Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise this morning on behalf of the constituents of Surrey Central to participate in the debate on Bill C-2, an act to establish a process for assessing the environmental and socio-economic effects of certain activities in Yukon.
We heard from the hon. member for Yukon and I do appreciate his concern for the environment and the socio-economic development of Yukon. All members in this Chamber are concerned. However, I wish that the hon. member had some influence on his government and the minister to address the issues which I will be addressing.
Let us consider some important elements about rural Canada. Canada is the second largest country in the world with a huge wealth of natural resources. Though we are sparsely populated in Canada, more than 60% of our population lives in 10 or so of our southern most cities.
In the last decade of the Liberal government's rule, rural Canada has more or less been ignored by the government. Rural Canada suffers because of poor roads, poor rail links, and a lack of infrastructure development.
The interior of Canada depends on resource based industry, which is not supported by government programs, and is suffering badly from the plight of the Liberal government. The reasons are political more than anything else. It likes to focus on the voter rich areas, but it forgets about the concerns of rural Canadians.
The mismanagement of our natural resources by the Liberals is quite evident. Softwood lumber, mining, oil and gas and the fisheries are some of the examples of Liberal government mismanagement. If the weak Liberal government had a vision Canada would have been exporting more value added products rather than the natural resources like raw materials that we export.
If we were to go to the port in Vancouver we would see big heaps of sulfur or lumber. Why can we not add value to the products? It would not only create jobs but it would contribute to the economy. That is the unfortunate plight.
Rural Canada is suffering because of Liberal government mismanagement. The government's approach to dealing with the environment, Kyoto, endangered species and wildlife, or even the gun registry has not been fair to the rural communities in Canada.
Bill C-2 should have been in the House at least six years ago. Despite the lengthy development process the bill is significantly flawed. The Canadian Alliance is opposing the legislation, not because legislation in this area is not needed, but because this particular piece of legislation is not what is needed. Our main concern with the bill is that it does not do the very thing the minister says it does. The minister and his department claim that the bill would hand over to Yukoners the task of assessing development projects that have been proposed on federal, territorial and first nations lands.
The government says the bill is about devolution, about putting into local hands responsibility for making these assessments, but the truth is that the minister would retain for himself the power to control the process and to control who sits on the board that would be set up.
Once again the federal government cannot keep its hands off areas that should be under provincial and territorial jurisdiction. When it says that it is handing over powers to another level of government, it is doing nothing of the sort. There is no true handing over of power to Yukoners. The minister would retain the powers that he claims would be given to Yukoners.
I would like to focus on other concerns that we have with the bill. The minister would have too much authority over project assessment in Yukon. The bill was supposed to be about devolving to the people of Yukon authority for project assessments. The public relations material from the minister's department and the spokesman of the committee have sold this bill as a devolution of power, but the opposite is true. The minister would hold all the strings.
We find that in a number of places in the bill, the most important of which is the composition of the assessment board, which would be the main body established by the bill.
Let me mention some of the amendments the Canadian Alliance moved in committee. These amendments would have curbed the minister's power over the assessment process, but each amendment was voted down by the Liberals in committee.
First, the minister currently has the power under the bill to make an unlimited number of patronage appointments to the assessment board. Two different amendments were proposed that would have restricted the size of the board. We made those amendments on the recommendations of an MLA from Yukon. This would have limited the federal minister's ability to make patronage appointments to the board, but the amendment was not passed because the Liberal members voted against it.
Second, another amendment would have forced the minister to establish minimum qualifications and other criteria for the selection of board members. The bill in its current form makes no such requirements and therefore patronage appointments are easier to make. Our amendment would have made patronage appointments more difficult for the government and the minister. Again, the Liberals on the committee voted down this amendment.
Third, we also proposed amendments designed to strengthen the role of the Yukon government at the expense of the federal minister's role. The bill is supposed to hand to Yukoners control of the project assessment process, so one would have expected these amendments to pass because they are very natural amendments, but again the Liberals voted them down.
One such amendment would have strengthened the role of the territorial minister by enabling him to nominate one of the three executive committee members of the board; just one of the three. At present the minister must merely consult the territorial minister on one of those three appointments. Can you imagine, Mr. Speaker?
