House of Commons Hansard #20 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was devco.


International Circumpolar CommunityPrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.


Rick Laliberte NDP Churchill River, SK


That, in the opinion of this House, the government should recognize the 55th parallel as the identified Canadian boundary for participation in the international circumpolar community.

Mr. Speaker, I am very proud today to stand on behalf of my constituents of Churchill River. I am also exceptionally proud to stand as a Metis member of parliament, as this week recognizes the Metis peoples of this country.

The pride in representing one's people and the pride in being able to speak in the House of Commons to bring forth the issues and perspectives of this country is certainly paramount in this private member's motion that I bring forward.

The motion states:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should recognize the 55th parallel as the identified Canadian boundary for participation in the international circumpolar community.

The message I bring from people who live in the northern half of the provinces that touch on the 55th parallel is that we have been overlooked. The federal government by convenience has been sending delegations and representations to the Arctic Council of Circumpolar Nations and circumpolar conferences from north of 60.

The definition of the north seems to be a major problem in this country. We find that the definition of the north which exists on the website of our Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development is that Canada's north is any land north of 60. I bring the message to Canadians that this is wrong. North is not only north of the 60th parallel. In this country north varies within political, cultural, territorial and geographic areas.

A major part of this discussion has taken place in the last 30 years, since in 1970 a man named Louis Hamelin wrote a book about nordicity. He brought out 10 factors to define the north, which created the Hamelin line. Different government departments have recognized the Hamelin line as being the definition of Canada's north.

A few years ago the Arctic Council was created and, symbolically, it was created here in Canada. Its eight member states are Canada, Denmark, Greenland, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States. These member states sit as the Arctic Council. Our ambassador to the Arctic Council is Mary Simon.

I challenge the federal government to identify the Canadian north. Since it is recognized internationally that the circumpolar north is the 55th parallel, let us give the privilege of participation to any people or province that falls within the 55th parallel in the international circumpolar community. Opportunity should be given to British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario. I have excepted Quebec because Quebec has been involved. A portion of Quebec falls within the 60th parallel and it has been involved in the dialogue in the circumpolar community. However, I ask that the other provinces be given that opportunity.

The development of the north is truly a challenge for this country. It has vast tracts of land, vast resources, but very few people. The population of the north is not democratically represented in the House of Commons. There are very few northern members of parliament and very few senators who sit in the other house who specifically represent the north. This is a wake up call for the government. Even though there are small populations, let us represent these regions.

I have been involved with the northern regions in the dialogue and discussions of the circumpolar community as an observer, most recently in Whitehorse where the concern was sustainable development. The discussions of course, first and foremost, concern the connection of our people to the land, the interconnectedness between sustainable development and the future development of resources to sustain life.

The cycle of life is paramount in Nordic countries like Sweden and Denmark, which are smaller countries with smaller resources. The long term use and sustainability of their resources is paramount. Just because Canada has more vast tracts of land, we cannot overlook the lessons we can learn from our neighbouring countries in the north. The design of our houses, the design of our roads, the design of our infrastructure all come into play. We can learn from the member states, from our neighbours.

The issue of pollution is a subject of major dialogue because of transboundary pollution. My riding is called Churchill River, which obviously has within it the Churchill River. However, the river flows into Hudson Bay, so all pollution in the water of Churchill River affects Hudson Bay and the Arctic region.

The McKenzie River system, which flows into the Arctic, starts on the southern side of the 60th parallel. It does not start north of the 60th parallel, so anything that happens in the river system, in the watershed area, affects the northern regions and the circumpolar regions.

I wanted to raise that because the jurisdiction, through the Natural Resources Transfer Act, belongs to the provinces. The provinces are responsible for water and land resources. Recently some federal responsibilities for the environment have been transferred to the provinces. However, this further transfer is not taking place with further resources.

The federal government has to take responsibility, define the north, involve these provinces and the northern peoples to represent the issues and their grievances among each other and to find solutions to the problems and ways of transferring this knowledge to further generations.

It is a long journey we are undertaking as we go into the new millennium. I believe the challenges that face us are now at the forefront. The Kyoto protocol, which identified major changes in our climate, will affect the north in a very unique and specific way. I say again that Canada needs to define the north. I welcome members from all corners of this country taking part in this dialogue.

An issue raised by people representing Quebec concerned the French translation of Canadian boundary being a bit different than our intention. I do not want to pretend that I can master French but frontiere is the term recommended to us. I believe members of the Bloc raised this issue to clarify the definition they would like to see.

We did not purposely bring an international boundary issue to Canada, but the northern half of our provinces, the 55th parallel, are not being involved in dialogue on northern issues. They have to be involved in this dialogue so they can bring home the issues from the major conferences which are taking place. I am talking about such conferences as the Arctic Council which talks about foreign issues, defence issues, pollution issues, resource depletion issues and social and health issues. All these issues are specific to the north. This dialogue should remain in the north and northerners should not be excluded from it. The 55th parallel represents a huge community within our country and it is up to us as a country to involve these people.

In addition, the boundary of convenience is the term we would like to use. The 60th parallel has been a convenient boundary for the federal government in its definition of the north. It is time for the federal government to redefine the north and open the books on the definition of the north. We should first strike the web page definition from the Indian affairs definition of the 60th parallel and begin dialogue in the House of Commons.

We should discuss where the issues take place. As I mentioned, there are international forums such as the Arctic Council. However, if we have issues in the north I believe the wealth of the north will sustain the economic future of the country. If we do not involve the people who live in those regions, we will be making a big mistake.

We have to put ourselves at an international level so we can compete and share our wisdom. This wisdom is sometimes locked into what we call aboriginal traditional knowledge. Just because a birch tree is called a birch tree in English it may have a French definition. The scientific community might have a Latin definition. The Cree have a Cree definition.

The Dene have a Dene definition of that same birch tree. Our universities and our knowledge based institutions do not recognize the aboriginal language definition of these trees. They test us in the Latin, English or French definition but do not give credit for our aboriginal knowledge.

We know the moss, the Maskêk, the muskegs of the world, through the boreal forests or the taiga of northern Europe and Russia, breathe oxygen to us. However, we are taking forestry, which is a huge industry in the country, to a point where ranch lands take over the deforested areas and then agriculture kicks in. We are losing the natural abundance of oxygen producing forest land, the boreal forest.

I am told that we are losing the boreal forest faster than the Amazon forest because of the huge machinery being used today. This is all for an immediate economic gain. That is the sustainable future that I am talking about. If that dialogue is to take place we have to talk to the people who live in the forests so they can understand the impact those industries are having within their area. They will then be able to make sound decisions on economic, social or environmental impacts. Their knowledge of either Cree, Dene, Ojibway and all these languages will be recognized and credited as part of future developments.

The reason I raise this is that I applaud the efforts of the Arctic Council. I applaud the efforts of the Northern Forum. I applaud the efforts of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference. These conferences are a guide and a good future for us. It is like these people have worn the snowshoes for us and are making the trail. They are making a trail which recognizes each other. They are dialoguing with foreign and international neighbours. They are recognizing and respecting each other for who they are and where they are from.

As a country we can do that, but allowing only a certain portion of the north to be a part of this dialogue is a major oversight by the federal government. That line should be brought down to the 55th parallel which is internationally recognized as a northern community. Let us start the dialogue within our own country. Let us involve the people north of 55 to be part of the northern definition and the dialogue in the international community as we deem it as a circumpolar community.

I am proud to be a northerner, but Canada, give us a chance. There are a lot of examples the north can give to the rest of the country and to the rest of the world. Give us an opportunity and we will shine, as does the northern star.

International Circumpolar CommunityPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Bill Graham Liberal Toronto Centre—Rosedale, ON

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate the member for Churchill River for introducing the issue of the Arctic into the House. It is a subject which I think has not been prevalent enough in our debates and discussions. He is to be commended for taking this initiative.

He may be aware that our committee, the foreign affairs and international trade committee, a year and a half ago undertook a study, Canada and the Circumpolar World, which was deposited in the House before the last election. The response of the government was subsequently tendered in the House. I will speak to that in a few minutes.

We have to recognize that we share many challenges and opportunities in common with our Arctic neighbours. Canada is seeking solutions to expand a northern co-operation and how our northernness contributes to organizations within the United Nations, Organization of American States and others. The past decade has witnessed an unprecedented process of multilateral co-operation and institution building in the circumpolar north designed to foster circumpolar co-operation in tackling the region's problems and aspirations.

Canada has been an active player in the circumpolar north for many years. It is an area where we have important interests at stake and where we can exercise meaningful influence and leadership. Being clear about our aims will help ensure that we have the greatest possible benefit from our diplomatic, scientific and other international efforts in and concerning the circumpolar region.

From time to time we have pursued specific policies in the region, as with our initiative to establish the Arctic Council to which the member for Churchill River mentioned in his speech.

Vigorous circumpolar institutions and processes are now emerging, and they will play an increasingly important role in facilitating collaboration between governments and the people of the north.

