Mr. Speaker, Liberals will be supporting this bill but, yet again, want to express our concern that the government seems to not understand what a parliamentary process is supposed to look like. When the committee travels to the north, the thoughtful people who have been dealing with these issues for a long time deserve to be heard in a real and meaningful way, which is two-way accountability between knowledgeable citizens and Parliament.
Yet again, the government has refused to accept one, not one, amendment to this bill. The government seems to think that amendments wreck bills. We on this side think that amendments improve bills and resolve weaknesses that have been identified by witnesses. Amendments reflect what members heard. As the member for Western Arctic said, the thoughtful people who went to committee had actually crafted the amendments themselves and yet the government refused to listen.
As I have said in the House before, the Liberal Party understands and supports the goal of bringing further clarity to the regulation of land use in the north and, in particular, the dispute resolution process for surface and subsurface rights. The 2008 McCrank report made it clear that the north is struggling with gaps in surface rights legislation to resolve disputes with landowners who did not want to grant access to their lands for development projects.
With an estimated $8 billion worth of mining investments ready to pour into Canada's north over the next decade, the Liberal Party supports closing these legislative gaps. However, as the member for Western Arctic said, we are not sure why this was not done in two dedicated bills for the two jurisdictions being folded into this one piece of legislation.
This government needs to take a much more comprehensive approach to the issue of northern development.
With regard to the land claims agreement, the first part of the bill enacts the Nunavut Planning and Project Assessment Act, which implements certain provisions of articles 10 to 12 of the 1993 Nunavut Land Claims Agreement.
Since 2002, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., or NTI, and the government of Nunavut have been working on developing the legislation through the Nunavut legislative working group. This work has been supported by the Nunavut Planning Commission and the Nunavut Impact Review Board.
We are troubled about the concerns raised by NTI that portions of the bill regarding Nunavut do not mirror the language in the land claims agreement and the government's refusal to address these concerns with the amendments that they proposed.
We also heard from the Nunavut Planning Commission that, based upon current information, an initial $2,918,284 is necessary to effectively prepare for and implement the new legal requirements that accompany the legislation. In addition to this needed funding, $1,878,284 of indexed core funding would also be required for ongoing implementation responsibilities.
We heard testimony from Sharon Ehaloak of the commission who made it clear when she said, “We will not be able to enact this legislation without additional funding. There's just no question about it”.
It is not just the planning commission that is raising concerns. Mr. Rick Meyers, vice-president for the Mining Association of Canada, told us:
...most of the boards across the north have been marginally funded, if you like, if not underfunded. They do get the work done and deliver good product, but they do it at some challenge....
I think it's very important that the co-management boards be funded properly.
We are concerned that if those responsible to implement the legislation do not have the resources to do it, we are setting them up to fail, and northerners will not see the benefits that are expected from this legislation. When the minister, the member for Nunavut, was speaking this morning, it was disappointing to hear that she was not able to give any assurance that there would be funding to accompany this legislation.
The government's response to this concern is that necessary money will be provided through the implementation phase of the process. Essentially, the government has said simply, “Trust us; we will handle it; don't worry about the needed funding”, but Ms. Ehaloak testified that
The government has told us that it's moving forward as cost neutral. That's been unacceptable. We will not be able to fulfill the obligations if the legislation moves forward without the funding.
In fact, the Nunavut Planning Commission has been trying without success to negotiate an implementation contract for years, so how can we trust the government when it says it will now resolve this crucial issue of adequate funding?
The goal of part 1 of Bill C-47 is to ensure that any project proposed in the Nunavut settlement area will be carefully examined for its potential impact and benefits. The Nunavut Planning Commission and the Nunavut Impact Review Board will examine, consult and respond to specific project proposals, determine whether they conform to the land use plan and assess how these projects will affect the Nunavut settlement area. This determination will require appropriate consultations, but affected parties and relevant organizations may not have the financial resources to participate effectively or at all.
That is why Liberals have called for a participant fund to be established to ensure that proper consultation will take place. This is at the suggestion of many witnesses and many northerners who felt that a participant fund was not without precedent. When the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act was enacted, sections 57 and 58 recognized this challenge and provided there for participant funding.
All other parties to the working group advocated for such a fund, but the government alone refused to agree with the negotiations. It was disappointing to hear the official make it sound as though it was approved, when indeed it was quite clear that there was only one party at the negotiations that refused to agree to a participant fund, and that was Canada. When the Liberals later proposed that the responsible minister should establish a participant funding program to promote public participation in the review of the projects, the government again refused to consider it.