Another amendment would have strengthened the role of the territorial minister at the expense of the federal minister by enabling him to nominate two rather than only one of the four non-executive board members. Again, the Liberals voted this down, choosing instead to keep all of the strings in the federal minister's hands.
Another amendment would have limited the size of the board to a maximum of 13 members, but the Liberals on the committee voted against this. So now, the federal minister can make as many patronage appointments as he or she wants, up to 13 at least.
Another amendment would have changed the process of how the additional board members are chosen. Currently half of these members are nominated by the Council of Yukon First Nations. Under another amendment, the other half would be nominated by the territorial minister. That is fair enough. Half would be nominated by the minister and half by Yukon first nations through the council.
The handing of power from the federal minister to the territorial minister would make sense if, as the minister says, the bill is about handing to the people of Yukon powers that have until now been with the federal government. However again the minister is holding all of the power rather than giving it to the people of Yukon.
Clause 22 would give the federal minister authority to select the communities in which six assessment officers would be located, because the bill would establish six offices in various communities in Yukon. This would create the potential of political influence in the selection of the communities. We have moved an amendment that the authority be transferred from the minister to the board so that a board could make those decisions but again the Liberals on the committee rejected that amendment too.
A second major concern with the bill is that it is silent on the subject of timelines for the completion of assessments by the board. This is unacceptable given the problems that have existed in Yukon in this regard. Project assessments have taken far too long. Given this major problem, the bill should have addressed the matter of timelines right away. The bill has failed the people of Yukon on that issue again.
Let me describe the problem that has existed in Yukon, with project assessments dragging on for so long. Development and the economy of Yukon are hurting and the people of Yukon are suffering for that.
Currently, environmental and socio-economic assessments of proposed projects in Yukon are assessed under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. It is administered by the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. The department has failed to conduct a timely, efficient and cost effective assessments of the projects in Yukon under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.
These projects should be assessed in a timely, efficient and cost effective manner but the department has failed the people of Yukon. It is widely recognized. For example, in the mining industry, the recent annual survey of mining companies rated Yukon as having the second worst mining regulatory system in Canada. A survey was done by the Fraser Institute and it rated Yukon to be the second worst mining regulatory system in Canada. By the way, the first one was British Columbia.
As for hard data over the past 10 years, the length of time between the submission of an application and the delivery of a permit for a mining project has far exceeded what any reasonable person would consider acceptable. I did some research and have some examples.
Western Copper Holdings Ltd. made a submission in 1994 for an assessment. It is still not complete after 97 months. Imagine a business company applying for a licence and waiting for 97 months.
New Millennium Mining Corp. made a submission in 1996 for assessment. It is still not complete after 79 months.
I had an opportunity to visit the Cominco mine. Cominco Ltd. made a project assessment submission in 1996 and the permit was delivered in 2000, after 47 months, almost four years.
Minto Explorations Ltd. made a submission for assessment in 1994 and the permit was delivered in 1997 after 35 months, almost three years.
Viceroy Resources Ltd. made a submission in 1994 and the permit was delivered in 1996, after 23 months.
Most jurisdictions in Canada, at least for small mines, take six months to one year. Can members see the comparison? In the rest of Canada it takes just six months to one year. In Yukon it takes from 97 months. That is not acceptable. Globally it takes two years or less and that is the norm. The Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, has not come close to these Canadian norms of two years or less.
The failure of the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development to conduct timely, efficient and cost effective assessments of projects in Yukon has contributed to the economic slowdown in Yukon and destroyed Yukon's reputation as a sound and stable jurisdiction in which to develop new mines. How can Yukon attract foreign investments or investors in the mining industry when the government's standard is letting those miners down?
For example, the shutdown of the mine at Faro in 1998, I am sure the member for Yukon knows, had disastrous economic consequences in the region. This could have been mitigated by timely approvals of other projects prior to the Faro shutdown. However those timely assessment projects by the government were not there. One company had to shut down. The other projects for the assessment were not completed for so long and the economy suffered.
The federal government has not been equal to the task. As a result, Yukon's economy is largely dependent on the net federal transfer payments to fuel economic activity, whereas Yukon could be self-sufficient. Development should have been taking place if the government's approach was right.
