Evidence of meeting #10 for Indigenous and Northern Affairs in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was communities.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Françoise Ducros  Senior Assistant Deputy Minister, Policy and Strategic Direction, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development
Joe Wild  Senior Assistant Deputy Minister, Treaties and Aboriginal Government, Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada
Stephen Van Dine  Assistant Deputy Minister, Northern Affairs, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development
Paul Thoppil  Chief Financial Officer, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development
Serge Beaudoin  Director General, Sector Operations Branch, Regional Operations, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Andy Fillmore

We'll come to order. Thanks, everyone, for being here today.

I'll start by acknowledging that we are today on unceded Algonquin territory.

Before we get started, I also want to let the committee members know that the name change was approved in the House of Commons this morning. Our standing committee is now known as the Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs.

The acronym is INAN, Indigenous North, Autochtones Nord, INAN. That was a good thing to get done.

We'll move right into the agenda. We're very pleased today to have the Honourable Jim Carr, Minister of Natural Resources, to speak to us.

Minister, we're happy to have you speak for 10 minutes and then we'll move into rounds of questions. As we get within a minute or so of 10, you'll see my yellow card.

Thank you very much.

April 21st, 2016 / 3:35 p.m.

Winnipeg South Centre Manitoba

Liberal

Jim Carr LiberalMinister of Natural Resources

Thank you very much.

It's a pleasure to spend this next hour with you.

As I said to the natural resources committee, which I have had the pleasure of appearing in front of twice, I truly believe that this is the heart of our democracy and the heart of Parliament. This is an opportunity for members to exchange views respectfully, for ministers to be accountable to colleagues, and for us to take seriously, as I know we all do, the very important issues that face us, whether in government or in opposition. I welcome this next 58 minutes or so.

I want you to know that I appreciate and acknowledge that we are on the traditional territory of the Algonquins.

I also want to talk about my mandate letter from the Prime Minister, and the priorities we have established to ensure that indigenous peoples are true beneficiaries of local resource development: economically, socially, and culturally.

I will also note, and not just in passing, that these mandate letters are public. There are 35 million Canadians who can read them and can hold us accountable. In fact, there are billions of people around the world, if they're interested, who can know what is expected of ministers. The Prime Minister has made public his expectations of us, and his expectations of our responsibility to Canadians.

As the Prime Minister himself has said, there is no relationship more important to our government than the one with indigenous peoples. His directions have been clear to every cabinet minister:

It is time for Canada to have a renewed, nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous Peoples, based on recognition, rights, respect, co-operation, and partnership.

This is fundamental and central to our vision for developing Canada's natural resources for the low-carbon, clean growth economy ahead. If we want to attract the investment and build the infrastructure to move our resources to market, then we need to get our environmental house in order and have Canadians behind us. There's no better place to start than with first nations, Métis nation, and Inuit peoples. That is not just because there is a constitutional duty to consult, which there is, but because it affords an opportunity to include, to make real the promise of a new relationship based on trust and mutual respect as economic partners and as environmental stewards.

The importance and the urgency of these efforts has rarely been more apparent than with the tragic suicide crisis in Attawapiskat and in indigenous communities across the country. Speaking with colleagues over the last number of days, we have been reminded that these tragedies are not local or isolated to one part of our country. They exist throughout the north. They exist in remote communities. We should always be mindful of the fact that what we're witnessing in one part of the country is occurring throughout the country. Therefore, our concentration, our effort, and our focus has to be a national one.

Our government recognizes that any solutions in the short and long term must involve greater resources. That's why, through budget 2016, we have committed to historic investments totalling $8.4 billion for first nations priorities, to improve living conditions and social and economic outcomes. Money alone, as all members know, is not the answer; it's part of an answer.

People in these communities must also have hope. Sustainable resource development can be part of that hope. It can strengthen local indigenous economies, preserve the integrity of their land, and create well-paying jobs, simply by incorporating centuries of indigenous culture and wisdom to ensure that economic prosperity and environmental performance go hand in hand.

To recount very personal experiences that I have had over the last number of months as minister throughout Canada, in conversations with elders, with community leaders, there is a generational responsibility, both retrospectively and prospectively, to make sure that we respect the relationship between the human, the land, the water, and the air. Those generations that came before us expect us to be stewards in our time. In our time, we have an obligation to make sure that we leave our planet and our environment in shape for the generations to come.

We can strengthen local indigenous economies and preserve the integrity of their land, all at the same time. Where do we start? One of the things I've been doing as minister is calling round tables, and members will be interested to know that if you put a group of industry leaders, aboriginal community leaders, and environmental activists at the same time, and you would think they would have no common ground, you find that after two or three hours of intense conversation and listening, common objectives become much clearer. In some cases there had never been these kinds of conversations before. When we realize that economic growth and environmental stewardship along with respect for indigenous background, culture, and practices is actually a shared national objective, you begin to see the contours of how we can make sense of the complexity and the layers of decision-making that are going to be in front of us.

