Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to join the debate tonight on this piece of legislation. We are discussing Bill C-17, an act to amend the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act and to make a consequential amendment to another act. It raises a variety of questions more broadly in our discussion of natural resource development. I will speak about the bill and the different provisions in it as well as about some of the underlying questions and the relationship between those questions and broader issues of resource development.
We have already had some discussion tonight about my province, Alberta, and some of the resource development questions there. A lot of the questions are the same in terms of how we view the kinds of processes that need to be in place when it comes to economic development, where we think the decision-making power should be situated, and how we think these things should unfold.
To start with, in terms of the particulars of the legislation, the bill seeks to repeal a number of sections of the act that deal with time limits for project assessment, the ability of the federal minister to delegate certain powers to the territorial minister, the ability of the federal minister to set binding policy regulations, and an exemption to allow for project renewal if there is clearly no significant change to the project. These provisions of YESAA help to facilitate orderly, relatively efficient discussions, evaluations, and conclusions in terms of the assessment of projects. They reflect the belief of the previous government that we should trust local governments, provincial governments, and territorial governments as much as possible to make decisions that fall within, generally speaking, their own competencies and areas of authority.
These are some of the existing provisions of the legislation the government is seeking to repeal. We oppose this legislation. We think the provisions the government is seeking to repeal actually make good logical sense, and I want to go a little bit into the reasons why.
I will start with the issue of time limits. The bill would repeal sections that provide for legislated time limits for project assessment. There are a range of perspectives in this House on this question. We had a member of the NDP wonder why we would have time limits for project assessment. How does it even, from his perspective, make sense to have those time limits. That is one perspective in the House. We then had a member of the government say that maybe there should be some degree of time limitation, but it should not be defined from the outset. It should be something that can be determined or shifted on a case-by-case basis.
Our view, in this party, is that constructive deliberation requires there to be clear opportunities for the evidence to be presented, then coming out of that process, an opportunity for a determination to be made that reflects that evidence. I think that is intuitively reasonable. Thinking through and coming to a conclusion requires some degree of certainty that at some point, that decision-making process will end and there will be a conclusion, either yes or no. It is not about saying that every project should go ahead. It is about saying that there should be a process by which that decision is made.
For members who maybe are not convinced of this idea that we should have some degree of time limits for energy projects in terms of the adjudication of them, I can maybe make an analogy to our use of House time. This is something we have debated quite a bit in terms of the Standing Orders. We provide for the fact that there are a large number of bills we want to have discussed in this place, and we cannot spend the entire life of a Parliament debating the same bill, because it will make it harder to pass other bills. We have to make difficult decisions about how we use the time in this House. Hopefully, most of the time that happens through agreement among House leaders. If we think about it, we debate substantial, very difficult issues, and we allocate, either by agreement or by the government imposing the allocation. It is quite short compared to the time windows that exist for many of these energy projects.
We spent two or three days discussing the government's euthanasia legislation at second reading. Recently we had the imposition of time allocation on the government's marijuana legislation to send it through to committee. After very little debate, we had the imposition of time allocation on a very expansive transportation regulation bill. These are cases where we had debate in the House of Commons limited to a number of days, even a number of hours.
Conservatives used time allocation occasionally when we were in government. The Liberals use time allocation. The NDP has voted on a number of occasions for time allocation. If members think energy projects should have no time limits, I would ask them to reconcile that contention with what seems to be the accepted view of all major parties in this House that there needs to be some limitation on debate that happens in this place. If members cannot go on to debate questions, broader legislative questions, infinitely, then how does it make sense that we can have an infinite assessment process for energy projects?
Let us be clear, there are individuals, interests, and groups, some of whom may not have a direct connection with the specific projects in place, that have a desire to filibuster energy projects. Any time there is a proposed project, they want to be able to insert themselves in the process and drag that process out as long as possible to prevent that project from moving forward.
In the House of Commons, there are only 338 of us, and in this chamber, we are subject to, generally speaking, certain time limits. There are other mechanisms of limiting debate. However, when we look at project assessments that happen outside this place, there are many different groups or individuals who could come forward and make presentations. There is always the worry that for these projects the assessment could be dragged out so long that effectively it would be a filibuster. Effectively, there would be no opportunity to make an adjudication on the basis of the information and the evidence, because the discussion would just keep going on and on.
I am of the view that there are some projects that should go ahead. If people think that there are projects that should go ahead, then we have to accept that there has to be some mechanism for setting time limits, for having an identification of a process in advance that allows that determination to be made.
I would take the view that the existing provisions of this legislation prescribe time limits, legislated time limits, clear time limits, so that everyone knows what the process is and everyone can have confidence and certainty in that process. There is predictability from the outset, and people can submit the opinions they want to submit. We make sure through that process that everyone has an opportunity to get their opinions on the record but also that a decision will be made at the end of that process. I think having that clarity, that certainty, from the outset is a reasonable way to proceed and to ensure that ultimately, the best decision is made.
I am going to switch to discussing some of the other provisions of this legislation. The existing act talks about the fact that there should not be a repetition of the assessment process if an evaluation has already taken place and the project has not substantially changed. Along a similar line, this is about saying that there should be an assessment. There should be a process by which a decision is made, but a decision should then be made. It does not make a lot of sense to say that we have to repeat the whole assessment process if what we are actually looking at is a project renewal and there is no significant change to the project. If there is not a substantial change to the project, then why would there be a need to evaluate it again? That is fairly obvious.
From the perspective of fairness in decision-making, a decision is made, and then we proceed with it once all the evidence is gathered and put together.
