Evidence of meeting #14 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 peoples.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Ron Hallman  President, Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency
Michael Martin  Deputy Minister, Department of the Environment
Daniel Watson  Chief Executive Officer, Parks Canada Agency

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

I see that. I guess the question is.... We can talk all day about the special relationship, but they look to the crown. If the crown says yes, and we don't move on the tanker ban, and indigenous communities say no, there is no real prior and informed consent.

I would like to try to get a better sense of that. On the Site C dam, Grand Chief Phillip said that this government has failed the test of reconciliation by failing to consult.

Now there are a number of federal permits. The communities we have spoken to say that nobody from the federal government has spoken to them about the issuing of a federal permit. I have heard you say in the House that there has been consultation, so what is the nature of that? Does consultation mean that you are listening to their concerns if they say they don't think that project should go ahead?

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Catherine McKenna Liberal Ottawa Centre, ON

The Site C dam, for those of you who don't know, was a project approved in 2014 by the previous government. There are legally binding conditions imposed by the CEAA with which the proponent must comply. We are actively verifying those conditions, but beyond that, we're continuing to engage in discussions with indigenous leaders on how we work together on issues with respect to consultation.

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

They say they haven't been consulted, that federal permits have to be signed off.

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Catherine McKenna Liberal Ottawa Centre, ON

Yes.

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

What's the disconnect?

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Catherine McKenna Liberal Ottawa Centre, ON

This is a great example of a project that didn't have the level of consultation and engagement that should have been had. This is why It is absolutely critical to rebuild trust in our environmental assessment process.

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

I agree.

I don't want to be rude here, but Chief Phillip says that how you respond is the test of reconciliation in B.C. It's not, “Go for it; we'll just pass Site C because we didn't do it up to now.” They're saying this is here now. There are permits waiting.

What's that relationship to respond to that indigenous opposition? They say they are not being consulted on the issuing of federal permits.

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Catherine McKenna Liberal Ottawa Centre, ON

In this matter, because it's before the courts, there's not more I can say, but I will once again turn it over to the head of the CEAA.

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

I have to move on.

I'm concerned about the issue of climate change. The devastation affects our communities. It's not just that people can't hunt, but when an ice road goes out early, it's an economic catastrophe to industry and communities. Millions and millions of dollars of supplies don't get in.

I'm looking at the government's overall commitment for community infrastructure and it's not under the environment exactly, but that's only $127.5 million per year. That includes roads, bridges, energy systems, broadband connectivity, all kinds of physical infrastructure for fire protection. If you're looking at mitigation, have you done an estimate of what's out there for ice roads? Those are our links to all our northern communities.

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Catherine McKenna Liberal Ottawa Centre, ON

I agree with you that this is going to be a significant challenge with melting permafrost, with ice roads no longer being accessible, or accessible for a shorter period of time. That's why we're engaging with our pan-Canadian process. I was just speaking with my counterpart from Yukon immediately before I came here to talk about the specific circumstances in Yukon.

This is something we need to better understand. I don't know that anyone can quantify it. In fact, how significant the impacts will be will depend on how the world reacts and what measures we take to tackle climate change, which is why having an ambitious agreement was so significant. We have the working group process. Under adaptation, there's a group that looks at the impacts on northern communities, because I agree, there are very special challenges there that we need to consider.

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Thank you.

In 2014 this committee found a lack of effective environmental regulation. Many indigenous communities are particularly vulnerable, much more so than off-reserve communities. It's the jurisdictional black hole that all our communities fall into from whether it's fire services to basic health and safety. It's the same in the environment. Many of our communities have become toxic because of poor installation of buildings and diesel.

Has the department conducted an assessment on this environmental regulatory gap, and if so, is there a plan in place?

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Andy Fillmore

Be very brief, if you could, Minister.

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

Catherine McKenna Liberal Ottawa Centre, ON

I agree with you. There are regulatory gaps. We are assessing them. We will commit to doing more, because as you say, this is a key area and certainly, that is something the department is committed to doing.

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Andy Fillmore

The next question is from Don Rusnak, please.

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

Don Rusnak Liberal Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you, Minister, for taking the time to come here and address this committee today.

I want to address something that my friend across the way was talking about. She wanted a yes or no answer, and I understand that whether first nations have a veto on resource projects is far more difficult than a yes or no answer. In my riding, New Gold has been engaged with first nations for quite some time.

