Mr. Speaker, it was great to hear from my colleague, the member for Dauphin—Swan River—Neepawa. Hopefully I have pronounced that correctly. I always struggle with it. This House has some interesting riding names; many of them I avoid saying. Again, that speaks to the fact that in this House we have many members who have a great deal of technical knowledge who bring it to the House in order to explain their viewpoints on the value of a particular bill, either based on the clause-by-clause assessment they bring to it or because they have, perhaps, concerns of principle and differ on principle with the direction the government is taking.
I am pleased to rise on Bill C-17, an act to amend the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act and to make a consequential amendment to another act. Obviously I do not entirely agree with all of the content, but I want to bring up a few points, perhaps, on clause-by-clause issues that I have with the bill, the intent of the bill, and the possible consequences of it.
With that in mind, I do have a Yiddish proverb. Many members know I care much for the Yiddish language, especially the proverbs, and this one is “A fool says what he knows and a wise man knows what he says.” What I hope to live up to in this speech is very much the latter instead of the former, so judge me based on when I am done at the end of it.
I think the bill again represents the positive and sunny attitude the government has taken on, the sunny agenda of just taking the entire accomplishments of the previous government and wrecking them, whether it is the economy, the low-tax environment, the success in the economy in more general terms and also specific sectors that did so well, and then the legislative initiatives that actually made it easier to create jobs, made it easier to develop an approach, and gave us the certainty that if we put a project forward, we were going to get an answer, a yes or a no, and some type of content so that we could decide as a shareholder, a company owner, or a worker whether it was worth pursuing or not. That simply does not exist anymore if we go ahead with this particular piece of legislation.
Revoking everything that our government has done is not a positive agenda. I want to make that point, because that is consistently what I see here. A bill that was passed by a private member in this House before, the member for Foothills, was torn apart by the government.
Again, this is another continuation of that positive sunny attitude, and I say that with a great deal of sarcasm in this House.
It is typical of a government, I feel, that has no clear or credible plan, whether it comes to the economy or whether it comes to ensuring jobs are created by the private sector. It does not really have a plan. We saw that in the budget as well. It just went all over the place. It did not have a focus to it, and now we are spending a Monday debating a bill that would make it more difficult to grow the economy in the Yukon.
That is my personal belief, of course. The member for Yukon is here, and he sits on the opposite benches, which is most unfortunate, because I do appreciate his chairing the House procedures committee and I have been there many times now. I am so glad we are able to have a debate here, he and I, and that he can listen to me debate Bill C-17 during daytime hours as opposed to midnight hours.
Again, I really do believe that Bill C-17 would make it more difficult for companies, workers, and shareholders to move forward with some type of understanding that they will have the project assessed in a reasonable amount of time and have a decision rendered upon it.
One of the reasons I have for opposing the bill is that it is a step backwards for the self-determination of Yukoners. It takes away northern control over northern resources.
Members will disagree with me, but I still think it is that “Ottawa knows best” attitude. I feel that is the vein in this bill. As someone from Alberta, representing a constituency full of people from all across Canada who have made Alberta their home, who have chosen Alberta, we have this strong attitude that Ottawa has this kind of vibe that it knows best. They come to our city, to our province, pretending they can fix all of our problems. The best thing they could ever do is simply stay out of our province. We can handle things ourselves. I think many people in the territories and the other provinces would feel the same way.
Another reason to oppose the bill is that it introduces unnecessary delays and a potential for delays. I think it's the potential for delays, the uncertainty that the bill continues to create and aggravate, that is far more critical to this debate.
I will bring forward my experience. I actually worked for the ministry for sustainable resource development in Alberta, which took care of fish and wildlife, lands, water, biodiversity, forestry, so it was very much the ministry responsible for an entire landscape of Alberta and the industrial development happening on it, whether people like it or not. I know there are many members in different parts of this House who do not like industrial development. They do not like timber. They do not seem to like oil and gas. They do not seem to like the products and the fruits of the labour of individuals who create wealth, and then we get to put up buildings such as this. We get to renovate buildings. We get to grow the economy. The jobs created are created, again, by the private sector. They allow us to create that wealth and to trade and find opportunities to meet each other's needs.
I also think, as a last reason to oppose this, that it puts Yukon at a competitive disadvantage with the rest of Canada because, again, the system of approvals will differ from some of the provinces to some of the territories, and I think that is an error. I think, as much as possible—because companies in Canada operate throughout all jurisdictions; the really large ones are interested in large energy or mining infrastructure projects—we should ensure that they have the same rules apply to them wherever they go because it is much simpler for their technical staff, the workers who are there, to understand the rules and make sure they can comply with them.
Bill C-17 shows, yet again, a deep disdain for natural resources and energy workers. This is something that many constituents of mine have expressed, through email, in phone calls, and at open houses that I have had. There is this continued kind of dislike. Being in mining and energy development is just not trendy or, as was in the budget, innovative. The word “innovative” was used 212 times in the budget. I think “small business” was used six times. It is a supercluster of innovation. I do not know what these buzzwords in the budget really mean. They were just slammed together. I think it was called a “word salad” at one point.
