House of Commons Hansard #216 of the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was chair.


An Act to amend the Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act (Sambro Island Lighthouse)Private Members' Business

11:05 a.m.


Megan Leslie NDP Halifax, NS

moved that Bill C-588, An Act to amend the Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act (Sambro Island Lighthouse), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, this past year, one day before Remembrance Day, November 10, 2014, the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore and I held a press conference about a lighthouse and its link to Remembrance Day. With us was veteran Earl Corn. Mr. Corn is a retired sailor of 38 years, and he talked about how the light from the Sambro Island Lighthouse was so important to Canada's men and women serving in the military. As Mr. Corn stated, “This was the last thing we saw [leaving port], and the first thing we saw arriving home.... It's probably one of the most important pieces of real estate we have”.

Also at our press conference was George Zwaagstra, who immigrated to Canada in the 1950s. Mr. Zwaagstra told us a heartwarming story of immigrating to Canada by boat, crammed together with others who were seeking a new life in Canada, and how they spent a couple of weeks in rough seas. He told us about one passenger who suffered a horrible case of seasickness, and how after days and days of no relief this man begged his friends to help him. He said he did not think he could go on being on the ship. That is when someone saw a light on the horizon, a small pinprick of light. It would probably not be very interesting to us, but news of that light spread across the ship in an instant. Mr. Zwaagstra and others went below and found the poor man with seasickness who felt he could not go on, and they hauled him to the deck above to see that light. That light was the first that they saw of Canada, and that light was from the Sambro Island lighthouse.

People have called the Sambro Island lighthouse Canada's Statue of Liberty. It was the first light that newcomers arriving by boat could see. They saw that light before they even saw land. As we heard from Mr. Corn, that light was not only the first light that new immigrants saw, but it was the last light that Canadians saw when they went off to war. For those who paid the ultimate sacrifice and did not return, sometimes it was the last memory that they had of Canada.

Those stories demonstrate how important this lighthouse is. That light is a part of our history, yet it continues to shine today. The Sambro Island lighthouse is an iconic structure. In fact, at a recent funding announcement to repair the lighthouse, the Minister of Justice called this lighthouse one of the most iconic structures, not only in Nova Scotia but across the country.

This iconic lighthouse, Canada's Statue of Liberty, is at risk. A number of years ago, the government embarked on a community consultation to draft a new piece of legislation that would be called the Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act. This was a very good consultation process. I have talked to people in Nova Scotia who were part of this process, and they were proud to be a part of it. After a period of robust consultation, the Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act was written and it passed through Parliament. Those in the Nova Scotia lighthouse preservation community felt a real sense of accomplishment, that they were a part of something good that would preserve and protect our lighthouses.

Then, in 2010, in the old bait and switch, the federal government made an announcement. Conservatives announced that since lighthouses were not really used as navigational aids anymore, lighthouses across the country would be declared surplus. They were delisted. Essentially, government would not take care of them anymore.

In the lighthouse protection community, there was an incredible feeling of betrayal. There was all of this work to save our lighthouses, and then the government announced in 2010 that 976 lighthouses across Canada were surplus. In the words of Barry MacDonald, then president of the Nova Scotia Lighthouse Preservation Society:

I'm very, very disappointed. Although the aid to navigation that's on that location is not declared surplus, what they're coming at here is the fact that they can maintain a steel tower on that site with a solar light a whole lot cheaper than they can maintain a heritage structure.

The 976 lighthouses across Canada were declared surplus, and Sambro Island lighthouse was on that list. Once a lighthouse is delisted, the community does have an option to take over that lighthouse.

However, under the new Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act, the public was given two years to petition and to nominate historic lighthouses. In order to qualify for this designation, the group or an individual had to submit a business plan for its upkeep. We have seen this happen in different communities across Canada where communities have applied to take over their local lighthouse.

Shortly after the announcement in 2010, I met with members of the Nova Scotia Lighthouse Preservation Society to talk about options. We discussed this option: Could we rally the community to come together to take over this lighthouse?

A community group began the heritage designation process. However, it does not have the resources required to maintain this structure, not to mention the fact that trust has been lost. Why would they engage with a process when they had spent years in a process that only led to their community lighthouse being put at risk? Trust was lost.

Also, in the case of the Sambro Island lighthouse, which stands roughly 24 metres tall, the lighthouse is located on a granite island at the entrance to Halifax Harbour. It is not as easily accessed as if it were on land or located on the end of a pier.

Second, the financial cost associated with maintaining the structure is very high. For example, in 2008, when the Coast Guard repainted the lighthouse, it had to use a helicopter to ferry in supplies, including a large web of scaffolding. The total cost came in at about $80,000 for a simple repainting.

It is not possible for the community to take over this lighthouse. The Sambro Island lighthouse is not on a pier or a wharf. It is not on the shores of Sambro or on Crystal Crescent Beach. It is on an island: essentially a piece of rock in the ocean.

Sue Paul, secretary for the Sambro Island Lighthouse Heritage Society put it well:

This is on an island. It's not easy to get to. It's also an 80-foot tower. It's not something that you can just put painting scaffolding on to do a quick fix-up.... It requires more work than our community can give it safely.

The community is not able to take care of this lighthouse. It is dangerous. It is not easy to get to. Every summer, there is a community celebration called Sou' Wester Days. Boat tours are organized to the island, and I cannot tell members how many of those tours have been cancelled due to rain, fog, wind, big swells. It is not like it is a hop, skip, and jump.

When I met with the Nova Scotia Lighthouse Preservation Society members in 2010, another thing was apparent. They were tired. They had put all of these resources into a consultation process and no one had any energy left. Eventually the two-year time for the community to register its intent to take over that lighthouse passed by.

In 2013, the local community in Sambro started to organize. It started as a meeting of friends, including Sue Paul, Stephanie Smith, and Brendan McGuire, who would later go on to represent this area as MLA. They came together and talked about one goal: to save the Sambro lighthouse. In October 2013, they established the not-for-profit organization called Sambro Island Lighthouse Heritage Society, and relied heavily upon Barry MacDonald for his expertise on lighthouses and working with government.

Barry mentored this group, and the group grew in size and determination. They put together a petition and asked people to sign if they supported saving the Sambro Island lighthouse. With 5,000 signatures from across Canada, they asked MPs to present those petitions in Parliament.

Working with this group of citizens, we came up with a solution. If Parks Canada took over responsibility for this park, actually took it away from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans or the Coast Guard, we could preserve this lighthouse and piece of our history.

That is what we did. Working with community and the wonderful legislative drafters at the House of Commons, I was able to put together Bill C-588, an act to amend the Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act (Sambro Island lighthouse). With the passing of the act, we could save the Sambro Island lighthouse and this piece of our history.

Why should Parks Canada take over the lighthouse? Let me tell members some of the historical facts about the lighthouse.

It was built during the Seven Years' War, in 1758, by the first act passed in the Nova Scotia House of Assembly. That was the first bill passed in our legislature in Nova Scotia. It was about this lighthouse. It is the oldest operational lighthouse in the Americas, and the federal government has already recognized the historic significance of this structure.

