Mr. Speaker, let me start by congratulating the minister for introducing Bill C-6. It is a very fine Liberal initiative in the tradition of modern Liberal thinking. It will go a long way in the long overdue recognition of the rights of our native people. It will provide for a land claims agreement which we have all wished would see the light of day and finally the day has come.
Bill C-6 would implement the terms of the Sahtu Dene and Metis comprehensive land claim agreement as well as the Gwich'in comprehensive land claim agreement. This is to be done in terms of land use planning and land and water management. Also it takes into account environmental impact review as to the implications of certain specific proposals. This is a long overdue initiative as the land claim agreement in question deserves full implementation as soon as possible.
There are a number of important issues that should receive the attention of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development. I would like to indicate a few through this intervention.
The committee could study ways and means to ensure that there is an integrated system of management of land use planning, land and water management and environmental impact assessment. This is the first and most important consideration if the bill is to live up to the considerations and goals relating to sustainable development.
The second point is the committee would be very wise in examining the effect of this bill on the quality and type of environmental assessment that will be done in the Mackenzie Valley. It might be worthwhile noting that the Mackenzie Valley covers quite a wide territory. It includes everything north of 60, south of the Inuvialuit claims area, east of the Yukon border and west of the Nunavut settlement area. It is a huge area.
At present the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act applies in much of the land north of 60. Together with other existing and proposed regimes we could over time end up with a patchwork of environmental assessment regimes as they apply in the north. That is something we would like to prevent.
The existing regimes include in addition to the federal act, the process under way under the Inuvialuit land claims agreement process and the James Bay and northern Quebec agreement. The proposed regimes include the Yukon development assessment process, better known as DAP, and the process to be administered by the Nunavut impact review board, plus the framework proposed in part 5 of this bill.
Before such a patchwork is to emerge, it might be worthwhile for the committee to examine certain questions. For instance is the system which is currently in place working? Will the proposed additional regimes improve the situation? Will each of the new regimes address transboundary, international and environmental impacts? A cursory review of clause 141 of the bill which is entitled “Transregional and External Developments” seems to indicate the need for stronger wording so as to ensure a comprehensive review of potential effects whenever they may occur.
Mandatory rather than permissive language will also make for greater certainty of the process to be followed which is in the interests of all participants. This is a point of discussion in almost every piece of legislation relating to the environment. They are more effective when mandatory rather than permissive language is used.
The fourth point has to do with the following question. Is there adequate provision in the bill for participant funding in environmental assessment? Participant funding is a critical component for decision making because it requires meaningful public participation. Members of the public do bring important contributions to the discussion of what comprises their health and what effects there may be on the environment of an area where industrial development is proposed. In addition, the public can bring important input to whether there are health and environmental trade-offs for the development that is being proposed.
Canada has many environmental assessment regimes. The federal act provides for funding for participants. We are very proud of that fact. This funding was introduced by Liberal legislation some years ago.
I would like to add that the co-management bodies established under this bill will constitute institutions of government. Therefore, it will be essential for parliamentarians to become involved. This will require thorough committee reviews. Of course, the availability of funding for participants is very essential. With that thought in mind, might I say that the aboriginal affairs and northern development committee would be well advised to travel to the northern communities to hear the views, which I am sure are diverse, on this bill.
To save time in this debate, because this is a fine measure which ought to be given speedy passage, I would like to congratulate the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development for introducing the bill. I would reiterate my suggestions for the committee, namely to consider how it can ensure that environmental assessment, as well as land and water management, are conducted in accordance with the principle of sustainable development as outlined in the Brundtland report entitled “Our Common Future”. In doing so we will achieve something of lasting value for many generations to come.