Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure today to address this bill for a couple of reasons.
First, what a lot of people who may watching or later reading in Hansard do not know is that today is a day with special emphasis on mining issues on the Hill. It is partially coincidental, though not totally, that today we are dealing with the Donkin coal block development opportunity act, a piece of legislation that is specifically meant to assist in the growth of a particular project in Cape Breton, just off the coast of Nova Scotia. It is very important for that specific reason.
While we are talking about the overall general theme of mining today on the Hill, with people from the industry, workers, et cetera, we also have the privilege of dealing specifically with a bill that would help build this industry in a particular location for a specific town.
The second reason I am particularly pleased to speak to this bill is because of my personal professional background. Prior to being elected to the House of Commons in June 2004, I had previously worked as a mining and exploration geophysicist, having obtained my geophysics degree and graduating previously from the University of Saskatchewan.
I had the privilege of working in all three of Canada's northern territories, the wonderful territories of Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut. I also spent some time working in the provinces of Saskatchewan and Manitoba. My final project before I was elected was in a place called Salluit in the most northern town of the province of Quebec where I worked on a nickel sulfide project.
It is a great pleasure for me to speak to a piece of legislation that is in some way related to my previous profession. People need to understand that mining is important for Canada. It is important for Canada historically and in the present.
While the fur trade was probably the first industry that really flourished in Canada from coast to coast and pushed inland the exploration, mining was not far behind. Some who have read their history books may remember that some of the explorers who came to Canada came specifically to look for mineral deposits, gold, diamonds and copper.
In fact, one of the more amusing stories in Canadian history is how some of the early explorers from France became very excited when they thought they had discovered massive diamond deposits in Quebec. They filled up many barrels of these diamonds and returned home. However, after a little investigation, they were not quite sophisticated enough to tell the difference between quartz and diamonds.
Historically, mining has been very important to Canada. We export somewhere in the neighbourhood of 77 different products. We are internationally known for our uranium deposits, potash, nickel and coal. We have seen the rising price of coal impact on our dollar. This is an industry which impacts every region of the country, be it oil and gas, hard rock mining or whatever.
We have particular expertise in this country for the development of our laws, geological infrastructure, the Geological Survey of Canada, the well done mapping programs and the organization and stability of our programs. That is one of the reasons why, not only in Canada but around the world, Canadian mine engineers, geoscientists and all others are recognized as experts in this field. That is just an introduction.
Today we are dealing with a particular piece of legislation that deals with a specific situation off the coast of Nova Scotia, which makes it an important bill for Cape Breton and, indeed, for all of Nova Scotia. This legislation deals directly with the prosperity and jobs in the region of Cape Breton. I am pleased to stand and support this bill.
The development of the Donkin undersea coal resource located off Cape Breton Island has the potential to bring significant economic benefits to the Cape Breton region and to all of Nova Scotia.
Both the province of Nova Scotia and the Government of Canada contend that they have legal obligations regarding matters such as regulating resource development, labour matters, occupation, health, safety, et cetera. In December 2005, Nova Scotia announced Xstrata Donkin Mine Development Alliance was successful in its bid to explore and develop the Donkin coal block resource. After more than one year of exploration, Xstrata will make its final decision on the development, in August 2008.
Neither the federal government nor the provincial government wish to see issues of jurisdiction hamper the prospects of this project. We do not want red tape to kill jobs with people of Cape Breton. However, for the commercial operation of the mine to proceed, an effective regulatory regime is needed. The bill is about that. What we need is a clear understanding among all parties affected, proponents and possible employees and the community at large as to what the rules of operation are going to be on this project.
The federal government sees it as necessary to find a way around this impasse. I believe it is important to understand the process that brought us to this point of view. In my view the legislation is an example of good will and commitment by both levels of government, provincial and federal. Consequently both levels of government have put the question of jurisdiction aside to collaborate on a mechanism permitting the development of a safe and efficient mine.
Representatives of the federal government and the Nova Scotia government worked together for a year to develop the proposed legislation. Starting in March, federal and provincial officials agreed on an approach to develop an appropriate regulatory regime to develop the Donkin coal block. The agreement involves the incorporation of provincial statutes by reference into federal law of laws related to coal and coal bed methane resource management, labour relations, labour standards and occupational health and safety.
Prior to this, Nova Scotia agreed to amend its occupational health and safety laws to ensure that subsea coal miners would have the same level of protection that they have under federal legislation.