In 1937, Sambro lighthouse was designated as a national historic site and a plaque was placed in the village of Sambro. The construction of this lighthouse was also commemorated as a national historic event in 1937.

In 1996, the lighthouse received federal heritage review board classified status, which is the highest-ranking status for Canadian government heritage buildings. The heritage character of the Sambro Island lighthouse was described in the Parks Canada website of federal heritage designations as the following:

One of the most historically important lighthouses in Canada due to its age and its association with Halifax Harbour's marine traffic for over 235 years, this stone and concrete tower is considered the oldest operating lighthouse in North America.

Recently I attended a funding announcement with the Minister of Justice and the member for South Shore—St. Margaret's, who announced $1.5 million to go toward the repair of this lighthouse. This is our chance to fix the lighthouse and restore it to its former glory, and then preserve and protect it for generations to come. Why spend $1.5 million to prevent this lighthouse from tumbling into the sea now, only to have it tumble into the sea 40 years from now? We need to act to protect this lighthouse.

In my last few minutes, I would like to thank some people. I do recognize that if one starts a list of thanks, one is bound to forget someone, but I will take that risk because there are people who deserve recognition in this House.

I thank Sue Paul and Stephanie Smith who spearheaded the community, bringing us all together as the Sambro Island Lighthouse Heritage Society. They credit their nanny, Minnie Gilkie Smith, because without her admiration for and stories of the lighthouse, which she passed down to them and the rest of their family, they may not have felt so deeply rooted to that island and lighthouse.

I thank Barry MacDonald for his support and mentoring of this group. I know he recently retired from the Nova Scotia Lighthouse Preservation Society, and that is a well-deserved retirement, but I also know that lighthouses are in his heart and we are bound to see him at a meeting or two.

This lighthouse transcends party lines, and I would like to thank a few politicians across those party lines. Brendan Maguire, the Liberal MLA for Halifax Atlantic, has been steadfast in his commitment to this lighthouse. The member for Halifax West has also worked on this issue and brought attention to it in the House, as has my colleague, the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore. Members of the community of Sambro have named the member for South Shore—St. Margaret's as a champion for lighthouses, and I agree with them. I thank Senators Munson and Cordy for also being lighthouse supporters, as well as local councillor Steve Adams.

I thank the schoolchildren and the school of Sambro who supported this cause by selling bracelets and having awareness projects at school. The entire school drew pictures of the lighthouse and made a video of the children singing the lighthouse song. They sent the video to the Prime Minister—I am sure he has it marked in his favourites list—and they have asked him to save their lighthouse.

I thank The Chebucto News, which always made space in its publication for another story on the Sambro Island lighthouse. I thank the community members of Sambro for throwing themselves wholeheartedly into this project and gathering so many names for the petition, including Mishoo's store in Sambro, and Now We're Cookin' in Herring Cove. They had plenty of signatures for the petitions. I thank each and every person who took the time to gather names for this petition.

I also want to thank lighthouse advocates Chris Mills and Rip Irwin. Rip was a founding member of the Nova Scotia Lighthouse Preservation Society, which started after a trip to Sambro Island lighthouse.

As members can see, this is not just a lighthouse; this is part of our hearts, part of our community locally, but also part of the fabric of our history as Canadians. It is incredibly important to us. I agree with the Minister of Justice that this is an iconic structure for Canada. It is time to protect this lighthouse, and it is time for this lighthouse to shine on.

An Act to amend the Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act (Sambro Island Lighthouse)Private Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley Nova Scotia


Scott Armstrong ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Employment and Social Development and Minister of Labour

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for her speech today. Her work and the work of my colleague, the member for South Shore—St. Margaret's, on preserving lighthouses, not just in Nova Scotia but across the country, is exemplary.

I wonder if the member can comment on steps that need to be taken moving forward to ensure that this lighthouse is protected.

An Act to amend the Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act (Sambro Island Lighthouse)Private Members' Business

11:15 a.m.


Megan Leslie NDP Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am going to give credit where credit is due. It was just a couple of weeks ago that there was an announcement in Sambro, as I mentioned, that the government is giving $1.5 million to the restoration of the lighthouse. That was seen as such an incredible win for the community. Everybody has been walking on air since that announcement.

That announcement for the restoration is important. The stairs are falling apart, there are broken windows. Structurally, it is not safe. People are not even supposed to go up to it any more. Therefore, the restoration is vital if we are going to protect this lighthouse. But then what?

I really believe that the step that would protect this lighthouse properly would be to transfer it from the Coast Guard or the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to Parks Canada. Parks Canada has a mandate to preserve and protect these structures. It is a national historic site. It has been celebrated with a stamp, a coin and acts in legislature. It really needs protection, not just the designation of a heritage site. I see bringing it under the inventory of Parks Canada as the next step.

An Act to amend the Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act (Sambro Island Lighthouse)Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, there are several lighthouses in my riding as well and some of them are struggling because they were declared surplus. They are finding innovative ways through agencies such as ACOA, the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency.

One of the biggest complaints is that when these assets are transferred through Environment Canada to commemorations, they come with a commemoration. They come with the distinction of being what it is, but they never come with the money to help them jumpstart in a particular way.

Would her bill provide for any type of operating funds or capital money to be available for these groups?

An Act to amend the Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act (Sambro Island Lighthouse)Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Megan Leslie NDP Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, Fisheries and Oceans has custody of three lighthouses in Newfoundland: Cape Race, Cape Pine and Cape Spear. Therefore, he is pretty close to this issue.

My bill would not include funding, and that is for a procedural reason. This is a private member's bill. I am not in government yet, so if money is attached to private members' bills, they require royal recommendation from government to do that and I was not expecting to get it.

For a step in a private member's bill, I see a straight transfer to Parks Canada so that it is in the Parks Canada inventory. As the member heard earlier, there is a commitment of funds, $1.5 million, to restore the lighthouse, bring it back to its previous glory, and that is a fantastic step.

An Act to amend the Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act (Sambro Island Lighthouse)Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Philip Toone NDP Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Halifax for her very thoughtful speech. I am sure that what she said resonates with many people in coastal communities.

I would like to talk about the cultural aspect of lighthouses. Communities have depended heavily on lighthouses as a link that kept them safe. Many families have lived in very remote regions to operate lighthouses and in Halifax too. Maritime communities, including fishers and sailors, have depended heavily on lighthouses.

Many cultural communities have an interest in the work we are doing today to save not only the lighthouse in my colleague's riding, but those in all of Canada.

Can my colleague comment on the cultural aspect of lighthouses?

An Act to amend the Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act (Sambro Island Lighthouse)Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Megan Leslie NDP Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, the cultural aspect is very important. My colleague from Sackville—Eastern Shore organized a press conference with veterans and immigrants.

I, frankly, did not understand the connection. I did not even know those stories about the light being the last light that our military servicemen and women would see as they went off to war or the first light that newcomers would see on the horizon when they were coming to Canada to start a new life. Those stories are as important as that structure, but those stories are tied to that structure.