Among the concrete expressions of this emerging circumpolar community is an increase in person-to-person contact. These developments all contribute to a shared vision of responsible action in an increasing number of areas.

That is why this government expressed its intentions in this area in the recent Speech from the Throne:

To advance Canada's leadership in the Arctic region, the Government will outline a foreign policy for the North that enhances co-operation, helps protect the environment, promotes trade and investment, and supports the security of the region's people.

Indeed, many of the complex issues we face as a nation are centred around the direct concerns of northerners. This initiative, therefore, is also in keeping with the prominence the government gives the human security agenda in Canada's foreign policy.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs intends to move forward in this area by examining the possibilities in the trade, investment and transportation sectors by exploring new ways of dealing with the pollutants that threaten the livelihood, lifestyle and often the existence of our northern communities, by seeking new approaches to connect communities and forge partnerships in order to secure a better life for all northerners, and by examining how northern issues, practices and solutions might have an application and expression elsewhere. In other words, he will make the northern agenda a two-way proposition.

With this in mind, the government is working on a comprehensive new document called “The Northern Dimension of Canada's Foreign Policy” which will be ready by the end of this year.

At the beginning of my remarks I made reference to the report that the foreign affairs and international trade committee filed in the House entitled Canada and the Circumpolar World. The Government of Canada's response was filed in the House. In our report we raised many of the issues that the hon. member for Churchill River raised in his speech. It recognizes the nature of the northern community and its specificity, yet also how it links to the south and our neighbours.

In the course of preparing our report, the members of the House had the opportunity to travel to Russia and the northern nations that are our neighbours and of speaking to the people in our circumpolar region. We learned that there is much work to be done there to integrate members of the northern community into what is taking place in the world.

I believe strongly that the formation of the Arctic Council was an extremely important part of that community building. If our northern neighbours in our own country are to affirm their specificity and develop a life for themselves which guarantees the preservation of their lifestyle, surely the member for Churchill River will agree with me that one of the best ways to ensure this is to ensure they have strong collaborative links with people of similar aspirations and backgrounds who are their real neighbours in the north. I am speaking of people in northern Russia, northern Finland, northern Norway, northern Sweden and Greenland. These are people who share similar aspirations and cultures, people with whom our citizens in Canada, in northern Quebec, the Northwest Territories and the Yukon, can be in daily contact with through the Internet. They have regular communications.

They also have something else and totally new in the Arctic Council. The Arctic Council is an unusual international organization. It brings the members of the Arctic nations together, not only the countries I have already spoken about but also the United States of America. Through Alaska, the United States is an arctic nation.

In the Arctic Council there is a relationship that has been developed that is very unusual in international law; that is, the role of the aboriginal peoples of the north to actually have the right to participate in the deliberations and actively be involved in the Arctic Council. That is an extremely important innovation in an international institution and an innovation that we can learn from in other international institutions where, as members of the House know, there is considerable concern today that individuals do not have relationships with huge international organizations like the WTO or even the United Nations.

What is happening in the Arctic through the Arctic Council is that the aboriginal peoples who live there are having an input into an important part of what is not only Canadian foreign policy, but the development of their lifestyles in that area.

We all know that northern issues are complex, ranging from the questions of sovereignty and defence to issues of industrial and commercial development, new trading relationships and transportation routes, environmental protection, research and education, health and social development, and the promotion of cultural diversity.

The circumpolar community embraces some of Canada's most important foreign policy partners, as I believe I have demonstrated, from the Nordics and the EU to the U.S.A. and Russia. Only by working together and building on the broad community of regional organizations from the Arctic to the Barents Council and promoting co-operation, coherence, and synergies between and among them, is Canada better able to move forward on these many issues that tend to be transboundary concerns.

The end of the cold war has opened new possibilities for co-operation with Russia and the Baltic states. There are also exciting new possibilities for partnership with other countries of the north, particularly Russia, the Baltic states and with various communities within the north, particularly the indigenous peoples operating through the Arctic Council and other institutions that we can build in the future.

We know of the Nordic Council, the Council of Baltic Sea States, the Barents Council and the Arctic Council. They are four important institutions that have been developed in the north to enable an international dimension to be brought to the existence and preservation of indigenous people.

I conclude by saying to the member that perhaps in my remarks I have not addressed his specific concern about the 55th parallel, but I did want to bring to the debate a dimension which I thought was important. I remind the House that the Arctic is a region of Canada that is part of a circumpolar region. Its development, the development of its people, their survival, their way of life and their existence in the global community will only be preserved if we bear in mind their relationship to their Arctic neighbours and our relationship to our Arctic neighbours and the way in which we work together in these important international institutions.

I urge the hon. member opposite who has brought this matter before the House not only to bear in mind the issues which he raised in his speech, which I think were very appropriate, but also those other issues of foreign policy which I think we have to focus on if we are going to guarantee that the indigenous peoples of the north will preserve their way of life.

I believe that the government through the activities of the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development is doing exactly that. The government is focusing on not only the domestic dimension of this issue but the international one.

International Circumpolar CommunityPrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.


Gurmant Grewal Reform Surrey Central, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on behalf of the people of Surrey Central and as one of the official opposition's critics for foreign affairs to debate Motion No. 237.

The motion asks the government to recognize the 55th parallel as the Canadian boundary for participation in the international circumpolar community. The 55th parallel is accepted by the international community as the boundary that separates the circumpolar territory of the world from more southerly regions.

The NDP member of parliament may simply want to make sure that our domestic laws and policies coincide or match the boundaries that are used by the eight countries concerned with the northernmost regions of the globe, but this may not be the case.

We in the official opposition are very often alone in opposing the positions taken by others in the House on issues like Nisga'a, where the benefits are given based on race and not based on need. In the next 20 years the courts will vindicate our position on the Nisga'a bill.

While the Liberals try to figure out whether or not there is an agricultural crisis, we are going to the hardest hit communities to rally support for a long term solution. Being the foreign affairs critic I can say that apart from the other practical solutions that are possible we propose an aggressive campaign against punitive foreign agricultural subsidies. I am sure that today our farmers are wise enough to make well informed choices.

Forty per cent of our country lies in the territory north of the 60th parallel. If we lowered the mark to 55 degrees, it would be significantly more than 40%. This area would clip off the tops off the provinces. If we included the range of provincial north in addition to Arctic Quebec and Labrador, a great deal of policy concerns would come into play. This is noted in “Canada and the Circumpolar World”, a 1997 report of the foreign affairs committee.

Many federal-provincial matters will result from the lowering of the boundary that we draw to separate northern Canada from southern Canada. Imagine the interprovincial and federal-provincial squabbling and fighting that would ensue if the boundary were lowered.

Most of the policies that concern our Canadian north are federal government policies. The area between the 60th and the 55th parallels is covered by aboriginal policies under the jurisdiction of the department of Indian affairs, in particular its northern affairs branch. There are other issues. There are environmental concerns in our mid-north. Resources would be affected.

It seems that a great deal of consideration needs to be given to this motion. There may not even be a problem having our domestic circumpolar boundary being five degrees less than the boundary referred to in the country's international policy. The motion is not clear as to why the domestic boundary should be changed. The 60 degree mark is the product of the Arctic Council of eight arctic countries.

Should we be spending taxpayers' money to be a member of the Arctic Council? That is a big question. We are known to be a member of every organization that exists without evaluating whether or not it is useful or productive to be a member. It is a big question of whether we should be a member of the Arctic Council. Maybe we should study that. The government spends millions of dollars every year to keep us in good measure with the Arctic Council and a host of other international organizations.

Let us look at the Reform Party policy. We referred to the Arctic Council in our foreign policy statement which was unveiled a few moments ago. It is entitled “Canada and the Millennium: A New Look at Foreign Policy”. It is a wonderful document and I encourage every Canadian to go through it. It is analytical and has vision. It is a beautiful document. I encourage everyone to read it.

Chapter seven deals with policy in relation to international organizations. We state that the government spends our tax dollars to join organizations just for the sake of joining. The Liberals, and the Tories before them, have a reflex reaction to international problems. They have knee-jerk decision making policies. They immediately support, promote and create international organizations.

One example is the Arctic Council. In 1996 Canada was instrumental in lobbying for the creation of an Arctic Council of circumpolar states. Its precise purpose and utility remains as unclear now as it was in 1996. The council's value seems to have been largely symbolic. The Liberals have not been able to work out what that council does and why its activity would affect Canada. So many other questions remain unanswered.

The U.S. is not enthusiastic about the council either. It will not deal with matters relating to military security for example. It is open to question whether Canada should be a member of such organizations but the government spends tax dollars as if it were at a casino with bags and bags of cash to spend. This government is a spend and spend and tax and tax type of government. It is spending an enormous amount of money in this organization.

Why are we worried about the 60th parallel? While Canada certainly should seek to maintain constructive and friendly relations with all countries, our resources are finite. The Reform Party believes that we must focus our diplomatic attention first on those countries and regions where we have the most significant political, strategic and economic interests and second on those countries that are most important to Canada and Canadians.