As Grand Chief Perry Bellegarde has said so well, “Before you build anything, build positive, respectful relationships”, and we are heeding that advice as follows: Implementing an interim strategy to guide decision-making for major resource projects, a strategy that emphasizes the importance of not only meaningful engagement with indigenous peoples but also concrete actions to deepen those consultations; making sure decisions are based on science and evidence and that the evidence includes traditional indigenous knowledge; and modernizing the National Energy Board so its composition reflects regional views and has deep expertise in indigenous traditional knowledge.

Our first budget supports these efforts by including $16.5 million to implement some of these new measures.

We have a chance to change the language on resource development and to strive for consensus. We will never achieve unanimity. We don't achieve unanimity even on simple matters of public policy, and we understand that the complexities of our federation and the issues that are involved in resource development will never lead to everybody saying the same thing about the same issue at the same time. But we can develop a consensus and we can develop a process that carries the confidence of the Canadian people.

Proponents of major resource projects are coming to understand this. They are starting to take the necessary time and effort to work with local indigenous communities to build trust with indigenous leaders and communities. The mining sector, as many of you know, has long been a role model for this. By our estimates there are 380 active agreements between mining companies and indigenous communities across the country. These agreements have helped to forge strong partnerships and provide significant local benefits in key areas such as training, employment, business development, procurement, and environmental protection.

What is the result? More than 10,000 indigenous people are working in mining and mineral processing across the country. Most of them are employed in upstream jobs, but there are many others finding business opportunities in the service and supply industries as well as in environmental technology. We need to expand those efforts, as the forest sector has done over the years, and how every resource industry could with goodwill, the right kinds of engagements, and growing experience.

Indigenous communities have waited a long time for this. I've heard it repeatedly. Yes, indigenous peoples consider the land integral to their identity. They have a sense of responsibility, but they will also tell you, often in the same breath, that they want opportunity for their children. They want economic possibilities for communities that have had very few. We need to take these two imperatives and merge them together to find new ways to develop our resources responsibly, to get them to market sustainably, all while creating good, clean jobs for indigenous communities.

It has been a very long time since we last had a better chance for consensus. That's my message to you. It's the message to us. If we take the power of industry, show respect for the land and water, acknowledge the essential role of indigenous peoples, we can be an example not only to ourselves, but to the world.

Thank you.

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Andy Fillmore

Thank you very much, Minister Carr.

I was remiss earlier, Mr. Hamilton, in not telling the committee that you're here. We also have the deputy minister for the Department of Natural Resources, Bob Hamilton. Welcome to you as well.

We'll move right into questioning. The first round will be seven-minute questions and the first question will come from Don Rusnak.

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Don Rusnak Liberal Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Minister and Mr. Hamilton, thank you for joining us today. As you may or may not be aware, I have under construction in my riding right now Canada's newest gold mine, New Gold's Rainy River project. It's been a shining example of co-operation between indigenous communities and the mining companies.

There's another area in northern Ontario that has become known as the Ring of Fire, which is a tremendous opportunity for northern Ontario. In fact, the potential resource development has been valued at more than $40 billion.

How is your department engaging with the first nations communities in regard to that project?

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Jim Carr Liberal Winnipeg South Centre, MB

It's a very exciting project, and the potential is enormous. As a matter of fact, just over the last week or so I looked at the work that's being done at Canmet in our labs to have a better understanding of the process that's necessary to take out valuable minerals and move them to market.

We know that the Government of Ontario has committed $1 billion to the Ring of Fire, and within the last number of weeks I have had the opportunity to visit with Minister Gravelle from the Province of Ontario to talk about the project and also with Grand Chief Isadore Day.

What I said to both of them and what I say to the committee is that the Government of Canada is looking to partner with provinces, indigenous communities, and municipalities on major infrastructure projects. If the Government of Ontario deems the Ring of Fire to be a priority for that government—and indigenous communities agree—and come to have a conversation with the federal government, the federal government will be open to that conversation.

The impression that I had from both of those meetings was that this truly is the case. We know that the economic potential is powerful. We know that this can be an internationally important supply of those minerals that help in the construction of stainless steel and that there is increasing international demand. It's rare. This is an economic opportunity, and when we are able to determine the priorities of the Government of Ontario and those communities, the federal government will be more than pleased to sit down and have a conversation with them.

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Don Rusnak Liberal Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

You mentioned concrete actions in terms of what your department's doing to engage with first nations and indigenous communities. Can you elaborate or give us any examples of what your department's been doing?

