Mr. Speaker, I thank my burgeoning fan club from all sides of the House of Commons.
I want to talk about this act from several aspects. The key aspect is with respect to the ownership of one's destiny and being the principal beneficiary of one's own resource.
We have had several issues in my home province of Newfoundland and Labrador for the past 20 years, starting with the Atlantic accord and then going through its revisions.
Federal jurisdiction belongs to the offshore areas of oil and gas exploration and so forth, so the royalties came into the federal coffers. It was pointed out that because the oil and gas exists off the east coast of Newfoundland and Labrador, and the same applies to Nova Scotia, that it belongs to those provinces and to the benefit of the people of those provinces. That is what we mean by being the principal beneficiaries of those resources.
Revisions have been made over the years. There were a lot of battles, even within the House of Commons. In 2004-05, then once again in 2007-10, we saw the battles that raged. However, at the end of the day, both Nova Scotians and Newfoundlanders and Labradorians became the principal beneficiaries of their own resources.
There is a great sense of nationalism for any country that would endeavour to do that. It is one thing to allow a portion of a country's population to have more autonomy politically, but to do it in the sense of economic nationalization is good too. It allows people to manage their own resources and to be the principal beneficiary of their own resources.
That brings us to Bill C-15. Here we have a devolution process that does just that.
There are discrepancies that we want to talk about. Naturally, there is a to and fro in the debate. That is the natural course of things.
Our party has certain issues with some of the matters contained within the legislation, as do other parties. That is why we are here and debating this. I am happy to speak to Bill C-15 for that very reason, to ensure that the principal beneficiaries of the resources are fully compensated.
Bill C-15 is an act to replace the Northwest Territories Act to implement certain provisions of the Northwest Territories Lands and Resources Devolution Agreement, and to repeal or make amendments to the Territorial Lands Act, the Northwest Territories Waters Act, the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act, which I will talk about a bit later, and other acts and certain orders and regulations.
The devolution of responsibilities in the Northwest Territories is cause for celebration, especially for the people of the north. They will have a much greater say in the future of their lands and resources by becoming principal beneficiaries.
The act will see the transfer of responsibility for resources and water, as well as public lands, from the federal government to the Government of the Northwest Territories. It continues the work started decades ago to give the people of the Northwest Territories the governance that they deserve. We can all think back to the work of former Liberal prime minister Lester B. Pearson, and his government, who established the advisory commission, otherwise known as the Carruthers Commission, and the development of a government in the Northwest Territories.
The commission consulted with people across the north. It concluded in its report that they deserved to have their government established in the north, not in Ottawa, where it had been until then, so that the people could play a more vital role in their government and its ability to represent the people of the Northwest Territories. This established Yellowknife as the capital and moved the territorial seat of government to that region. Decades later, Yellowknife has continued to blossom as the seat of government for the Northwest Territories, thanks in part to this important step. We can be proud that today business in the Northwest Territories is booming. I should know because several of my friends who I grew up with in Newfoundland and Labrador make a good living in the Northwest Territories.
There is a new generation of young Canadians living in the north who are ready to be the leaders of today and the future. Those are the words of the member of Parliament for Labrador, who is also our critic for the north. She also said we must do everything we can to ensure that all territories have the tools and governance they need to empower young Canadians to be part of the economic driver of this country, as the north has become.
She continued that we want to make it easier to conduct business in the North and to have business invest in the North. This in turn would create jobs and generate higher tax revenues, which devolution would provide to the Government of Northwest Territories, as one would expect, and to participating aboriginal governments as well. As a result, they could work to improve social programs and the social safety net, invest in local culture, attract new tourism and trade, and draw new people to the area.
While we are optimistic about the future of the Northwest Territories and its devolution agreement, which we are debating today, it is important to ensure that this act lives up to what it has set out to do under the guidance of the Premier of the Northwest Territories, Bob McLeod, and his government, as well as the many aboriginal governments and their leaders. These individuals have spent years working to gain a concrete devolution agreement and to ensure that it meets the needs of northern Canadians. Unfortunately, the current government has let down the people in our north on many occasions in the last number of years. Because of this, we need to ensure that this act has the consensus support of the people of the Northwest Territories.