Our most significant political partners are the countries that make up the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the G-8 countries. These are the countries whose diplomatic policies have the greatest impact on Canada.

In strategic terms we need to focus on those regions from which direct threats to Canada or to vital Canadian interests might arise, namely North America, the circumpolar region and Russia, the Euro-Atlantic region and the North Pacific and East Asia. In economic terms, national interest demands that we concentrate on promoting trade relations with those countries and regions that are crucial to promoting the prosperity of Canada. It is very important that we look at it in these two terms.

In this regard, 98% of Canada's trade is conducted with the United States, the Americas, Europe and the Pacific Rim. That is where our business lies. Those are the partners with whom we should do business and where we should go to great lengths to do business. That is where we should concentrate our efforts. That is where we should put our scarce resources.

In conclusion, as a result of political devolution and participatory development, global interest in the circumpolar region is expected to increase in the future. It has great potential geopolitical significance in terms of the issues of environmental change, indigenous rights, sustainable human development and development of the immense natural resources that are in the Arctic region.

Building an adequate framework for circumpolar co-operation is essential to avoid future international conflicts. This motion is only part of the bigger picture of foreign policy. We need a fundamental change in our foreign policy. We cannot afford to fix our foreign policy bit by bit. A complete renovation of our foreign policy is needed.

We have seen what the Liberal government has done with the Citizenship Act and the Immigration Act. It has done it piece by piece and has screwed up the whole Immigration Act which is not serving Canadians' best interests. Similarly, there is a need for us to look at our foreign policy in the bigger picture and evaluate the important elements of foreign policy which would be beneficial to Canada and Canadians.

I encourage the NDP member and all Canadians to study the Reform Party's foreign policy proposal which was unveiled today and which is called “Canada and the Millennium: A New Look at Foreign Policy”. It is a wonderful document.

International Circumpolar CommunityPrivate Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

André Bachand Progressive Conservative Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will take a few minutes to speak on the hon. member for Churchill River's Motion No. 237.

Essentially, the discussion on this private member's motion is focused on where Canada's north begins. Where do we start applying the term “northern Canada?” This is an important issue.

Those who have spoken before me referred to the international aspect, but there is a very significant national, domestic, aspect as well.

I would like to mention, before I go on, that our Reform Party colleague has referred to a new document on foreign policy: “Canada and the Millennium”. But which one is it? It seems to me that when the Reform Party refers to the millennium, it means the last century, not the coming one.

I hope it is a mistake. We are going to speak of Canada and the new millennium and not of the millennium, because we could be speaking of the 19th or the 20th century, rather than the 21st century.

That said, when the member for Churchill River speaks of the 55th parallel rather than the 60th parallel, I think that what he wants first and foremost is to strengthen the people, the representatives living and working in what is called northern Canada and the eight countries in this circumpolar group, the world's circumference in the north.

The member explained very well that the north is often taken for granted. The desire is to strengthen the people living there, politically, so issues concerning the environment and sustainable development in the north may be recognized.

The member also wants—and we may or may not agree with him—to give the north greater political clout within the country. If the parallel is changed from the 60th to the 55th, many more people and groups will be involved, and many more provinces will be concerned about the issue of the Canadian and international north.

The issue, in the end, is where does the north begin? Unfortunately, because of the way we work, we do not have a lot of time to get to the heart of what is behind this motion. However, it would be interesting to know the aim and the impact locally, within the country itself. Does the hon. member know, for example, if the territory identified as the north will increase? What will be the impact on the departments concerned? What will be the impact on the departments of natural resources and Indian affairs? There will certainly be a financial impact.

If part of the provinces' territory is now included in the Canadian north, they will have different obligations provincially, federally and internationally. There will be an impact. Before the provinces are told “We are going to impose on you part of what will be called the Canadian and international north” they should be thoroughly consulted.

Quebec is considered an example because of its work with its northern communities, except that such work is not easy to do.

Unfortunately, we will not be supporting the motion as introduced by the hon. member for Churchill River. He should, however, be congratulated for bringing the issue of Canada's far north and the international north before the House.

Often, the far north is seen as a deserted area with few inhabitants which has little political clout domestically and internationally but which is a source of revenue and a national treasure because of its natural resources.

There is an increasing realization that it is a treasure that must, of course, not be polluted, that must not be taken for granted, a treasure that must be developed in co-operation with the people who have lived there for a very long time, and who were there even before the Europeans arrived here. They must be included.

I am not sure that changing the international boundary would make a big difference. It would perhaps give stakeholders in Canada's north additional political clout.

That having been said, the far north is going to take on increasing importance. There is much talk about high technology. We have only to look at investments in high technology, pharmaceuticals and telecommunications in the national capital area and in the vicinity of Quebec City. We are told that these are the technologies of the future.

Any decision to manufacture silicon chips in Canada's far north would be hampered by transportation considerations. Nonetheless, Canada's economic stability lies in its natural resources. The far north is an absolutely marvellous place that must be developed, but that must be developed wisely and in a measured, or sustainable as they say, fashion.

The natural resources of the far north and the high tech industry of the south must be developed within the parameters of sustainable development.

We maintain that the hon. member's motion would increase the critical mass of people living in the international north. This is the idea. However, we must not forget that the provinces' boundaries, both in the south and in the north, are defined by parallels.

The situation created by the provinces in Canada does not exist in most of the other countries that are part of this circumpolar community. We must be careful. Canada's situation and history are different from those of the other countries that are on the same parallel, whether it is the 60th or the 55th. The provinces' territorial division reflects a situation and a history that are different and that are not found in the other countries.

This must be recognized and Canadian governments, both Liberal and Conservative, did recognize it.

That being said, the objective is to give the north much greater political, demographic and economic clout. We must also be logical in our approach. When we refer to the 55th parallel for seven or eight countries, we are speaking for all the countries concerned.

What we are saying is that Canada's historic and territorial reality prevent us from supporting this motion. However, we ask the government to set a clear policy, not to deliver a policy statement here in the House, but to truly work on a permanent basis with those who have the honour and the pleasure of living in what we call the north.

If you asked Quebecers and Canadians to name a place where they would like to live, I am convinced that the vast majority of them would not choose northern Quebec or northern Canada. We must therefore help and support those who live in the north and, more importantly, we must respect their social, economic and cultural environment. We must recognize that these people are giving Canada a territorial sovereignty over a very sparsely populated region of the country.

If it were not for these people, territorial sovereignty as we know it in the Canadian far north would not exist. Quebec's old civil code used to provide that when a person occupied a piece of land for 25 or 30 years, that land belonged to that person, unless it was claimed by another party. The occupation of a territory is a concept that exists in international law.

In order to ensure that Canada does not lose the great and rich territory, the difficult territory that is our Canadian far north, the international north, efforts must be made to ensure that the people living there are supported and have a voice both here in Ottawa and in the provinces, as well as internationally.

I therefore congratulate the hon. member for Churchill River on his great concern for northern issues and for increasing our awareness of them. Every time this hon. member raises something in the House, it is something positive. The people living in a region must be respected, as must the region in which they live.

There is a connection between the two and we salute the hon. member for Churchill River for raising our awareness of an issue with which he is so familiar, the people of the northern region and their region itself.

I congratulate him on his undertaking, but the question of whether to use the 55th or the 60th parallel is a highly complex one, deserving of far more debate. We congratulate the hon. member, therefore, but unfortunately cannot support a change in the international border for the international far north and the Canadian far north.

International Circumpolar CommunityPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.


Bev Desjarlais NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague from Churchill River and I share the Churchill name. We certainly share ridings that are very similar and ridings from the 50th parallel to the 60th which do not have an opportunity to be part of circumpolar discussions internationally because of the way Canada recognizes our communities north of the 55th parallel.

I thank my colleague from Churchill River for bringing forward Motion No. 237 which states:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should recognize the 55th parallel as the identified Canadian boundary for participation in the international circumpolar community.

It is not something that is way out of line, considering that all other countries recognize it. One has only to wonder why Canada would choose not to recognize the 55th to 60th parallels as part of the same circumpolar area.

I would hope that it is not simply because we have already put boundaries in place, as my hon. colleague from the Progressive Conservative Party mentioned when he said that we have these boundaries in place and it becomes really hard or impossible to do things.

Might I suggest we are a country that just recognized a new territory. We took one entire territory, put another line in place, and recognized a new one because we recognized that people in that area had specific concerns and felt they should be represented in a certain way.

I do not think it is unreasonable to suggest that the people and communities that fall within the 55th to 60th parallels should have the opportunity to have their wishes expressed as part of the circumpolar global community. As I said, the rest of the world acknowledges the 55th and one has only to wonder why Canada chooses not to.

Let me assure the House that those of us who live north of the 55th parallel consider ourselves northerners. We understand what happens in the country north of us because we have very great similarities. I might add that once we reach a certain point in the northern community such as the 53rd or 54th parallel, it becomes a very specific part of our life.

We acknowledge that. We identify our communities by that. My home community of Thompson, Manitoba, identifies itself as north of the 55th. The community of Snow Lake identifies itself as north of the 54th. It becomes very important to each of us because we know the differences that happen when we reach that point. There are differences geographically, demographically and climatologically. There are grave differences within our country.

