Mr. Speaker, I am happy to rise to speak to Bill C-88, an act to amend the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act and the Canada Petroleum Resources Act. I would like to start by saying that the overall position of the NDP on this bill is that northerners know best how to manage their own resources. We will be supporting this bill at second reading but feel there are some areas where important improvements could be made.
This bill is part of a series of measures the Canadian government has made over the past half-century or so to bring more democracy to the north and end the colonial style of government that has been in place since Confederation. It seems, though, that every step forward has some steps backward and this bill perhaps is no exception. This is a bit of an omnibus bill.
I just want to point out that although the member for Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo mentioned that the NDP and Liberals voted for Bill C-15, that was because it was an omnibus bill on the devolution of power to the Northwest Territories. We were all in favour of the bill and then the former Conservative government tacked on that poison pill which cut down indigenous rights. We supported it, even though we had concerns about that last part of it.
This is a bit of an omnibus bill. It sets out to do two different things. First, it would repeal parts of Bill C-15, the Northwest Territories Devolution Act, which was passed in the last Parliament and, second, it would bring into force an announced a moratorium on oil and gas exploration and development in offshore waters in the Canadian Arctic. Bill C-15, passed in 2014, was a bit of an omnibus bill. The bulk of that bill dealt with the devolution of powers from the federal government to territorial government. The general public opinion in the north was that this was a great thing. It was reversing the tide of colonialism and giving back more powers to northerners to manage their own affairs.
However, the second part of Bill C-15 went back on that, eliminating four regional land and water boards and replacing them with a single super board. Those four boards were created out of land claims agreements and negotiations with various first nations in the Mackenzie Valley area and the new super board significantly reduced the input that those first nations would have on resource management decisions.
Since 1967, much of the political history of the Northwest Territories has been one of de-colonialization through the devolution of powers from the federal government, and there have been four settled land claims in the Northwest Territories since then.
First, the lnuvialuit agreement covers the northern part of the Mackenzie Delta, the Beaufort Sea region and the Northwest Territories portion of the Arctic Archipelago. The region is outside the areas covered in the regional land and water boards covered in Bill C-88 but does bear on the second part of the offshore oil and gas exploration.
Second, the Gwich'in agreement covers the southern portion of the Mackenzie Delta and the northern part of the Mackenzie Mountains.
Third, the Sahtu Dene and Métis agreement covers the region around Great Bear Lake and the adjacent Mackenzie Mountains.
Fourth, the Salt River Treaty Land Entitlement covers an area near the town of Fort Smith, Northwest Territories. This agreement does not involve the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act.
There are two more agreements in place now in the Northwest Territories: the Deline self-government agreement for a community covered by the Sahtu agreement, and the Tlicho land, resources and self-government agreement covering the area north of Great Slave Lake.
These agreements are modern-day treaties that create and confirm indigenous rights and are protected by section 35 of the Constitution. The Gwich'in, Sahtu and Tlicho agreements contain provision for the creation of a system of co-management boards enacted by the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act. On each of these boards, there are four members and a chair. Two of the four members are nominated or appointed by the Gwich'in, Sahtu or Tlicho, so that they have an equal partnership in those decisions.
In parts of the Northwest Territories where there is no settled land claim, the main board created by the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act, the Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board, is in operation. In the lnuvialuit Settlement Region, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency conducts environmental assessments.
On December 3, 2013, the Harper government introduced Bill C-15, which was primarily meant to implement the provisions in the Northwest Territories Lands and Resources Devolution Agreement. However, as I mentioned, it contained this poison pill in the form of changes to the land and water co-management boards created by the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act.
The Harper bill eliminated the regional boards in favour of a single superboard consisting of 10 members and a chair. Bill C-15 also changed the process by which members of the single board were appointed and only provided for a single representative from the Gwich'in, Sahtu and Tlicho. These groups went from having an equal partnership, two of four members, to only having one in 10 members on this superboard. These changes were wildly and widely unpopular in the Northwest Territories and contrary to the wishes of northerners, as reported by a consultation process launched by the Conservatives prior to bringing forward Bill C-15.
The member previously mentioned the McCrank report. There was a consultation process about that report, but the first nations, when told about these options, said not to do this and that they did not like it. It is not consultation if we just tell first nations what is going to happen. We have to try to make accommodation, and that is exactly what did not happen here. I have some quotes about what first nations and Métis groups thought of this.
Jake Heron from the Métis Nation said that it's very frustrating when you're at the table and you think you're involved, only to find out that your interests are not being considered seriously.