Also under the agreement, administration of the new federal laws will be delegated to a provincial government official or authority. This helps us to move forward to clear the path, to move forward for the development of the Donkin site if the private sector decides if the mine is a viable, profitable operation. Again, to be clear for everyone who is listening, the legislation only enables and takes away the red tape so that the private sector can have its own initiative to grow and develop these necessary jobs.
Public meetings were held this past April to discuss the regulatory framework. These sessions resulted in assurances that labour, community and industry groups understood and supported the proposed regulatory regime. The outcome is this bill, the Donkin coal block development opportunity act, introduced in this Parliament by the hon. Minister of Natural Resources.
Dealing with the issues of health and safety, we know there are dangers faced by coal miners and we know safety is paramount for them. Throughout history worldwide, I think of some particularly tragic incidences in Canadian history. We do not want any dangers or loss of life to happen again to our miners. Bill C-15 would clarify the occupational health and safety regulations that would apply to the Donkin resource. By eliminating confusion over who would protect these workers, we hope to protect each and every worker better.
The proposed legislation will permit the incorporation into federal laws of existing provincial laws regarding such matters as labour standards, labour relations, occupational health and safety and coal and coal gas resource management. The administration and enforcement of these laws would then be delegated back to the province of Nova Scotia. This provides a clear and stable regulatory system, the Donkin coal development. It also permits both levels of government to retain their positions with respect to ownership and regulatory jurisdiction.
As well, the bill would ensure that coal and coal bed methane royalties associated with exploitation of the offshore portion of Donkin could be collected by Nova Scotia and then remitted to the Government of Canada. In turn, a remittance of an equal amount would then be made by Canada to the province of Nova Scotia. It is my understanding that is being done to be in compliance with other previous acts and legislation even though to the untrained ear it sounds somewhat cumbersome.
As all members can see, the immediate objectives of the bill are to facilitate provincial management of the Donkin coal block and provide a clear regulatory regime to govern its development
Moving on from health and safety issues, we need to talk about the economic advantage. We know not all areas of the country are equally advantaged with various economic assets and so forth. Cape Breton is one of those areas that, in spite of the ingenuity its people, has had on few more challenges, so these jobs and this growth is very important for this area.
The legislation provides Cape Breton with an opportunity to advance its own economic development to let the people of Cape Breton continue to be masters of their own house. Nowadays, clean coal burning technology exists and we have an opportunity to employ hundreds of experienced people from the coal mining industry.
By facilitating a return to Cape Breton's time honoured tradition of mining coal and by creating up to 275 direct jobs and 700 indirect jobs, the Donkin enterprise will give us another chance to revive the coal mining industry in Cape Breton.
The legislation for the Donkin mine would ensure that local people, who know the resource, would be there to inspect these mines and inspect them in a timely manner. As well, the project could generate hundreds of millions of dollars for the provincial economy in salaries, equipment purchases and so on, all very good things for the economy of Nova Scotia and Cape Breton.
Finally, as far as the specifics of the bill, the Donkin coal block development opportunity act is an outstanding example of federal-provincial cooperation. We are pleased to see that similar legislation already passed in the Nova Scotia legislature. It is now up to us, as federal members of Parliament, to do the same thing.
While that sums up the specifics about the bill, let me also add a few other things.
As I said when I started out talking about the broader issues of mining, mining is a part of Canada's heritage. We see this very clearly in Cape Breton. I am not all together perfectly acquainted with Cape Breton, being a prairie boy who has worked across it. However, the image I have of it has to do with coal mining. When we think of the interior of British Columbia, we think about the mining and the resources. We go to places in Canadian geography, names we know of but many us have not been to, places like Flin Flon, Trail, B.C. and areas farther north. We see the new diamond mines in the north. Mining is a part of who we are as Canadians.
We are very proud of our high tech and knowledge based economy, but we also need to understand that this high tech knowledge based economy interacts with our natural resources economy and our mining economy. Canadians are world-class leaders when it comes to geological sciences to geophysics.
We look at the work of the University of Toronto in developing things, projects that were started in the second world war for military applications for mining and mining for the military. These things have developed because of the mining infrastructure and the knowledge that we have in Canada.
It is important that we continue to develop and build this industry. It provides jobs from coast to coast. It will continue to provide economic development. It is one of those core elements that we need. We need agriculture and food to live. We need elements to provide shelter. For our industrial and manufacturing production, we ultimately need minerals.
That is how I would like the people of Canada and those listening today to view the bill, not specific legislation on its own, standing for one area, but as a symbol, something to speak to the whole broader issue to develop our act.
I am very glad the members for Cape Breton have supported it. I am not quite sure I credit—