Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to join my colleagues in this debate on Bill C-47.
As a number of my colleagues in this House have already said, this bill raises issues of particular importance to Canada's northern communities. It combines two main bills, An Act to enact the Nunavut Planning and Project Assessment Act and the Northwest Territories Surface Rights Board Act and makes related and consequential amendments to other Acts.
In addition to implementing some provisions of land claim agreements that were reached more than 20 years ago, this bill includes measures that would have a direct impact on development in Canada's north and the way in which natural resources are developed in that part of the country.
We all know that natural resource development is the basis for a large part of the economic activity in Canada's three territories. As elected members, it is important to do everything possible to promote development and prosperity in the region.
There is no denying that businesses that develop natural resources are major job creators. Their economic activities can also lead to the construction of new infrastructure, such as roads or railways, which benefit the entire territory in which they choose to become established. Sometimes, even when the business leaves, the territorial government may take over the infrastructure and continue to improve it for the entire population.
However, we must not forget that, given the very nature of the industry, natural resource development can have disastrous consequences for the environment and also for the communities that depend on the jobs it creates.
A natural disaster—a toxic spill, for example—affects more than just the environment, the fauna and the flora. If the company has to leave the region because it cannot continue to develop the resources, all the communities that depend on this major source of employment feel the impact. When we talk about the environmental impact, we have to keep this important aspect in mind.
From a sustainable development perspective, it is also important to take into account other aspects, particularly the social aspect. With that in mind, it seems crucial to me to ensure that a sufficiently binding legislative framework is in place to enable the various levels of government to track the economic, social and environmental impacts of all natural resource development projects in the country, particularly in northern Canada.
That is one of the reasons why it is important to study Bill C-47 in the House, because it responds in part to requests that come to us directly from northern communities.
As the member for Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier, I myself represent a riding where natural resource development plays an important role in the regional economy. For example, I am thinking of the forestry industry, which, unfortunately, has suffered significantly in recent years. The thousands of forestry workers have been abandoned by the Conservative government. I am thinking of the former employees of AbitibiBowater in Donnacona and a number of communities in my riding. Despite that, we cannot ignore the fact that this industry was very important to numerous families in my riding, be they in Saint-Raymond or Sainte-Brigitte-de-Laval.
The mining industry also comes to mind. It employs several hundred workers in my riding, particularly in western Portneuf. I know this is also the case in other areas of Canada where the mining industry hires hundreds, if not thousands, of Canadians.
In my riding, the many mining sites, which are mainly sand quarries and gravel pits, are in the municipalities of Rivière-à-Pierre, Saint-Marc-des-Carrières and Saint-Raymond and in the unorganized territories north of the Portneuf regional county municipality.
Having these industries in my riding has given me a better understanding of the benefits they provide to the regional economy, as well as the importance of ensuring that their development of our natural resources complies with the principles of sustainable development.
I think it is essential to ensure that the economic, social and environmental impacts of this kind of project will benefit all members of the community, as well as future generations. That is why I share the concerns expressed by my colleague from Western Arctic in the eloquent speech he made earlier today.
The first part of Bill C-47, which deals with the Nunavut planning and project assessment act, seeks to improve the existing regulatory regime to give Nunavut more decision-making power regarding the speed and extent of planning within its own territory and regarding its resources, particularly by establishing a framework to determine how environmental assessment processes will be conducted and how licences will be granted for various projects.
In addition to focusing on the critical issue of environmental protection, these legislative provisions will also implement part of the Nunavut land claims agreement, while respecting the results of negotiations conducted by the territorial government of Nunavut.
Bill C-47 at least partially addresses a real need expressed by part of Canada's northern community and should pass at third reading. From the beginning, the NDP has been defending the rights and interests of northern Canadians, and we will continue to defend them in the future. That is why we believe that Bill C-47 should pass at third reading.
However, it cannot be said that creating this bill was entirely problem-free or that the version we are discussing here today is perfect. On the contrary, we know that the bill is not perfect and that it does not meet all of the demands of people who live in Canada's northern communities.
The second part of the bill, which deals primarily with the Northwest Territories surface rights board act, continues to raise a number of concerns among the opposition members and the people living in Canada's northern communities.
As several of my colleagues have said, many witnesses were invited to appear before the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development regarding Bill C-47. In spite of that, it seems that very few suggestions, if any, were taken into consideration by this government.
This was noted at committee, because consultations had taken place beforehand. When witnesses were given a preliminary version of the bill, some of them said they did not see any of the suggestions or recommendations they had made regarding the bill during the prior consultations.
In committee, my NDP colleagues tried to propose 50 amendments. That is a significant number. These 50 amendments were proposed to try to address the witnesses' concerns. The vast majority of these witnesses came directly from the aboriginal communities where companies are developing natural resources. The witnesses were not all opposed to Bill C-47. On the contrary, the majority of them simply wanted to ensure that the bill truly addresses the needs of our northern communities.
Unfortunately, as usual, the Conservatives refused to listen to the legitimate concerns of the Canadians directly affected by what is in Bill C-47. They once again refused to collaborate with the opposition and would not consider the amendments we proposed. We understand that it is not possible to accept all the amendments, but the Conservatives should at least look at them, think about them and debate them before systematically rejecting them. This would be an improvement over how the government normally operates.
It is as though as soon as the Conservatives formed a majority government, they felt they knew absolutely everything and were no longer required to consult with opposition members or the Canadian public.
It is unfortunate that, yet again, we are faced with the kind of arrogance and closed-mindedness that we have seen from the Conservatives since they became a majority government.
I have spoken out about this a number of times in the House and I am not the only one. My many colleagues, from the official opposition and the third party and from those who belong to unrecognized parties in the House, have all criticized this fact. However, the government refuses to listen to reason and to change its ways. The same thing happened when the government refused to split Bill C-47 in two parts, so that we could examine the impact of the different laws in the bill more closely. Once again, there is more than one.
These laws would have benefited from individual reviews, so that we could properly understand the effects they will have on the different northern communities. I hope that the government will soon drop its arrogant attitude. It refuses to collaborate with the opposition and refuses to listen to our suggestions. The opposition could have helped improve this bill, and we hope to be able to do so in the future.