Thank you, Mr. Chair, for the opportunity to appear before the committee today.
I have with me today my colleague, Sara Filbee, assistant deputy minister of lands and economic development at Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, as well as--should more detailed information be required--Mimi Fortier, our director general of northern oil and gas, and Paula Isaak, director general of natural resources and environment.
My remarks today will focus on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada's role in resource development in the north from the broad mandate of northern development to its regulatory responsibilities.
Resource development in Canada's north is important to northerners and Canadians. Last week, I attended a conference in Edmonton on the future of Canada's north. Many of the speakers talked about the importance of responsible resource development.
Through the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development Act, the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada is responsible for the economic and political development of the north. More specifically, the minister is directly responsible for resource management, including lands, waters, minerals, and oil and gas, both in the NWT and in Nunavut, in the same manner as provincial governments in the south, whereas in the Yukon, the focus is on the broader development context. In the offshore, jurisdiction remains with the federal government throughout the north.
AANDC furthers the political and regional economic development in the north in a number of ways, including the negotiation and implementation of land claims and self-government agreements and the devolution of responsibilities to territorial governments. Northern governments have taken on greater responsibility over the past few decades, assuming province-like responsibilities that were previously held by the federal government. This includes the devolution of land and resource management in the Yukon in 2003. In January of this year, Canada and the Government of the Northwest Territories signed an agreement in principle on the devolution of land and resource management in the NWT. Devolution activities contribute to the development of the region by moving the responsibility for decision-making closer to the people who are most affected by the decision.
Natural resource development has played an integral role in opening up the north, from the gold rush in the Yukon, petroleum exploration in the Mackenzie Valley, to the discovery of diamonds in present day Northwest Territories and Nunavut.
The Arctic region is estimated to contain one-fifth of the world's remaining oil and gas resources, making Canada's north a potential large future energy supplier. It is the world's fourth-largest producer of diamonds by volume and third by value. There continues to be offshore interest in oil and gas, with industry poised to make major investments in the Beaufort Sea with commitments to spend $2 billion for the drilling of exploration wells in the Beaufort offshore.
The Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada exercises his responsibilities in resource management in two ways: firstly, through the issuance of rights for land, minerals, gravel, and oil and gas; and secondly, through his policy development and decision making in the regulatory process.
The northern regulatory regimes were created to ensure responsible resource development in a remote region while providing for environmental protection. These principles are embodied in the various comprehensive land claim agreements across the north, and in turn are reflected in the enabling pieces of legislation and regulations that underpin the regulatory regimes in all three territories.
Currently the land claim agreements outline the required legislative provisions, and AANDC works very closely with aboriginal groups to ensure that the spirit and intent of the comprehensive land claims agreements are reflected in the legislation.
Each northern territory has its own resource management regime depending on their political development. In the Yukon, for example, the administration and control of lands and resources was transferred to the Government of Yukon on April 1, 2003, pursuant to the Yukon Northern Affairs Program Devolution Transfer Agreement. Territorial legislation was passed to regulate the transferred responsibilities. Of course, in Yukon as in the other two territories, there are still many other federal regulatory requirements that apply to fisheries, navigable waters and explosives, among other areas.
However, Yukon's environmental assessment legislation continues to be a federal law. I am talking about the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act.
In the Northwest Territories there are currently four settled land claim agreements: the Inuvialuit Final Agreement, the Gwich'in Comprehensive Agreement, the Sahtu Dene and Metis Final Land Claim, and the Tlicho Final Agreement. The remaining portion of the NWT is still involved in ongoing negotiations. This creates some significant differences in the regulatory picture. For instance, due to differences in land claim agreements, the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act applies in most of the NWT, while the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act applies in the most northerly region, the Inuvialuit settlement region.
Over the years concerns have been raised by various stakeholders regarding the functioning of the regulatory regime in the NWT, which led my department to undertake an independent review of the issues and subsequently release the McCrank report in 2008. Consequently, the department has taken steps to address the challenges of the regulatory regime in the NWT and the north with the establishment of the action plan to improve northern regulatory regimes, a $25 million investment over three years.