Bob Bromley, an MLA in the Northwest Territories said, “The federal government's proposal to collapse the regional land water boards into one big board is disturbing, unnecessary and possibly unconstitutional.” He also said that a single board “does nothing to meet the real problem: failure of implementation.”
Dennis Bevington, a former MP for the Northwest Territories said, “I don't think that's fair to the people that went into the devolution agreement, people like the Tlicho who agreed to the devolution deal because it had some separation from the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act. I think it's inappropriate.”
Bill C-15 received royal assent on March 25, 2014. Shortly afterward, the Tlicho and Sahtu launched lawsuits asking for declarations of portions of the devolution act to have no force or effect and an interim injunction to stop the Government of Canada from taking steps to implement those provisions of Bill C-15 that affected the regional board structure for the Mackenzie Valley. On February 27, 2015, the Supreme Court of the Northwest Territories granted that injunction to the Tlicho. The federal government immediately began appeal proceedings to lift the injunction, but with the defeat of the Harper government, Canada began consultations with Northwest Territories indigenous governments and the Government of the Northwest Territories. The result is Bill C-88 before us today, which would reverse those changes to the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act.
Last night, I happened to be sitting next to Grace Blake on the plane flying from Toronto to Ottawa. She is a Gwich'in leader from Tsiigehtchic. She was very happy to hear that Bill C-88 would keep the land and water boards in place. I think her feelings are representative of most residents of the Northwest Territories.
A representative from the Tlicho, Ryan Fequet, said, “The current land and water boards' composition reflects 50-50 decision-making between first nations and the federal government, and I think the superboard's proposed structure would have changed that, and that's why various parties voiced their concerns.”
I will now go to the second part of Bill C-88, which deals with the Canada Petroleum Resources Act.
As other members have mentioned, this began back in late 2016 when the Prime Minister was meeting with President Barack Obama and they both gave what was called the United States-Canada joint Arctic leaders' statement. In that, Barack Obama said that the U.S. is designating “the vast majority of U.S. waters in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas as indefinitely off limits to offshore oil and gas leasing.”
At the same time, it seemed that Canada felt obliged to designate all Arctic Canadian waters as indefinitely off limits to future offshore Arctic oil and gas licensing, to be reviewed every five years through a climate and marine science-based life-cycle assessment. The Prime Minister made this decision without properly consulting any form of government in the north. As was mentioned, he gave everybody a phone call 20 minutes before the fact.
Northwest Territories Premier Bob McLeod reacted by issuing a red alert calling for an urgent national debate on the future of the Northwest Territories and saying that the Prime Minister's announcement was the re-emergence of colonialism.
We spent a lot of time negotiating a devolution agreement, and we thought the days were gone when we'd have unilateral decisions made about the North in some faraway place like Ottawa, and that northerners would be making the decisions about issues that affected northerners.
In response to the Prime Minister's unilateral action, the Premier of Nunavut, 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.
The Inuvialuit Regional Corporation also raised concerns. Duane Smith, the CEO, stated:
There was a total lack of consultation prior to the imposition of the moratorium. This and the subsequent changes to key legislation impacting our marine areas are actions inconsistent with the way the Crown is required to engage with its Indigenous counterparts.
I happened to talk to Mr. Smith about this subject when I was at the Generation Energy Forum meetings in Winnipeg in October 2017, a year later, and he was still hopping mad about this.
In response to the concerns of northerners, Canada began a consultation process and agreed in October 2018 to begin talks with the territorial governments and the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation to reach a co-management and revenue-sharing agreement. Meanwhile, the current oil and gas development moratorium remains in place, to be reviewed in 2021.
Now I would like to speak to how this bill could be improved.
For one thing, despite the fact that the government supported my colleague's private member's bill on putting the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples into every appropriate legislation that the government produces, there is no mention of that at all in this bill. Again, I talked to first nations leaders and they are very frustrated with the government over all the talk and no action in that regard.
The second place that it could be improved, and I will mention this a little later, is through a real commitment for intervenor funding in the review processes that this bill puts forward. There is no mention of that and it is a critical part of any proper consultation.
Outside this bill there are still so many more important areas that the government could be taking action on, such as with respect to first nations drinking water. Seventy-three per cent of drinking water systems are considered at high or medium risk, according to the Parliamentary Budget Officer.
With respect to indigenous housing, estimates from the First Nations Financial Management Board pegged the housing infrastructure gap on reserve at between $3 billion and $5 billion. This was the main thing mentioned to me by Grace who was sitting next to me on the plane last night. Her concern is housing, housing, housing.
