Mr. Speaker, I have a number of thoughts that I would like to share with the House this afternoon in regard to Bill S-6.
I will start off by reflecting a little bit about the process that we again find ourselves in. Over the last number of years, ever since the government achieved a majority, we have seen a different attitude in the manner in which legislation is passed through the House of Commons. We have had numerous time allocations. I believe it is somewhere around 95, 96, 97 times the government has seen fit to invoke time allocation in order to pass its legislative agenda. Typically, when we invoke time allocation, we limit the number of individuals who would be able to contribute to the debate on a bill. Quite often we will see a very limited amount of time even afforded to members to address important pieces of legislation.
Bill S-6 is an important piece of legislation. We now have the government using that tool to get it through the House of Commons, which I find is most unfortunate. If we look at the manner in which Bill S-6 came into existence to where it is today at third reading, we have seen the government adopt an attitude of “our way or the highway”.
There is no sense that the government has tried to get consensus. Whether it is inside the House of Commons or in Yukon itself, in the committee meetings that have taken place, in the different types of discussions, the government has demonstrated its inability to build a consensus that would ultimately see the type of support that we would argue is necessary when we are passing legislation such as we are in regard to Yukon territory and the impact of the legislation.
I challenge the government. The Conservatives will say they have consulted. When we posed the question to the minister responsible for the legislation, he said that they had the full support of the Yukon legislature. We know that was not the case. I had the opportunity to be in a provincial legislature when something is decided here in Ottawa. If the government has done its homework, quite often there will be unanimous support from a provincial or territorial entity. However, the government was not able to get that unanimous support from the Yukon legislature, which is one thing in itself.
We talk about first nations. The first nations of Canada are of great importance. We in the Liberal Party have argued for that for many years. The way in which governments should be approaching first nations in Canada is one of government to government, of respect. We should look at ways we can better enable the leadership at all different levels to try to achieve the compromises and build on a consensus that would have a far more positive outcome.
Earlier this week we had the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report. It has been a long time coming. Let us apply Bill S-6 and what the government is attempting to do to that particular report. How would Mr. Sinclair have responded to the treatment of first nations by the manner which Bill S-6 has been brought forward? I would suggest that the government has once again failed the first nations community.
We could talk about the stakeholders, environmental groups and individuals who live in Yukon who are very disappointed with some of the actions within the legislation brought forward by the government.
The minister talks about wanting to promote growth and jobs, wanting to improve the standard of living. These are words that he has used, and I suspect that the principle of promoting growth and jobs is something that all of us want to see. We all want to see an improvement in the standard of living. Just yesterday, I stood in my place talking about the northern food program and how it was of critical importance that the government get it right, not only putting money into an envelope but getting that money delivered or getting the fresh produce into the hands of the people who need it.
We saw that the Auditor General of Canada was pointing out deficiencies, yet the government tended to close its eyes or put its head in the sand and ignore some of those recommendations, or at the very least deny them in debate yesterday when we had the opportunity to focus attention on that program. There is so much more that government can do.
The Conservatives talk about improving the standard of living in northern Canada. We can do more and we should be looking at how we can work with the many different stakeholders from the north in terms of implementing good, solid programs, ensuring that we have good federal legislation, that we are respectful of treaties and so forth. That is something that should be a far higher priority of the current government, and we should not be settling.
I had the opportunity to do a bit of reading on this issue, and I came across a comment over the Internet. It was by Kirk Cameron, and I would like to share, in his words, some of the thoughts he has in regard to Bill S-6. This is a post from December 5, 2014. In reading this, I believe that Mr. Cameron has encapsulated a great deal of the concern that is there in regard to Bill S-6. I appreciate Mr. Cameron's taking the time to post this article. I like the headline, “When is a Government not a Government?”
Yukon First Nation Chiefs met with the federal Minister of Aboriginal Affairs this week in Ottawa. They discussed with the Minister their concerns with Bill S-6, legislation that will change a number of critical sections of the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act (YESAA).
YESAA is the acronym. We have heard a lot of reference to YESAA, not only here in third reading but also in second reading. If we get a really good appreciation of what YESAA is all about, we get a better sense of why so many people feel that the government has let them down in regard to Bill S-6. However, I will get back to the posting:
This Act is one of the comprehensive pieces of federal legislation necessary to implement chapters of the Treaties agreed to in the 1990s between the majority of Yukon First Nation governments and the two public governments, Canada and Yukon.
