Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak on Motion No. 533, which calls on the federal government to subject natural resource development projects to a broader consultation with first nations and local communities. One would think that should be a given, but apparently it is not.
In Nova Scotia, we have 13 Mi'kmaq first nations communities. One of the smaller ones is in the Annapolis Valley. It has almost 300 people. The largest one, Eskasoni, is in my riding. It has over 4,000 people. In Nova Scotia and in Cape Breton, first nation people make a big contribution not only to our economy and to our well-being but also to our whole social fabric.
We have seen time and time again that the Conservatives do not have a good relationship with first nations communities. A core responsibility of the federal government is to facilitate a meaningful consultation on resource development projects. Over the long term, this is the only way to leverage our natural resources in a way that is sustainable, maximizes economic opportunities, and strengthens first nations and local communities.
I will give two examples of major events in my riding that show how first nations communities have taken more charge of events and have received more out of the natural resources around them.
The first example relates to Donald Marshall, Jr. The House may not remember him, as he is not with us anymore, but he was wrongfully committed to jail for murder. He was later cleared. When he was in jail, he did a study on all the treaties and rights of first nations. When he came out of jail, he went eeling. He was catching eels for his family. He was charged, because apparently that was not allowed by legislation, but he fought that charge and he got his treaty rights.
He made a big change for many first nations people and first nations communities, not only in Cape Breton but in Nova Scotia and across Canada. In the areas of fisheries, forestry, and natural resources, first nations have treaty rights to own or participate in the resources in their communities.
The second example had to do with the Sydney tar ponds, an extremely toxic area that was located in my riding. We had to clean it up. It was a $400 million cleanup. When we embarked on that, the Liberal government was in power, but then there was a good Conservative government in Nova Scotia, under the leadership of Premier John Hamm. We worked together with them. He was what we would call a red Tory. We worked well with him, and we got $400 million to clean up the tar ponds.
My point is that the first nations community stepped up to the plate. The first nations community got a 10% carve-out from that project, so they were part of the cleanup process. They had their people educated and trained in trades to help us clean that up. They benefited.
My point is not only that they deserve a part of the resources but also that they can step up to the plate when asked to. They are able to get the big jobs done that we need to do.
The Conservative government has proven time and time again that it is not interested in input from anyone else. Everything comes down from the Prime Minister's Office. It comes down from the top. Conservatives do not work with others.
There is a need to consult on issues such as resource development. The message from the Conservatives has been clear: people are either with them or against them. There is an old saying that when the only tool in the tool belt is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. That is exactly the way they operate. That is the approach we are seeing when it comes to the government's approval process.
Let us reflect on the Conservatives' track record on progress with resource development. After eight years under the Conservatives, we are further behind on creating sensible policies. The government has failed on one of the most important infrastructure projects of our generation. Many people from my riding in Cape Breton work out west on the oil patch. When we see the Keystone XL pipeline not going anywhere, it is another example of how the Conservatives are not getting the job done. It is because of their relationship with others.
Needlessly, the Conservatives have these bad relationships. We see it with the country of origin labelling.
I am on the agriculture committee, and the beef and pork producers are losing the market in the United States, which is all due to bad relationships with our biggest trading partner. Especially now, the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and the Minister of International Trade should be working with the new senators, congressmen and governors to get our beef and pork moving there, but that is another problem with the Conservatives' relationship with others.
Many people do not know about this, but there is what is called preferential access to the perishable agricultural commodities act. To put it plainly, right now when produce farmers from Canada sell into the United States, the Americans have a bond in place so if Canadian growers do not get paid, it ensures they do. What happened? Over a year ago, the Americans said that it needed the same in Canada, which makes sense. If they are protecting our growers there, why is Canada not protecting their growers here? Nothing was done by the government to help our producers. Now we have a stalemate, which is another example of a bad relationship where things do not get done.
For average Canadians, the government appears to be chasing a different project every time they turn around, rather than fostering better relationships with our key partners in opening up new markets in a sustainable way. All of this contributes to a lack of confidence in Canadians on the government's transparency and accountability.
The responsible development of our natural resources is clearly in the national interest, but it must be done through building partnerships among industry, first nations and civil society. A core responsibility of the federal government is to facilitate meaningful consultation on resource development projects. Over the long term, this is the only way we will leverage our natural resources in a way that is sustainable, maximizes economic opportunity, and strengthens the first nations and local communities. We have seen that with the cleanup of the tar ponds, which should be a template for other projects right across our country.
In improving natural resource projects, the federal government has a crucial responsibility to balance economic development, energy security, and environmental and socio-economic factors to arrive at a decision that is in the best interests of first nations and Canadians. It sounds so practical. The Liberals believe we need to create a regulatory regime that is balanced, one that creates growth and protects the environment. We can do both at the same time.
Unfortunately, as mentioned in the House in the last hour or so, under the Conservatives, the National Energy Board has become kind of an advisory board to cabinet and the PMO. The Liberals recognize this and are fully aware that first nations communities desire greater accountability and transparency from the federal government.
Moving forward, natural resource development must adhere to the most stringent environmental assessments and reviews, and must fully respect aboriginal and treaty rights. It takes a lot of hard work and leadership to pull this off, but when it comes down to resource development, it is crucial to build partnerships among industry, first nations and civil society.
I would like to remind Canadians that the Conservatives have gutted environmental protection and oversight in the interest of resource development at all costs. Resource development that is not done in full consultation and collaboration with impacted aboriginal communities is just not responsible, and it is unconstitutional. Aboriginal communities rightfully expect governments to involve them in the early stages of a project's planning and decision making. There is the odd good Conservative, and it is too bad that when one goes over to that side, he or she drinks the Kool-Aid, and things do not go very well.
At the end of the day, we have to recognize our first nations people. They were here first. Many times they know how to treat our resources properly. They want to move forward with our economy. Working in partnership with impacted aboriginal communities is not just a question of legal obligation, but a tremendous opportunity. We must return to the original respectful and collaborative partnership with our aboriginal communities, including recognition of their inherent treaty rights.