Mr. Speaker, as always, it is an honour to represent the people of the great region of northern Ontario, which, latitudinally, is south of the Nahanni watershed, but still represents the great north of Canada.
In the beginning, we are talking about Senate Bill S-5, the Nááts’ihch’oh National Park Reserve boundaries. They are adjacent to and north of the Nahanni National Park Reserve, a beautiful area of our country. My dear friend Jack Layton always spoke of the impact that the Nahanni left on him when he visited it a number of years ago. For him, seeing the great beauty of Canada was a transformative moment.
I think Canadians watching this are asking themselves about the government's appalling attitude toward the environment and the games that have been played again and again with the serious issues of catastrophic climate change facing us. For example, when we ask questions in the House about the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and its findings, we generally hear laughter and ridicule from the Conservative backbenchers, as though this was made up or, as the Prime Minister once said, some kind of socialist plot. He might think it is a socialist plot but it is real, and we all live on this one planet.
When we talk about how the decision on this park reserve was made, we need to look at it in terms of this rip-and-ship philosophy of the Conservative government.
I represent vast mining regions, some of the largest gold and copper mines. The deepest copper based metal mine in the world is in my region. There are diamond mines. My region is used to resource development, but what we see from the government is akin to a gambler's addiction to resources with absolutely no interest in the future, whether it is value-added processing or the protection of the environment. It believes that what should be written into any development project is that our children and grandchildren carry the cost of the quickest way of getting resources out of the ground. Whether it is the bitumen in the tar sands or strip mining, the environment of our country should be pay the debt.
We are looking at the land reserve that was set aside. I will talk a bit about public process and the scam when we deal with very large interests that decide they would put their own financial interests above the interests of the public good. As we talk about this, I want to talk about this very important protected area and the need to have protected areas in Canada. That is not to say there will not be development, we are a development nation. We have enormous geography, but we have to choose to put value on the watersheds and the areas that need to be set aside so there can be protection.
The UN's fifth and final intergovernmental report on climate change released this past week was absolutely shocking. It says that we are now at the point of facing irreversible impacts on people, that these impacts are already being observed, including rising sea levels, more acidic oceans, melting glaciers, Arctic sea ice and increasing erratic weather. Again, the government is like a gambling addict. It does not seem to notice or care that we are mortgaging our future generations so we can get the quickest buck out of the ground without having a long-term sustainable economic plan.
We have the means to limit climate change. Chairman Rajendra Pachauri said, “The solutions are many and allow for continued economic and human development. All we need is the will to change”.
I am not one who is pessimistic about the future. I look at what our country did in the Second World War when a country of 10 million people raised the 4th largest navy and air force in the world, and fed Europe because we saw a threat. Yet I see this complete lazy disinterest in addressing the ultimate issue of our generation and our children's and grandchildren's generations, which is the march toward irreversible climate change.
Over the last six decades, Canada has become warmer. In any region of our country, erratic weather patterns have changed substantially. The temperature rose 1.5ºC between 1950 and 2010. This does not come from the New Democrats. This does not come from a socialist plot. It comes from a federal government report on the unique risk that Canadians face. The impacts of irreversible climate change will be felt first and foremost in Canada's far north.
Representing the great region of James Bay, Ontario, where the land is sitting about two feet above sea level, and we have huge issues of flooding at the best of times, the issue of not planning for the future of this region, if we are dealing with moving toward irreversible climate change, is going to be catastrophic.
Let us look at the government's commitment to the environment when it comes to this park. We are going to play a little game. I will give three options, door one, two and three, and ask the people back home to figure out what door the Conservatives opened.
Behind door one, we had a park reserve of 6,450 square kilometres focused on protecting the watershed values.
Behind door two, it was diminished. It was 5,770 square kilometres. It lessened the environmental protection and allowed for more mining options.
Behind door three is the smallest reserve. There are 4,840 square kilometres that were built around ensuring the mining companies would have what they needed and whatever interests they wanted. If we wanted, we could preserve the rest. Out of the 1,600 submissions, only 2 asked for door 3, the choice of ensuring maximum mining interests in this Nahanni region, with the minimum of conservation growth.
What does everyone think the Conservative government chose? The answer is obvious. It chose door three, the one that had no local support, that did not preserve the environment and that offered the maximum benefit to the mining interests. It speaks to the Conservative rip-and-ship philosophy that these incredible natural wonders we have been blessed with exist as a backdrop. If we want to strip mine it and dump it, why not there? It is as good a place as any.
The New Democratic Party does not believe in that. Again, representing a region that is heavily based on mining, we know our industries create an environmental impact. We want to work to ensure we have the highest environmental standards.
I talked to mining interests about the direction Canada was going in when, for example, the government cut the navigable waters act and the water protection to 99.97% of our lakes. I said to them that the mining sector must have thought it was really great, and they said no. That is not what they wanted. They want peace on the ground in terms of their ability to do their resource development. They want to be able to say to Canadians that they can do this right. If the government establishes the rules for the environment, they will live by them. That is in all of the conversations I have had with mining interests.
