Motion No. 4
That Bill C-15 be amended by deleting Clause 136.
Motion No. 5
That Bill C-15 be amended by deleting Clause 137.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin my comments on the proposed amendments by congratulating my friend and colleague, the hon. member for Western Arctic.
I would like to start by congratulating my friend and colleague the member for Western Arctic for the extraordinary work he has done and the leadership he has shown in this file.
The amendments proposed would delete clauses 136 and 137 of Bill C-15, and it is important to get on the record to explain why. This is quasi-constitutional work that we are doing here today. As the House knows, the travaux préparatoires and the debates follow this type of amendment if it ever has to interpreted by the courts in the future.
The people of the Northwest Territories have worked toward gaining more province-like powers for decades. The NDP is in favour of devolution and supports the NWT in taking over federal responsibilities in the north. At the same time, Northwest Territories Premier Bob McLeod and his team of negotiators should be congratulated for achieving this significant evolution in the governance of the Northwest Territories.
Bill C-15 would provide the people of the NWT with something that we who live in the provinces take for granted: control over what happens on our land and the ability to profit from the development of our natural resources.
In less than 50 years, governance in the Northwest Territories has evolved from a colonial administration run by a committee of bureaucrats here in Ottawa to a fully elected and accountable government. I have had a chance to meet the members and the premier, to visit them in their House. The evolution they have gone through is quite extraordinary.
Therefore, Bill C-15 is a major step in that evolution, which the NDP fully supports.
For those of us who live in the provinces, it is only natural that we control our own resources. However, that was not the case for the Northwest Territories.
The preparatory work is often consulted by the courts when there is a constitutional matter at issue, or in this case quasi-constitutional, since this will affect the very foundation of how a territorial government is organized.
Unfortunately, the Conservative insistence that changes to the regulatory process be included in Bill C-15 is contrary to a respectful nation to nation process when dealing with first nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples in Canada. This, for the NDP, is crucial. An NDP government would make sure that no decision taken at our cabinet table would fail to respect first nations treaty rights, inherent rights, and Canada's international obligations.
The changes to the system of land and water boards, created through first nation land claim agreements, are disrespectful to the Dene and Métis of the Northwest Territories. The Conservatives heard over and over from the NWT's aboriginal governments and many concerned residents that they did not support these changes, but the Conservatives, unfortunately, were deaf to these concerns.
However, as a number of first nations have raised concerns about the amendments to the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act, we proposed amendments based on these concerns during the committee review, to make sure that Bill C-15 meets northerners' expectations.
Our member for Western Arctic tried splitting the bill at committee so that we would not impede devolution but allow for a full debate on the more controversial changes to the MVRMA. Once again, we are trying to find workable solutions, but the Conservatives are up to their old tricks.
At report stage, we are moving that clauses 136 and 137, creating a single regulatory board for lands and waters and eliminating the regional land and water boards, be deleted. These sections would eliminate the current system of regional land and water regulatory boards and change the structure of the Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board to an 11 member board with a chair appointed by the federal minister. This system was created as part of the implementation for the Gwich'in and the Sahtu land claim agreements, and the Tlicho lands, resources, and self-government agreement.
However, by unilaterally changing this system, the Conservatives are ignoring the spirit and intent of these modern day treaties. The original system consisted of three regional land and water boards corresponding to the three settled land claim areas, and the Mackenzie Valley board for projects that span more than one region or are located in areas where there is no settled land claim. This system gives the people, particularly aboriginal people, of the Northwest Territories a voice in how their land and waters are developed.
It is for that reason that the official opposition, the New Democrats, believes that these sections should be deleted. Let the good parts go through. Have the proper debate. Develop a respectful nation to nation approach. That is the way for the future.