Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Thunder Bay—Superior North.
Like all Canadians, northerners were hoping for something new when they sat down to listen to the Speech from the Throne. After all, the government had shut down the distraction of democracy for an extra six weeks so it could come up with some new plans.
But like most Canadians, northerners were disappointed by how little new material was in the throne speech. There is nothing new about corporate giveaways. There is nothing new about employers and employees paying more for EI.
We heard again about the government's northern strategy to build a new north. Northerners have the ideas, but they need the authority and the resources.
We heard again about how a new high Arctic research centre was going to be studied. This even though scientists say they do not need more facilities but do need research funding and an overall plan for Arctic research. They do not need to wait five years for a study.
Northerners heard again how the government is going to defend the boundaries of our Arctic. Oh, if this were only the case.
While the Prime Minister and his Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of National Defence are quick to rattle their sabres every time the Russians mention the Arctic, they have been strangely quiet when it comes to U.S. encroachment. The state of Alaska is preparing to take bids for oil and gas leases in our part of the Beaufort Sea.
But there is not a mention from the government, no press conference denouncing this theft of our resources, as the Minister of National Defence is so quick to do every time a Russian bomber takes off on a routine patrol. There has been no protest whatsoever from those great defenders of Arctic sovereignty. While we make tough with the Russians, the United States makes off with our territorial waters.
A cold war in the Arctic is not the only part of the government's northern policy that is stuck in the past. The entire relationship between the federal government and the territories reeks of colonialism.
Unlike the provinces, the territories derive their jurisdictional powers not from the Constitution but from an act of this House.
Unlike the provinces, there are no lieutenant-governors in the territories; rather the head of government is the commissioner, who represents not the Queen but the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development.
Unlike the provinces, the vast riches of the north belong not to northerners but to the government of the mother country, Canada.
The throne speech mentions the transfer of powers and so on. Northerners have heard that line for 40 years, since the Carruthers commission, and are still waiting.
This throne speech laid out the opposite of a transfer of powers. The government laid out its plans to strip northerners of the little control they have over the development of their land. Using the code words “regulatory reform” and trying to link the issue with the excessive amount of time the joint review panel took to deal with the Mackenzie gas project, the government is trying to sell its plans for decreasing the few powers northerners have.
The environmental regulatory system in the Northwest Territories was created through the land claim process with the sole purpose of giving aboriginal governments and northerners some control and input into development on their lands. The government says that allowing local people control over their land is bad for business. Its corporate friends in Calgary, Houston, New York and London want a free hand to do as they wish in the north, and the government is determined to give it to them.
Northerners have seen what happens when big business is allowed to do as it wishes on our land. Big corporations make their money and northerners are stuck with the mess. I am speaking of messes like the arsenic contamination at Giant Mine, radioactive contamination from Echo Bay and Rayrock mines, and contamination left over in the Mackenzie delta following the 1970s oil and gas exploration. Money and resources are gone; pollution is left behind.
After being stuck with this mess too many times, northerners demanded control and input into the development of their home. Now the government, in a cynical fashion, paternalistically, wants to take it away. It will not even listen to the government of the Northwest Territories, which has come out in opposition to the changes the government wants to foist on northerners.
The Conservative government continues the paternalistic policies of the past. Even the amount of debt the territories can take on is not determined by northerners but by cabinet. Every so often, after much pleading and begging from the territorial governments, Ottawa eventually gets around to increasing the borrowing limit. Unfortunately, so much time has passed that these slim increases are of negligible value.
Borrowing limits are perfect examples of the paternalistic, colonial mentality the government and previous governments have had towards the north. When it comes to borrowing, the way municipalities are treated by provincial governments is less paternalistic than the way the territories are treated. In many cases, legislation for borrowing limits is flexible, based either on a percentage of revenue or a percentage of property values.
I want the government to hear this loud and clear. It is time to change how borrowing limits are determined for the territories, and if the government will not introduce the necessary amendments to the Northwest Territories Act, then I will. The result of these paternalistic borrowing controls is that the territories are not able to marshal the funds to support the developments northerners want. Our recent hydroelectric development is just the finest example of that.
Here is another example of how Ottawa does not care about what the people of the north want. Northerners have been calling for the completion of the Mackenzie Highway for decades. Ottawa says only it can build new highways, something that may change in the future, but right now we have more interest than ever in this, along with the pipeline. Building the road first would be a good idea.
What did the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development announce the other day? He announced that his new CanNor agency will fund a further three-year pre-feasibility study on the Mackenzie Highway. Pre-feasibility study? Our government of the Northwest Territories, today, is investing in permanent bridges on the route. We need the environmental assessment done. We need to get this project shovel-ready. We do not need to study it. The government sees the north as its little colony, not grown up enough to have real control over its affairs, easy enough to put off with empty promises and pre-feasibility studies.
In a different vein, on December 14, 1960, the United Nations passed a declaration on the granting of independence to colonial countries and people, which declared:
All peoples have the right to self-determination; by virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.
The UN declaration goes on:
Inadequacy of political, economic, social or educational preparedness should never serve as a pretext for delaying independence.
The paternalistic attitude of the federal government toward the north is contrary to this 50-year-old declaration. It is time the federal government took concrete steps to end this colonial treatment of the north.
Northerners are the first to feel the effects of climate change. Northerners use the cold to our advantage. We have developed building techniques that utilize permafrost. The Diavik diamond mine only exists because permafrost technology secures the dike around the mine. In communities like Inuvik, Tuktoyaktuk and Aklavik, all buildings are built on piles frozen into the permafrost.
The government's inaction on climate change threatens the mines, the communities and our way of life in the north. As the climate warms, the permafrost melts and the construction fails. The buildings fall over, the dike at the mine fails and roads will become impassable.
But there is another problem with the government and climate change. It would prefer to support the tar sands rather than support reasonable and prompt action on climate change. The government's support for the tar sands is another example of the government's true attitude toward the north.
In 2008, Environmental Defence found that 11 million litres of oil-polluted water leaches from the tar sands every day. The water of the Athabasca River flows through that part of Alberta and then makes it way north to the Arctic Ocean through the Mackenzie River. This polluted water flows right through my community of Fort Smith as well as every other community on the river system.
Northerners have seen how people living along the Athabasca in northern Alberta are getting sick with cancer, cancers many believe are directly linked to tar sands pollution. Expansion of the tar sands will mean even more pollution. The government does not care if northerners get sick as long as its friends in the oil industry get their money.
Not only was there little new in the speech for northerners, but there was little good. The speech shows the government's attitudes towards the north. It shows it does not listen to northerners, and it shows the government only sees the north for what it can take from it.