An Act to amend the Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act (Sambro Island Lighthouse)Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley Nova Scotia


Scott Armstrong ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Employment and Social Development and Minister of Labour

Mr. Speaker, let us imagine people travelling across the ocean, from the old world to the new world, 200 years ago, and living through storms and the violence that can be the Atlantic Ocean, both in summer and in winter but particularly in winter.

After four or five days on a boat, not really knowing exactly where they were, at the other end of the night, they would see a light, a beacon of hope that symbolizes not only land but a future for them and their family who are travelling to immigrate to a new world. That would be the story of many of my ancestors, the MacDonalds and the Armstrongs and the Tuckers and the Haymans, coming across from Europe to the new world.

Fast forward 100 years or so to just after the turn of the century, when literally thousands and thousands of soldiers left Canada to travel to fight against the Germans in World War I. For many of them, the last thing they would have seen, looking back at their homeland, not ever knowing if they were going to return safely, would have been that light.

Fast forward again another 50 years, when we had many settlers come from Europe post-World War II, people like my mother-in-law, who came over as a Dutch settler at the age of four, travelling with her family, a family with hope in their hearts, looking for a new, better life, escaping the ravages that were realized during World War II. Travelling across that ocean, literally millions of immigrants coming to Canada over the years, for many the first thing they would have seen of North America, the first thing they would have seen of this new life, would have been that light.

That is what we are really here to talk about today, and I congratulate the member across for her diligence in working towards this particular piece of legislation.

We have a rich lighthouse heritage. Canadians passionately want to see this heritage protected for the benefit and enjoyment of not only past generations like the ones I have spoken about but for future generations of Canadians. Lighthouses speak to who we are and where we have been. We are one of the world's great maritime nations and lighthouses are a part of that historic nature of our country.

This is why this House adopted the Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act in 2008. My colleague, the member for South Shore—St. Margaret's has been a strong advocate for this legislation and continues to be, for lighthouses across the country. Although he is retiring this year, one of his legacies will be the Lighthouse Protection Act. I congratulate him for that.

This is why Canadians nominated nearly 350 lighthouses to be considered for designation and protection as heritage lighthouses. Our government is determined to designate and protect as many of our lighthouses as possible under the Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act. To date already, 74 heritage lighthouses have been designated under the act. A good number of these, 42 are still required as aids to navigation on our coasts and inland waterways and will remain under the custodianship of the Government of Canada.

They include some of Canada's most significant symbols of our maritime heritage. Some examples are the Cape Spear lighthouse on the Atlantic Coast near St. John's, built in 1835; as well as the Fisgard Lighthouse on the Pacific coast near Victoria, built in 1860. There is also the Triple Island lighthouse on the North Pacific in British Columbia, recognized nationally for the logistical challenges involved with its construction, and the Cape Race lighthouse on the southern Avalon Peninsula in Newfoundland and Labrador.

However, in many places in Canada, historic lighthouses are no longer needed to deliver Canada's extensive marine aid and navigation program. In these cases, our government has in place mechanisms to facilitate the acquisition of treasured historic lighthouses by community groups, other levels of government and, in rare cases, individuals. These different people, organizations and levels of government can breathe new life into these symbols of our nation by giving them a new use.

Identifying new owners for historic lighthouses that are no longer needed by the federal government is not just sound fiscal policy. We all know that the best protection for any heritage building is its continued use, and this is no less true for lighthouses than it is for houses, banks, schools, churches or other built markers of our shared heritage, our shared national identity.

Through the implementation of the Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act, viable, responsible new owners have been invited to submit proposals to acquire historic lighthouses that are no longer needed by the federal government, and to commit to protect their heritage character on behalf of all Canadians. The response from Canadians to this challenge has been nothing short of extraordinary. To date, community groups and other levels of government have submitted proposals to acquire more than 150 of Canada's historic lighthouses and to protect their heritage character. The majority of these proposals are considered viable, sustainable plans following review by Fisheries and Oceans Canada, which is a testament to the commitment of Canadians to conserve their heritage.

Currently, of the 150 proposals we have received, there are 32 heritage lighthouses that have been designated, which will ensure the protection and conservation of the heritage character of these historic lighthouses on behalf of Canadians and for the benefit and enjoyment of generations of Canadians yet to come. Some of these 32 heritage lighthouses that will be managed by new owners are symbols of our small but proud and indomitable maritime communities that line our coasts and inland waterways.

Yes, lighthouses such as the ones I have mentioned have economic value as well, as anchors for local and regional tourism, but the spirit that drives their conservation is more than economic. Canadians want to protect these properties because they speak to who we are. They are tangible, evocative markers of our maritime heritage.

Other designated heritage lighthouses that will be managed by new owners are symbols of larger maritime communities. The Brighton Beach Range Front lighthouse, acquired by the City of Charlottetown, is but one example.

These are some of the great examples of Canada's lighthouse heritage. The Government of Canada and Canadians are grateful to the new owners of these and other heritage lighthouses. They have embarked with the Government of Canada on a great project to secure a bright future for Canada's lighthouse heritage. Their commitment to conserve their local heritage and determination to identify and implement sustainable long-term plans for their lighthouses are inspirations for us all.

The government is committed to work with these community organizations and other levels of government to bring these visions to reality so that they too can join this great family of designated heritage lighthouses that the Government of Canada and Canadians are building together.

This is hallowed history of the oldest operating lighthouse in the Americas and part of Nova Scotia's heritage, and I am referring, of course, to the Sambro lighthouse. For generations, this sentinel of the sea has helped illuminate the safe passage of countless mariners off the treacherous waters of Chebucto Head. The Sambro Island lighthouse has been in operation for over 250 years.

Over the years, members of the Nova Scotia Lighthouse Preservation Society, the Sambro Island Lighthouse Heritage Society and the local community have worked diligently to preserve, protect and promote this storied structure and educate people about its historical significance. In recognition of its importance, the Sambro Island lighthouse was declared a classified federal heritage building. In more recent years, it has also been commemorated by Canada Post and the Royal Canadian Mint.

Our government wholeheartedly agrees that the Sambro Island lighthouse merits designation as a heritage lighthouse under the Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act, but we want to do more than just designate the lighthouse. We need to do more. The Sambro Island lighthouse deserves a bright, secure future so that Canadians can enjoy and appreciate our very own heritage for generations to come.

To do this, the Government of Canada must continue in its quest to find a viable, responsible new owner for the lighthouse who can articulate and implement a solid plan that will set this proud symbol of our shared maritime heritage on a course for another two and a half centuries of marking one of Canada's greatest harbours. Hopefully, it will stand strong for much longer than that.

The Sambro Island lighthouse has derived strong local, regional and provincial support from across Canada. It relishes the benefits of a valuable custodian in Fisheries and Oceans Canada and of a government that recognizes and acknowledges its immeasurable historical importance. The government is committed to working with Canadians to create an enduring, sustainable future for the Sambro Island lighthouse and for many lighthouses across this country.

I thank the member for this legislation, and I thank you, Mr. Speaker, for the opportunity to speak to it today.

An Act to amend the Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act (Sambro Island Lighthouse)Private Members' Business

11:30 a.m.


Mark Eyking Liberal Sydney—Victoria, NS

Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I rise today to speak to Bill C-588, an act to designate the Sambro Island lighthouse as a heritage lighthouse.

