Thank you, Mr. Chair.
To all members of the committee, I am really looking forward to this. It's the first time for me, and it might be the first time for others of you around the table participating in a robust discussion, centred in this building, around this important committee. I think that more and more of our public policy will be and should be stimulated by robust discussion in a multi-partisan way. That's what this committee allows.
Mr. Chair, you were very happy about that spirit of unanimity. I'm wondering when that word will be used again—soon, I hope. We all strive for consensus. Unanimity can be elusive, but I'm sure there will be within your own work and within your own debates robust and respectful disagreement. After all, that's what it's all about.
I congratulate you and I welcome the chance to engage you.
I've prepared some remarks for today but I want to begin by thanking all of you for serving on this committee.
Your efforts here will go a long way in helping to inform and shape how Canada develops its natural resources in ways that benefit communities economically and socially.
The principles of sustainable development are more important now than they have ever been and will be an essential part of our work together.
That's a big responsibility, but also a truly nation-building exercise, because the development of our natural resources puts that at the intersection of so many of Canada's top priorities, for example, climate change and the environment, engagement with indigenous peoples, innovation, economic growth.
The history of Canada's indigenous peoples and generations of immigrants has been shaped by Canada's vast forests, the exploration, development and use of minerals and mines, and the abundance of our energy from hydroelectricity, wind, solar, and nuclear to oil and natural gas.
Central to our stewardship of Canada's natural resources has been our profound connection to the land, water, and wildlife, and the understanding of the quality of life Canada's natural resources have given us and will continue to provide for generations to come, as long as we make good choices, choices based on science and which include the participation of indigenous people and communities.
Natural resource management is a big responsibility. I'm privileged to be tackling this responsibility along with all of you. I'm looking forward to your insights and your input.
As you know, these have been challenging times for many of Canada's natural resource industries. The markets have not been kind to commodities: oil, natural gas, minerals, metals. Forestry also faces dramatic changes in the demand for paper and other forest products.
Low commodity prices have dictated difficult decisions on capital spending and even more difficult ones on personnel. Behind each resource project cancelled or delayed, there are Canadian families affected and facing uncertain futures. As Minister of Natural Resources it is seeing the impact of the commodity downturn on Canadian families that concerns and troubles me the most.
While this government's fast tracking of $750 million in infrastructure spending to Alberta does not make up for the job losses in the private sector, it is a start and a signal that while Canada's federal government cannot change oil prices, we do care and will take all reasonable measures to help.
Commodity cycles are real. They have highs that drive wealth and prosperity and they have lows that reduce the flow of investment capital, impacting jobs and government revenues. While we are in this low cycle, I believe there are things we must do now and over the longer term to realize a brighter future: a future built on innovation and adapting to changing times by finding greener ways to extract and develop our natural resources and get them to market; a future built on investing in clean technology and green infrastructure, making greater use of renewable sources of energy and ensuring that the economic and environmental benefits of energy efficiency are fully realized.
Where do we begin today?
My mandate letter from the Prime Minister is a good starting point, and its unprecedented release to the public says a lot about the open and transparent approach we are taking. Just as parliamentarians do, any Canadian who is watching this or cares to read reports of this conversation has access to that mandate letter, to which I will be held accountable.
My instructions are to ensure our resource sectors remain a source of jobs, prosperity, and opportunity in a world that values sustainable practices. That goes to the heart of my focus over these past 15 weeks. We can no longer have conversations about resource development or economic growth without talking about environmental sustainability. We can no longer talk about moving our natural resources to markets without first ensuring we have a regulatory process that carries the confidence of Canadians.
It's time for us to have an open discussion about our environmental assessment system, one driven by climate change imperatives, supported by world-renowned science and technology, and reflective of the diversity of Canadians.
It starts by seeking consensus. We'll never get everybody saying the same thing. Just witness the questions that have been posed to me in the House over the last number of weeks. I think if we could get agreement on the other side about the questions they were going to ask the government, we'd be in great shape, but I'm not holding my breath.
But we can develop a process for reviewing and assessing major resource projects that will be acceptable to Canadians. In the interim, we've developed a transitional approach for major resource projects under review. We are not asking the proponents of these existing proposals to go back to square one. Instead, we are insisting upon more meaningful consultations with indigenous peoples and affected communities. We want to listen intently and engage respectfully before decisions on these projects are made, because nothing less will do.
We are also requiring, for the first time, that major federal reviews include an environmental assessment of a project's upstream greenhouse gas emissions. This will help to inform our national climate change plan with the provinces and the territories. Also, we are ensuring that decisions on any resource project are based on science and evidence, and that the evidence includes traditional indigenous knowledge.
That's why we will be modernizing the National Energy Board so that its composition reflects regional views and has deep expertise in indigenous traditional knowledge. This type of engagement is a recurring theme in my mandate letter.
For example, the Prime Minister has also asked me to work closely with the provinces and territories on the Canadian energy strategy. The goal is to protect Canada's energy security while also encouraging energy conservation and bringing cleaner, renewable energy onto a smarter electricity grid.
We have similar ambitions when it comes to the continued greening of our mining and forest industries. The Canadian brand in mining is recognized around the world as a leader in sustainable development and innovation. The same holds true for all of the Canadian forestry companies that have been improving mill efficiencies, finding new uses for conventional forest products, and investing in innovative new products and technologies.
We want to build on these successes. That's why one of the first things our government did was to make sure that Canada is part of Mission Innovation, an ambitious new global partnership that is bringing 20 countries together with some of the world's best-known entrepreneurs to accelerate the clean energy revolution.
I'm very pleased that the member for Portage—Lisgar was able to join me in our hometown of Winnipeg to welcome the American and Mexican secretaries of energy to that historic meeting.
How will we do that? By doubling government investment in transformative clean energy research and development over the next five years, by increasing collaboration among participating countries, and by spurring private sector investments in clean technology. The Prime Minister has already made commitments to invest an additional $100 million each year in clean technology producers and $200 million more annually to support innovation and the use of clean technologies in the natural resource sectors.
Canada has the resources, the expertise, and the experience to lead the fight against climate change while positioning itself as a global leader in low carbon energy and sustainable resource development. We also have an opportunity to do all of this as part of a continental approach with our North American partners. That's especially true in the energy sector.
Earlier this month I hosted the American and Mexican secretaries of energy in Winnipeg where we signed a memorandum of understanding on climate change and energy collaboration. It reflects a bold vision for our continent, a vision that secures North America's place as one of the world's most dynamic energy regions, a vision that strengthens our collective energy security, and a vision that commits us to collaboration on environmental stewardship.
It's a vision within our grasp. A vision with potential for other resource sectors. And a vision that can reset the course of our economy to create opportunities for generations to come.
If we take the power of industry, show respect for the land and water, and acknowledge the essential role of indigenous peoples, we can be an example, not just to the world, but to ourselves.