Mr. Speaker, I rise to address the House on Bill C-33, the Nunavut Waters and Nunavut Surface Rights Tribunal Act.
Hon. members are familiar with the legislation. It is back before us today so we can consider an amendment moved by the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs, Northern Development and Natural Resources and approved by the Senate. I am pleased to advise the House that the government will accept the amendment which does not alter the intent of the legislation or affect any of its provisions.
Bill C-33 remains an important bit of unfinished business for Canada. It is important for Inuit and for the future of Nunavut. I will give members a bit of the history. The agreement was signed in 1993. Yet here we are in 2002 still trying to get legislation for the bodies created under the land claims agreement. It is important that the bodies have a legislative base.
Today I will be asking hon. members to support the legislation as amended so it can proceed quickly to royal assent and proclamation. I will address the amendment in a few minutes. First, I will remind hon. members what the government is endeavouring to achieve with the legislation and why it deserves our support.
Bill C-33 would establish the legislative framework for two institutions of public government: the Nunavut Water Board which is responsible for licensing the use of water and the deposit of waste in Nunavut; and the Nunavut Surface Rights Tribunal whose role is to resolve access disputes between landowners and those who want and need to use the land. As hon. members know, preliminary versions of both institutions were created in 1996 under the authority of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement. The land claims agreement also requires Canada to establish in law the power, duties and functions of the institutions.
Bill C-33 would meet this requirement. The bill is one of empowerment. Nunavut residents would be guaranteed representation on both the Nunavut Water Board and the Nunavut Surface Rights Tribunal, thereby bringing decision making closer to the people. Bill C-33 would help give the people of Nunavut, some 85% of whom are Inuit, opportunities to become economically self reliant and build relevant institutions of government.
I will talk a bit about what we are doing in Nunavut. It is very much parallel to what the government of Nunavut is doing. We talk about Nunavut becoming economically self reliant and becoming a government on its own. It is a long struggle which becomes harder if we do not have the resources, legislation and tools in place.
I see Bill C-33 as one of the tools that would help us move a bit further down the road that has been three years in the making since April 1, 1999. I am proud to say the people of Nunavut have risen to the challenge and made the last three years exciting. Great progress has been made. Because of the great challenges we face we have a lot further to go, but I can honestly say we have made changes in the last three years. If we keep working the way we have it is a good sign for the future. The last three years are a good example of the determination of the people of Nunavut to make things right.
By supporting Bill C-33 at second and third reading hon. members have shown they agree with the government on these matters. As I noted at the outset, the legislation requires our attention once again due to an amendment approved by the other place. Specifically, the other place has amended Bill C-33 to remove the non-derogation clause.
Inuit rights provided for within the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement are not only constitutionally protected under section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982. Clause 3(1) of Bill C-33 says that in the event of any inconsistency between the bill and the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement, the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement would prevail.
The intent of the non-derogation clause was neither to diminish nor enhance the constitutional protection given to the rights of Canada's aboriginal peoples. The government's goal was to signal that enactment of Bill C-33 would not abrogate or derogate from the protection provided by the Constitution Act, 1982 to aboriginal and treaty rights.
Non-derogation clauses are not uncommon in federal statutes. Their intent is always the same: to remind the reader that aboriginal peoples have protected rights under our constitution that must be taken into account when exercising legislative authority. It is for this reason that aboriginal people often request that such clauses be included in bills for their comfort.
Unfortunately, some Inuit representatives cannot accept this explanation for the non-derogation clause in Bill C-33. The issue of the non-derogation clause has become somewhat of a debate among lawyers vying for their legal opinions to be heard. The magnitude of the debate has been blown out of proportion.
The courts have not yet made any interpretations regarding non-derogation clauses. Some groups do not share the government's interpretation that such clauses are a signal of constitutional protection because statutes are subject to protection under section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982 whether or not such clauses are included. For that reason when Bill C-33 was before the standing committee some witnesses expressed strong opposition to the clause.
The obvious solution was to remove the non-derogation clause from the bill. While our goal was simply to flag aboriginal rights which are already enshrined in the constitution, we acknowledge that if some Inuit people found no comfort in the clause and it made them uncomfortable, there was no reason to leave it in the bill. That being said, hon. members should be aware that removal of the clause in no way impacts the application of Bill C-33 or the protection of aboriginal rights. In short, neither the bill nor the Inuit will suffer because of the amendment.
It is time to move forward with the legislation. There has been a lot of debate on the issue. It has been divisive for some people in the territory. The debate is becoming larger than the bill itself. I have spoken a bit about what is happening in the territory. There are so many things going on at the same time that we want to move forward. I do not want the groups that are trying to move forward and deal with the challenges to be held back because they have no legislation with which to do their work.
There have been exhaustive consultations. We hope they have resulted in a bill that would further implement the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement, protect the Arctic environment and create certainty for the resource industry and others who may wish to invest in Nunavut.
Hon. members have heard me talk as much as I can about the natural resources available in the territory. We hope we will be able to draw investors in the future. We are doing so today because of the territory's promising natural resources such as diamonds and precious metals.
We hope to use those resources to move forward and become contributors to Canadian society. It will also benefit us in the form of jobs and training. We want our communities to become industry based instead of government based as it is in so many communities.
We hope our young people will go back to school to pursue careers that will help them take advantage of all the natural resources available in the new territory.
The mining industries have stated that it is difficult for them to invest in our territory unless there is absolute certainty and they know the playing field. I have had a couple of people tell me that they really wished Bill C-33 would go through because it would create a more certain field for them as far as an investor is concerned.
As I referenced earlier, the bill is a key part of the government's commitment to the Inuit of Nunavut through the implementation of the Nunavut Land Claims Settlement Act. With that in mind, I urge hon. members to join me in voting in favour of Bill C-33 as amended.