I thank all my colleagues in the House and in the Senate who are supporting the bill, but especially my colleagues from Nova Scotia, who are all working together to make this happen.

The Liberal Party of Canada believes in the value of protecting Canada's story through the preservation of our historic lighthouses for the education and enjoyment of present and future generations. We understand the need for federal stewardship on this issue and urge the government to work collaboratively with local leaders to develop an effective strategy to ensure the survival of the Sambro Island lighthouse.

The Liberal Halifax-area member of Parliament has represented his constituents in the House of Commons regarding the preservation of the Sambro Lighthouse since 2013, and the Liberal Party of Canada has long advocated for recognition of the historical, cultural, and economic significance of Canada's lighthouses; we voted in support of the Heritage Lighthouse Protect Act.

We support the bill but are concerned that it does not fully accomplish what the sponsoring member claims it does. Designating the Sambro Lighthouse a "designated heritage lighthouse" creates no obligation stemming from the bill for the federal government to operate the site in the future. She explained that earlier.

We recommend sending the bill to committee to so that the committee can determine whether the scope is sufficient for its stated goal as well as examine custodial responsibilities for the preservation, maintenance, and operation of this iconic structure.

Sambro Island is located, as was mentioned before, off the coast of Nova Scotia near the entrance of Halifax Harbour. In 1758, the earliest lighthouse in North America was built on the island. Today, the lighthouse is operated by Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

The lighthouse is the oldest standing and operating lighthouse in the Americas. Its construction was commemorated as a National Historic Event in 1937, and in 1996 the lighthouse was recognized as a federal heritage building.

Earlier this month, the government announced a two-year investment to rehabilitate the Sambro Island lighthouse. The project is estimated at more than $1.5 million. The lighthouse will be transferred to local community leaders under the Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act.

These are a few facts I would like to share regarding this historic lighthouse.

Legislation to establish the lighthouse was passed on the first day of the first session of the legislative assembly of Nova Scotia in 1758. As the member mentioned, I believe, it was one of the first pieces of legislation. Construction was completed in 1759.

The light is located at the southern entrance to Halifax harbour. It was the first sight of the city for members of the Royal Canadian Navy returning to Halifax, and for new immigrants entering through Pier 21. I am proud to say that my parents came through that same pier.

Sambro served as the departure point from North America for Joshua Slocum's famous solo navigation around the world in 1895.

In 1996 the lighthouse received Federal Heritage Review Board “classified” status, the highest-ranking status for Canadian government heritage buildings.

It is still an active aid to navigation. The beacon is being maintained by the federal government. After an outpouring of support from the community, Fisheries and Oceans Canada recently committed to replacing a broken window and repairing the staircase inside to ensure the light can remain operational.

The lighthouse was repainted by the Coast Guard in 2008 at a cost of $80,000. The light was also solarized in 2008.

The Sambro Island Lighthouse Heritage Society, represented by Rena Maguire and Susan Paul, has organized petitions, public meetings, and visits to the lighthouse.

The Province of Nova Scotia recently awarded a $10,000 grant to the Sambro Island Lighthouse Heritage Society. I heard it was also through the hard work of MLA Brendan Maguire. The society is currently developing a business plan for the lighthouse with the hope of encouraging more tourism to the site and to help in maintaining the lighthouse as an historic site.

A petition was tabled in 2013 with more than 5,000 signatures in support of preserving the lighthouse.

There are also a great number of lighthouses that I would like to mention in my riding of Sydney—Victoria as well. I will talk about a couple in particular, because lighthouses are important. We have been very fortunate that some community groups recognize the cultural and historic importance of these lighthouses and have put a great deal of work into sharing their knowledge, and I would like to take this opportunity to commend the Nova Scotia Lighthouse Preservation Society. It is a great group.

I believe that the province of Nova Scotia has more lighthouses than any other province because of length of shoreline and its rugged coast.

The St. Paul Island Historical Society worked for close to a decade to have a lighthouse relocated next to the St. Paul Island Museum. For 30 years or so, the lighthouse was at the Canadian Coast Guard jetty in Dartmouth. The lighthouse was dismantled in order to transport it by flatbed truck. The total cost of restoring, transporting, and erecting the lighthouse was $120,000. The federal government invested $108,000 in the project through Enterprise Cape Breton Corporation.

Dingwall, which is a northern community in my riding, has a long maritime tradition and close ties to St. Paul Island. A lighthouse has operated on the island since 1839. The original southwest light was established in 1839, burned in 1916, and was replaced by a cast iron cylindrical lighthouse in 1917. The 1917 light was then replaced with an automatic system in 1962. This is what has happened to many lighthouses over the years.

There has also been a community connection with St. Paul Island. Boats transported people and supplies to the island. Many people have relatives who worked on the island, so there is a close emotional and historic bond with the island. There were as many as 50 people living on the island at one time. There were life-saving stations, radio operators, and so on, and the museum is dedicated to that history.

Canada's ocean shoreline is at least 250,000 kilometres in length. It is the longest shoreline in the world. Just minutes off the world-famous Cabot Trail, we can find Canada's first and only federally designated heritage lighthouse on any of Canada's three oceans. Built in 1915 and relocated in Dingwall, the St. Paul Southwest Lighthouse is also the first cast iron lighthouse constructed in Canada.

An old map of St. Paul Island shows 40 shipwrecks, ranging from square-rigged ships to steam-powered vessels. This is described as only a partial list of wrecks in these dangerous waters off northern Cape Breton. Other sources say that as many as 350 ships went to the bottom of the sea there.

The first lighthouse in Canada, and the second in North America, was constructed in Louisbourg in 1730. Its purpose was to protect ships by lighting their way into the harbour of the great French fortress of Louisbourg, perched on the far southeastern rocky coast of Cape Breton Island. In the years after Louisbourg was captured by the British, the fortress was levelled and the land was left desolate. There was no longer a need for a light, so it fell into ruin.

No other lighthouse existed or was necessary along the vast expanse of Nova Scotia's almost empty coastline until 1758, when the Sambro light was built at the far outer reaches of Halifax Harbour. A government lottery raised the necessary money for it. Thereafter, as pockets of settlements began to develop along the shoreline, the need for navigational aids became increasingly important. The development of hydrographic charts, printed sailing directions, and navigational markers and buoys facilitated daylight and fair-weather marine activities. Lighthouses, lightships, and fog alarms provided a measure of the security needed for nighttime and very bad weather.

Lightkeeping was a hazardous and demanding career. In the 1930s, it was critical in Nova Scotia for a large, well-developed network to be in place. As I mentioned earlier, in the decades after World War II, changing patterns in coastal and international trade, the advent of radar and sophisticated navigational technology, and the ravages of wind, water, and time all combined to put an end to the Nova Scotia lighthouse world.

Canada is built on many heritage buildings, and lighthouses are very important. We agree with this bill. It is indeed an important bill because of the historical importance, the cultural importance, and the impact that lighthouses have on the tourism industry in coastal communities.

It is important that we continue to protect these landmarks. I hope my colleagues will support Bill C-588, which designates Sambro Island lighthouse as a true heritage lighthouse.