It is interesting, listening to the other debate in this House, that there are very few politicians who are prepared to say, “We are just against all energy projects”. However, we start to wonder, when we look at the accumulation of objections and excuses, if there is actually something else going on. What we hear more and more from those in certain quarters politically is an unwillingness to admit to being, generally speaking, anti-development, but they object to pipelines and to the transportation of energy resources. They want to impose new taxes and tighter regulations on it. They want to avoid having fixed benchmarks in place. They are concerned about defined time limits. They want these assessment processes to be able to go on forever.
As much as those who raise all of these objections may say they are pro-development, when we actually add up the pieces we can identify so many different ways in which these advocacy groups or these political interests are effectively putting up barriers to development without admitting that all they are trying to do is put up barriers to development. However, when they are consistently opposing new requirements that do not really make sense outside of an anti-development framework, then we start to wonder why we cannot just have an honest conversation about whether economic and resource development is going to be beneficial for the regions that we are talking about.
It is clear to me that there should not be repetition of assessment when it is not needed, that project assessment should have a reasonable and clearly defined timeline. For those who say that should not be the case, we have to ask the question, what really is the motivation for that argument? Not, perhaps, for everyone, but if they are opposed to pipelines, they want new taxes for energy resources and they want to make the process more complicated, less predictable, and longer, then they cannot really say at the end of it that they are pro-development because it becomes clear that they are not.
Economic development is so important for job creation in the north and in western Canada, but all across the country we should recognize that there are spinoff economic benefits associated with economic development that benefit the entire country. There are jobs in every province and every region that relate directly or indirectly to energy development. Therefore, all members, regardless of what region of the country they come from, should understand that they have a direct stake as part of one whole Canadian family, but also, given the direct tie-in to every region, they have a stake in supporting policies that are responsive to economic development.
One of the other provisions in this legislation that is repealed is powers around delegating authority. I am very proud of the fact that under the previous Conservative government, we took the position that territories deserved to be able to increase their power and control over their own territory, that territorial governments elected by their people, as the level of government that is closest to the people who are electing it, should be able to make more decisions over the direction and future of what happens in those areas.
Just as we have a federation that is well served by strong provincial governments that can be more responsive in many cases to what is happening in terms of local circumstances than the federal government, we have strong municipalities that can, in many cases, be closer and more responsive to the immediate needs of their communities than other orders of government. We recognize that principle in southern Canada and we should apply it in the same sense in the north.
That was our approach, and it was coming out of a broader philosophical commitment to the principle of subsidiarity. The emphasis on subsidiarity has been a part of the Conservative tradition for as long as I can remember. Decisions that can be made closer to the local level can likely harness the creativity and the connectedness to those issues of more people than if decisions are made far away, where they have people who are not actually directly involved in the circumstances on the ground. When they have decisions that are made by a smaller number of people that are applied across the board, even in cases where they may not apply, they are less likely to have positive outcomes.
If we delegate that authority, if we have as much of that authority expressed at the local level, and responsibility as well, and the power to make decisions and to see the consequences of those decisions, and then have local people respond in local or provincial or territorial elections, we get a more responsive decision-making process, we get more responsive outcomes as that process unfolds.
That is the emphasis on subsidiarity, that kind of philosophical framework that we brought to the discussion of this, and it is one that I think the Liberal government is less interested in. It is trying to impose specific policy direction on provinces, even outside of what is supposed to be federal jurisdiction. I think it is very relevant to our discussion that here we see the government proceeding in that way, with respect to the carbon tax. I think this is the first time we have ever seen a federal government say to the provinces, “You must impose a tax in an area of your jurisdiction and if you don't, we will impose a province-specific tax on you and then basically the voters in your province will be completely without recourse if they perhaps want to go in a different direction than the rest of the country is going.”
It is unheard that we have a federal government say, “We're going to have a special tax for Saskatchewan that we're going to collect in Saskatchewan and not elsewhere.” This has very concerning implications from a federalism perspective. I am sure it would be challenged legally. However, underlying all this is a lack of respect for the particular competencies of provincial governments—provincial governments that may have different priorities, which reflect the different priorities expressed by the voters in their areas, provincial governments which may have different visions of how to realize the broader policy direction that may be set out.
It is, of course, important that provinces work together, that they have discussions on how to do things that are in our collective interest. I think that voters in every province and every territory are going to push for those kinds of outcomes, those kinds of approaches. However, when the federal government comes in and tries to dictate to provinces, that is where we get into problems.
Again, we took the position, with respect to the approach that the previous Conservative government took to the territories, in general, that strengthening the powers the territories had to make decisions that reflected what the electorate in those territories were looking for, was a better way of proceeding, rather than having the power in the hands of the federal government.
The provisions that we had in place in YESAA gave the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs the ability to delegate certain powers that were provided to them under the act to the territorial minister. This legislation completely takes that power away, and that, of course, raises some questions.
I will now proceed to my next point, which is the changes that the legislation makes with respect to the ability to issue binding policy direction.
YESAA currently provides the ability for them to set policy direction to the board.
Again, I think the board has the responsibility of making determinations based on the immediate evidence but it makes sense that the broad policy would be set at the ministerial level. There is a distinction between assessment and policy. That, I think, respects the proper democratic function of ministers, which is to exercise authority on behalf of the people, and of the board to make independent evidence-based decisions as well. We think that properly reflects the balance that should exist in that case.
Overall, it is evident, if we look at this legislation, there is a broader objection in many quarters of this House to development projects. That is something that we are very concerned about and one of the reasons, among others, why we oppose this legislation.