Could you discuss some of the ways your department is working with first nations and companies?

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

Catherine McKenna Liberal Ottawa Centre, ON

If you're talking about environmental assessments in particular, we work very closely with indigenous peoples. We engage with them early on. We ask the proponent that they engage with them, and also incorporate traditional knowledge when they provide their responses to particular questions.

If you're talking about the specific circumstance, the specific example, I can pass it on to the head of the CEAA, Ron Hallman.

5:10 p.m.

President, Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency

Ron Hallman

Chair, I'm not sure if there's a more specific question or just in general.

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

Don Rusnak Liberal Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

In general, I want to know how you're engaging with indigenous communities and companies at the very start.

5:10 p.m.

President, Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency

Ron Hallman

Absolutely.

Chair, when we get a project description from a proponent, we work with the proponent, with indigenous groups, and members of the public through consultation to make sure that everyone understands what that project is, and the description. If it's not clear, then we ask the proponent to make it more clear.

Once we do that, we ask indigenous groups what impacts they believe that project may have on them, if they know. That helps form our environmental impact statement guidelines and the repertoire, if you will, of the work that we ask the proponent to do, and the analysis, to be able to indicate what those effects may be and what mitigations they would propose.

Typically, we would have a working group that would be made up of indigenous groups and other representatives, and the proponent and expert federal departments, chaired and coordinated by the agency, as the crown consultation coordinator, so that there would be single-window access to the process and so that we can coordinate the work going back and forth.

Whenever we can, we try to have boots on the ground in the community if the indigenous group wants that. We remain very flexible on how and when and where we do that consultation. It's often very valuable, and we get the best traditional knowledge information, when we're able to be in communities and hear directly from elders. Then if we see a gap between the traditional knowledge and what the proponent's analysis may say, we work with the proponent and ask them to identify how to bridge that gap in information so that both of them come together in terms of our advice to the minister on what we believe those effects will be, what those mitigations could be, and following from that what the legally enforceable conditions ought to be, if indeed the project proceeds.

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

Don Rusnak Liberal Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Again, I started speaking about the New Gold project in Treaty No. 3 territory. I know that the company has engaged with first nations for a long time there. I don't know what your department's role has been there specifically, but practically, if companies aren't engaging with first nations or indigenous communities, there are other mechanisms for first nations to stop projects. We've seen that all over the country. We've seen it in using the courts, using roadblocks. I think the example of New Gold and the engagement that they've done has been absolutely excellent.

I want to shift to safe drinking water. Your department works with the Department of Indigenous and Northern Affairs and, I believe, Health Canada, in terms of safe drinking water and first nations. Can you describe the work you've been doing towards that end?

5:15 p.m.

Liberal

Catherine McKenna Liberal Ottawa Centre, ON

Clearly, this is a very topical and key issue, safe drinking water on reserves, and it's something our government is committed to addressing. It's just unacceptable the situation with boil water advisories in so many communities.

In terms of Environment and Climate Change Canada's role, we do work very closely with INAC, as well as Health Canada, but our role is really on reducing the threats from pollution to water.

I can pass it on to my deputy to discuss in more detail what that involves.

5:15 p.m.

Michael Martin Deputy Minister, Department of the Environment

In doing that, we have a regulatory responsibility, including as it relates to waste water. We also work with the Department of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, which has program resources to help build the capacity for communities to better manage the environmental risks that may exist as they relate to water and waste water. Of course, we work with provincial authorities as well, and others in watersheds, to help manage those risks. We have monitoring programs in place that help provide the information necessary to communities to make good decisions about how best to manage those risks.

5:15 p.m.

Liberal

Don Rusnak Liberal Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

To continue with safe drinking water, what coordination mechanisms are in place to ensure that all federal responsibilities for the provision of safe drinking water in first nation communities are properly discharged?

May 12th, 2016 / 5:15 p.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of the Environment

Michael Martin

We would work with specific communities in terms of the challenges they may face, whether there is a capacity issue, whether there's a regulatory question, whether there's a specific pollution risk. Through that engagement, we use both our regulatory capacity and our scientific capacity, and our partners at Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, who have significant programmatic resources to help support communities to manage those risks.

5:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Andy Fillmore

Thank you.

We're going to move into five-minute rounds of questions now. The first question is from Todd Doherty, please.