An Act to amend the Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act (Sambro Island Lighthouse)Private Members' Business

11:40 a.m.


Philip Toone NDP Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is a great honour for me to support the bill introduced by my colleague from Halifax, and I am very pleased to do so.

Canada's heritage assets need our support. The Government of Canada has an obligation and a duty to do that, but unfortunately, it is not stepping up. Heritage assets are being allowed to disintegrate little by little to the point where the very foundation of this great country's heritage is in jeopardy.

I would like to emphasize that my support extends beyond this bill for the Sambro Island lighthouse. Many lighthouses in Canada have been declared surplus by the departments that own them. Most of the time, that is Fisheries and Oceans Canada. We must have the means to protect these pearls of Canada's heritage.

Ads placed around the world to encourage people to visit Canada feature lighthouses. When we sing O Canada and watch the videos that go with it, we see images of lighthouses. These buildings are part of Canada's history, and we absolutely have to protect them. The bill before us is one step among many. It is one step toward protection.

I would like to talk about the Sambro Island lighthouse, but I will also draw parallels with other lighthouses in Canada, particularly in my riding, which is a maritime riding with a lot of lighthouses. The people in my riding are very worried about the state of these lighthouses. We know that the Sambro Island lighthouse in particular is located just off the coast of Halifax. It is a major part of our heritage and history since it was likely one of the most important lighthouses in Canada. It was built during the Seven Years' War and established by the very first act passed by the Nova Scotia House of Assembly in 1758. Construction took place from 1758 to 1760.

Let us remember that lighthouses were the gateway to many areas of Canada, not just Halifax. The Sambro Island lighthouse was the first lighthouse that people saw when they immigrated to our maritime provinces. As our Liberal Party colleague pointed out, people had to pass right by it to get to Pier 21 in Halifax.

I would like to point out that in my riding of Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, the first lighthouse that was seen when Canada was made up of only Ontario and Quebec was the Cap-des-Rosiers lighthouse, which is located just outside Gaspé. It is the tallest lighthouse in Canada, and it was the first lighthouse that immigrants saw when they came to Canada before Confederation. Of course, after Confederation, our neighbours in the Maritimes also had lighthouses, but while Canada was made up of only Ontario and Quebec, the gateway was Gaspé and the point of entry was the Cap-des-Rosiers lighthouse. These lighthouses are part of our heritage. They are part of our history and our wealth.

There are also a number of lighthouses in the Magdalen Islands. Without those lighthouses, the shipwrecks that plagued the Magdalen Islands for hundreds of years would have continued. There are hundreds of shipwrecks off the coast of the Magdalen Islands. These ships sank because years ago, people did not have the proper equipment and there were no lighthouses. Lighthouses were mainly built in the 1800s.

Lighthouses are slowly being dismantled, particularly in the Magdalen Islands. Climate change has resulted in an increasing number of major storms. Those storms cause erosion, which is jeopardizing all of the lighthouses in the Magdalen Islands. It is a major concern. We have already had to move some lighthouses in order to save them.

The government brought in legislation to preserve lighthouses. I would like to point out, however, that the legislation that the Conservatives passed in 2010, quite frankly, does nothing to preserve the lighthouses in the Magdalen Islands and the Gaspé, and it will not preserve the Sambro Island lighthouse. The act provides for a divestiture program for lighthouses. Once again, the government has plans to divest itself of lighthouses, wharves and other kinds of infrastructure, but it is unwilling to invest any money in repairs prior to their divestiture. Those who take over these lighthouses will be left with some nasty surprises.

We find it very hard to get behind a government that refuses to recognize that it failed in its responsibility. The government has a duty to maintain its facilities, assets and property, and this includes lighthouses.

For instance, there has been no maintenance done on the Cap-des-Rosiers lighthouse in the past 20 years. This causes serious problems, such as water leaks and damage to the structure. Because of the many winter storms, these water leaks exacerbate the situation.

The government needs to update its facilities and infrastructure long before even considering their divestiture. Very few organizations have the resources to take over responsibility for these kinds of infrastructure, since the annual maintenance is very costly. That is why we hope that the government will be prepared to maintain its assets and property.

In the Gaspé, some poorly maintained lighthouses have had to be taken over by municipalities and private organizations. In her speech on the bill, my colleague pointed out that some community groups in Halifax would be willing to take over at least the management of the lighthouse, but they would be unable to pay for long-term maintenance. Only governments are in a position to do so.

I hope the government will grasp the multiplier effect of investing in lighthouses. When tourists are drawn to our beautiful regions by the lighthouses they see in ads, they expect those lighthouses to be not only there and in good shape, but also accessible. When lighthouses are in the sorry state that they are in now, they get shuttered and no one is allowed to enter them. People are only allowed to look at them. Truth be told, even that may no longer be possible since lighthouses are located in coastal regions where they are exposed to erosion and their potential demise in a storm.

Let us not forget that through the divestiture process, the federal government offers to transfer the asset to the province first. If the province refuses, then it is offered to the municipality. Finally, if neither party is prepared to take it, it will be offered to individuals. That is how our lighthouses could become privatized. That is what happened in the Magdalen Islands, where a lighthouse became the property of a single individual. Today, that lighthouse is no longer accessible and can no longer be part of an historic trail or route for tourists.

Even though some organizations have plans to take advantage of lighthouses as tourist attractions, the lighthouses that were handed over to individuals are not necessarily accessible to the public. The privatization of our heritage and historical infrastructure is very concerning.

Five to six lighthouses in the Magdalen Islands and a number of lighthouses in the Gaspé have been declared surplus. However, they have been recognized as being heritage lighthouses. I would like to remind members that the Cap-des-Rosiers lighthouse was designated a national historic site in 1974. In 1994, it was recognized as a heritage lighthouse.

However, the enactment of the Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act in 2010 shows that the government wants to get rid of these lighthouses. That means it does not keep its promises. The government absolutely has to take its responsibilities seriously and invest in our infrastructure. There is no denying the multiplier effect of investments, which must be made in order to keep regional economies going. Lighthouses are an integral part of that.

This is not just about the economy; it is also about culture. The lives of mariners and fishers have been saved because of these lighthouses. Families living in coastal communities are still there because the lighthouses protected their ancestors. We must respect our ancestors and our coastal communities. We must invest in our lighthouses.

An Act to amend the Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act (Sambro Island Lighthouse)Private Members' Business

11:55 a.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

Resuming debate, the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture. I will advise the parliamentary secretary that he will have approximately seven minutes before we have to end this debate.

An Act to amend the Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act (Sambro Island Lighthouse)Private Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

South Shore—St. Margaret's Nova Scotia


Gerald Keddy ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture

Mr. Speaker, seven minutes is not nearly long enough to speak on the Sambro Island lighthouse, but I will take what time I have. I want to echo the words of my colleagues who have spoken on this issue before me in the House. Canadians have spoken clearly. Our lighthouse heritage matters and needs to be protected.

