Mr. Speaker, it is certainly my pleasure to stand to speak to Bill C-17. I first want to make a few comments in response to what the minister said, then I also want to go to maybe the 100,000-foot level, and then narrow it down into Bill C-17.
The first thing I want to note is that the minister accused the opposition of filibustering and keeping the bill going. There could be nothing further from the truth. The Liberals have had two years in which to bring a fairly simple piece of legislation. There was some modest debate in the spring, but to be frank, the House leader and the government did not see this as a priority to bring forward. I know at committee we moved it through quite rapidly. We did our due diligence, as any committee should do, but we certainly did not spend inordinate amounts of time trying to delay the process. Then, as we saw by the earlier vote today, we passed it on division so that it did not have further delay. Therefore, I want to make note of the fact that, although it is the opposition that really has a responsibility to look at legislation, assess it, and bring forward some of these issues, I think is a bit disingenuous to suggest that we are responsible for the delay, when as a majority government it has all of the tools at its fingertips to move these pieces of legislation through.
To start, I want to speak to the big picture. There was a very difficult economic time. We had a global recession. Certainly, we had 10 years in government where not only did we use spending to drive Canada through the global recession but we did many things to try to set our economy up for success. Our plan worked. We did exactly what we said and got back to a balanced budget. Therefore, the current government not only had a balanced budget but also had a system that was set up to create success and to continue to power the economy. I think we all know that government spending cannot drive the economy. It takes business. In particular, it takes a strong natural resource sector to move us forward. I think it is important to recognize that not only did we get back to a balanced budget but we hopefully created an environment where things could continue to grow. There is a strong economy right now, and I think the current government can look to some of the benefits and wisdom of what we had done.
To go to the bigger picture, I first want to talk about natural resource development, about the north, and to some degree about the coasts. The government talks about caring about the north and its importance. However, it is interesting that it has no representation on the executive. Not a single minister resides north of the 60th parallel. As much as Atlantic Canada found it very difficult to have a minister for ACOA from downtown Toronto or Mississauga, I think the north in particular really notices the fact that its minister for economic development is again from Mississauga, and certainly more familiar with things like GO trains and Highway 401, and perhaps would have some problem identifying with some of the issues in the north. Therefore, the lack of representation is one challenge the Liberals have, and that lack of perspective can sometimes create challenges.
The next thing I want to note that the government has done that will make things very difficult for northerners is that it brought in a carbon tax, which will affect them more than any other place in Canada. The impact from climate change is felt more in the north, but the impact of things like the carbon tax will be felt in an extraordinary way by the people there. They rely on diesel to receive food and other vital supplies by boat, plane, and ice roads, and this carbon tax will increase the cost of everything. Therefore, when the government brought in this carbon tax, it was giving lip service when it said that it recognized that it would create a challenge for the north.
It was interesting yesterday. We had a piece of legislation that said to tell Canadians what the carbon tax is going to cost. It was a private member's bill. Even though the government knows what it is going to cost Canadians, it refuses to reveal that. The Liberals voted against a piece of legislation that would tell Canadians what a carbon tax would cost them.
As I understand, talking to some leadership from the north, there was a commitment that not only would the government do an analysis of what the impact would be but there would be measures put in place. As we travelled with a committee this week and talked to many of the leaders in the north, we heard that there has been nothing. We have no idea what the impact of this carbon tax is going to be, nor do we have any commitment in terms of how we will deal with that. Certainly, people will be affected disproportionately by climate change and will also be disproportionately affected by this particular initiative.
Another issue in terms of the big picture and how I believe the government is failing the north is with respect to the critical importance of consultation and partnerships. Just before Christmas, the Prime Minister announced a moratorium on oil and gas development in the Arctic. There had been zero consultation with the people and the communities that would be most affected. It was a unilateral decision.
Two days ago, we heard from representatives of the Government of Nunavut at committee about this decision, which has the potential to impact their prosperity and lives. They were not asked or consulted. Rather, they heard about it 20 minutes before it was implemented. They got a phone call telling them about a decision that would impact their lives and their future.
Nunavut's premier, Peter Taptuna, stated:
We do want to be getting to a state where we can make our own determination of our priorities, and the way to do that is gain meaningful revenue from resource development.
And at the same time, when one potential source of revenue is taken off the table, it puts us back at practically Square 1 where Ottawa will make the decisions for us.
Northerners have been very clear that they want a greater say in their own affairs and more control over their own resources. Here we have a bill where the government says it gives more control. However, we see by every other action by the government that many have been unilateral in nature, whether it be carbon tax or moratoriums.
Protected areas are important, and parks are important. Many people care about having a system of marine protected areas and parks that makes sense. However, I think there has also been a worry expressed in the north that the government just wants it to be a park. It does not want to support resource development at all. It wants it to be this nice park where people can enjoy the protected area.
Another example where the government has taken unilateral action is the northern gateway pipeline. The government arbitrarily overturned a legal decision from the National Energy Board; it had approval. At that time, there were 31 first nations that were equity partners in the northern gateway pipeline and were profoundly disappointed with the government's decision. The first nations stood to benefit more than $2 billion directly from this project. For the indigenous band members, and especially their youth, it was a lost opportunity for jobs, education, and long term benefits.