These Treaties are a big deal; they are recognized and protected as an expression of Aboriginal rights through s. 35 of the Constitution of Canada, the supreme law of our land. YESAA gives presence and authority to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board, one of the co-management bodies that were agreed to in the Treaties. The Board conducts assessments on all lands in Yukon, First Nation, Crown and even lands within municipalities.
I will pause there for a moment and just reflect on how important it is that we recognize the role that YESAA has played in the past. We want to recognize the manner in which it was able to carry itself, building on consensus, contrary to what we have witnessed over the last number of years here in Ottawa.
It goes on to say that:
....the changes in Bill S-6 were never discussed with the Yukon first nations despite the status of YESAA as a legal instrument required to implement the tri-party treaties. The first nations view, as I understand it, is that they’re partners to a Treaty that is supposed to build relationships among all three levels of government (federal, territorial and First Nation), and part of that relationship is an understanding that we are equal partners in the co-management of the territory’s resources.
When we think of resources, it is important to recognize how the mining industry plays such a strong role in terms of the development of Yukon, and also the development of Canada. We can think of gold, zinc and lead as commodities that are mined in Yukon. I am not 100% sure, but I believe it is somewhere in the area of 35% in terms of the overall economy affected by those three products.
What comes with this co-management relationship is full discussion and agreement to any measure that changes the legislative foundation to these Treaty bodies.
Imagine how you would feel as a Chief of a self-governing First Nation to be told that you do not represent a “real government”. Just such a comment was made by a federal Minister. As such, Canada does not have to treat you as an equal participant in the process to amend legislation required to implement your Treaties.
And, this is not just any federal Minister. It is the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, Canada’s representative with the lead responsibility to look after the “Honor of the Crown” where First Nations interests are concerned (oh and let’s not forget, one of the parties to the tripartite Treaty with Yukon First Nations). You have been elected Chief to represent the interests of one of those First Nations whose government is now in place to honor that Treaty relationship and work for the betterment of your Citizens within a partnership of governments, and you hear this shocking declaration from one of your supposed “partners” in Treaty.
I think the author of this posting really encapsulates one of the biggest concerns in regard to Bill S-6. I have had the opportunity to talk to very strong advocates in Yukon, one of them being my former colleague, Larry Bagnell, who has done a phenomenal job in making sure the Liberal caucus is aware of what is taking place in Yukon so that members will be in a better position to hold the government to account for their actions or lack thereof.
This is a fairly long story and I am not going to read it all, but I do want to comment on the last paragraph of the posting. It says:
Often in the past Yukoners have complained of a distant and uncaring Ottawa interfering in our lives. It is unfortunate that we have this recent experience to reconfirm this suspicion!
This is a genuine concern that has been expressed.
I have had the opportunity today and at second reading to pose a number of questions of the government regarding Bill S-6. The government genuinely believes that it has done its homework on the issue; I do not believe that it has. When we hear the minister say that they have worked on consensus and done the proper consultation and then we hear first nations and other stakeholders say that the government has not done what it says it has, we see there is good reason that the government has not been able to achieve the support that one would like to have when passing legislation of this nature.
As I indicated at the beginning of my comments, the government says that it wants to promote growth and jobs in the north. It says it wants to improve the standard of living. If the government is sincere about that, why has it not garnered the support that it could have been able to acquire prior to the introduction of Bill S-6?
If the government had not used a closure motion to prevent members of the House from debating Bill S-6, this bill would be far from passing. The government might not even have had the support necessary to get it passed before we break. The government has intentionally chosen to use time allocation in order to force this bill through in what could be the dying days of this regime.
I know that many Canadians in all regions of our country are hoping for change. I suspect that change is on the horizon, but the government's determination to pass Bill S-6 in this fashion is most unfortunate.
Whether it is through education in our public school system, through nature programs, or from talking with individuals who are very keen on travelling throughout Canada, Yukon comes to the minds of many Canadians as a great place to visit. For a good percentage of the population, it would be a great place to live as well. Yukon as a territory is vast in size. It has the highest mountain, Mount Logan, and there are beautiful rivers and all sorts of wilderness. The tourism industry has great potential, and when we look at the high demand for commodities throughout the world, we see that Yukon's mining industry could play a critical role in meeting some of those demands.
Whether it is in relation to tourism, mining, or industries that are evolving and developing, we should be creating and encouraging growth and improving the standard of living for the people of Yukon by allowing true consultation to take place. We should strive to get consensus and respect the treaties that have been signed off on. It is an issue of respect.