Thank you. Good morning Madam Chair and members of the committee.
I apologize for making my presentation in English.
My French is not sufficiently good that I can be well understood.
We're here today to talk about habitat conservation, and I'd like to start with a brief summary of who we are.
The Canadian Boreal Initiative is guided by a vision and a framework that was negotiated across a broad group of leading resource companies, conservation organizations, and first nations. Those members around our table—and we call this group the Boreal Leadership Council—comprise leading resource and financial companies in Canada, including the TD Bank, Suncor, Al-Pac, and Domtar. They also include first nations across the country from the Kaska to Treaty 8 to Poplar River First Nation to the Innu Nation in Labrador. They also include environment and conservation organizations such as Ducks Unlimited Canada, the Nature Conservancy of Canada, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, and others.
We were launched about a decade ago. We're actually heading into our second decade of work supported by a strategic partnership among Ducks Unlimited Canada; Ducks Unlimited, Inc.; and the Pew Environment Group. They all share a commitment to work to protect species that move across international boundaries, such as ducks and geese that reside in the boreal for part of their year. We act as a secretariat to our council, and our collective goals are to achieve a balance between sustainable resource development and protection of about half of Canada's boreal region, all in a manner that respects and advances aboriginal rights and interests.
We get behind real solutions. For instance, many of our aboriginal partners are bringing forward land use plans that balance development and protection in unique and sustainable ways. They are increasingly enjoying the support of governments and are coming on stream now in an implementation phase in a number of areas of the country. We work across the energy, forestry, and mining sectors as well as with banks and conservation organizations, as I've mentioned. In our experience, the objectives that we support—encouraging world-class, sustainable development and marrying that with world-class conservation—are mutually reinforcing in many places. As a testament to that fact, our goals are increasingly being brought into government's objectives moving forward. We work with all levels of government—federal, provincial, territorial, and aboriginal—on a range of interests.
I will just mention the boreal region, which as you know, stretches across the country from Newfoundland and Labrador through to the Yukon. It spans over half of Canada. It's an area of very rich natural resources and rich conservation and wildlife values. There's no question that the boreal is an economic engine for northern economies. Many of these communities also want to see how development can be balanced with ways of protecting their traditional livelihoods, wildlife lands, and waters. Planning for this integrated sustainability is key, and we're tremendously focused on supporting that.
There is a proud history of support within Parliament for land and water conservation including recent and newly expanded national parks, such as the Nahanni in the Northwest Territories. We're pleased to see the committee studying this question of habitat conservation and to see the federal role in supporting this.
I essentially have five major recommendations. The first is that we encourage the committee to continue its support for national parks and national wildlife areas. They're vitally important to completing the network of Canada's protected areas, as you know. They are flagship programs that are highly valued by millions of Canadians, and they protect nature in ways that are celebrated around the world.
On the federal programs that are needed to create national parks and to effectively manage sites such as natural wildlife areas through time, it's very important to recognize that the need for ongoing support is vitally important. So we encourage you to continue to look at that.
Our second area of recommendation is around the Northwest Territories in particular, which is undergoing a change in jurisdiction in how the responsibilities for land and water are managed. As you know, there has been a recent devolution agreement in the Northwest Territories, and this is a tremendously important time. We are just encouraging the committee to ask questions about devolution in terms of seeking assurance that the mechanisms are there to consider, create, and manage the new protected areas that are coming on stream.
We're encouraged by some of the recent statements by GNWT, the Government of the Northwest Territories, and the assurance that the support will be there federally as well to continue to support the working groups that are working on broadly supported proposals for new protected areas, and also the land withdrawals that provide interim protection for these areas until they can be designated. There are new sites that are coming on stream. What is really needed now is a process to drive forward. Right now the GNWT is developing a mineral strategy to guide mining, and we need a retooling of the protected areas strategy as a companion initiative.
Our third area is supporting tools for effective wildlife mitigation. I will focus on two areas in particular. One is the species at risk regime, and the second is comprehensive environmental assessment. Both of those are building blocks for habitat conservation across the country.
We would like to simply say about the Species at Risk Act that now is the time for stability. We would encourage that now is not the time to reopen it. What we really need is time to bring the cooperative work that's happening right now to fruition. Chief among those is.... I'll give an example of one we're engaged in, which is called the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement, which involves the entire forestry sector, working with first nations, environmental groups, and governments to advance their forestry plans and at the same time protect caribou that are within their licence agreements.
There are many other examples of good collaboration.
The second area within the mitigation tools is environmental assessment. I just want to flag that there is one project in particular, Ontario's Ring of Fire, that would really benefit from another look at how environmental assessment can be done in that region. It is one of the most important mineral finds in our generation in Canada, and it makes sense to get it right.
Right now I just wanted to flag that the current comprehensive study will likely not meet the particular needs of the first nation communities. What is going to be helpful in creating a foundation for both development and habitat protection in that very large region would be to bump up the review to a panel review in that case.
The other mention I want to make is that supporting land use planning is one of the key tools to reconcile development with habitat conservation in the north of Canada. There are many examples across the country, including in Alberta and Manitoba. They are emerging in Ontario. They're moving in that direction in Quebec and in Labrador. In British Columbia there are agreements around land use plans, and in the Northwest Territories. It's a very broadly scoped tool, and it's regionally defined and adjusted. These are processes that advance only with the support of the parties, which are the first nations and the governments in the regions in question.
We would just like to finish by encouraging the federal government to support land use planning as a key mechanism for both wildlife habitat and development, and a number of provinces would welcome the same.
Thank you very much.