Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I'm here today to speak to these particular amendments to the three acts. I think the committee should understand the nature of the three acts herein. These acts are actually the closest thing to being the constitutions of the three northern territories. In regard to public government across the Northwest Territories, these three acts outline the political rights of the people I represent, and of course the same applies to the other two jurisdictions.
So these acts are very important to the people of the Northwest Territories. They are actually the only thing that gives us a legislative assembly and anything approximating the political rights of every other Canadian and every other provincial jurisdiction. So when it comes to amending these rights, these acts, I think there's a need for a great deal of sensitivity on the part of the government as to what is being accomplished. These aren't simply the powers of the federal government; they are the expression of the rights of the people of the three territories.
So on what we've seen here, I can go back to the testimony given by the Deputy Minister of Finance of the Government of the Northwest Territories last year, before a similar committee, in speaking to another act, one that talked about borrowing limits. The history of borrowing—and the fact that there is anything within the NWT Act, the Yukon Act, and the Nunavut Act on borrowing—goes back to a time when the Northwest Territories, Yukon, and Nunavut could only borrow from the federal government. The maximum allowed to be borrowed was set by regulation of the Governor in Council.
Today, all borrowing in the Northwest Territories and the other territories is done through private market borrowing, just as every other province takes care of it. Every piece of borrowing that's done in these three territories is under the scrutiny of the same financial services that carry every other province in this country.
Three years ago, the GNWT position going into negotiations about raising the borrowing limit was that their preference—and this was stated by the deputy minister—was for the federal government to remove itself from any responsibilities for a borrowing limit or for any other matter therein. What we've seen here is that a government, such as the Northwest Territories government, for instance, has a Moody's rating that exceeds that of every province except British Columbia and Alberta. That testimony was given as well. So what we have here is a government that has very strong financial management policies and a government that is mature and takes care of its citizens.
But what we see in this act is a bill that is going to amend the NWT Act, the Yukon Act, and the Nunavut Act—and I'll speak to all three of them—and not simply for the aggregate of all borrowing, because the borrowing limit was already in the NWT Act and the Yukon Act and was set by the federal cabinet. So really, the new portions of this bill are on the conditions of borrowing. This is a very important consideration, because “conditions of borrowing” mean what constitutes or deems to constitute borrowing, and one of the largest debates in this category was over whether self-financing loans should be considered “borrowing” under the limit. In other words, if the Government of the Northwest Territories enters into borrowing that is going to return the cost of the borrowing to that government, should that be held as part of the borrowing limit?
This is a very important factor to us, because just as provinces have responsibilities to invest in their territory or their province, so do we. When it comes to the plan the Government of the Northwest Territories has to expand its hydroelectric system, where the estimated borrowing requirements for something that is going to be returned are in excess of the borrowing limit that has already been designated...in other words, it's virtually impossible for those plans to go ahead under these circumstances if the conditions for borrowing include self-financing loans under the limit.
We have a situation where the future fiscal capacity of the Northwest Territories to expand its services to provide opportunities to grow an area of 1.2 million square kilometres—an area that is considered by many people to be one of the new areas of economic strength for Canada—will perhaps be constrained by the conditions, the regulations, that are going to be set by a federal cabinet. It could be this federal cabinet, it could be the next federal cabinet.
Within that, within these amendments, we see no provisions for consultation, no guarantee to these separate governments that their conditions for fiscal capacity will have a considered point of view from the governments they represent.
This is really not appropriate. That's why both ourselves and the Liberals have put forward these amendments. To my mind, this is the very least that should be done to this bill. This is the very least, because it does give voice to responsible governments in the three northern territories in a fashion that should be there. I think most people of equal mind in this country would say that's the case, that this would be the least that should be provided to those governments. It's not there, so we're asking for that to be put in place.
It's simple. It won't upset this budget bill and it won't change the nature of the bill, but it will give some surety to those governments that they will actually be consulted, that they will actually have a chance to put their point of view about their borrowing capacity, about what they need to make their territories whole, in front of the federal cabinet before it makes decisions about that.
I think it's imperative for this committee to look at this not simply in a viewpoint of the political state of Canada, where a budget implementation bill is being fired through without amendments, but to think of it in terms of what this actually means to the people of the north.
It's a very simple thing to do. It sets us on a course that is a correct course. It sets us on a course that may bring us more equality with the rest of Canadians. As a person who's lived his entire life as a second-class political citizen of this country, I appeal to all this committee to respect us in the three territories, to give us our due.
And accepting these amendments would be simply that. It would not upset the financial state of the Government of Canada and it would not tie the Government of Canada to any particular course of action. It would guarantee that we have a voice, albeit a small voice, in a decision that is so important to the future of our three territories.
So I would ask that these amendments be accepted. I would say that the two amendments can be combined. They are for each act, they are similar, and they constitute a good and sensible compromise to what has been proposed here.