The often deplorable conditions on aboriginal reserves and the total lack of social support for many communities has been sad and, indeed, unacceptable. I think of the Kelowna accord and the potential it had to bring positive change to aboriginal peoples across Canada for economic development, education, health care, and housing, and that it was this Prime Minister who turned his back on the accord.
Bill C-15 needs to properly address the needs of aboriginal peoples with respect to proper governance and decision-making over resources and, of course, water. We need to have an open dialogue with those living in the Northwest Territories so that we start righting so many of the wrongs they have had to live through over the years.
One thing that is certain and has come up within this debate and caused us concern on this side of the House is that we need to take a look at the consolidation of multiple land and water boards, and what is called in this legislation “the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act”, which is a big part of this devolution act. This has the potential to play a major role with some of the aboriginal governments in the Northwest Territories. As currently proposed, they are losing seats on their boards in an effort to streamline the boards into one superboard and make it easier for businesses to thrive. It is imperative that we find the right balance to continue to give a strong voice to the various aboriginal governments, while at the same time fostering economic growth in the entire region.
Indeed, all parties at the table here would like to see more growth and success for the region. Since the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act is a major part of this legislation, Bill C-15, we need to ask why such a large portion of this bill dealing with the local amalgamation of land and water boards is part of the devolution agreement, and why it does not stand on its own as a separate bill. I sincerely hope this act receives the attention it deserves for granting more responsibilities to the local aboriginal governments and the Government of the Northwest Territories and that this Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act does not overshadow the achievements of other parts of the bill.
Another area of concern is the revenue formula for the territorial and aboriginal governments. The financial benefits from resource developments are numerous and should not disproportionately go toward the federal government. This is especially true for a number of reasons, the primary one being the challenges that our territories face and our provinces do not. Given the small number of inhabitants, spread-out communities and vastness of the land, the Government of the Northwest Territories needs adequate amount of revenue from resource development to meet these unique challenges. Certainly that is a point of interest, because provinces over the past 10 years have managed to put themselves in a “have” position primarily because of revenue from natural resources.
As for the roads, they are getting worse because of increased traffic. We can also talk more generally about the infrastructure there. Over time, of course, it is getting worse. The Northwest Territories is experiencing a similar strain on its infrastructure as a result of the mining and the resource boom. Therefore, the revenue from these resources must adequately compensate the government for its increased infrastructure costs, because of the exponential increase in the resource development in these areas.
When it comes to lowering the costs of travel in the north, there must be room for governments to assist people. People often must travel great distance to access the health care and important services they need. We need to address these dire issues, and the Conservative government needs to recognize this when establishing the revenue sharing agreement on resources.
I am also concerned about the issue of offshore resource development and shipping. With the discovery and potential of massive resource deposits off the coast of the Northwest Territories, the federal government must be clear on whose responsibility it is when it comes to developing these resources and ensuring that adequate environmental regulations are in place and in force.
While this bill spends much of its text discussing the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act, it does not spend enough time discussing the resource development of non-freshwater regions of the Northwest Territories. With the increase in shipping and the development of offshore resources in the north, I am concerned about a lack of focus in this bill. Since the government is addressing land and water issues in this devolution bill, it is only fair to also include the necessary clauses with regard to the offshore issues.
Now is not the time to avoid addressing these very important issues. We know for a fact that circumpolar traffic has increased substantially with the demand for oil and gas reserves outside of the traditional areas these reserves have been found, because we are now discovering more fields in Canada's north. As a result, there is increased traffic of large freighters in these areas, and not just from Canada but from places such as Norway and Russia, through to Iceland, Greenland, and Alaska.
I remain hopeful that the minister and his department can resolve the concerns my colleagues have about this bill, given that we would all like to see the Northwest Territories achieve successful devolution.
