with its mineral-rich land and vast oil and gas reserves. However, much of this opportunity has gone untapped and the territories have undergone a contraction in its economy over recent years. These are the facts. Bringing forward a modern regulatory regime is an important tool to attract investment and promote growth in the territories.
That is why this bill would also put in place an improved regulatory framework in the Northwest Territories that would ensure that resource development would continue in a manner that would respect the environment, while ensuring the long-term prosperity of the Northwest Territories for generations to come.
To this end, the Northwest Territories devolution act includes amendments to the Territorial Lands Act, the Northwest Territories Waters Act and the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act, which would increase predictability and timeliness in the environmental assessment process, reduce regulatory burden, improve environmental protection and ensure meaningful aboriginal consultation. More important, however, this would give the people of the Northwest Territories greater control over decisions setting the nature and pace of development and the regulatory processes and environmental assessments of resource development projects on their lands and waters.
Specifically, Bill C-15 would amend the Territorial Lands Act so it would no longer apply to lands under the administration and control of the commissioner of the Northwest Territories. The act would only apply to federal lands and federally-managed sites in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. For its part, the legislative assembly of Northwest Territories would pass its own legislation to manage land under the administration and control of the commissioner of the territories.
The bill would also repeal the Territorial Waters Act, as the legislative assembly of the Northwest Territories would also enact a new territorial law to manage waters in the territory.
The Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board would continue to issue licences on territorial and private lands in the Mackenzie Valley, but the new territorial water legislation and its regulations would set out the requirements for issuing licences of these lands.
For water in the Inuvialuit settlement region, licences for water use and waste disposal would be the responsibility of the Inuvialuit Water Board, which would be established under the new territorial act.
Finally, the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act would remain a federal statute similar to federal environmental assessment legislation in every other jurisdiction in Canada, should the bill be passed.
As a result, Bill C-15 would cause substantial portions of the Northwest Territories Waters Act to be incorporated into the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act in order for Canada to continue to regulate on federal lands, of which most public land will have been transferred to the territory as of April 1, 2014.
These changes to the regulatory processes for land and water would continue to generate many benefits for the people of the Northwest Territories. The bill would also promote greater environmental stewardship of all lands and waters in the territories.
The action plan was launched to make improvements to the existing regulatory regimes across the north and to ensure that they are strong, effective, efficient and predictable by making reviews of projects more predictable and timely; reducing duplication for project reviews; strengthening environmental protection; and respecting consultation obligations with aboriginal groups.
Clearly the development of this legislation that hon. members see before them today is the result of years of important, collaborative work. Adoption of the Northwest Territories devolution act by Parliament would mark the legislative conclusion of the vital work in the Northwest Territories we set out in the action plan to improve northern regulatory regimes. Passage of Bill C-15 will allow us to work with northerners under a regulatory regime that works for all and that will contribute to improved economic outcomes.
I am convinced that all of us in the House would agree that the source of our country's power and legitimacy in the north is derived from the people who live, work and raise families there and from vibrant, self-sufficient northern communities. These are the people and communities that this act seeks to support.
Canadians of the north must be empowered with the legal authority to create northern ways to meet northern needs. The Northwest Territories devolution act would give the Northwest Territories the tools and political freedom to do this.
I urge my colleagues to do their part in building the true north. I urge my colleagues to pass Bill C-15 swiftly into law.