Mr. Speaker, I probably will not be taking my full 20 minutes allocated to this bill. As members have heard already from both the government and the opposition parties, there is general consensus that this legislation is badly needed. It is very timely in the sense that it has been a long time that amendments have been necessary to the Indian Oil and Gas Act.
It also would appear, and we share in this sentiment, that it has widespread support from the first nations. I would signal in particular that the Indian Resource Council, which was formed in 1987 I believe, has come out very strongly endorsing the legislation. I am sure we will hear from the council that it is not absolutely perfect and maybe at committee some additional and probably minor amendments will be necessary. However, the council is quite strong in supporting the legislation and encouraging all parties to support it.
I think that has to be the controlling factor. The council is clearly identified as the group in the country among the first nations. It does have representation from a large number of the first nations, but it is the group that has been identified as dealing with this particular issue, this sector of the economy for the first nations, and it is quite supportive of the legislation.
This legislation goes back to 1974 when it was first passed in the House. It has not been amended since that time. Regulations were changed to some reasonable degree around 1995 but other than that the act has remained as it was in 1974. It is obvious that over that 35 years things have changed.
The relationship between the first nations and the Government of Canada has changed dramatically. As we finally began to recognize, we are nowhere near finishing that agenda, but we began to recognize the significance of working with them on a nation to nation basis on all sorts of issues.
That recognition in particular has taken first nations coast to coast to coast to the Supreme Court on a number of occasions, particularly around, as the Supreme Court of Canada has found now repeatedly, the requirement on the part of the federal government of the day to consult in a meaningful way with the first nations. The Supreme Court and the lower courts have as well found breaches of that responsibility repeatedly. Projects that were to move ahead had to be stopped and meaningful consultation taken up with the first nations.
It appears quite clearly that on this particular piece of legislation consultation has taken place. It actually was completed before the calling of the last election. There was a prior bill introduced by the government, Bill C-63 in the last Parliament, which basically is the same bill as we are seeing now in Bill C-5. That of course died on the order paper when the Prime Minister opted to break his promise and call a snap election in September. Otherwise, this bill probably would have been through the House and been law by this time. This was further extended by the government's dodging of its democratic responsibilities with the prorogation of Parliament last December.
We now have the bill in front of us. The opposition parties are generally supportive. It will go to committee for final review, but I expect, in listening to our critic in this area, that the review will not take very long, so we should see the bill back before the House fairly quickly, and hopefully quick passage on to the Senate and royal assent.
The intent of the bill is to modernize it, to bring it into the 21st century, and in particular there have been conflicts between the federal legislation and the provincial legislation. This goes some distance to clear that up.
The first nations feel that the relationship between the federal government and the first nations that are affected by the legislation will be enhanced by the amendments that are going through. The bottom line is that this would bring clarity.
There are a number of provisions in the bill around the responsibility of the minister to deal with environmental issues. Most often what happens is that multinational corporations come in to do the exploration and withdrawal of oil and gas from the site, including, in some cases, coal deposits, to which it extends, but in the course of doing that it can cause environmental damage. The minister has very clear authority to deal with the remedial action that would be necessary to correct that environmental damage but the minister would be given additional powers to do so, which is an important factor in the bill.
I was caught also by the responsibility of the minister to ensure historical sites, which would, almost exclusively, be for the first nations, are protected, as well as archaeological sites. Over the years, many times first nations have been rightfully indignant, angry and bitter over the treatment of their archaeological sites with no particular sensitivity to their spiritual beliefs and their historical importance. The legislation would strengthen the responsibility of the minister to ensure that sensitivity is assured and guaranteed. That would be a major improvement to the relationship between the Government of Canada and the first nations.
There are a good number of important provisions within the legislation that provide for an enhancement of the role of first nations in the governance of the oil and gas reserves that they have on their lands. That only goes to further strengthen their desire to be independent of control by the federal government. It is clear what the responsibilities are of the federal government, which will continue, but it also significantly enhances the role of the first nations, and that can only be seen as a positive development.
We will be supporting the legislation. I suppose it is always possible that evidence and witnesses at the committee may produce some concerns, but the strongly felt sense we have at this point is that, because of the substantial support from the first nations and the support from all parties, those concerns would be of a very minor nature and again it would be back here for quick passage, hopefully as early as within the next month or so.