Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the time I have been given today as we speak about this very important issue. I am not from the north; I am from Newfoundland and Labrador, but I proudly stand here to discuss this particular bill simply because it is very important to people in a land that is so vast and so rich in natural resources. There is a lot to talk about indeed, and it is a very important part of who we are as Canadians.
I am pleased to have an opportunity to speak to S-6, an act to amend the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act and the Nunavut Waters and Nunavut Surface Rights Tribunal Act.
This particular piece of legislation is the third in a suite of bills aimed at improving the regulatory regime in Canada's northern territories. Unfortunately, like most legislation the government introduces, the bill is being rammed through the House with only a limited debate. It was brought in without proper consultation with local communities and first nations, as has been discussed here in the past and certainly since debate started about 35 minutes ago.
There is a growing feeling in the north that the changes being imposed by the Conservatives through Bill S-6 will endanger the independence and effectiveness of environmental assessments and that it will eventually end up before the courts.
The objective of Bill S-6 is to update the regulatory regime in Yukon and Nunavut and align it with other regulatory regimes throughout Canada.
Among other things, this legislation would introduce legislated time limits for environmental assessments. It would provide the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development with the authority to give binding policy directions to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board. It would also allow the delegation of any of the minister's powers, duties, and functions to the territorial minister by way of devolution; enable the government to develop cost-recovery regulatory measures; and reduce regulatory burdens by clarifying that a project need not undergo another assessment when a project authorization is to be renewed or amended, unless there is a significant change in the project. It would also introduce time limits for water licence reviews and allow for life-of-project water licences. It would also require the Nunavut Water Board to take into consideration agreements between Canada, regional Inuit associations, and proponents regarding posting of security to address the issue of over-bonding when more than one regulatory agency requires financial security for the same project.
Unlike Bill C-47 and Bill C-15, the two other bills aimed at improving the regulatory regime in Canada's northern territories, this legislation was introduced in the Senate on June 3, 2014, by Yukon Senator Dan Lang.
Some media reports indicate this particular piece of legislation may become a major issue in the next election, and some pundits question why the member of Parliament for Yukon was not the bill's sponsor. I am sure that over the next four or five months, he will have plenty of opportunity to answer that question and explain why the legislation was not amended when flaws were exposed and why there were no proper consultations with first nations, as many of my colleagues alluded to earlier in this debate.
Unfortunately, one of the strongest criticisms of Bill S-6 was on the absence of any meaningful consultation. For instance, the Council of Yukon First Nations, which represents eleven self-governing first nations, has made it clear that the Conservative government's consultations for the bill were not adequate to merit its support.
That is no surprise, as this particular government has a history of pushing through unwelcome changes in the territories.
For instance, with Bill C-15 the Conservatives passed the Northwest Territories Devolution Act. While devolution was started under a Liberal government, and we strongly supported that process, the much larger second part of the bill included the introduction of the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act, which shortened assessment timelines, reduced the role of first nations, and made it easier to approve projects that lacked local support. That was certainly a shame to many of the stakeholders involved and a shame to us here in this House.
The proposed changes in Bill S-6, which we debate today, follow this path of a top-down, Ottawa-centred approach to dealing with the territories. That is the opposite of how Liberals approach northern development.
The Liberal Party of Canada believes that a sustainably developed resource sector is essential to the success of our economy and, if we get it right, will serve as an important foundation for future economic growth and job creation for middle-class Canadians. Our party supports developing resources in the north in a sustainable manner.
Unlike the Conservatives, we recognize that unlocking this economic engine is contingent on environmental sustainability and on impacted aboriginal communities being treated as equal partners. That approach has not been followed in this case. Many people in Yukon and Nunavut believe that Bill S-6 would have a negative impact on their lives and their communities, and they are upset with what the government is trying to pass off as what it considers to be meaningful consultation.
Here is what Grand Chief Ruth Massie of the Council of Yukon First Nations told the committee when it held hearings on the legislation in the north. She said:
The federal government's approach on Bill S-6 is a roadblock to reconciliation. Participants in mining, tourism, and other industries are concerned about how Bill S-6 might adversely affect the future for resource development in Yukon.
Grand Chief Massie went on to say that all eleven self-governing nations on the council unanimously oppose four provisions in the legislation. She said:
We oppose giving the minister full power to issue binding policy direction to the YESAB as proposed in clause 34 of Bill S-6....
On timelines, we oppose the establishment of beginning-to-end timelines for assessments conducted under YESAA.
On exemption from assessment for project renewals and amendments, we oppose the proposed exemption from assessment for renewals and amendments of licences and permits as proposed in clause 14 of Bill S-6.
Clearly there are issues with this legislation and clearly it is not just first nations communities that are concerned. Allison Rippin Armstrong, vice-president of lands and environment at Kaminak Gold Corporation, is worried that Bill S-6 may put a chill on investment in the north. Kaminak, a Canadian exploration company that has owned and explored mineral properties in all three territories, wants an accessible and stable regulatory regime. However, Ms. Rippin Armstrong told the committee that her company is worried that the process through which YESAA would be amended is creating increased distrust and the potential for legal action.
Here is her testimony. She said:
Kaminak is very concerned about this development, because court cases create assessment and regulatory uncertainty in addition to extraordinary delay, all of which erodes investor confidence.
She went on to tell the committee once again that:
Our Coffee gold project has yet to enter the YESAA process. If Bill S-6 is passed and challenged in court, the Coffee gold project and our presence in Yukon is uncertain. Kaminak urges the federal government to resume discussions with the first nations to work collectively toward reaching consensus on the proposed amendments to YESAA and avoid a court challenge.
That is good advice, but it went unheard. Why is the Conservative government not listening to what it is being told and fixing the flaws in this bill? It is obvious that members on the opposite side believe they can unilaterally impose the government's will on the north.
As my colleague from Labrador said when she spoke on Bill S-6, history has already demonstrated that resource development can be environmentally conscious, while also finding trilateral support among aboriginal governments, territorial and federal governments, and the local communities. This, indeed, is the only way to move forward with resource development. It is not just a moral obligation; it is, truly, a legal one.
The member for Labrador was correct when she said:
Unfortunately, despite spending years of working with Yukon first nations on a comprehensive review of the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act, the federal government blindsided them earlier this year with a number of key changes that are contained in this bill and were not discussed throughout the process.
If the Conservative government persists in ramming these changes through, many observers believe that they will only create more local uncertainty and jeopardize development of the north.
Samson Hartland, the executive director of the Yukon Chamber of Mines, noted his organization enjoys a positive, constructive relationship. He told the committee that the chamber's 400 members want all levels of government to move toward a more respectful dialogue.
We must return to the original, respectful, and collaborative partnership with all aboriginal communities, including recognition of their inherent and treaty rights.