Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-6 today because we are dealing with a process, and this is extremely important, no matter what members on the other side are saying. In this case, the people who will be affected by these decisions have not been adequately consulted. The government unfortunately has a habit of not consulting people on a number of issues.
It is even more troubling in the case of the Yukon, which we are discussing today. Not too long ago, Bill C-15, if I am not mistaken, gave more powers to the territories, which was in line with what was done in the Northwest Territories a few years ago. We recently adopted the same type of approach with the Yukon.
It appears as though the pendulum is swinging the other way now. The government is bringing the power back to Ottawa and is giving itself more discretionary powers. This bill is a way to push through some natural resource development projects and to once again gut our environmental protection laws, which is another worrisome trend from this government.
Since we started the debate this afternoon, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development has been telling us that everyone in the Yukon agrees that the existing rules only delay the process, since it is unpredictable. However, as my colleague from St. John's East just pointed out, the rules proposed by the Conservatives make the situation even more unpredictable, since they simply say that if any communities in the Yukon are unhappy with the result they will have to go to court.
Speaking of trends, that is another one we are seeing more and more of all the time. Instead of being proactive and proposing legislation and an approach to governance that does not require legal proceedings, the government seems to be saying that this is not so bad because these people can turn to the courts. The focus is on the cure instead of prevention. If the government wants to have a real dialogue, then it has to prevent these conflicts where people, particularly first nations, feel that their rights are being trampled. Dragging things through the courts prolongs and encumbers the process, which makes the situation even harder for businesses that want to propose a project.
The interesting thing in the debates on the environment and the economy is the matter of environmental assessments. That came up again today, through this bill. If we took this responsibility seriously, we would not be obstructing those who advocate sustainable and responsible development. However, the government seems to believe that such legislation always gets in the way of development. Instead of trying to come up with better assessments, the government simply wants to get rid of them all. Words like social acceptability often come up when we talk about natural resource development projects.
It is clear that Bill S-6 has failed when it comes to social acceptability. The federal government might say that the territories are different from the provinces, but we must not play political games with the rights of the people of the Yukon and of the Yukon's first nations.
The parliamentary secretary talked about funding that was offered to the first nations, but that is not enough. The dialogue cannot be driven by money alone. There has to be a proactive attitude, a willingness to reach out and some openness.
We can have all the tools and resources in the world, but if we do not believe that they will be useful and that this dialogue will improve things, then it is hard to bring two or more partners to the table.
The parliamentary secretary also said there were many meetings, but that is precisely one of the things that people, including first nations, are upset about. Closed-door meetings do not count as public consultation. It is pretty easy to sit down with select stakeholders, then say that consultations were held and people should be satisfied with that. The problem, once again, is what people are feeling. I want to respond again to the parliamentary secretary's remarks. He just asked if the NDP will be challenging all of the legislation about which witnesses say they were not adequately consulted.
We all know that in politics it is impossible to please everyone, but when it comes to Bill S-6, everything we heard in committee and in the Yukon points to agreement among members of the public and first nations: the consultations were inadequate. That is why the Yukon NDP moved a motion in the legislature there to condemn this bill. Sure, they can pull out quotes here and there to support the argument that this is a step forward, but I am not talking about an exception; I am saying that most people think this.
Consequently, I believe that it is important to recognize that the government's approach is problematic. All too often, people condemn its bills and its approach and the government views them as exceptions. Very often these people are voicing the concerns of the majority, and therefore it is all the more important for the government to listen.
In matters affecting first nations especially, this is happening more and more frequently. One of my colleagues spoke about the government's paternalistic approach in its relations with first nations. That is the problem, more than the bill's outcome. When the government is considering making such a fundamental change to the way a territory is managed—a change that could call into question some rights enjoyed by first nations—telling them to just go to court reflects a paternalistic approach. There is no doubt about that, and we see it all too often with this government.
I made a mistake at the beginning of my speech. I said Bill C-6, but I meant Bill S-6. There again, Senate bills are increasingly common, and that is a problem. This is not a Senate bill, but a government bill that is proposing to make a very important, even draconian change to how the Yukon conducts its environmental assessments. The bill would also give discretionary powers to the minister.
The fact that the Senate passed such a bill and sent us such a fundamental change is very problematic in terms of how our two chambers operate, and it is especially problematic when we consider how long it takes for the Senate to pass private members' bills originating in the House of Commons. Consider, for example, the bill introduced by the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca on the rights of transgendered people. The Senate is dragging its feet on passing it. Unfortunately, at this rate, it will not even pass before the election is called. I am using this as an example because Bill S-6 is a government bill, and we know how quickly senators pass government bills and how long it takes them to pass private members' bills. I think this clearly illustrates the problems that arise as a result of how the system works, and this only adds to public cynicism.
I touched on this earlier, but the issue of ministers' discretionary powers is becoming more and more common in government-sponsored bills. This government likes to govern in such a way that ministers are too often allowed to use discretionary powers to adopt certain policies. This is extremely troubling and worrisome when it comes to environmental assessments.
The government prides itself on having a system of checks and balances in place, but those checks and balances are the courts. Everyone knows that the courts are a good tool for protecting fundamental rights, but at the same time, a good government should not settle for getting to that point. I realize I am repeating myself, but this is really what stands out the most on this particular issue.
In closing, I would like to reiterate that we are prepared to work with the people of Yukon. The Yukon NDP is doing a terrific job. The member for the Northwest Territories knows what managing a territory actually involves and how to work with the federal government. We can do this job properly.
Unfortunately, all too often, the federal government is content to just centralize and impose its way of doing things on others. That is not how we believe that things should be done. There must be an open dialogue among the various nations, particularly the first nations. That is the approach that we advocate and this would be an opportunity to implement that approach. That is why we are opposed to this bill.