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Jim Carr Liberal Winnipeg South Centre, MB

Well, I can certainly speak for myself in my own time and how much of a pleasure it's been for me to travel literally from coast to coast, but not the third coast yet; that's coming. We have had these round table conversations in Halifax, Saint John, Toronto, Winnipeg, Calgary, and Vancouver. At all of these round tables there have been indigenous leaders.

Then in my travels, for example, in Vancouver, I had a series of meetings with regional chiefs, as I have done wherever I've travelled across the country. This is part of my commitment to have a better understanding of those values and those issues that are important to indigenous leaders, but, more than that, our department is very active and continues to be.

As you probably know and I'm very happy to remind members, we have announced new processes as major projects continue to be reviewed, in particular, the trans mountain expansion project, and the energy east pipeline project, where we will be asking the government to extend the period of time in which we can consult with indigenous communities about those issues that will impact these communities down the line.

We're active virtually at every level, at the ministerial level within the department and with communities, and we will continue to be, as we understand that the importance of meaningful consultation is essential to move these projects forward.

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Don Rusnak Liberal Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

You mentioned that you have been engaging with first nations communities. You mentioned you spoke to National Chief Perry Bellegarde.

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Jim Carr Liberal Winnipeg South Centre, MB

Yes, several times.

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Don Rusnak Liberal Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

What are first nations communities telling you right now? What are indigenous leaders telling you?

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Jim Carr Liberal Winnipeg South Centre, MB

That's a little bit like asking a parliamentarian what the parliamentarians are saying.

As you know, because you sit in question period every day, I have to anticipate every now and again where questions may come from.

There is no unanimity of perspective. Why would we expect there would be unanimity of perspective with an indigenous community? Circumstances are different within local communities and across regions. Fair enough. Not all communities are very aggressive in asserting their support for resource projects; others are. It depends on their relationship with the proponents. It depends on the economic circumstances in their region or in their communities.

I can say that there is, generally speaking, a willingness to engage the Government of Canada and provincial governments in a new spirit of reconciliation.

The government can be proud of what it has accomplished in six months on this file. I am talking about acceptance of the 94 recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. I am talking about the movement that we are making towards an inquiry into missing aboriginal women and girls. I am talking about the budget commitments that are significant and will be impactful. I am talking about our recognition of narrowing the education gap between indigenous and non-indigenous children.

We have a good start. There is much more work to do. In my experience, I find indigenous communities to be willing partners.

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Don Rusnak Liberal Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Thank you, Minister.

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Andy Fillmore

Thank you both for that.

The next seven-minute question goes to Cathy McLeod.

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Thank you.

I have two questions and a few interrelated concepts.

The Tsilhqot'in decision provided a lot of clarity about aboriginal title to a fairly vast area of land in British Columbia. It also left the ability for the government, be it federal or provincial, to override in the interests of all Canadians at times when a specific project is in the greater interest.

As we work toward the implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples—and that is the way you have indicated you are going—it talks about free, prior, and informed consent. Some lawyers say that is a veto; others say it is not. I want to know if you believe it is a veto.

Second, if there is something critical for national infrastructure, will the government maintain its ability to move forward with it?

The next piece aligns with that. Again, I'll use this example. The Kinder Morgan pipeline crosses the territory of a number of first nations. I know there are many throughout the interior of British Columbia that have agreements with the company. They are very enthusiastic about this. I would say that, very clearly, they have free, prior, and informed consent. There is no question that, as you hit the Lower Mainland, the situation changes. Again, we have a situation where we have a number of bands that are very enthusiastic for a certain natural resource project to move forward, and others that aren't. How are you going to align that?

That's three questions in one. Is it the government's ultimate responsibility? Does the UN declaration mean a veto? How do you align competing rights of different nations with natural resource projects?

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Jim Carr Liberal Winnipeg South Centre, MB

The clause itself, in the United Nations declaration, talks about “obtaining”, seeking to obtain, consent. Those, I think, are the important words.

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

You would say it is not a veto.

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Jim Carr Liberal Winnipeg South Centre, MB

I would say that the government is in the process of providing a Canadian definition to the declaration. We believe that the Supreme Court judgment, which is the last expression of Canadian law on the subject, is exactly as you have expressed it. The government will take very seriously its obligations for meaningful engagement to seek consent, and you will find that, during the course of the reviews of major projects, those efforts will be in good faith and they will be comprehensive.

The government is currently in the process of providing greater clarity to these definitions, and before too long, we will be glad to share that.

On the question of aligning competing interests, well, you are a politician. You know all about aligning competing interests. You try to find common ground. You begin to find common ground by trying to agree on where we want to be. What are the objectives?