Like Bill C-588, the Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act originated as a private member's bill, and its principles resonated so clearly with parliamentarians that it was enacted unopposed. I would say, just to clarify the record, that it had a couple of opportunities to move first from the Senate and then to the House of Commons before it actually was approved, and I do not believe that anyone has recognized late Senator Mike Forrestall's support of that bill. It really was his idea and dream. Unfortunately, he did not live long enough to see it fulfilled, but he was certainly the keystone for that private member's legislation.

When the act finally came into force, Canadians responded by nominating nearly 350 lighthouses for designation through a petition process established by the act, and our government is proud of the progress that has been made over the five years since the Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act came into force. Today there are 74 designated heritage lighthouses that are protected for the future. As impressive as these results are, it is gratifying to know that many more lighthouses will be considered for designation in the months and years ahead as Fisheries and Oceans Canada concludes agreements to transfer historic lighthouses to responsible new owners who have demonstrated their ability and desire to implement a sustainable, long-term plan for the conservation of their local lighthouses.

Sambro Island lighthouse is one of those lighthouses that occupies a special place in Canada's maritime heritage. It was established in 1758 and is the oldest operating lighthouse in the Americas. It is located on Sambro Island, at the entrance to Halifax Harbour, and is surrounded by a dangerous maze of rocks and shoals. This lighthouse has guided countless people to safety while also being a silent witness to numerous shipwrecks and sea battles. For generations this lighthouse has served its purpose well by guiding mariners into and out of one of the largest, most impressive natural harbours in the world.

Its construction was designated by the Government of Canada as an event of national historical significance way back in 1937, so its special heritage value has long been recognized. More recently, the Sambro Island lighthouse was designated a classified federal heritage building in 1996, and through that designation it enjoys the highest level of heritage protection accorded to federal buildings. It should be reassuring for all to know that the heritage character of this important lighthouse already enjoys strong protection under the custodianship of Fisheries and Oceans Canada. Since 2008 we have invested nearly $40,000 in the lighthouse, which includes repairing concrete, painting the tower base, and sealing a concrete walkway.

As reassuring as this is, it is important to note that the heritage character of the Sambro Island lighthouse is currently protected. Our government also wants to see it designated and protected under the Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act and join the growing family of heritage lighthouses being created by the Government of Canada in partnership with community groups and other levels of government all across Canada. Sambro Island lighthouse merits designation under this act.

It is also important to note that Sambro Island lighthouse is not under any imminent threat of neglect or demolition. As a classified federal heritage building, the Sambro Island lighthouse is currently afforded the same level of protection as would be offered under the Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act. Nevertheless, our government is determined to find a viable, responsible owner for the Sambro Island lighthouse, a new owner who has a vision for a sustainable new use for Sambro Island, with its iconic lighthouse and related light station buildings, and the wherewithal, of course, to make that vision a reality. Our government will help make this happen.

We recently announced that we are making a significant investment of more than $1.5 million in the lighthouse over the next two years. It should be said that this funding will go toward rehabilitating the foundation, floor, walls, beams, and lantern deck; fixing issues related to erosion, cracking, and stone work; rehabilitating the original lantern; installing a heating system; and painting the lighthouse.

We are pleased to make these important investments in the Sambro Island lighthouse to serve its more than 250-year history and to continue to ensure that Canadian waters are kept safe and that Canadian heritage remains strong.

I was able to participate in that announcement along with the Minister of Justice, and the day we made the announcement, stakeholders applauded the new investment.

I would like to quote Stephanie Smith, president of the Nova Scotia Lighthouse Preservation Society, who said:

We're extremely excited about this announcement today. It's an important first step in the long-term preservation of our historic lighthouse. We look forward to continuing to work with all levels of government and our community to make sure that this national treasure is taken care of for generations to come.

I would like to add a few more comments about the Sambro Island lighthouse. I commend the member for Halifax for bringing this piece of legislation forth, and I want to recognize my colleague who quarterbacked the original lighthouse preservation bill to give community groups the opportunity to actually have some say and control over the future of the lighthouses in their communities.

I want to recognize the Sambro Island group that has put a business plan together and is continuing to work on a business plan for the future of the lighthouse as it takes the lighthouse over. I want to recognize the past-president of the Nova Scotia Lighthouse Preservation Society, Barry MacDonald, for not only his hard work over the years but for his ongoing interest in making sure that the oldest lighthouse in the Americas continues to be protected.

An Act to amend the Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act (Sambro Island Lighthouse)Private Members' Business



The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

Order. The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired, and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

The House proceeded to the consideration of Bill S-6, An Act to amend the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act and the Nunavut Waters and Nunavut Surface Rights Tribunal Act, as reported (without amendment) from the committee.

Speaker's RulingYukon and Nunavut Regulatory Improvement ActGovernment Orders



The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

There are 10 motions in amendment standing on the notice paper for the report stage of Bill S-6.

The Chair has notice that the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands will not be present to move Motions Nos. 2, 3, 8 and 9.

Motion Nos. 1, 4 to 7, and 10 will be regrouped for debate and voted upon according to the voting pattern available at the table.

I will now put Motions Nos. 1, 4 to 7, and 10 to the House.

Motions in AmendmentYukon and Nunavut Regulatory Improvement ActGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.


Dennis Bevington NDP Northwest Territories, NT


Motion No. 1

That Bill S-6 be amended by deleting the long title.

Motion No. 4

That Bill S-6 be amended by deleting Clause 14.

Motion No. 5

That Bill S-6 be amended by deleting Clause 16.

Motion No. 6

That Bill S-6 be amended by deleting Clause 17.

Motion No. 7

That Bill S-6 be amended by deleting Clause 21.

Motion No. 10

That Bill S-6 be amended by deleting Clause 34.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to put forward these amendments to Bill S-6, a bill that has the ability to amend the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act and the Nunavut Waters and Nunavut Surface Rights Tribunal Act. It contains many clauses that cannot be amended. Why? They came out of a five-year review of the Yukon Environmental Assessment Act and were agreed to. Many changes to the Environmental Assessment Act were worked out through a process of collaboration, understanding and collaboration between the government and the people of Yukon.

After that process, four very controversial items were added to this bill and then arbitrarily put to the people of Yukon.

The first would provide the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development the authority to provide binding policy direction to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board, to which Yukoners are opposed. They had no chance to work with anyone to mitigate that.

The second would legislate time limits for assessments in the face of the fact that the assessment process was working just fine in Yukon, and that people had learned how to deal with very complex issues in an orderly fashion.

The third would allow the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development to delegate any or all responsibilities to the Yukon government without consultation with and approval from the first nations who were party to the whole deal that was set up in the first place.

The fourth would create broad exemptions with respect to the Yukon environmental assessment process for renewals, amendments and permits authorizations, which were in the hands of the boards already.

We can see that the devolution process in the northern territories, which in Yukon started 10 years ago, has been curtailed by this legislation. It has been rolled back in a very significant and deliberate fashion by the government. That is not appropriate.

The other amendments proposed to the act dealt with things that people could see and agree to. They were designed to help move the act forward in a proper fashion so the environmental assessment process could be well-respected and understood.

We have had the same problem in the Northwest Territories. The government agreed to a devolution process and then forced changes to our environmental assessment process. That has now gone to court and there have been injunctions put in place by the court over the actions taken by the government in the Northwest Territories.