The resource industry and the mining industry are some of the most innovative industries. The workers there spend years upon years getting a technical education that allows them to develop these resources responsibly, which is what they want to do, very much. They are hearing that the government is making it more difficult to develop mining and energy projects, that there is even just the potential for extra difficulty. There is the potential for projects not being approved within 18 months or 24 months, or for being denied with no explanation. It concerns them, because some of them have put two years of their life into trying to find a way to meet the approval requirements. Now they may be faced with potential changes again, and there might be more changes down the line that the government may want to make.
In the budget we saw changes to some of the ways mining tax credits and the exploration tax credits work. All of those things add up. It has a cumulative impact on industry. We always hear about cumulative impacts on the environment, but the decisions being made by the government are having a cumulative impact on industry. It will affect jobs, GDP growth, and child poverty rates. The government is paying itself through these metrics that it will have to meet some day. Again, it likely will not be able to.
Without clear and predictable timelines, it is impossible for companies and their workers, as I said, to plan anything. We have had the pipeline debate in Canada. I know there were some approvals that the government went through, but there was also cancellation of the northern gateway. That had a big impact on Calgary. It had a big impact on companies, and the certainty they had that a process that was followed to a T by companies would actually end with an approval and the jobs that come with it. Even though there was an approval, it did not mean the company would be able to go ahead and build, if they thought the government would change the rules and arm the opponents of the project with extra judicial or legal tools to try to delay the project. All of these things matter.
As we have seen over the past weeks, many international companies are leaving Calgary, leaving their head offices, selling off their assets, and basically abandoning Alberta, because they do not feel they can make a good enough return.
The energy industry in Alberta, western Canada, and in the northern territories and Yukon is still hurting. I am still hearing from my constituents who are still considering work outside of Canada or in one of the eastern provinces, because they just cannot find work in the sector that they have trained for their entire lives. Alberta spent a generation trying to find the requisite human resources, the workers who we desperately needed to fill the jobs. It was the same for Yukon. People from the Yukon travelled to Calgary. I used to work in human resources; we had people travelling.
Companies were actively recruiting workers in Calgary with amazing compensation packages, just trying to bring them to Yukon and trying to convince them that it was worth taking two, three, or four years making incredible pay, making an incredible contribution to the economy there. Now it is not happening anymore.
I believe Bill C-17 will only make things worse. What the Liberal government is doing through this specific piece of legislation is just spreading that joy and sunny ways all across western Canada and into the north now. We have seen what it has done to the economy in western Canada with two consecutive budgets. There is a pittance, in terms of job creation. There is no business confidence that good times will return. There is no certainty in the regulatory environment that a project put forward today will receive approval within 18 or 24 months.
That is what many of these companies want. It is not just for the companies, not just for the shareholders, but it is for the workers. If individuals are going to spend two years of their life trying to meet the regulatory requirements of the government, that is two years of what I would call red tape.
One person's red tape is another person's responsible accountability, but two years, three years, four years? What about the Mackenzie gas pipeline? What about the millions of hours of worker time spent on a project that never ever went ahead?
I am not a biologist. I am also, thankfully, not a lawyer, with all due respect to the lawyers in this House. I am just speaking a bit from my time working for the minister of sustainable resource development, because it informs how I view the bill specifically.
That department took care of public lands, grazing leases, forestry, mining, energy leases, fish and wildlife, wildlife management areas, wildlife protection, and provincial parks. It took care of forestry, the economics, the leases, the public lands associated with it, the regulations governing the industry. It was what I would call almost like a hodgepodge of different types of sectors of what the government is so-called responsible for, setting the rules of the game for different companies and different individuals who want to participate in it.
I will be the first to say that I am a city boy. I have lived all my life in big cities. I was born in a large city, Danzig, in Poland. My parents came to Montreal. That was the city I grew up in. I have lived in Calgary. I have lived in Edmonton. I have lived in Ottawa. I have lived in many great, large urban centres, but working for this department gave me a much greater appreciation for the breadth of activity across Alberta and the breadth of industrial activity and what industrial activity actually means to the people on the ground, to the jobs, the families, the incomes that it creates. How can government make it simpler for industrial activity to happen in a responsible way?
I do not think Bill C-17 accomplishes that. I think it takes a step backward. I think it makes it more complicated to meet the requirements that the government might support. Again, it is a lack of confidence. There is a general lack of confidence with people here that this government actually has it right, that it actually knows what it is doing.
We look at things like the economics of development, the certainty of decision-making, that when one puts forward one's project, it would be approved, or not approved, with very clear reasons why it would not go ahead.
Many workers I speak to, energy workers and mining workers, take an immense amount of pride in the work they do, and it goes from worker to management. It really does not matter. Even the families take pride in this too. More often than not, what they are looking for is ensuring that the industrial footprint of the projects they are connected to, they are working on, becomes kind of exemplary. We could almost think of that as a postcard. This is how we do development.
That is true for Alberta. That is true for Saskatchewan. That is true for every single western province. It is true for everywhere in Canada. Nobody goes out there with the intention of wrecking the environment. That is just the point. I think we have it inverted in Bill C-17. I think it comes with the presupposition that industrial development is automatically wrong and we should not move ahead with it.
