Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleagues. I can confirm that I will be splitting my time with my extraordinary colleague, the hon. member for Hamilton Centre.
I stand today as a New Democrat to speak in favour of Bill C-10, even if there is much to criticize about what the government has done in terms of governance, business management, indigenous relations and environmental management.
I would like to take this opportunity to have a bit of fun. As the member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, I decided to crunch some numbers in an effort to compare my situation in Montreal to that of my hon. colleague from Yukon. The territory in question has a population of around 38,000 spread over 483,443 square kilometres, for a population density of 0.08 persons per square kilometre. My riding has a population of 110,000 in an area 11 square kilometres, for a population density of 10,000 persons per square kilometre. That is far more people than in the territory my colleague has the honour of representing.
I had the honour of visiting Yukon during the tour of the Special Committee on Electoral Reform. I had the opportunity to see Whitehorse for the first time in my life and to visit the surrounding area. My colleague represents a magnificent territory that must be protected by the proper environmental assessments, but I will get back to that.
I will digress for a moment. Since I was there with the Special Committee on Electoral Reform, I cannot help but think that we are in a system where one government does things and the next government undoes them. From our perspective, if we had a more consensual system of policy development, this defect in our system would be less apparent. We would stop wasting so much time, money effort, and energy. There ends my digression about electoral systems.
There are three things I would like to address concerning Bill C-17. First, I would like to point out why it is important for men and women to become involved in politics. The values and principles of the party I belong to lead me to believe that the main reasons to do so revolve around fairness, social justice and human dignity. That is why, as a progressive party, we will fight inequality and insist on a fairer distribution of wealth and greater equality of opportunity.
Secondly, why are we in politics? I think that all political parties can agree on that. We do it to ensure the safety and protection of the public. That is the fundamental role of all governments, a role we believe must involve setting up sound environmental and socioeconomic assessment processes. Indeed, such processes not only help preserve our environment and ecosystems, but also ensure public health and protect the public from abuse by certain companies or from actions that would create pollution, illness and, indirectly, problems for Canadians living near certain industrial activities.
That might have been a roundabout way of putting things, but it just goes to show why we need to pass legislation that ensures that the public and public health are protected. We are taking a step in the right direction today.
This bill is also important and useful in terms of respect for first nations. The Liberal government likes to talk about its nation-to-nation approach with regard to the relationship between the federal government and every first nation on the ground.
What is really unfortunate, however, and I noted it in my question to my Conservative colleague, is the frontal attack that was launched at the time by the Harper government against the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act in relation to mining projects, without having first consulted first nations.
I think that the bill before us corrects things in that regard. It also respects a desire that clearly appears to be shared by all major stakeholders regarding this issue in the Yukon. It is a sign of respect toward first nations and that shows openness and dialogue. That has been hailed by people who were critical of the somewhat cavalier attitude of the previous Conservative government. In that way, it is a good thing.
Regarding our ability to maintain respectful and equal relations with first nations, I would be remiss if I did not add that, although Bill C-17 is a step in the right direction, or rather a return to a better direction, the Liberal government's actions do not always reflect their words, sadly. I will give two quick examples, starting with the Liberal government’s refusal to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which says a lot about the government’s posturing. It is unwilling to apply changes that would benefit all first nations communities across the country.
Therefore, I want to remind everyone listening to the debate in the House that we have a Liberal government that is refusing to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The minister told us that all of a sudden it could not be implemented even though several countries have done so. That is unfortunate. I am asking the government to revisit its position on the matter.
I am also asking the government to revisit its position on all court challenges involving indigenous rights and treaty adherence, and especially involving health care for children. My colleague from Timmins—James Bay reminded us today that the government has already spent $6 million of taxpayers' money to challenge indigenous rights in court, especially the right to children's health care. It is disappointing to hear the same old rhetoric from the Prime Minister and the entire Liberal cabinet while the government uses taxpayers' money to challenge the legitimate claims of indigenous peoples.
What else is missing from Bill C-17? Earlier, the minister seemed open to changes, and I hope that is the case. Some of the environmental assessment issues have been resolved, but many first nations chiefs and representatives also said that, when the previous government did this, it unilaterally imposed a new fiscal approach on them. The new fiscal approach is extremely restrictive and, in their opinion, it contradicts the treaties the federal government signed with first nations. Once again, many people are telling the government that there is still work to do, there are still things that need changing. That is very important.
I would like to quote Eric Fairclough, chief of the Little Salmon Carmacks First Nation. In February 2016, he appeared before the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development and had this to say about the new fiscal approach, which Bill C-17 does not change:
The fiscal approach contradicts and violates our final agreements. In several fundamental ways Canada cannot implement its fiscal approach and meet the modern treaty agreement commitments under self-governing Yukon first nations.
It's a step backwards for self-governing Yukon first nations. Its implementation will violate the commitments of the Yukon first nations final agreements rather than promote reconciliation. It's not what the Prime Minister said, and it's not what the INAC minister said either, according to their own words.
Although we are pleased that the measures Yukoners called for are back, the job is not done. There is still a lot of work to do to change this new fiscal approach.
I would like to quote one more witness. Ruth Massie was the grand chief of the Council of Yukon First Nations. Speaking before that same committee in February 2016, she said:
This fiscal policy is being imposed. We have not accepted it because of the language in our agreement. How is it going to affect us if it goes forward? We will have no choice but to defend our agreements. That means going back to court, because that's not what the provisions in our agreements say.
I am calling on the Liberal government to finish the job. I understand that a discussion is currently taking place, but if we want to be consistent, we need to be able to change this fiscal approach, which was imposed on the indigenous peoples of Yukon.