Members have probably travelled, as I have, throughout the north. Resource development is absolutely critical for the future of people of the north. It is all right to say the government is going to consult, but it did not consult when it made an arbitrary decision around the northern gateway project.
I could go on about the B.C. tanker ban. It is in my home province. This is more legislation focused on phasing out the oil sands. That is the only purpose. Venezuelan oil and Quebec oil are okay. Saudi Arabian oil on the east coast is okay. Canadian oil is okay in Vancouver, but not in northern B.C. The Liberals have a tanker ban. What kind of conversation did they have? What kind of consultation did they have with the indigenous communities in that area before they arbitrarily made that decision?
When the Liberals suggest that the past government made mistakes in terms of not consulting properly, I would say that putting some timelines, assessments, and small parameters on projects in the environmental assessment process is much less egregious than the absolute lack of consultation the Liberals have had in terms of issues that are of incredible importance, such as oil tankers, pipelines, and moratoriums. I could go on, but I think I have made my point.
In spite of what the Liberals say, we had a trilateral process. There were many recommendations that were implemented. We heard from the member for Yukon that, in fact, they usually exceed the timelines, so why do we need those timelines? That shows that the decision to put in timelines was not that significant. We can talk about the reassessment process. The member said that the reassessment process would have been okay anyway, so it does not matter that there is in legislation a piece that finalizes it. Perhaps the trilateral conversation should have been stronger, but ultimately, the legislation and the pieces in it are not that significant.
Regarding funding transfers, we can again talk about lots of money going to the north. The finance minister stunned northern premiers by cutting $91 million from the federal transfers to the territories. It was not until February that they walked that back and dropped it to $24 million in core funding. That $24 million might not sound like a lot in terms of a federal budget, but I guarantee that in those three territories, that is a significant amount of money.
Another thing that just came out yesterday is that there are going to be new regulations for diesel. Diesel powers more than 200 remote communities. They need to keep the lights on in every Inuit community in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories. Where was the conversation about what the impact will be? I did not see anything on the impact and how the Liberals are going to offset it. I know there is a little money, but it is not a lot.
We talk about climate change. At the Alert weather station, where people are actually doing the important work of measuring, the Liberals are cutting back on absolutely vital environmental measures in Alert, and possibly in surrounding areas, for six months. There are a number of people who live in the north. These are well-paying jobs. I do not think that the training is so difficult that the Liberals cannot train people to keep that weather station in the north doing those important measurements on the environment and climate change. What did they do? They said that they could not find anyone. Well, let us get creative. Let us find someone and get someone in that station, because I believe that with a bit of creativity, we could easily have people there getting those measurements, which the government claims are incredibly important.
We have heard the big picture in terms of how the government is failing the north. It is failing in terms of consultations and is perhaps setting up significant challenges down the road, because they have lopped off at the knees the ability of the north to create economic success.
I know that the minister's special representative is going around talking about parks. What she said was that parks are okay, but what people in the north are wanting to talk about is suicide, the housing crisis, and jobs and opportunities. If we look at the goal of the government to create whatever percentage of the area as a national park, it is way down the list of the conversations the people in the north want to have. They want to talk about how they can improve their lives. With these arbitrary decisions, the Liberals are certainly cutting off many opportunities.
In the Yukon, the mining industry contributes about 20% to the GDP. As a mining representative told the indigenous and northern affairs committee, reconciliation is not theoretical to them. In many ways, the rest of Canada has a lot to learn from the north in terms of how we move forward in partnership. There are many extraordinary examples of the ability of everyone in communities to work together for the benefit of all.
Jonas Smith, of the Yukon Producers Group, said:
...these are small communities. Everyone goes to school together. Their kids play hockey together. It is one community. It's not this academic concept in the Yukon. It's...everyday life.
Mike Burke, of the Chamber of Mines, told us:
We are really on the forefront of reconciliation. We're working in all the first nations' backyards, and the economic benefits...flow through to the community. It's not the old days where we just had employees from the local communities. We're seeking partnerships. That's what we're trying to do, and to make a difference in the Yukon especially in the communities that we're involved in.
We have talked about the process. We have talked about the items that went into legislation we passed and the items the government is looking to remove. I still fail to understand how the government, as it was taking two-plus years to move this legislation, which it committed to doing, could not actually have had the conversation at the same time on what it could replace it with. There was an opportunity missed, and I think that was a legitimate point brought up with industry.
It goes back to my “chew gum and run at the same time” comment. There is no reason the government could not have done those two things concurrently. To get this legislation passed, it still has to go through the Senate, so we are going to have a process there. The government does not plan to start talking until this legislation is passed. Meanwhile, it potentially will be creating some real problems.
Sheila Copps was on a panel last night, and she said we should not assume that regulations are going to do the job for everything. There are some things that really are important to have in law. Policy, as we know, is not as strong as perhaps having legislation or having things in the agreement. If there is anyone to be blamed for the slowness of this going through the House, I would put it in the hands of the government.
I encourage the government to start the work now, while it is still in the Senate, in terms of having the timelines that will be in place and a reassessment process that is going to be acceptable, so that when this legislation is passed, it has a new regime that will continue to support our industry and support Yukoners in the way they need to be supported, with strong and vibrant economic opportunities.