With respect to indigenous schooling, whether we look at physical infrastructure, teachers or dropout rates, critical gaps remain. Less than a quarter of indigenous students who started grade 9 went on to finish high school. We really have to step up the game and fix these gaps.
The government has to stop fighting indigenous people in court. Currently, there are thousands of court cases going on between Canada and indigenous people, including 528 specific land claims and 70 comprehensive land claims.
The government has to fix the high cost of food in the north by replacing the nutrition north program with one that actually assists northerners in affording nutritious foods.
It should settle the two outstanding land resource and self-government processes in the Northwest Territories with the Dehcho and the Akaitcho.
I want to finish by mentioning a process that really brought northern resource management issues, and specifically management issues in the Mackenzie Valley, to the attention of southerners and radically changed the way northerners took control of their resource decisions. That was the Mackenzie Valley inquiry, or the Berger inquiry, as it is popularly known. It began with pipeline plans in the early 1970s to bring oil and gas from Prudhoe Bay in Alaska, across the north, over the Yukon to the Mackenzie Valley, as well as two separate plans for pipelines down the Mackenzie Valley into Alberta. The Liberal government at the time commissioned Justice Thomas Berger to create an inquiry that would look into the situation and figure out what northerners wanted, what the impacts of those projects would be on the north and how the government should best proceed.
Justice Berger started in 1974. He travelled to every community in the area, 35 communities, in the affected region. Everyone who wanted to testify was heard. Several days were usually spent in each community. For instance, in Old Crow, in the Gwich'in territory in northern Yukon, 81 people out of a population of 250 testified, many in the Gwich'in language. Five other languages made up the testimony from the other communities. Anyone who wanted to speak was heard carefully and respectfully.
The Berger inquiry also set the standard for intervenor funding. I mentioned that earlier. That money is used to allow concerned citizens to travel and speak at hearings. In 1977, Justice Berger released his findings. He found that the environmental impacts of a pipeline across the Arctic slope of the Yukon would be too great to justify the benefits. Instead, he recommended much of that area be protected from development.
Therefore, in 1984, Ivvavik National Park was created in the Inuvialuit settlement region. In 1995, Vuntut National Park was created in the Gwich'in area of northern Yukon. I had the pleasure and the privilege of visiting those areas.
In 1983, I spent the summer doing biological surveys in the Old Crow area and spent 10 days on Herschel Island, just off the coast of the Beaufort Sea. It was a wonderful time on Herschel. Liz Mackenzie and her two daughters were the only permanent residents there. They were Inuvialuit. They kept us well fed with bannock and fresh Arctic char. I rafted down the Firth River in 1995. I saw muskox and caribou. The porcupine caribou herd calves along the Arctic coast of Alaska and migrates through this area. It is because of those protections that the porcupine herd is literally one of the only caribou herds in Canada still doing well these days. Most caribou herds are declining drastically.
As for the Mackenzie Valley pipeline, Justice Berger pointed out that land claims negotiations were just taking place in the Mackenzie watershed, so he placed a 10-year moratorium on any decision in that region to allow those agreements to be finished. The Berger inquiry is really the gold standard of consultation in Canada. If anyone in the government is interested in what good, proper consultation looks like, this is it. People were heard and accommodations were made.
If we look at the leaders of today in Northwest Territories, many of those leaders began their career by being inspired by leading their people in the Berger inquiry. In an article Ian Waddell wrote on this, he mentioned a few of those names. There was Nellie Cournoyea, who worked for the committee on the original people's entitlement, the Inuvialuit group. She later became the premier of Northwest Territories. Dave Porter, who used to carry equipment for the CBC crew, became a great aboriginal leader in Yukon. Jim Antoine, then the young chief of the Fort Simpson Dene became the premier of Northwest Territories. Georges Erasmus, who appeared before the inquiry for the Indian Brotherhood of the Northwest Territories, later the Dene Nation, became the head chief of the Assembly of First Nations, and on and on.
I will finish by saying that northerners, regardless of descent, overwhelmingly support land, resource and self-government agreements and the co-management processes created by them. Northerners see these processes as de-colonialism. Resource extraction is the only viable form of economic development available to northerners, and while they want strong environmental protections for any resource development, northerners want to be equal partners in making these decisions.
We support Bill C-88, and we support this process of the devolution of powers to territorial and indigenous governments They must continue to eliminate colonialism within our country.