I do not have a lot of time but I want to get in a couple of key points. I guess the member of the Reform Party as well as the member of the Progressive Conservative Party are united in a lot of ways. They are united when it comes to voicing that this is all wonderful and that we should do this, this and this. However, they do not want to put anything in action and they do not really believe people should have a say.

The hon. member of the Conservative Party indicated that if most Quebecers were asked they would not want to live in the north. Quite frankly maybe that is the case but because most Quebecers do not want to live in the north why do we deny those persons and communities north of the 55th parallel the opportunity to have a say? Is it just because most Quebecers do not want to live in the north?

In northern Manitoba we do not have the majority of the population, but the people who are there strongly believe in the north. We are committed to the north. A good number of the people have lived there for 25, 30, 40 and 50 years because they believe in the north. We believe in northern Canada. We are not willing to go in there, reap the resources from the north and leave nothing in return. We are there committed to our communities and we deserve to have the same right for representation internationally within the circumpolar community as have people everywhere else. I find it disappointing anyone would suggest that just because others do not want to live there those in the north should not have a say.

Since I probably do not have a whole lot of time to get into a lot, I will comment that it was also indicated that the provinces would not necessarily be supportive of lowering the parallel from the 60th to the 55th. I will comment on a report that the foreign affairs committee presented last year which commented on how the provinces felt:

Generally, however, the provincial dimensions have not been very prominent in analyzing Arctic affairs affecting Canada; the exception being Quebec which is clearly the most advanced in terms of examining its distinctive “nordicité” within a domestic and international context.

I suggest that is the case because Quebec has been a part of the circumpolar conference and the other provinces have not. By including them in the circumpolar grouping they would be very much more involved in the north and what happens there.

International Circumpolar CommunityPrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

The hon. member for Churchill will have approximately five minutes when next this issue comes to the House for debate.

The time provided for the consideration of Private Members' Business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

Business Of The HousePrivate Members' Business


Glengarry—Prescott—Russell Ontario


Don Boudria LiberalLeader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I wish to seek unanimous consent to move the following motion. I move:

That, notwithstanding any standing order or usual practice of this House, if at any time after 3.15 p.m. during this day's sitting, a minister of the crown requests that the House revert to Introduction of Government Bills, the House shall do so and the bill in the name of the Minister of Labour, entitled an act to provide for the maintenance of west coast ports operations, 1999, shall be introduced, read a first time and shall be disposed of as follows:

  1. Commencing when the said bill is read a first time and concluding when the said bill is read a third time, the House shall not adjourn except pursuant to this order or to a motion proposed by a minister of the crown, and no Private Members' Business shall be taken up;

  2. The said bill may be read twice or thrice in one sitting;

  3. After being read a second time, the said bill shall be referred to a committee of the whole;

  4. During consideration of the said bill, no division shall be deferred;

  5. After no more than six hours of consideration of the said bill, all questions necessary to dispose of the bill at all remaining stages shall be put forthwith and successively without further debate or amendment;

  6. Immediately after the said bill is disposed of the House shall adjourn.

Business Of The HousePrivate Members' Business


The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Business Of The HousePrivate Members' Business



Randy White Reform Langley—Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like clarification from the government House leader.

If we do get into the bill this afternoon, is that in the event that there is no agreement whatsoever in the Vancouver port situation? Or, is this introduction today a result of asking that we bring this in, in any event? In other words, I would like to know, more or less, the status of where this is at at this point in time in British Columbia before we give unanimous consent. If there is no agreement today, then we will discuss this legislation today and finalize it today?

Business Of The HousePrivate Members' Business



Don Boudria Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, I do not mind responding very briefly so as not to delay the House.

The government is quite firm in its resolve that this afternoon, if there is not a situation whereby the people will be going back to work, either because they have decided to, which I understand they have already done, or because management prevents them from going back to work, which is the condition remaining, there will be agreement to go back and a commitment to go back to work. Otherwise we will proceed with this legislation.

Business Of The HousePrivate Members' Business



Nelson Riis NDP Kamloops, BC

Mr. Speaker, the government is rightfully seeking unanimous consent to proceed with this motion. I want to say that we will support this motion in order to open the port of Vancouver.

However, I must say that in my years as a member of parliament this is the first time I have ever had to address backward legislation which would encourage employers to go back to work when in fact they have locked out their employees. If they want to end the situation and get the port working it would be simple to take the padlocks off the gates which they have locked.

Business Of The HousePrivate Members' Business

12:05 p.m.


Randy White Reform Langley—Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am not standing here as my colleague from the NDP did to enter into debate; I am merely asking a question that I am not certain was answered by the government House leader.

This is not a matter of just going back to work. My question is, giving approval to this—

Business Of The HousePrivate Members' Business

12:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

With respect, the question was put to the government. The response was very clear and we are not going to debate it.

Business Of The HousePrivate Members' Business

12:05 p.m.


Randy White Reform Langley—Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, it was not clear.

Business Of The HousePrivate Members' Business

12:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

Yes, it was and we are not going to debate it.

The government House leader has put a motion to the House. Is there unanimous consent for the government House leader to put the motion?

Business Of The HousePrivate Members' Business

12:05 p.m.

Some hon. members


Business Of The HousePrivate Members' Business

12:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

Does the House give its consent to the motion as presented by the government House leader?

Business Of The HousePrivate Members' Business

12:05 p.m.

Some hon. members


(Motion agreed to)

Business Of The HousePrivate Members' Business

12:05 p.m.


Randy White Reform Langley—Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, I was seeking clarification as to whether the government was satisfied with merely going back to work or having a collective agreement in place. The Chair did not give us the opportunity to make that clear before we approved this. I am very disappointed in the Chair.

Cape Breton Development Corporation Divestiture Authorization And Dissolution ActGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

Wascana Saskatchewan


Ralph Goodale LiberalMinister of Natural Resources and Minister responsible for the Canadian Wheat Board

moved that Bill C-11, an act to authorize the divestiture of the assets of, and to dissolve, the Cape Breton Development Corporation, to amend the Cape Breton Development Corporation Act and to make consequential amendments to other acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, the legislation which is now coming before the House for debate, Bill C-11, is an important component in the reshaping of the coal mining industry on Cape Breton Island. I hope that all hon. members will be able to give this legislation their prompt and favourable attention.

The bill is quite simple. It provides the legal authority for the Cape Breton Development Corporation, otherwise known as Devco, to sell all or substantially all of its assets consistent with a privatization plan recommended by Devco's board of directors and agreed to by the Government of Canada in January of this year.

Timely passage of this bill will allow us to proceed as quickly as possible to secure a purchaser for Devco's assets and to finalize a transaction which can help lift some of the clouds of uncertainty about the future of coal mining on Cape Breton Island and confirm the maintenance of good solid private sector jobs.

Let me put this bill into context. For some 300 years coal mining has been an integral dimension of Cape Breton's existence. It is ingrained not only in the island's economy, but also in its heritage, its culture and its very way of life. For the past three decades, since 1967, Devco, as a federal crown corporation, has been the principal instrument by which mining activity has been undertaken. There are strong historic bonds between the corporation and Cape Bretoners which cannot be taken lightly and which must be treated respectfully.

Any accurate reading of the present day realities and future possibilities would indicate that a turning point has indeed been reached. The time has come for some fundamental change.

It is instructive to note that as far back as the Donald Commission of 1966, in a report entitled “The Cape Breton Coal Problem”, a recommendation was made to phase out coal mining on Cape Breton and shift the local economy to other more viable alternatives. Devco was created as a result of that particular report. Its mandate was to discontinue uneconomic coal mines while providing other employment outside the coal industry and diversifying Cape Breton's economic base.

Since 1967, as a Devco shareholder, the Government of Canada has invested approximately $1.6 billion in keeping the corporation's coal mining operations afloat. The federal treasury has also provided more than $500 million over that same time period for economic development initiatives beyond coal, first through Devco's industrial development division and after 1998 through the then newly established Enterprise Cape Breton Corporation, known as ECBC. Everyone would agree that this is a great deal of money, particularly the operating subsidies for Devco.

Beginning in the early 1990s, shortly after the economic development mandate was shifted from Devco to the ECBC, successive federal ministers in successive governments established target dates by which Devco was to have implemented business plans to attain commercial viability in its coal operations without the need for ongoing subsidization. Most recently, in 1996 my immediate predecessor fixed 1999 as such a target date and provided Devco with a federal loan of some $69 million to be drawn upon over that three year period while commercial viability was being achieved.

The board of directors, the management and the employees laboured mightily toward that important goal. However, unfortunately, by late 1998 it became evident that the goal was simply unattainable. Chronic geological problems, productivity levels that were below industry standards, quality considerations, uncompetitive costs and pricing led the board of directors to some serious and unavoidable conclusions.