The Prime Minister has been perfectly clear. The government's objective is to get our natural resources to tidewater sustainably, and I am sure that is an objective you share. The question is, then, how are we going to get there? We are going to get there by following a process and a regulatory regime that carries the confidence of Canadians. There is nothing ambiguous about the goal. There is nothing ambiguous about the timelines. They are laid out, in the case of all these major projects. We are moving down that road as expeditiously as we can.

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

I think it's aligning those interests. I've been watching for the past year people in the interior who see the trains carrying massive amounts of oil along the salmon-bearing river, who are very concerned, and who are comfortable and confident with a pipeline that has gone for 67 years. I would say it's a completely different perspective once you hit the Lower Mainland on that particular issue. It's certainly no question that it's going to be a challenge.

I know there also appear to be significant challenges with governance systems where you have both hereditary chiefs and elected chiefs with sometimes very different viewpoints. I look at the whole conversation around consultations and consent. Have you been putting a lot of thinking into that particular piece of the issue?

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Jim Carr Liberal Winnipeg South Centre, MB

We think the confidence in the regulatory system is an important piece of where we have to be. You'll notice, both in the mandate letter and in the answers we've been giving to questions in the House and in speeches across the country, the National Energy Board itself has to be composed of individuals who better reflect the diversity of Canada and cultural practices among indigenous peoples. That's a very important part of it.

Beyond the transition phase we're in now, and you know the five principles that we articulated...by the way, both the Minister of the Environment and Climate Change and the Minister of Natural Resources appeared in front of the press of Canada saying the same thing. That's not something that has been routine, as you know, in the experiences with another government.

We think the process of recommendation has to include a respect for this diversity and those cultural practices, and as I said a minute ago there will be different points of view. There will be differing leadership perspectives on that, and that's something that will be accommodated and considered.

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

One thing I know is that one of your principles is measuring upstream GHG emissions. I do hope ultimately that's taken to a broader level, because as we have ships coming in from Saudi Arabia, we're not taking into account the GHG emissions and the environmental impact of bringing the oil into Canada versus our homegrown oil. I think we're missing a significant piece in the concept of how we evaluate projects.

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Andy Fillmore

Thank you.

The next question is to Romeo Saganash.

3:55 p.m.

NDP

Romeo Saganash NDP Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

I want to thank the minister and the deputy minister for being here today.

Mr. Minister, I listen carefully to the answers you attempt to give in the House to questions related to resource development. You often point out the interrelation between resource development and the environment, and I think rightly so, because in all resource development projects the environment is a fundamental component to that.

I would suggest, in doing so, we also need to add an additional component to that interrelation between resource development and the environment. That component is aboriginal treaty rights in this country, many times over recognized and reaffirmed by the highest court of the land, especially in light of the Prime Minister's pledge and commitment with respect to a nation-to-nation relationship and a partnership respect for fundamental rights.

I would like you to provide an update to this committee with respect to two projects that are presently controversial: the Site C dam in British Columbia, and the LNG project.

I think with the Site C dam, the review panel has determined there will be irreversible impacts on first nations rights and fish habitat in that case. Most recently in the LNG case, Gerald Amos, in a press conference stated, “ If they approve this project, I think Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declared war on the people who are concerned about this system.”

What are your thoughts about these two projects? Can you update this committee about those two projects and how that commitment to a nation-to-nation relationship, partnership, and reconciliation fits or is reflected in those two specific projects?

4 p.m.

Liberal

Jim Carr Liberal Winnipeg South Centre, MB

As you know, the Site C project was approved on October 14, 2014, and it's before the courts, so there's only so much I can say about that. I'm sure you'll appreciate the constraint that this provides.

In terms of our own actions and the Prime Minister's commitment to a nation-to-nation relationship, I feel comfortable that we're well on the way to proving how serious we are given the way in which we're conducting ourselves as a government within our own time and within our own mandate.

You referred to the Pacific Northwest project, the LNG project?

4 p.m.

NDP

Romeo Saganash NDP Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Yes.

4 p.m.

Liberal

Jim Carr Liberal Winnipeg South Centre, MB

At the very end of the environmental assessment process, the proponent installed new information. The assessor has come back to the proponent with some questions, and as soon as those questions are answered, there will be a 15-day period of assessment, and then the government will have 90 days to make a decision. That's the way it will play out. You know the factors that will be included in the government's thinking, because they're laid out in the principles that we articulated on January 27. We believe that the LNG market internationally is a very important one for Canada. We also understand that prices are very low and that the world is awash in natural gas. It's a reality. It's a competitive reality, too.

That being said, the Government of Canada isn't in the business of predicting markets. We're in the business of sustainable regulation and respect for indigenous communities. There will be a science-based assessment of the evidence factoring in the best consideration of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency. The decision ultimately will go to the cabinet, and the cabinet has said that it will work expeditiously to provide that answer, and it will be within 90 days of the consulting period ending. First we await the final application from the proponent.