The action plan focuses on three key initiatives: to develop and amend legislation and regulations to complete and improve the regulatory system in the north, to fully establish environmental monitoring programs in the NWT and Nunavut, and to ensure a strong aboriginal voice.
Nunavut has a single land claim agreement between the Inuit of Nunavut and Canada signed in 1993. The agreement establishes the regulatory regime for project development and the establishment of five boards to manage these projects. Those boards deal with the following five areas: land use planning, environmental assessment, water rights issuance, surface rights disputes and wildlife management. To date, the process has been working well while the federal government continues to develop the regulatory regime. In fact, we hope to see the new Nunavut Project and Planning Assessment Act, which is Canada's final outstanding commitment in the Nunavut land claim agreement, re-introduced in Parliament as soon as possible.
Along with responsibilities for resource management, the department also has a very strong commitment to the environment and sustainable development. Some of our recent focus has been on environmental monitoring and Arctic science.
A key element of the action plan to improve northern regulatory regimes is the implementation of two community-based environmental monitoring programs: the cumulative impact monitoring program in the NWT and the Nunavut general monitoring program in Nunavut. They aim to achieve excellence in environmental management and stewardship through effective monitoring and assessment of cumulative impacts.
Our department's commitment to cumulative effects monitoring and assessment is not limited to onshore. Last summer our minister announced the Beaufort regional environmental assessment initiative, with funding of $28.8 million over five years. This is a multi-stakeholder initiative including grants and private sector funding to sponsor regional, environmental, and socio-economic research that will gather new information vital to the future management of the Beaufort Sea.
There is also exciting work in the science and environmental monitoring front in the high Arctic through the development of the Canadian high Arctic research station. This new station, to be located in Cambridge Bay, will be a world-class, year-round, multidisciplinary facility on the cutting edge of environmental monitoring and research issues. Four key priority areas have been identified, with one focused on resource development to ensure that development is economically and environmentally sound and promotes social development.
To support the government's commitment to building a world-class high Arctic research station, Canada also invested $85 million to the environmental action plan through the Arctic research infrastructure fund. This investment will provide the opportunity to ensure that a robust network of infrastructure is in place.
In support of international Arctic science, Canada has played a significant role in International Polar Year, which started in 2007-2008 and will be wrapping up at a final conference entitled “From Knowledge to Action”. The conference will be held in Montreal, Quebec, in April 2012. International Polar Year is the largest-ever program of multi-disciplinary research focused on the Arctic and Antarctic regions.
I will now briefly discuss our responsibilities with respect to resource development on reserve, essentially south of 60°. My colleague, Sara Filbee, is responsible for this area.
South of the 60th parallel, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada has a mandate to manage the legal obligations of the Crown by enforcing the Indian Act, the Indian Mining Regulations and the Indian Timber Regulations.
There is considerable mineral potential on reserve lands. According to the last mineral potential inventory that was produced in 1991, about 50% of the 3,000 Indian reserves have a fair to high metallic or non-metallic mineral potential. Diamond, gypsum, graphite, coal, potash, uranium, and gold occurrences are promising on-reserve prospects.
Most of the mining activities on reserve are related to sand and gravel extraction. However, there is interest in other metallic and non-metallic mineral deposits.
In addition, the Crown has judiciary and statutory obligations related to the management of oil and gas resources on first nations lands. Indian Oil and Gas Canada, a special operating agency, manages those resources on the Crown's behalf.
That agency handles the oil and gas resources of some fifty first nations with oil and gas agreements. All funds collected on behalf of first nations are placed in their trust accounts. The agency also helps first nations manage and control their oil and gas resources.
As I have briefly outlined, AAND has a role in northern resource development, from political evolution through to devolution and land claims, and we retain responsibility for lands and waters, including improving the environmental assessment regimes. I have also outlined the department's activities around increasing our knowledge of the Arctic environment, with the aim of protecting and ensuring sustainable Arctic ecosystems.
Thank you for your time today, and I look forward to our discussion.