They requested that their 1996 loan obligations of $69 million be forgiven, plus they identified a further requirement of some $81 million to keep Devco functioning through the year 2000. The board of directors recommended that when the specific mining operations then under way in Devco's Phalen mine were completed in about 15 to 24 months' time, Phalen should be closed. They also recommended that a private sector buyer should be sought to purchase all of Devco's remaining assets, that being the best and most realistic way to sustain as many coal mining jobs as possible, estimated at perhaps up to 500 jobs, in a commercially viable operation.

The board of directors further recommended a human resources compensation package for those employees, estimated at approximately 1,000, who would not likely find work with a new private owner. That package, including early retirement incentives for about one-third of the affected employees and severance and training arrangements for the other two-thirds, was costed at approximately $111 million. The package is fully consistent with the requirements of the collective agreements between Devco and its unions, and in some respects it exceeds those requirements.

The Government of Canada accepted those recommendations from the Devco board of directors and it added a further initiative, an incremental $68 million in a fund to further promote economic adjustment and development on Cape Breton in addition to what would normally be undertaken by either the ECBC or the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, or the federal department of Human Resources Development Canada or any other federal department or agency. I announced all of these decisions last January.

Since that time there has been a number of further developments, some of them good and some of them bad. On the good side, the Government of Nova Scotia has come forward with an incremental $12 million to add to the economic development funding, bringing the available total for economic development now to $80 million.

As requested by Cape Bretoners, local consultations have been undertaken to obtain the very best possible local advice about how to use that new funding. Everyone wants wise decisions to be made to achieve sustainable, long term economic diversification and growth. Community groups, the clergy, labour organizations, industry and business representatives, local authorities, academics and private citizens have been putting forward some very creative and innovative ideas to reshape and reinvigorate the local economy.

The panel that was assigned to conduct these consultations with Cape Bretoners is now preparing its summary report of what it heard. Federal and provincial officials will use that information as the basis upon which to design an economic investment strategy for Cape Breton. The initial elements of that strategy should be operational during the first quarter of the year 2000.

Also on the positive side, Devco has engaged the firm of Nesbitt Burns to serve as its financial adviser and to see out potential purchasers of Devco's assets. The assets for sale include the Phalen and Prince collieries, the Donkin Mine site, the corporation's coal pier and railway, its coal preparation plant and related mine infrastructure. Private sector expressions of interest are expected in December.

The legislation now before us is the key to moving that process forward. The future hinges in large part upon that process being successful, and of course Devco and the Government of Canada will be most interested in a buyer who will make the most tangible and long term commitment to Cape Breton.

On the negative side of the equation, since our announcement last January Phalen Mine has experienced two very serious roof falls which have raised questions about human safety. The board of directors consequently took the position, and I think everyone agrees rightly so, that for safety reasons first and foremost Phalen had to be closed now, not sometime in the latter part of next year which had been the original expectation last January.

This early closure precipitated by very serious safety considerations punched a $70 million hole in Devco's business plan due to lower revenues on the one hand and higher expenses on the other. It also raised questions in the minds of those employees who based upon our January announcements were expecting certain specific benefits at a certain time under the human resources package, all predicated upon Phalen being in operation about a year longer than that which has turned out to be the case.

I am pleased to confirm that we have successfully reprofiled the timing of some of the funding that we announced last January. We have also increased that funding by another $70 million. This will allow us to sustain the corporation through the current fiscal year, that is to April 30, 2000, and to ensure the human resources benefits remain intact as originally expected.

We have of course received many representations calling for that original human resources package to be revised. On this point I do not want to raise any expectations because any room to manoeuvre on this point financially is very limited.

However, because of the new and unexpected situation created by the roof falls and consequently the early closure of Phalen, the human resources package is being assessed in the context of fairness among different groups of employees, relevant precedents, both those from the past and those that might be anticipated in the future, and overall fiscal responsibility. If any adjustments are made in the overall package, I would expect them to be relatively modest.

Returning explicitly to the privatization process and Bill C-11, it is important to note that the bill is not only required to complete any potential sale of assets. It is also an integral and key element in the whole privatization process. It sends a clear signal of serious intent. It will help to bring prospective buyers to the table and keep them there, leading hopefully to an early and successful conclusion.

Beyond providing the legally required sale authority, the bill creates no new ministerial powers and no delegated authorities. It maintains what is called the general advantage of Canada clause which will ensure that the Canada Labour Code will continue to apply, a point that is important to Devco's unions and employees. That is in the bill.

Also there are the usual provisions about the continuation of previously existing legal proceedings. For example, the United Mineworkers Union has initiated a grievance proceeding under subsection 17(4) of the existing Devco Act. While the new bill would eliminate that particular section, it would not affect the outstanding grievance because that grievance was started while the previous provision was in the law so the rights that existed under that particular provision are continued.

During our consultations the province, the Cape Breton community and Devco's workers asked that the proceeds from any sale of Devco's assets remain in Cape Breton. Subclause 2(2) of the new bill will ensure that happens.

Devco will also continue to be accountable to the government. The terms and conditions of any proposed sale of Devco's assets must be approved by the Government of Canada. After the sale the current Devco board of directors will remain in place to ensure that all other obligations are properly looked after.

The Financial Administration Act also ensures accountability with respect to how Devco uses the proceeds. It must as a crown corporation operate within an approved business plan, summaries of which are tabled in the House.

The changes I have outlined are contained in the first five clauses of Bill C-11. The consequential amendments that follow in the remainder of the bill remove various provisions that are no longer applicable or would no longer be necessary under the current act.

As I said at the outset, the bill we are discussing today is straightforward and simple. It is a bill that is as much about Cape Breton's economic future as it is about Devco's past. It is as much a beginning as it is an end. We are trying our very best to move forward along the best available path.

We all know that none of this is easy. The challenges that are to be faced are enormous, but by allowing a private sector operator to purchase Devco's mining assets we are taking a tangible step to try to maintain the maximum possible number of coal mining jobs in Cape Breton in a commercially viable context for the long term.

May I once again give my assurance to Devco, most especially the employees and their families but also the management and the board of directors, that the Government of Canada takes the issues surrounding the Devco situation very seriously. We wish to work in a very constructive way with all of those affected to try to arrive at the end of the day at the very best possible situation for all concerned. We must be most concerned about the future of Cape Breton.

Cape Breton Development Corporation Divestiture Authorization And Dissolution ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.


Dave Chatters Reform Athabasca, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today in the House to speak to Bill C-11, an act to authorize the divestiture of the assets and to dissolve the Cape Breton Development Corporation, to amend the Cape Breton Development Corporation Act and to make consequential amendments to other acts.

In short, the Reform Party intends to support the main thrust of the bill although we have some concerns and we will be introducing some amendments to address some of those concerns. However, in general terms we will support the sale of the assets of the Cape Breton Development Corporation.

We congratulate the government in finally getting around to addressing the problem that maritimers and other Canadians alike have witnessed for years and years. The Cape Breton Development Corporation was originally the baby of Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson, which gives one an idea of how far back the history of the whole matter goes.

Most people today refer to the Cape Breton Development Corporation as Devco. It was and still is a disastrous money pit for the taxpayers of Canada. As far back as 1957 it was recognized that the coal industry in Cape Breton simply would not be sufficiently viable to sustain the economy of Cape Breton on a long term basis. In 1966 the Donald report commissioned by the Government of Canada recommended the downsizing of the Cape Breton coal industry and chose 1980 as the target for production to cease.

In the same year Prime Minister Pearson and Nova Scotia Premier Robert Stanfield announced a $55 million package to phase out coal mining in Cape Breton within 15 years. It would not have been easy for the miners or their families, but postponing the agenda from what was originally planned has certainly spawned a whole new generation of miners. Some of these miners will be losing their jobs at a relatively young age and will not qualify for pensions, which has prolonged the same problems expressed during the debates in the time of Mr. Pearson.

It was recognized that without diversification the long term effects on the economy that supports these same families would get increasingly and drastically worse. The economy would become dependent on a dying industry, which could then lead to dependency on government programs and subsidies. In 1966 such forecasts were only warnings of things to come. Thirty years later Devco has realized all of the predictions and the worst elements of the early earnings.

In 1967 Devco was formed as a federal crown corporation, and contrary to the 1966 plan much expansion took place in the next 20 years. However, the expansion came at a cost to taxpayers as much of the development was subsidized by the government, a pattern that would continue for many years to come.

In 1989 there was hope that the government would finally approach Devco in a manner that encouraged the company to remain productive on its own power and relieve Canadians of the tax burden of supporting the company. The $30 million per year subsidy was to end in 1995 and after that point the company was expected to remain viable on its own.

Speaking of the development of Devco, on March 23, 1992, the Liberal member for Cape Breton—East Richmond, Mr. David Dingwall, stated that federally we conceived and implemented what was known as the Cape Breton Development Corporation to try to assist the diversification of the local economy and also in later years to try to provide alternatives to the use of coal in Cape Breton.

As the years passed it became more and more obvious that this simply would not happen. Like many other Liberal promises, this one too was little more than an empty election promise. The rhetoric seemed to have an end in sight with the 1989 announcement, yet like so many other government promises it never happened. Since 1996 a further $150 million has been provided to sustain Devco.

