Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak tonight in support of Bill C-69. Before I begin, I would like to acknowledge that we are on the traditional territory of the Algonquin and Anishinaabe peoples.
This bill provides the framework for a modern assessment process that would protect the environment, attract investment, and ensure that good projects go ahead in a timely way to create new jobs and economic opportunities.
Today, I am going to focus specifically on how it supports our government's commitment to reconciliation and a renewed relationship with indigenous peoples. Meeting this commitment is challenging, but it is also necessary. I will discuss how Bill C-69 would advance reconciliation and partnership with indigenous peoples. I will also describe what the government has heard from indigenous peoples in recent months, and how their input has helped strengthen this bill.
From the very beginning, our government has been clear that no relationship is more important to Canada than its relationship with its indigenous peoples. We committed to a renewed relationship based on the recognition of rights, respect, co-operation, and partnership as the foundation for transformative change, and we have taken important steps to fulfill that commitment.
In 2016, Canada announced its full support of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples without qualification, with a commitment to its full and effective implementation. This February, the Prime Minister announced that we will work in partnership with indigenous peoples to develop a new recognition and implementation of rights framework to realign the relationship between the Government of Canada and indigenous peoples based on the UN declaration.
Development of the framework builds on steps we have already taken along this path. That includes launching a review of laws and policies to ensure that the crown is meeting its constitutional obligations with respect to aboriginal and treaty rights, guided by 10 principles rooted in section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, guided by the UN declaration, and informed by the report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's calls to action.
We have begun to make institutional changes to support the renewed relationship. In particular, we have announced the dissolution of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada and the creation of two new departments: Indigenous Services Canada and Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs. This will accelerate work already begun to renew the relationship with indigenous peoples and better enable them to build capacity that supports the implementation of their vision of self-determination.
We have announced our support for Bill C-262, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples act, as a strong first step in the process of implementation. More legislation will be needed in order to fully implement the declaration in Canada. Our government has also made historic investments in indigenous education, health, infrastructure, and communities, including to improve primary and secondary education on reserve, improve health facilities, build housing, and ensure access to clean and safe drinking water.
Finally, recognizing that indigenous peoples have long been stewards of the environment and have knowledge of the land that spans generations, we continue to work closely with them as we take action to protect and enhance Canada's environment and respond to the threat of climate change.
Meaningful participation of indigenous peoples informed the development of the pan-Canadian framework on clean growth and climate change, and our government is working in partnership with the Assembly of First Nations, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, and the Métis National Council to implement it. Given the indigenous coastal communities' deep ties to Canada's oceans, we are partnering with them to implement our $1.5-billion oceans protection plan, for example in developing training programs to increase the participation of indigenous community members and women in marine safety jobs.
Finally, the bill before us today is built on a foundation of engagement with indigenous peoples, along with industry, stakeholders, and a broad range of Canadians from coast to coast to coast.
This bill is an important step, which would advance reconciliation and produce better project decisions by recognizing indigenous rights and working in partnership from the start. It would make it mandatory to consider indigenous knowledge alongside science and other evidence, including when the assessment is led by another jurisdiction.
Under the new impact assessment act, indigenous jurisdictions would also have more opportunities to exercise powers and duties, including taking the lead on impact assessments through substitution. Through measures such as the new early planning and engagement phase, the bill would ensure that indigenous peoples have opportunities to participate from the very beginning and throughout the assessment process.
Finally, it would place consideration of impacts on indigenous peoples and their rights at the centre of the decision-making process by including this as one of the key factors that must be taken into account when making a decision following an impact assessment.
Going forward, we are committed to working with indigenous peoples to define processes aimed at securing consent and collaborating with them as we develop regulations under this legislation.
Since the introduction of Bill C-69, our government has continued to engage with indigenous peoples at every opportunity. The Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development also heard testimony from a number of indigenous peoples and organizations during the study of the bill. In response to that testimony, the committee made several key amendments that enhanced the bill's potential to advance reconciliation and a renewed relationship.
Indigenous peoples have said that it is important that the bill fully reflect our government's commitment to implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Through amendments, the standing committee has ensured this commitment is at the forefront of the bill and will guide its implementation.
The bill now references the UN declaration in the preamble to both the impact assessment act and the Canadian energy regulator act. The purposes clause of the IAA now specifies that the government, the minister, the agency, and federal authorities will need to exercise their powers in a manner that respects the government's commitments with respect to the rights of indigenous peoples. Similarly, the mandate of the Canadian energy regulator would include exercising its powers in performing its duties and functions in the same way.
We have heard about the importance of taking a distinctions-based approach, one of the 10 key principles guiding our review of laws and policies. This is needed to ensure that the unique rights, interests, and circumstances of first nations, Metis, and Inuit peoples are acknowledged, affirmed, and implemented. In response to this feedback, the committee has amended the bill to ensure that membership of key committees under the legislation reflect a distinctions-based approach.
Indigenous peoples have told us that considering indigenous knowledge in impact assessments is critical. At the same time, they have called for better protection of this knowledge. The standing committee's amendments would strengthen both its use and protection of indigenous knowledge.
The bill would now require that assessment reports clearly show how indigenous knowledge has been taken into account. It also provides more safeguards across all acts to ensure appropriate protection for indigenous knowledge, while also recognizing that proponents may, at times, need to have access to it. Consultation would be required before indigenous knowledge could be disclosed, and ministers would then be able to place conditions on the disclosure of this information in light of those consultations.
In line with feedback from indigenous organizations, the committee has also clarified that indigenous knowledge would be considered, that this would not be limited to “traditional” knowledge of indigenous peoples.
Finally, throughout the bill, the committee has taken steps to further emphasize the commitment to meaningful participation in assessment processes for indigenous peoples as well as the public.
I am pleased to see that many of the amendments made by the standing committee directly respond to issues raised by indigenous peoples and will further ensure the bill can support reconciliation.
As I have described, our government is committed to advancing reconciliation and a renewed relationship in all of our actions, including this bill.
I want to recognize the contributions made to Bill C-69 by indigenous peoples and organizations across Canada. It is truly a privilege to work with indigenous peoples and to hear their perspectives and priorities. Our government looks forward to working collaboratively with indigenous peoples to implement the legislation.
I would once again like to recognize the committee for listening and responding to the testimony of indigenous peoples and organizations. This is a challenging process but, ultimately, a rewarding one as we work together to protect the environment, create economic opportunities, and advance reconciliation.
On a personal note, I would like to mention that I am a member of the environment and sustainable development committee. It was a great honour to be part of the considerations and the amendments on this legislation.