During the last Liberal government of Prime Minister Paul Martin we reached a concrete framework on devolution in the Northwest Territories. We had a timeline of a few years to get the deal done and in place. It is unfortunate that it has taken this long to finalize the agreement, particularly given the overwhelming support for devolution and the success that Yukon and Nunavut territories have had following their own devolution agreements.
Nevertheless, I welcome today as the beginning of the end of this long journey. Together, with hope and hard work, we can work out any issues quickly and move to brighten the future for the people, the residents of the Northwest Territories, so they too can be principal beneficiaries of their own resources.
We would like to thank the Premier of the Northwest Territories, Bob McLeod, as well as his government for the hard work to get this devolution agreement organized. I would also like to thank the many aboriginal governments and their leaders who worked tirelessly with the Government of the Northwest Territories and the federal government to find a solution that will benefit everyone in the north.
This is truly a moment that we all can be proud of for the residents of Northwest Territories, for the residents of the north. With crumbling infrastructure and the need to meet the promises made to protect our social safety net for the people of the north, we must make sure that this devolution process is one that does not hinder the development of the people, how they live, and their standard of living.
Environmental guards must be put in place. Many other measures must be put in place so that we can have a successful devolution and both levels of government can manage this directly. Again, we thank the Government of Northwest Territories for doing this.
Just as a final note, I had mentioned resource revenue-sharing earlier. A lot of the arguments that we have heard in the House and elsewhere, including other legislatures across the country, all 13 of them, are about resource development as a cash grab or something that is extra or beyond, the cream of the crop or the gravy over the main meal, something that is an add-on to the services we provide to our people. That is not the case.
To become a principal beneficiary of one's own resource is to provide the fundamental programs by which we live as citizens. We all know, with a great deal of bias and rightly so, that we live in the best country in the world. That achievement is not just a measure of gross domestic product. It is not just a measure of how much we export compared to what we import. It is the measure by which we sustain our communities, whether they are working or have jobs, yes, and whether they have the ability to succeed and create more, yes, that is fundamental too. But it is also fundamental to look after our neighbours and our communities, such that our communities will benefit from all the resources.
We have seen time and time again major international corporations come within our jurisdiction, whether on the land or offshore. They have come here to fulfill their own goals for corporate profit, for their own standards of providing more value to their shareholders.
We must remember that the goal for the principal beneficiary is not a quick profit for a shareholder or to invest more in other oil, gas, or mining developments around the world. The goal is for the principle beneficiary to increase the standard of living within the community, including having a better hospital, affordable daycare, a better community for children. This is not just about boutique tax credits for people who feel that is the be all and end all for creating a better community. It is about bringing a community into a better light for all its citizens to share in.
This is what we go through to make sure that the devolution of an essential power from Ottawa goes to a particular region. I spoke earlier about Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia. The devolution process is an element of good governance. Good governance filters through to the basic degrees of society so that society can benefit, so that society can provide a better community for its own children.
Sometimes we get caught up in the minutia or intricacies of a deal, for instance, whether one particular environmental assessment will hinder or benefit a community. That has to be within legislation. We have to do this right, because it will be hard to fix when it is done. Therefore, we must have a complete debate in order for that to happen. I thank all my hon. colleagues for doing this.
The devolution process is an exercise in ensuring that the average citizen in the smallest community in the Northwest Territories is as large a principal beneficiary as the average citizen living in Yellowknife, just as it would be for the entire country.
We congratulate the aboriginal governments. They too want only the best for their communities. They do not want to see any giveaways taking place. They do not want to see any giveaways that would feed only into a corporation that gives itself a bigger profit.
We need to make sure that these people are involved so that they too are not the only principal beneficiaries of the economic benefits, but the actual stewards of the environment, thereby making sure that no footprint is left that would be detrimental to the environment and the beautiful landscape in the north. More beautiful than that would be a standard of living they can give to their own children, which to me would be a lasting testament of what we consider to be the devolution of power, one that would benefit the smallest community in the Northwest Territories as well as the largest.