In the last 33 years, Devco has experienced many shutdowns, failures to meet production targets and stunning financial losses, including some serious roof cave-ins in one of the mines. In August of this year, Devco's annual report showed that it had one of its worst years on record, suffering a $299.7 million dollar loss.

Through the years, Devco has employed scores of hard-working, driven and responsible miners. It is certainly not their fault that Devco has proven to be such a disastrous example of a crown corporation. However, it is the miners and the Cape Breton community that are suffering from the abysmal lack of government action to ensure that the mine best serves those who support it and those that it supports.

In January 1999, it was announced that the government would take steps to privatize Devco, including two mines, an international pier, a railway, a coal wash plant and all surface operations. This announcement immediately raised howls of protest and despair from Cape Breton as mining is all many Cape Bretoners have ever known. Coal mining is to Cape Bretoners as oil and gas are to Albertans.

Remembering the effects of the cod moratorium in Newfoundland, Cape Bretoners are terrified that an entire industry, economy, lifestyle and culture are doomed to extinction. I sympathize with those concerns. I agree that all that is reasonable must be done to alleviate the difficulties that privatization will cause for the 1,100 miners and their families that are affected by this decision.

When one studies the long history of Devco, it becomes quite clear that Devco was primarily created for political purposes. From the beginning, the corporation was rife with political patronage and nepotism and certainly did not operate as a viable commercial venture might have done. The reality is that due to the ineffective management of Devco by the federal and provincial governments over the years, Devco is not and never will be a viable crown corporation. It is simply sucking millions of dollars in subsidies every year. Since 1967, the government has provided over $1.5 billion in subsidies. In all fairness, taxpayers cannot continue this kind of subsidization of Devco.

Bill C-11 starts the process of privatization by giving legislative authority for the sale of all, or substantially all, of Devco's assets. I am very pleased to see that there is an end in sight to the government's responsibility for Devco. The federal government should no more have been in the business of coal mining in Cape Breton than in the business of oil and gas in Alberta. These reserves of coal in Cape Breton and oil and gas in Alberta are under the exclusive jurisdiction and ownership of the provincial governments. The federal government should certainly not be interfering in those territories.

Yet what may not end is Canadian taxpayers losing out on the deal. As a crown corporation, all profits from the sale of company assets should return to public coffers. That is what should happen.

I am not convinced that that is what the government has in mind for this legislation. There are some very interesting holes in the bill that could be conveniently filled through more patronage and more Liberal back scratching.

For example, subclause 2(2) of the new bill calls for subsections 99(2) to 99(5) of the Financial Administration Act to not be applied to the disposal of Devco assets. I cannot help but wonder why it is that the FAA needs to be suspended for this sale to go through and, more important, what is going to replace those accountability controls that are provided for in the Financial Administration Act. The FAA ensures that a sale such as this happens in an open and accountable manner. If those restrictions are removed, what will control such issues as who gets the successful bid and did they pay a reasonable amount for the assets? Was the transaction made with best value for money interests? Will the money return to the public coffers?

Devco has historically been rife with patronage and nepotism. It is crucial that this last transaction be done properly, in an open, honest and accountable manner with the best interests of all Nova Scotians and all Canadians in mind, not just the Liberal interests.

Another concern I have is that currently only bidders and cabinet have access to the bidding process. No one else can get information about how much the assets are worth or, for that matter, what level of liability exists on those assets. How will we know if the final price is truly reflective of the value of the assets?

Not all of Devco's assets are no longer viable. The Donkin mine, the international pier and the railway system are all functional. After having invested millions of dollars over the past 30 years and, thanks to the government, never seeing any kind of economic return on this investment, I believe that Canadians at least deserve to know that Devco's death will not serve the same political purpose that its birth and life did.

Another concern of mine is that the government is proposing to entirely repeal section 17 of the original bill. This is the section under which the grievances have been filed and certainly around which most of the controversy exists. This section legislated that in the event of a mine shutdown or sale the government had to do everything in its power to mitigate the effects on miners and their families. Something must replace this protection for the workers and their families, but I cannot help but wonder why the government seeks to remove this clause. Is it concerned with ongoing lawsuits or does it just want to wash its hands of the entire mess regardless of the effects on Cape Breton?

Whatever the reasons, certainly it is reasonable for the unions, the miners and their families to expect the same kind of protection as long as some of the Devco empire still exists. If that protection was reasonable in the old act, it should continue to be reasonable in whatever replaces that old act until Devco and its assets no longer exist.

The Reform Party is very sensitive to the needs and fears of Devco families and certainly we do not want to cause them unnecessary hardship. However, the sale of Devco must take place if Nova Scotians are ever going to get out from under the control and dependency of the federal government.

Unfortunately there are a few complications that might make the sale difficult. For example, the accumulated liability of the company is estimated at around half a billion dollars. The majority of that liability comes from ongoing arbitration regarding workers compensation, severance payouts, as well as other workers' concerns as a result of section 17 of the old act. At least this element of the liability is known.

What is not known is what the environmental costs and liabilities may be in the future. Cleanup of the Devco site has been budgeted by Devco to cost $110 million. However, as with most things where the government is involved, the price tag will no doubt actually be much higher than that. One only has to look at the history of the Sydney Steel mills and the Sydney Tar Ponds to see the potential environmental liability could be much higher.

The successful buyer of Devco might not have to pay the liability as part of the deal and likely no one would bid on the Devco assets if that liability were to go with the assets of the company. Regardless of who buys the company, somebody will have to pay for the liability, whether it is the taxpayer or a private company. Inevitably it will be the federal government, which of course is the taxpayers of the country, that will be responsible for whatever the real liability of Devco will be.

As if past costs were not enough, the taxpayers will continue to be on the hook for many years to come. Bill C-11 addresses any future lawsuits against Devco and provides reassurances that regardless of the state of Devco the lawsuits will stand. However, instead of suing Devco, instead the government and therefore the taxpayers will pay the price. According to the bill, there is no finite end to this arrangement. Even though Devco may no longer exist, no doubt it will remain a fixture on the taxpayers chequebook for many years to come.

My sense is that Cape Bretoners and many maritimers are very concerned with what they see happening to their way of life. I do not blame them. It must be a terrible worry and a concern to see the industries and way of life that generations have come to know, appreciate and develop disappearing. I do not believe that the maritime economy and way of life needs to be put on the endangered list quite yet or that Atlantic Canadians need to depend on the largesse of the federal government in perpetuity.

The Reform Party is sympathetic to the concerns of maritimers and we believe that Atlantic Canadians are poised to take advantage of a rising economic tide. Rather than being caught in a whirlpool of discredited, backward-looking Liberal economic development policies that only pull maritimers down, Atlantic Canadians are looking toward a wave of economic and social progress based on new ideas and new politics.

This new direction represents the foundation of a new growth strategy for Atlantic Canada, a strategy that offers tax relief to the many instead of subsidies to the few. It includes new ways that are free of Liberal patronage and corruption to attract private as well as public capital to rebuild the east coast infrastructure, from ports, to airports, to short line railways, to shipyards, to highways both traditional and electronic.

It includes rebuilding the old trade routes to New England and across the Atlantic to Europe which free trade is now reopening. It includes getting the financial houses of the Atlantic provincial governments in order by throwing out patronage infected spend and tax regimes and replacing them with a government committed to controlling spending, balanced budgets, lowering taxes and paying down debt. It promotes the attractiveness of the east coast as a place in which to live and to raise families in combination with excellent education institutions as the foundation of the knowledge based industries of the 21st century.

I have been to the east coast many times and I have family there. My son lives in Nova Scotia and has for many years. My colleague, the hon. member for Okanagan—Shuswap, visited the Devco operation a number of times, went down in the mines and spent a lot of time with the unions that were involved in Devco and the shutdown. Therefore we do have some familiarity with the issues around Devco and around the economy of Cape Breton and Nova Scotia.

I have always said that if I was to choose a place to live in Canada, other than my native Alberta, it certainly would be the province of Nova Scotia. Its majestic beauty, its welcoming people and the resilient spirit of its citizens are characteristics of Atlantic Canada and certainly Nova Scotia. It is truly amazing that maritimers have managed to maintain their pride and dignity through years and years of Liberal and Conservative patronage and policies that give birth to that kind of government intervention.

The Reform Party believes that the efforts of Atlantic Canadians, not bureaucrats or politicians from the federal government, can and will revive the Atlantic economy.

This bill is a starting place to begin giving over control of the economy to Atlantic Canadians and away from the Liberal government's greedy hold on an enterprise that was never meant to be profitable. If it had been economical, Nova Scotians would have developed the project successfully. From the beginning, it was simply an exercise for the Liberals to win votes; votes won at the cost of the well-being and economic stability of an entire community. So much for responsible government.