That is fundamentally an issues of principles. That is not how it works. It should not be thought of in that way. I think, with the vast majority of energy workers, mining workers, what they are looking forward to is having the best possible stewardship rules that they can apply, and the certainty that their projects will go ahead or not, but with very clear reasons why they cannot go ahead, so they can try to meet them in the future. They do not need the government hanging over their shoulder telling them what to do every which way. They can do it themselves. They are the experts in the field. They are the ones who accumulate decades of traditional knowledge on the ground, working with aboriginal groups, working with different companies, because they may switch companies as well. They are also working in those communities, getting a better understanding of the lay of the land and the impacts that industrial development will have.
Albertans have fought ardently for that good stewardship concept. The minister I used to work for was known as a kind of right-wing environmentalist. At the time, Ted Morton was well respected in the environmental community, because he did quite a bit of work on land-use management on the forestry industry side, but especially on fish and wildlife, ensuring that the resource was well looked after, but that the rules of the game were consistent and certain. Consistency and certainty were the main things that both the political staff and the civil servants were responsible for, and again, with Bill C-17, it worries me that we just may not see that.
On Bill C-17, just to refer back to a few points I made before and why I think it is an error and why I oppose a great deal of the bill, I think it does take away northern independence. I do think it is an attack on natural resources development, mining, energy, and forestry, potentially. I think it does add uncertainty into the review process. I think the removal of the timelines and the option for exempting renewals fits well with the ongoing narrative on that side.
Introducing unnecessary delays and uncertainty into our regulatory process is not the right way to go when we are trying to induce or convince companies that they should be creating jobs. We are creating quite the opposite. Multinational companies are very much leaving Canada or leaving the jurisdictions in Canada where they are working right now because they do not think they can earn a return on their investment.
Many domestic companies, good Alberta-based, B.C.-based, Yukon-based companies, which would like to take a chance and be entrepreneurial and take a risk, are uncertain what is going to happen. These rules change today and perhaps the rules will change again in a year or two years down the line. If innovation is the name of the game, then maybe we should call all these mining projects superclusters and just call it the supercluster diamond mine, the supercluster energy development, the supercluster pipeline. If the name of the game is the buzzword, then maybe they could meet it if they are just told which buzzwords to use.
Also, I fear the impact to the economy. Bill S-6, the original bill that made those amendments, was reasonable. I was not a member at the time, but I remember some of those debates and I have gone through Hansard to see what leading members of the business community in Yukon were saying about it at the time.
I have an article I want to refer to before I go into those comments from the debates at the time. It is called “Feds table legislation to repeal parts of Bill S-6” on June 10, 2016. We are debating the bill today in April, so obviously this was not a huge rush in terms of coming up for debate, but one of the comments I want to refer to here says, “he claimed his government would 'not be a barrier' if the new Liberal government did repeal the four provisions”. This was Yukon Premier Darrell Pasloski, a good name of eastern or central European descent. The article went on to say:
...during a campaign visit to Whitehorse last fall, former prime minister Stephen Harper said it was the territorial government that requested the changes to the assessment act laid out in Bill S-6.
The Yukon government has also spoken out against [this particular piece of legislation] more recently, after oil-and-gas exploration company Northern Cross filed for a judicial review of the board’s decision to refer its Eagle Plain drilling project to a higher level of assessment.
Now we can differ perhaps on these quotes being related accurately, but it shows there was industrial development and energy development going on and now uncertainty is starting to get into the whole process: judicial uncertainty, regulatory uncertainty, and now perhaps legislative uncertainty is being added onto it.
Bill S-6 was the final legislative step in the previous Conservative government's plan to approve northern regulatory regimes. I do not think we can talk about Bill C-17 without talking about Bill S-6, because from 2011 to 2013, Yukon was rated the single most desirable place in the world for mining companies to conduct business. Bill S-6 was improving upon that goal because Yukon had started to fall. Other jurisdictions were catching up. It was not so much that they were falling behind, but other jurisdictions were making the necessary amendments.
I will finish by mentioning those people who were for Bill S-6 at the time. Samson Hartland, executive director of the Yukon Chamber of Mines, described the introduction of time limits as “probably the most important aspect of this bill to our membership”.
At the time also David Morrison, president and CEO of Yukon Energy Corporation, agreed:
Having screening processes that don't have defined timelines, and strictly defined timelines, makes it very difficult for people who are investing millions and hundreds of millions of dollars.
Clynton Nauman, president and CEO of Alexco Resource Corporation, also told the Standing Senate Committee on Energy, Environment and Natural Resources on September 30, 2014:
The current uncertainty has had a negative impact on our ability to efficiently plan and operate our business, and by extension, it impairs the competitiveness of Yukon as a jurisdiction to assert certainty in the mine development and production process.
This is a very important matter in very many important matters, especially as the PROC committee filibuster continues. I look forward to seeing the chair, the member for Yukon, there at midnight hopefully next time. As long as he wishes to continue, I will be there participating in those debates.
That the debate be now adjourned.