Mr. Speaker, I am greatly honoured to rise in the House to speak to Bill C-15, which proposes reforming the constitution of the Northwest Territories and amends legislation regarding the creation of boards that govern land and water use in the Northwest Territories.
On December 3, 2013, the Government of Canada introduced Bill C-15, which was developed after years of consultation, notably with aboriginal groups, northerners and stakeholders from the territorial governments and the industry.
Bill C-15 is designed to transfer the management of lands and resources in the Northwest Territories to the Government of the Northwest Territories. In addition, Bill C-15 would improve the regulatory regime in the Northwest Territories by removing barriers that hamper private investment, by improving environmental stewardship and by investing in programs that support economic growth and create opportunities for northerners.
This bill is the result of a deep desire to update existing laws and bring them into the 21st century. The last significant devolution to the Northwest Territories took place in the late 1980s, when education, health care, transportation and renewable resources were transferred to them.
Bill C-15 is split into two important and distinct parts. As I mentioned earlier, the first part amends the Northwest Territories Act, which is the territory's constitution. Other laws are amended to implement the Northwest Territories Land and Resources Devolution Agreement.
The people of the Northwest Territories have been trying for decades to get powers similar to the ones that the provinces have. The NDP supports the transfer of these powers and strongly supports the Northwest Territories in its effort to take over federal responsibilities in the north.
I would like to share what the Premier of the Northwest Territories, Robert McLeod, said when the Legislative Assembly approved the agreement:
This Assembly has a vision of a strong, prosperous and sustainable territory. Devolution is the path to that future. Responsibility for our lands and resources is the key to unlocking the economic potential that will provide opportunities to all our residents.
I would also like to take this opportunity to warmly congratulate my colleague from the riding of the Northwest Territories for his excellent work on Bill C-15. I want to share what he had to say about the role the Premier of the Northwest Territories had in concluding the negotiations:
I think one of the great accomplishments of Premier McLeod, with the devolution file, has been to bring many of the first nations on board. Premier McLeod himself is of aboriginal descent and has a great deal of respect among first nations peoples—among all of us in the north—for his...fairness. I think that is something that has helped the devolution file tremendously.
I also want to share a quote from Robert Alexie Jr., the president of the Gwich'in Tribal Council, when the agreement was being signed by the Government of Canada and aboriginal leaders in the Northwest Territories. He said, “We don't have to fear devolution. It's a new beginning”.
We completely agree, which is why the NDP strongly supports the devolution of powers to the Government of the Northwest Territories. That government is in a better position to know how its own resources should be used, and it should have the final say. That is something that all the provinces can understand.
According to the agreement, the Government of the Northwest Territories will keep 50% of the revenue from resource development on their public lands and the Government of Canada will keep the rest. In addition, the Government of the Northwest Territories will receive $70 million a year in compensation for delivering the programs and services off-loaded by Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada.
The second part of Bill C-15 amends the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act by eliminating the regional land and water boards created through land claim agreements with the first nations. Some first nations have expressed their concerns about the amendments to the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act.
Here is another quote from Robert Alexie Jr., president of the Gwich'in Tribal Council, commenting on the council's opposition to the amendments to the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act:
We have a land-use plan. We have the land and water board. We have a claim. People know the process, and it works very well up here. It's only in the unsettled claim areas that there seems to be concern with the regulatory regimes and the speed with which they process applications, or lack of speed.