Given the failure of the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development to conduct timely, efficient and cost effective assessments of projects in Yukon, we would expect the bill to correct these deficiencies so that worthwhile projects could proceed in a timely manner. However the bill does not do this nor even attempts to do this.
Instead the bill focuses on identifying and mitigating negative impacts of development. The bill shows little concern for development as something positive and desirable for the people of Yukon. It focuses on the negative impacts of development, including damage to lifestyles, heritage sites, the environment and community social systems. Therefore the bill is missing a needed balance between development and sustainability. It does not consider development as a public good which benefits communities.
The assessment board is therefore incapable of weighing costs and benefits in a balanced fashion since its only mandate is to safeguard against damage. Under the bill the board's preference when making assessments must always be to prohibit or limit development, even in cases when the benefits of a project would be great.
The only timeline that would come into play has yet to be determined, since it will be a part of regulations. That timeline does not relate to the assessment process. It relates to something that will follow the assessment process. Let me explain this, because it demonstrates just how much the bill fails to do what is needed.
Once a project has been assessed, the board, or one of the six offices in the communities that have conducted the assessment, will recommend to the responsible federal, territorial or first nations decision bodies whether the project should be allowed to proceed. These decision bodies, not the board or its six offices which are supposed to be listening to the people, have the final say. The board can only recommend. These decision bodies can accept, reject or vary the recommendation contained in the assessment.
The incredible thing about the bill is that timelines will be created under regulations for the decision bodies to issue their decisions. The bill specifies no timelines for the assessment board and its offices to deliver assessments to these decision bodies. That means the board can make its own decisions as to how long it wants to take to complete an assessment. People who do the labour of assessment get to decide how long they will take to finish their work, the while development will be held up.
I mentioned that the regulations will decide about the timelines and the fact that the regulations are not submitted along with the bill. Normally, the government submits the regulations after the bill is debated in the House. All members in the House passionately debate bills and passionately vote on bills, but without knowing the contents of a bill.
The government is in the habit of submitting the intent of the bill without any substance or subject matter. The subject matter and the substance comes through the back door by way of regulations. Why does the government not submit all regulations with the legislation when the legislation is tabled in the House so we can debate them and vote on them? We could then understand what the bill means. The government is not governing; it is ruling through the back door. Eighty per cent of the substance that we see in the law in Canada comes through the back door by way of regulations not debated in the House.
The Standing Joint Committee on Scrutiny of Regulations, which is supposed to scrutinize those regulations, has very limited powers. The committee cannot even scrutinize regulations made by the delegation of authority to various agencies and boards. The disallowance procedure is not on statutory footing, but I will talk about that another day.
This is a non-partisan issue. The House needs to have a disallowance procedure for those regulations which are submitted through the back door to be scrutinized properly. If committee members decide that those regulations are not fair enough, or they are not legal or they are not valid, then they should be disallowed. That procedure should be on statutory footing, but it is not.
Sixteen years ago a committee set up a temporary experimental procedure to see if the procedure would work. For 16 years we have been following that temporary procedure rather than putting the statutory disallowance procedure on statutory footing. However that is for another day.
The Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development has a history of foot dragging in completing assessments, and we have seen this in relation to the mining industry. Timelines should have been imposed on the board by the legislation itself, not by the regulations. The bill fails the people of Yukon in this important respect.
It is unfortunate that the bill fails to provide the people of Yukon with a true devolution of power as the minister has been touting. It also fails to provide a timely way to assess and approve projects so that they can get off the ground and development can begin in Yukon.
What is particularly shameful is the way in which the Liberals have concealed their failure to the people of Yukon by telling them the opposite of what the bill will do. The first thing mentioned in a Liberal press release was that the bill would hand over power to the people of Yukon. Once again we see the Liberals playing their power games with other levels of government. We are seeing again that confrontation between the provincial and territorial governments. The Liberals are hoping their public relations material will be slick enough that the public will not catch on.
We in the Canadian Alliance are opposed to the passage of this bill and will vote against it in the true interests of the people of Yukon. I am sure people of Yukon will understand. I wish the hon. member representing Yukon had some influence on the government in addressing these issues.