On March 23, 1992 the Liberal member for Cape Breton—East Richmond, Mr. Dingwall, argued against the privatization of Devco. I think the following quote gives some idea of the mentality of Liberal thinking in that part of Canada. He said:

—to privatize Devco, to give it to his friends—that kind of (an) individual to come in and be the sole operator of a coal mine, to strip it down to sell off its best parts and make a million dollars or more and then walk away from it in five years, is privatization which I would never support.

Perhaps the Liberals have changed their definition of privatization since then, but in my mind it is exactly the kind of action that the Liberal member described that we are facing without stricter controls in the legislation.

I cannot support the bill as it exists now because although I agree that Devco must be privatized, it must happen responsibly with open, honest and accountable procedures. Until changes are made to the bill to ensure an accountable process, I cannot support the bill and I urge other members of the House to do the same.

Cape Breton Development Corporation Divestiture Authorization And Dissolution ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.


Serge Cardin Bloc Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, thank you for permitting me to speak in the debate on Bill C-11.

The bill, whose short title is the Cape Breton Development Corporation Divestiture Authorization and Dissolution Act, is intended essentially to end the federal government's involvement in the Cape Breton coal mines.

I would point out initially that the first section of the bill concerns the Cape Breton Development Corporation Act of 1967 and provides for the repeal of certain outdated provisions. For instance, the word chairperson is now used instead of chairman and the number of directors has been changed.

The second section concerns the mission and assets of the corporation. The changes will make the mission of the corporation essentially commercial, since it no longer has to reorganize and rehabilitate the coal division as initially provided in the act.

The third section concerns financial provisions and sets out the procedure for authorizing advances to provide working capital. It will be interesting to take a longer look at clause 19. Does it mean that the government intends to fund the new corporation before it is privatized? The workers pensions and rights acquired over the years also warrant very close consideration. That is what we intend to do this in committee.

Because, under the Financial Administration Act, legislation is required to authorize the federal government to sell part of the assets, the House is now considering Bill C-11, which will authorize the federal government to divest itself of its assets in the Cape Breton Development Corporation.

It should be pointed out that the main provinces involved in the coal mining industry are Nova Scotia, Alberta and British Columbia. Many people feel western coal is of higher quality. Coal is essentially an export commodity, as less and less of it is in use in our generating stations, since natural gas is less harmful to the environment and therefore used more.

The corporation employs close to 1,700 miners, so this will throw some 1,000 people out of work in a region where the unemployment rate is already at a worrisome level, of close to 25%.

At the same time, the minister is announcing $110 million in assistance to be used for severance pay and early retirement programs for the miners, as well as $68 million for economic development in the region. The Government of Nova Scotia has recently announced that it would be investing $12 million in the long term economic development of Cape Breton.

Devco was established in 1967 by the Cape Breton Development Act. Its assets include the Prince and Phalen mines, the Donkin mine site, the corporation wharf and rail line, its coal processing plant and the related infrastructures.

Federal government participation in Cape Breton coal mining dates back to 1967. In the mid-sixties, the owner at the time, Dominion Steel and Coal (DOSCO) announced its intention to close down operations. The federal government decided to create Devco to operate the mines, with the plan to withdraw gradually and to ensure the economic diversification of the region. This participation, meant to be temporary, continued until this past January.

A little over 30 years and some $1.6 billion later in the life of Devco the crown corporation responsible for managing these mines, the federal government withdrew, while ensuring that it would maintain its jurisdiction over labour relations, occupational health and safety, and labour standards.

Let there be no mistake—the government is withdrawing and mines are closing down. However, one of them must continue to operate and the government is hoping to be able to privatize it. This is why the bill refers to the continuation of the existing jurisdictional regimes in the areas I mentioned earlier.

To date, the office of the Minister of Natural Resources have not been crowded with buyers. Coal is not an emerging market. The reverse in fact is true. All that time and money spent persuading Cape Bretoners that their economy could be based on coal mining alone. The government knew that it should diversify the economy but, rather than doing the responsible, but difficult, thing, the Liberals of the day decided to pass on the problem to their successors.

Bloc Quebecois members were elected to promote and defend the interests of Quebecers. Whether those interests involve employment insurance, restructuring of the airline industry, or opposition to Bill C-6 or the young offenders legislation, the Bloc Quebecois has always devoted its energies to promoting and defending the interests of Quebecers.

This is why the voters have placed their trust in us, and it is what guides us in the House. We must be vigilant when it comes to bills that do not concern Quebec directly, because what the federal government is doing could have repercussions for Quebec. The bill before us is a good example.

In many areas, the federal government is behaving like a unitary government, with little regard for the provinces, and even less for Quebec. A few examples will suffice if anyone is still in any doubt: the millennium scholarships being imposed by the government on Quebec, despite the fact that Quebec has an excellent loans and scholarships program based on students' needs; Bill C-6 on personal information protection in the context of e-commerce, which the Minister of Industry has introduced without prior consultation, although Quebec already has personal information protection legislation that has received international acclaim.

The list is long, and every day we try to add examples to prove to Quebecers that there is a level of government in our territory that is not doing the job given it by the Constitution. In fact, that level of government is doing too much.

It is the federal government that is doing too much. Perhaps it is because the Constitution Act gives it too much power. The federal government uses all sorts of provisions in the Constitution Act to impose its jurisdiction in areas that are under provincial jurisdiction. Members not supporting this approach, such as the Bloc Quebecois, must criticize it. Only infrequently do we see our neighbours opposite rise to criticize the centralizing aims of the party in power. Some, exceedingly rarely, display courage, such as the member for Lac-Saint-Louis, in expressing his opposition to the restructuring of the airline industry.

I referred earlier to the Constitution Act, which has a new section on natural resources, section 92A. The section reads as follows:

(1) In each province, the legislature may exclusively make laws in relation to

(a) exploration for non-renewable natural resources in the province;

(b) development, conservation and management of non-renewable resources natural resources and forestry resources in the province, including laws in relation to the rate of primary production therefrom; and

(c) development, conservation and management of sites and facilities in the province for the generation and production of electrical energy.

This provision dates from before Devco's establishment. It must not be assumed that it is federal jurisdiction. Reference must be made to subsection 92(10), which sets out that local works and undertakings are under provincial jurisdiction.

Accordingly, the federal government declared the Cape Breton mines to be a work of general advantage to Canada in order to establish its jurisdiction and ensure the application of federal legislation in such areas as labour and occupational health and safety.

This way of going about things, also known as declaratory power, allows the federal government to interfere unilaterally in the division of powers. Brun and Tremblay define it as follows:

—it is the right given to the Parliament of Canada by sections 91(29) and 92(10)(c) of the Constitution Act, 1867, to extend its exclusive jurisdiction to local works, by declaring them to be for the general advantage of Canada or of two or more provinces. The works that are the subject of such unilateral declaration no longer come under provincial jurisdiction. The courts refuse to rule on the appropriateness of recourse to this power; in fact, the federal government has used it on close to 500 occasions in connection with a wide variety of infrastructures, including railways, telephones, and dams.

The federal government thus interferes in provincial jurisdictions in all sorts of ways. In some cases, it cites its spending authority, and in others it uses its declaratory power.

For the government to have taken this approach in 1967 is one thing, but for it now to decide to get out of the mines but hang on to its jurisdiction using clause 5 of the bill is unacceptable.

For the information of those listening, I will read clause 5

The works and undertakings operated or carried on by the Corporation on or after June 15, 1967 are declared to be works for the general advantage of Canada.

It is this clause in particular that we have a problem with.

In the 1990s, the federal government slashed provincial transfer payments in order to balance the budget. In a federal system with centralizing tendencies, these cuts were just one more step on the road to concentrating power in the hands of the federal government.

With the present surpluses, is the federal government getting ready to “buy” jurisdiction? There is cause for concern and this is why we think Bill C-11 poses a threat.

The Bloc Quebecois will oppose Bill C-11 primarily because of clause 5, which gives the federal government jurisdiction over what we feel is a provincial matter.

As well, we feel it is important to raise certain points relating to the situation in Cape Breton. It is not so much the federal withdrawal from the coal industry that bothers us as the resulting outcome, unfortunately in large part its own doing. We do not need to draw any pictures, the Liberal government's policies on regional economic diversification are well known.

Suffice it to say that it has not always made the wisest of choices. As long ago as the late 1960s, a commission on the future of the industry of Cape Breton indicated that coal production would have to be phased out and the local economy truly diversified. Federal investments have not worked out and by focussing solely on this one industry, the government encouraged hundreds of young people to follow their fathers into the mines.

Thirty years later, when many miners had not worked long enough to have a decent pension, the coal industry is in a total decline. It is, moreover, important to point out that, although there are some 1,700 employees of Devco, the futures of 6,000 individuals and families whose living comes from coal mining are at stake.

In conclusion, the Bloc Quebecois is opposed to this bill as it stands. The main reason for our opposition relates to the maintenance of federal jurisdiction. I would also point out that this whole mess, which dates back to 1967 and that the federal government should have tried to remedy by diversifying the economy of Cape Breton, affects the workers and their families.

The reclassification manoeuvres under way will make it possible for heads of families to be bumped from their jobs. We will therefore be making an effort to get answers from the minister on retirement conditions and on how Devco's assets will be privatized.