The other thing I hear from the mining sector is that if there is a role for the federal government, it is how does it ensures there is training for the large percentage of unemployed first nations youth who are in the territories, like the Ring of Fire, so they can become employed and part of the economy? That way, we can move together.
However, again and again, we see this myopic belief that the environment will pay whatever price to fast track development, even when the development is not sustainable because we will not get the long-term benefit from the jobs.
We represent a region where people fly in and out, and it is an open pit where there is no value added. Of the many mining families that I know, if we asked them, they would say to leave it in the ground. It is their capital for our future generations. If they are not going to mine it properly and are not going to get the maximum benefits so their communities can grow, then it should be left in the ground. However, that is not the attitude of the Conservative government. Its attitude is get it out as fast as it can and get it on a boat to China, where the value-added processing will happen in another jurisdiction, not here. We do not agree with that.
Going back to this national park reserve, the government presents us with the least favourable option. Are we going to vote against the least favourable option? No. We would rather have some of this protected than nothing.
The government needs to understand that if it is going to have credibility on the international stage when it comes to the issues of climate change, and we see what our European partners are doing, it has to start sending some signals that it does care about the environment.
Stephen Kakfwi, the former premier of the Northwest Territories, said that the way the boundaries were drawn the Prime Minister chose to put the mining interests above environmental interests and that the he had unfortunately let Canadians down. He said, “That is not a national park, that is a joke.”
Those are serious words from a former premier of the Northwest Territories.
He goes on to state:
[The Prime Minister] has taken the heart right out of it. The middle of [this reserve] is carved out so that mining can happen dead centre in the middle of the proposed national park.
The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society stated:
...the park boundary proposed in Bill S-5 will not achieve this conservation goal because it leaves out much of the important habitat for woodland caribou, including critical calving and breeding grounds, as well as for grizzly bears and Dall's sheep. It leaves out a significant part of the Little Nahanni River, which is a major tributary of the South Nahanni River and includes some of the most important habitat in the area.
One of my favourite lines of the government is “record investments”. Whenever it is cutting money it speaks of record investments, such as record investments in first nation education and record investments in water. If we go to any of those communities they will just laugh and say, “What record investments?”
The Conservatives will say they have record investments in Parks Canada and that they value Parks Canada. They promised us $391 million in budget 2013. To the folks back home, $391 million is clearly an impressive number, but how much did they actually spend? They spent $1 million. That is not even close. Last year they spent $4 million. We are still not even near what they promised. We will have to wait until after the election for the rest of the more than $380 million and the next government will have to follow through on that. Therefore, we get the ribbon-cutting, we get the big announcements, we get the promise on a commitment to the environment, but none of the money comes forward.
In Parks Canada, we see the layoff of employees, the issue of crumbling infrastructure, and the need to maintain these important jewels, these watersheds, that are crucial to maintaining the biodiversity of this country.
However, there is also the sense of how people view us internationally. When I am in the far north of Canada I regularly meet Europeans who come here because they are fascinated by the immense beauty of regions such as the Yukon and the Northwest Territories. They come here because this is their view of Canada. There is an enormous economic power to these national parks because people see that Canada still has them in areas where the rest of the world does not. Therefore, we have to put some value back by saying that these should be protected watersheds. This is not to be anti-development, but development has to be done in a smart and sustainable fashion with a sense of balance. Right now, there is absolutely no balance with how the government is approaching resource development.
In terms of the three options that were laid out, only two submissions supported the weakest option, but that is the one the government chose. Anyone who has been involved in a public consultation process will say that more often than not it is a shell game. When there is a mega-project to be developed, the rules have changed. Now, one must prove why public comment is needed, but public comment is a box that is ticked off. When the government has decided that it will go ahead with a major development project or a first nation consultation it just has to tick off the box.
I remember the Conservatives were going to build a toxic waste incinerator in northern Ontario on the territory of the Algonquin Timiskaming First Nation. I worked with the Algonquin nation. The very last night before the consultation period ended the Conservatives showed up in the community with their dog and pony show. The Government of Ontario said it was excellent that they had done a consultation. The Algonquin said that they would see them in court and that was the end of that. That is not consultation.
We also see that the government is almost standing alone in the world in its opposition to the push by the UN on the issue of free, prior, informed consent for the development of projects. There are constitutional provisions that have to be protected.
The conservation plan could have made the government look so good. I know I am not a friend of theirs, but the Conservatives could use some loving now on the environment. They could use a bit of credibility, just a fig leaf. They could just give us something. I am not even going to beat on the Conservatives. They are just so over the top with their attitude. They could have done something. They could have said, “We are not going to go with door number one, which is maximum protection; and we are not going to go with door number three, minimum; we will go with door number two, we will just balance it”.
However, “balance” to the Conservatives is a word that sounds like weakness or socialism or extremism or radicalism. That is their idea of balance, so they are not going to choose balance. They are going to choose the weakest environmental protection with the maximum exploitation of resources.
We will be supporting the bill because we would rather have something than nothing at this point. However, in 2015 they will see a New Democratic government having to do so much work to fix the disaster that the Conservatives have left on our environment.