We are likely to see the same thing in Yukon, where the first nations will once again have to take the government to court to deal with issues that should have been dealt with in a proper fashion.

Therefore, we have identified four issues and are asking that they be removed from the act through these amendments. It is a request that goes back to the people of Yukon, who have asked for this.

We took the committee to Yukon and had a one-day hearing, which went from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. The room was filled with hundreds of people who attended the committee hearing from 8:30 a.m. until it finished in the evening. They were not pleased with the bill.

The support for the bill was almost nil. People were speaking out on it. The Government of Yukon, which will face its own electors over this very shortly, will find out how those people feel about the bill. This will also be the case for the Conservative government very soon.

After the election, which is likely to be in October unless the government decides to try to delay it even more, the new NDP government will be ready to put forward amendments to deal with these contentious issues for the people of the north.

There is no reason at all for this to have happened in the fashion it did. The government has created uncertainty in the environmental assessment process for the companies, people and the first nations of Yukon. It has messed it up.

Let me quote Ms. Allison Rippin Armstrong, vice president Lands and Environment, Kaminak Gold Corporation, which has just invested substantial sums of money in the Yukon. She said:

Kaminak is concerned that the process through which YESAA is being amended is creating increased distrust between governments and uncertainty in the assessment and regulatory process for current and future projects in Yukon.

These are the people who are investing in the Yukon.

This is what Ruth Massie, Grand Chief, Council of Yukon First Nations, has to say:

CYFN and all 11 self-governing first nations are unanimously opposed to four provisions that are part of Bill S-6.

Here we have it. On the one hand, we have industry saying that it will not work for them, that it does not need it and do not even understand why it is being done. On the other hand, first nations are saying that things are being done against all their agreements and that are really throwing the process, which they worked so hard to set up, off the back of the cart. They want to know why the government has done it and what the purpose is of this kind of action by the government. They want to know if it is simply because the party of one over in the Langevin Block has decided that this is the way it will go, that no one can interfere with that kind of decision making, that no one from the grassroots up can make a difference.

The government is making rules for territories that actually need devolution. They need to control their own affairs. The government has actually thrown that particular process off the back of the cart. It is heading off in a different direction. People in the territories, my territory, Yukon, who have been influenced by these bills, now face the prospect of suing the government, of going forward with litigation in order to get rid of some of these contentious clauses, which nobody really wants, which do not make any sense and which are not part of any reduction of colonialism or changing the way these territories can govern themselves.

We have put forward a number of amendments which deal with the four contentious issues. We would hope that the government, in the end, would come to its senses and would actually listen to the people of Yukon, industry and those who are involved in the actual work of Yukon, rather than sitting over on Langevin Block, and come to an understanding that these need to be removed to make this bill work. Then we could go ahead and all support it.

Motions in AmendmentYukon and Nunavut Regulatory Improvement ActGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon B.C.


Mark Strahl ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development

Mr. Speaker, it is always a pleasure to hear the member for Northwest Territories speak. Even if I do not agree with him, we spent that day together in Yukon and certainly survived the charter flight as well.

I want to talk about the difference of philosophy. Our government believes that northerners are best placed to make decisions affecting their legislation and their lands. That is why we propose to devolve powers to the local government, to the government closer to the people, to the territorial government. We did it in the Northwest Territories with Bill C-15. We have proposed that provision in Bill S-6 as well, to allow the federal minister to delegate powers to the territorial minister.

I would like a clear answer from the member as to why he believes power should remain concentrated in Ottawa instead of devolved to the people in the north, closer to where they live.

Motions in AmendmentYukon and Nunavut Regulatory Improvement ActGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.


Dennis Bevington NDP Northwest Territories, NT

Mr. Speaker, the simplistic idea that has been proposed by the government is really one that goes against what people have worked very hard on throughout the north, and that is the relationship between aboriginal governments and public governments. This will be the determining factor in our ability to work together.

Northerners have come to the decision that first nations governments have complete relevance in everything that goes on in our territories. In the minds of northerners, we do not separate first nations governance as a lesser force. We accept that these forces have to work together. We accept that the decision making has to involve that kind of jurisdictional sharing.

What the government would do with this amendment is take it away from first nations and impact that kind of delegation of authority. I am sure there would be many things first nations could work very well with the public government in Yukon in this regard, but they need to be there at the table.

Motions in AmendmentYukon and Nunavut Regulatory Improvement ActGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.


Paulina Ayala NDP Honoré-Mercier, QC

Mr. Speaker, I find it troubling that the Conservative government, with the full support of its members and its senators, did not consult the people of the Yukon and did not strive for social acceptability with these significant changes. However, it had no problem talking to the Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada, the Mining Association of Canada and Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, among others.

Does my colleague think that we can improve the situation in the Yukon by showing contempt for aboriginal peoples and by only supporting the big mining companies? I am very concerned about the government's contempt for aboriginal peoples.

Motions in AmendmentYukon and Nunavut Regulatory Improvement ActGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.


Dennis Bevington NDP Northwest Territories, NT

Mr. Speaker, it is a problem with the government. It came up with these four amendments after a complete process of years when it could have introduced them. It could have put them forward over that time. It could have talked about them. It could have tried to find some kind of accommodation within the system. It had the time. It had people dedicated to do that work. These are highly trained individuals. They do not miss these types of items. They do not say that they forgot about these four concerns and that they will throw them into the bill at a later date. This was a fairly carefully crafted little effort to avoid talking about the things that were controversial and then shoving them into the bill later. This is really not the way to do devolution in our territories. It is not the way to come up with agreements that can work for people.

Motions in AmendmentYukon and Nunavut Regulatory Improvement ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon B.C.


Mark Strahl ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development

Mr. Speaker, since 2006, our government has been pursuing the most ambitious northern agenda in the history of this country. From promoting prosperity and development through Bill C-47, the Northern Jobs and Growth Act, to devolving powers to the Government of the Northwest Territories through Bill C-15, the Northwest Territories Devolution Act, to the vision and implementation of the Canadian High Arctic research station, no other government in Canadian history has done more than ours to increase health, prosperity and economic development in the north.

The initiative before the House today, the Yukon and Nunavut regulatory improvement act, or Bill S-6, would represent yet another key deliverable of our government's northern strategy and would be the final legislative step in our government's action plan to improve northern regulatory regimes.

In total, our government has created or amended eight different pieces of legislation in order to ensure that northern regulatory regimes across the north are nimble and responsive to the increased economic activity taking place across the north. This is no small feat. These legislative changes will allow Canada's north to compete for investment in an increasingly global marketplace which, in turn, will lead to jobs, growth and long-term prosperity for northerners. Bill S-6 would continue in this vein.

The introduction of beginning-to-end time limits for environmental assessments included in the bill would align the Yukon regime with the time limits in similar acts within the north, as well as south of 60, and would provide predictability and consistency to first nations, municipalities and industry alike.