I am anxious to see the bill go before the natural resources committee so that we will get some answers.

Cape Breton Development Corporation Divestiture Authorization And Dissolution ActGovernment Orders

1 p.m.


Michelle Dockrill NDP Bras D'Or, NS

Mr. Speaker, once again I stand in the House to oppose the slow and calculated government plan to abandon the people of Cape Breton by shutting down the livelihood of so many in the mainstay of the Cape Breton economy.

My colleagues in the government would have us believe that Bill C-11, the privatization of Devco, is a step that we all agree to. The miners who are out of work because of the government's actions do not agree with the government. The spouses who have to worry with their partners about how they are going to pay this month's bills do not agree. The people of Cape Breton do not agree with the government. I and my fellow NDP colleagues certainly do not agree with the government.

We are sick and tired of the Liberals' policies that benefit only themselves and their friends. The people of Cape Breton did not elect Liberals in the previous election because they were tired of not being listened to. This is their future that the government is playing with and we are not going to play its game.

The Liberals have mismanaged Devco since they first got into the coal industry 30 years ago. Only the Liberals could be in the same position of trying to close an industry 30 years after they started the job.

During those 30 years of managed mismanagement the people of Cape Breton were told that their was a future in coal. New exploration went ahead and coal was once again, as it had been so many times in the past, an important industry for all Canadians.

Cape Bretoners faced long term decisions on the government's initiatives. In a cold and calculated manner, the government has changed its mind and is ready to disregard coal while sacrificing the people of Cape Breton with little more than an afterthought. Where is the respect that the people of Cape Breton deserve after sending generations of men down in the mines to bring coal to the surface to benefit all Canadians? Where is the respect these same men deserve for putting their lives and their health at stake, a sacrifice that has helped Canada be what it is today?

The government does not respect the hard work and sacrifice that generations of Cape Bretoners have put in. It is getting out of the coal industry as fast as possible, with a total disregard for the economic, social and cultural ramifications that will result from its decision. Cape Bretoners have been made economic refugees at the hands of the Liberal government.

May I remind everybody in the House that this is just not some accidental series of events or that Cape Bretoners have bad luck. Instead of working on a long term solution in co-operation with the workers, communities and labour representatives, the government developed a secret plan to destroy Devco and the communities of Cape Breton, a plan that the minister continues to deny today. The government has followed this plan right to the letter, an extremely efficient move after 30 years of managed mismanagement. It is so efficient that we might say it is ruthless. It has certainly been well planned.

The government embarked on the road to get to this day nearly four years ago when it commissioned Nesbitt Burns to create a secret plan for the dismantling of Devco and destruction of Cape Breton. It was a time when we had three representatives in the House of Commons with the Liberal government and 10 MLA ministers represented in the provincial legislature.

In order to justify this plan, the government also had to prove that Devco was not commercially viable. So the government went ahead and did just that. It purposely set out to destroy the work of generations of miners by instituting policies that would ensure that Devco looked like a liability on the government's balance sheets.

The bill we are debating today, Bill C-11, will allow the government to get away with its attempt to ignore and discard the people of Cape Breton. Section 17 legally binds the government to respect them and the government is trying to get rid of that. The government is trying to abandon its responsibilities.

In 1967 when Devco was created, the government made a commitment to create economic development and even made it its legal obligation with respect to creating opportunities for Cape Bretoners. Yes, money has been sent to the island of Cape Breton over the years. But let us be clear, most of it has gone to line the pockets of Liberal supporters or for the current government scheme to make Devco not commercially viable. Now, 30 years later, the government still has not created sustainable economic development or opportunities for Cape Breton, and it is preparing to jump ship.

Cape Breton Island has an unemployment rate which is nearly double the national average and the government has created the condition to cut even more jobs. We all remember that the election slogan of the government in 1997 was jobs, jobs, jobs, which is obviously as valuable as its promise to cut the GST.

The so-called children's agenda in the throne speech supposedly shows the Liberal government's commitment to improve the quality of life for all children. Obviously it did not mean the children of Cape Breton miners and others who depend on mining in the area. It did not mean the adult children of miners who will have to take out even bigger student loans to get an education or who will have to delay their education. The Liberals obviously were not talking about the youth who are leaving Cape Breton in alarming numbers, because after 30 years of a supposed government commitment to the communities of Cape Breton there are still no jobs and even fewer opportunities.

The government has followed its plan, developed within cabinet, to the letter. The secret plan was developed without the input of the workers, the communities and those who will be most affected by these decisions. After it has raped the land and ignored the people, it now expects us to believe that this Liberal road show which it calls an economic adjustment panel represents some kind of sincere commitment. The government has never made a sincere commitment to Cape Bretoners in 30 years, and this panel is no exception. Cape Bretoners will not be fooled by this smoke and mirrors, because we have lived with smoke and mirrors from the Liberal government and we can see through its facade.

Instead of beginning community consultation immediately after the Liberals made the announcement in January that killed over a thousand jobs and spelled disaster for the people in the economy of Cape Breton, instead of beginning consultation then, the Liberals waited almost 10 months. It was 10 months of speculation and anxiety for the people whose jobs were killed and who do not know where the money to pay their bills will come from.

The government has appointed a panel of Liberal supporters that clearly does not reflect the diversity of the community. How are a Liberal Senator, two businessmen from P.E.I. and a bunch of Liberal supporters supposed to know what the miners, community leaders, aboriginal leaders and the unemployed people need? The sad truth is that nobody on the island believes the panel can know what the communities need.

This rushed series of five minute presentations by various community stakeholders will not be enough to come up with a plan that will finally bring long term sustainability to the island of Cape Breton. The government already knows that. The government is only going through the motions of consulting the community. This is all part of its plan. The government has already outlined what areas it thinks Cape Bretoners should work on. The Liberals have already created a made in Ottawa solution for a made in Ottawa problem and the price will be paid in Cape Breton.

This attempt at consultation is just as much of a joke as the government's other attempts to live up to its responsibilities under section 17 of the Devco act. The adjustment strategy is a joke. The consultation process is a joke. The punch line, which will hit the citizens of Cape Breton straight in the stomach, is that once the government pushes Bill C-11 through the House, it will no longer be obligated to help clean up the mess that its 30 years of mismanagement of Devco have created.

Once again I and my colleagues must protest the government's plan to abandon its legal responsibility to the people of Cape Breton. The government is legally obligated under section 17 of the Devco act to ensure that all reasonable measures are taken to reduce unemployment and/or economic hardship that will be the result of the Liberal government's action in shutting down and privatizing the Devco assets.

The government would like us to stand by and allow it to pass Bill C-11 which would allow it to abandon Cape Breton. My NDP caucus colleagues and I will not support the government, nor will we support this bill.

Devco has been run for 30 years without the problems that required its existence in the first place ever being resolved. Again I ask what the government's rush is to get rid of Devco and its obligations to the people of Cape Breton. The government needs to spend more time ensuring that it fulfils its obligations instead of running around in circles trying to get away from them. If the government does not make the time and put the effort in now, the problems that already exist in Cape Breton will only increase and become more difficult to address. I am here to demand that the government make the time for the people of Cape Breton.

I move:

That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word “That” and substituting the following therefor:

“Bill C-11, an act to authorize the divestiture of the assets of, and to dissolve, the Cape Breton Development Corporation, to amend the Cape Breton Development Corporation Act and to make consequential amendments to other acts, be not now read a second time but that the Order be discharged, the bill withdrawn and the subject matter referred to the Standing Committee on Natural Resources and Government Operations”.

Cape Breton Development Corporation Divestiture Authorization And Dissolution ActGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The amendment is in order. Questions and comments.

Cape Breton Development Corporation Divestiture Authorization And Dissolution ActGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.


Alex Shepherd Liberal Durham, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened intently to the member for Bras d'Or—Cape Breton and her description of the concerns of the people of Cape Breton.

I too have taken some interest in this issue. I have talked to United Families and other organizations that have come before us. I share her concerns and those of the member for Sydney—Victoria about the livelihoods of some of the miners who may have to change their vocations.

I listened to the member speak and she never used the word “future” in her discussions. She talked about the last 30 years. Just by the act of moving her amendment, she seems to want the last 30 years to continue.

The reality is that the industry of Cape Breton has changed and we have to get on with change. People throughout the country are faced with various types of change. The world is changing in some profound ways. Globalization is before us.

There are some very great institutions down in Cape Breton. There is Cape Breton Business College. Some new industries are starting up. Let us talk about taking some of this money to create something for the future. We could have a community based organization going out and asking the people how they would like to restructure their communities and how to make Cape Breton a viable economic engine of the future.

Today geography does not matter. People do not have to live in Toronto to be successful in business. They can use the Internet, the information highway.

We listened to members of the NDP that are constantly hearkening back to the past, to keep things the way they are and to keep government intervention in our industries. This is part of the problem people are suffering from today.

Why can the member not use the word future and think about the future of our people rather than hearken back and keep the past locked in place?