Bill C-47 is an incredibly complex legislation, and the portions pertaining to Nunavut are the product of more than a decade of negotiations. We have heard concerns from the land claims organization, NTI, about some of the language in the legislation not mirroring that in the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement and we have heard concerns from the Nunavut Planning Commission about a lack of funding to properly implement this legislation. The Nunavut Chamber of Mines and the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada testified that given the complexity of this legislation, “further refinements and adjustments will be necessary”.
Given this complexity and these concerns, a mandatory five-year review of how this legislation performs, once implemented, would have been prudent, but the Conservatives refused our amendment to insert such a review out of hand. The Conservative government's refusal to accept any amendments, regardless of how sensible or minor or bottom-up, is truly troubling.
As for the broader question of northern development, the Liberals believe that a lot more needs to be done besides simply streamlining regulations related to surface rights and dispute resolution mechanisms in order to develop the enormous economic potential of the north.
For example, the federal government still has no plan or capacity to clean up a major spill in icefield waters. Canada must develop the capacity to respond to environmental threats, such as an oil or gas spill resulting from resource extraction in the arctic. These emergency response capacities must be part and parcel of any streamlining of the regulatory process for land use in the north.
Northern economic development will also require investments in basic needs such as education, housing and health, as well as the infrastructure required to support a growing population and economy.
The Prime Minister does not actually seem to understand northern development. It has to be more than military deployments and extracting natural resources. Northern development must also deal with the societal, social and economic welfare of the people who live there.
For instance, Canada has a serious food insecurity problem. In northern communities some estimates put it as high as 79%, or 8 out of 10 people, without sufficient food. The Food Banks Canada report “HungerCount 2012” brings that struggle into disturbing focus. The report notes that one of the few long-standing food banks in the territories has seen an alarming 18% increase in use over the past year and that residents of Iqaluit spend 25% of their total expenditures on food, compared to the Canadian average of 11%, yet the Conservative government has stubbornly refused to admit that the nutrition north program that was supposed to deal with the situation has failed to bring down the costs of weekly food budgets.
The stark reality of Inuit education today is that roughly 75% of children are not completing high school, and many who do find that their skills and knowledge do not compare with those of non-aboriginal graduates. Low education outcomes are associated with adverse social implications, including greater unemployment, greater numbers of youth entering the criminal justice system and greater incidence of illness and poverty.
Without equal access to education and training, northern Canadians will not benefit from the employment opportunities that resource development will create. Instead of developing appropriate programs to address this need, the Conservative government is actually cutting existing support.
For example, the Conservative government has ended the successful aboriginal skills and employment partnership. Canada's resource sector companies were some of the most active participants in this program and have criticized its cancellation.
Critical gaps also remain in terms of transportation, such as the planned development of a deepwater port at Nanisivik that has been scrapped in favour of a part-time summer-only fuelling station.
Iqaluit still does not have a deepwater port and Nunavut Premier Aariak recently indicated that the lack of ports and roads connecting northern communities to each other and to the south is constraining economic and social development.
In short, unlocking the tremendous potential of the north is much broader than streamlining the regulatory process for land use and development. The government needs to have a much more holisitic approach to economic development in the north. However, as I said earlier, despite the fact that this bill is by no means perfect, we do believe that there are significant positive aspects to the legislation.
In closing, one of the great privileges of being a member of Parliament is getting to see all over this wonderful country. It was in the summer of 1998 that I was first able to visit Nunavut, a year before it became a territory. We had an arctic caucus with former Nunavut MP Nancy Karetak-Lindell. We were then visiting Baffin, Grise Fiord and Resolute. I was just captivated by the majesty of the land and the dignity of the people who live in Canada's north.
I think I have been back at least once a year ever since, and that is why the Prime Minister's annual trip to Canada's north is always tough for me: because it never deals with the real problems facing northerners. Northerners deserve more from a Prime Minister than an annual photo op focused on military exercises, ignoring the real challenges of the people of the north and refusing to listen to the solutions that must come from northerners.
The standard of living and quality of life for northerners must meet both Canadian and international norms and minimums. The Arctic millennium development goals are way behind. The federal government must invest not only in basic needs such as education, housing and health but also in the infrastructure, like the ports that will be required to support the growing population and the economy as well as natural resources extraction.
The Prime Minister does not seem to understand northern sovereignty. It has to be more than military deployments and extracting natural resources. Northern sovereignty must also deal with the social and economic welfare of the people who live there. Our northern sovereignty depends on northern peoples. It is time he listened to them and worked with them on their priorities.