This is an incredibly important aspect of Bill S-6 and one that would act to drive economic development across the territory. Unfortunately, the NDP wants to remove these time limits. I take particular exception to Motions Nos. 5, 6 and 7, which would cause the portions of the bill related to time limits to be deleted. This would prevent regulatory predictability and actually hinder growth and prosperity in the Yukon.

Some have argued that the time limits would affect the thoroughness of the assessment process. However, as the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board's own statistics show, the proposed time limits are either consistent with or more favourable than the board's current practice. In addition, Bill S-6 would include provisions to allow for extensions, recognizing that there may be situations when more time is warranted to carry out a function or power.

A different provision in the act, specifically, the proposed amendment to section 49.1 of YESAA, would ensure that, going forward, reassessments would only be required in the event that the project has been significantly changed.

This is another integral piece of Bill S-6 that the opposition would eliminate. That is why I oppose Motion No. 4. The passage of the motion and the elimination of the clause would prevent the elimination of unnecessary delays and red tape in the approval process.

In the past, projects that have already been approved and permitted could be subject to a new environmental assessment simply because of a renewal or a minor change in the project. The amendment would help to streamline the process and reduce unnecessary red tape where it is not warranted.

The amendment would also make it clear that if there is more than one decision body, which could be a federal, territorial or first nations government or agency that regulates and permits the proposed activity, they must consult with one another before determining whether a new assessment is required. Further still, the legislation would specify that in the event of a disagreement, if only one decision body determines that a significant change has occurred, it must be subject to a reassessment. This would also be consistent with the UFA, the Umbrella Final Agreement, which states in section that projects and significant changes to existing projects are subject to the development assessment process.

Another proposed change would be the ability for the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development to provide policy direction to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board.

This is another amendment that the opposition would like to remove from the bill. Motion No. 10 would remove the ability of the minister to issue policy direction.

It is important to remember that the ability to provide policy direction is not a heavy-handed attempt by the government to interfere in the assessment process nor does it undermine the neutrality of the board. Quite the contrary, it is intended to ensure a common understanding between the government and the board, helping to reduce uncertainty in environmental assessment decision-making and helping to ensure the proper implementation of the board's powers in fulfilling its role in the assessment process.

Moreover, this power exists in the Northwest Territories where it has only been used four times, and in each case it was used to clearly communicate expectations on how to address first nations' rights or agreements. For example, it was used in order to ensure that notification was provided to both the Manitoba and Saskatchewan Deline regarding licences and permits in a given region.

By supporting this motion, the opposition would actually remove a tool that the minister could use to ensure that aboriginal rights are protected. Perhaps not surprisingly, during our committee study when we were in the Yukon, the NDP member for Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing said it was paternalistic for the minister to try to protect aboriginal rights through policy direction. The NDP obviously does not want the minister to exercise the duty he has been given to protect aboriginal rights in Canada, calling that paternalistic. It is completely bizarre.

I want to assure members that this power in no way detracts from the board's independence. YESAB will remain an impartial and independent arm's-length entity responsible for making recommendations to decision bodies.

The legislative amendment also makes it clear that policy directions cannot be used to influence a specific project or change the environmental assessment process itself.

It is for these reasons that I oppose the passage of Motion No. 10, and encourage other members to do the same.

Another amendment of concern is the minister's ability to delegate certain powers in the act to a territorial minister. Some have suggested that this amendment is an attempt by this government to shirk its responsibilities to the Yukon first nations and is inconsistent with the tripartite nature of the land claim agreement.

I want to be very clear that these concerns are completely unfounded. First of all, any delegation must be consistent with the UFA. Second, the Umbrella Final Agreement permits delegation. Specifically, the definition of “government” includes both the federal and territorial governments, depending on which government or governments have responsibility from time to time for the matter in question. Section 2.11.8 of the agreement states that “Government may determine, from time to time, how and by whom any power or authority of Government or a Minister set out in a Settlement Agreement...shall be exercised”.

Not least of all, this measure is in keeping with our government's objective of devolving responsibility to the territories and moving decision-making closer to home. That is, away from Ottawa bureaucracy and right into the hands of Yukoners themselves.

This legislation is clearly both needed and wanted north of 60. It satisfies calls to modernize northern regulatory regimes and ensure consistency with other regulatory regimes across the north and in the rest of Canada, while protecting the environment and strengthening northern governance.

For all these reasons, I urge all-party support for this worthy act as it stands, and to reject all of the amendments to Bill S-6 that are before the House today.

Motions in AmendmentYukon and Nunavut Regulatory Improvement ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.


Dennis Bevington NDP Northwest Territories, NT

Mr. Speaker, my question is to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, who I have spent time with on committee.

When the government put these four amendments in after the fact, after its major consultation process that took place over a considerable period of time, there was such an outcry from first nations. The fact is that first nations have now requested, and have requested over the previous number of months, that the minister sit down with them and see how they can work to come to some kind of agreement on these four amendments. Where has the minister been? Where has the government been in trying to work this out with the first nations?

Why have the Conservatives been so intransigent about these four amendments, which are quite obviously not supported by the first nations who are an important and vital part of any process that takes place in the Yukon?

Motions in AmendmentYukon and Nunavut Regulatory Improvement ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.


Mark Strahl Conservative Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon, BC

Mr. Speaker, of course the minister takes very seriously his obligation and his duty to consult with first nations. That is why, in the case of the Yukon first nations, there have been dozens of documented meetings where the four contentious amendments, as the member categorizes them, were discussed. In fact, nearly $100,000 was provided to the first nations to help them engage in that consultation process. They submitted receipts to the Government of Canada, which were paid based on their engagement with us on those particular measures.

Obviously, we do not agree with their interpretation of those measures. The minister has met with the first nations and has repeatedly asked them to show him where these amendments contravene the Umbrella Final Agreement. To date, they have not done so.

Motions in AmendmentYukon and Nunavut Regulatory Improvement ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.


Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate many of the comments the member has put on the record. I do not necessarily agree with them, especially when it comes to trying to give the impression that the current government has been very strong in developing and assisting in setting the social framework up north. To try to give the impression that it is the strongest in the history of Canada is somewhat fictitious at best, I would suggest.

When we look at Bill S-6, we see there has been a great deal of resistance. A lot of that resistance is in the community itself that has raised a number of concerns, and the government has not responded to those concerns. It was not that long ago that I was talking to Larry Bagnell and other members who came to our northwestern caucus, in essence saying that they have strong reservations that the government is not being sensitive to the needs of the north, nor is it listening.

Can the member explain to the constituents up north why the government has obviously not listened to our first nations, people of aboriginal heritage or many of our local communities who are trying to get the government to listen and make amendments that would make it better legislation?

Motions in AmendmentYukon and Nunavut Regulatory Improvement ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.


Mark Strahl Conservative Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am happy that the hon. member brought up Larry Bagnell. When Larry Bagnell was speaking to constituents when he was the member for Yukon, he said he would go to Ottawa and vote against the long gun registry. What did he do? He came into this House and voted to maintain the long gun registry. Talk about not listening to constituents. That is why he is unemployed and why the member for Yukon now is a strong advocate for gun owners right across the north, a strong advocate for the aboriginal people in his community and the strongest representative that Yukon has had in 25 years.