Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today in support of a bill that would make a positive difference in the relationship between indigenous peoples and the Crown. In starting my speech, I acknowledge that I stand here on traditional unceded Algonquin territory.
Today we are holding a second reading debate on Bill C-88, an act to amend the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act and the Canada Petroleum Resources Act. I will use the time allotted to me to speak about the amendments to both of these and to speak a bit about the issue of Arctic offshore oil exploration.
First, I want to start with some context around the Mackenzie Valley. To understand the mess that we are fixing right now, one has to rewind the clock, back to the 1970s.
In 1974, the federal government, under the Right Hon. Pierre Elliott Trudeau, appointed Justice Thomas Berger of the Supreme Court of British Columbia to hold hearings into a proposed natural gas pipeline down the Mackenzie Valley.
At that time, the Dene and the Inuvialuit were asserting their claims to these traditional lands. The Berger Inquiry broke with tradition by hearing evidence, offered not merely by the pipeline companies but also by residents in more than 30 small communities in the Northwest Territories.
The Berger Inquiry heard from over 1,000 indigenous people in seven languages and over 500 southern voices were there as well to give their opinions. The process was groundbreaking. The federal government funded research by indigenous, environmental and community groups. Justice Berger enabled media participation that brought Canadians from far and wide, from coast to coast to coast, into the proceeding.
In May 1977, Berger recommended that, for environmental reasons, no pipeline should ever be built along the northern coastal plains. Although Berger concluded that an environmentally sound pipeline could be built through the Mackenzie Valley, he urged a 10-year moratorium on pipeline construction in the region to allow time to settle indigenous land claims. Ottawa, the federal government, endorsed his recommendations.
This concluded in the delaying of any construction on the pipeline in the Mackenzie Valley and was seen as a turning point in indigenous Canadian relations. In amassing over 40,000 pages of documentation, it also provided a unique and comprehensive window into the Dene and Inuvialuit political resurgence of the 1970s. There would be no turning back on consultations with indigenous people after this inquiry; the precedent was set.
Public sympathy and interest in both indigenous and environmental concerns were heightened as a result of the Berger Inquiry. It was a watershed event for reconciliation. It allowed first nations to speak about their history, their issues related to the land, their culture and the impacts that the southern man's projects would have on their communities.
What we have learned from the Berger Inquiry of the 1970s is that when we consult with indigenous people, we take a first step toward our commitment to reconciliation. We learned lessons that ultimately led to regional land claims agreements and the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act of 1998.
The 1998 Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act put in place an integrated system for the co-management of the land and waters in the Mackenzie Valley in the Northwest Territories. This act established two boards with jurisdiction over the entire valley, namely the Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board and the Mackenzie Valley Environmental Impact Review Board.
Three regional land and water boards were created for the Gwich'in settlement area, the Sahtu settlement area and the Tlicho settlement area, pursuant to the Gwich'in, the Sahtu Dene and Metis and the Tlicho land claim agreements, which conferred on these boards the responsibility for issuing land use permits and water licensing.
Fast forward to 2014, when the Harper administration passed the Northwest Territories Devolution Act, it consolidated four indigenous regulatory boards into one, without their agreement, and in so doing, stifled the voices of indigenous people. It flew in the face of lessons learned through the Berger Inquiry, where we learned of the importance of indigenous people's voices, of incorporating indigenous communities in governance processes.
That is why our government's Bill C-88 is so important. We are fixing the mess of the previous Harper administration.
That is why our government's bill, Bill C-88, is so important. We are fixing the mess of the Harper administration.
The Northwest Territories Devolution Act, the infamous Bill C-15 introduced by the Harper government, transferred land and water management to the Government of the Northwest Territories and amended three existing acts, including the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act. It included the restructuring of the land and water boards and the elimination of regional boards.
The Tlicho government was totally against those changes and filed a statement of claim before the Supreme Court of the Northwest Territories, stating that the Harper government had no right to unilaterally abolish the Wek'èezhìi Land and Water Board because such action would go against its land claims agreement and right to self-government. It added that consultation had been inadequate and that the act violated constitutional promises made to that first nation.
The Tlicho government and Sahtu Secretariat Incorporated sought injunctions in July 2014 and February 2015 respectively in order to maintain their respective water boards until the major issues in their statements could be resolved.
I will cite the court decision on the injunction, because it is just so damning and clearly indicates why we had to come and clean up the mess. It says:
The Tlicho government has raised a reasonable possibility that Canada has overstepped the bounds of what it is permitted to do under the Tlicho Agreement. ...there is a reasonable likelihood the Tlicho Government will suffer...irreparable losses...as a result of a breach of a constitutionally protected right. ...irreparable harm could result from the breach of a constitutionally protected right. This is particularly so where the legislation...will have the effect of dismantling and disrupting existing infrastructure which will then have to be rebuilt.
The court granted an injunction suspending the application of subsection 253(2) of the Northwest Territories Devolution Act, which would have brought into effect the provisions related to the restructuring and other regulatory amendments.
In November 2015, the newly appointed Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, began discussions with indigenous organizations and governments in the Northwest Territories in order to make the legislative changes needed to resolve this issue. The amendments to the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act are the result of those discussions and discussions with other regional stakeholders.
We have learned from the past that an effective regulatory body and thorough consultation processes are necessary to consider the needs of those directly impacted by these projects. Transparent and thorough consultation also promotes sound decision-making, and it ultimately will help create better projects that will deliver more benefits to regional communities and to the workers.
This is why Bill C-88 seeks to consult with rights holders and northern indigenous governments when it comes to oil and gas projects in the northern offshore, by making consequential amendments to the Canada Petroleum Resources Act, or CPRA.
I will provide some context on the history of Canada's Arctic offshore oil and gas issue. Oil spills in offshore regions across the world have underlined the importance of a precautionary approach when operating in fragile marine ecological environments. The BP blowout in the Gulf of Mexico put Canada on alert, and Arctic offshore as a possibility was, and still is, seen in that light. We are aware of the vulnerabilities of any marine ecosystem to a potential blowout, and this is especially true for the unique and fragile marine ecology of the Beaufort Sea.
Canadians can be proud that our Liberal government collaborated with the Obama administration to establish a moratorium on Arctic offshore drilling and the issuance of more licences on the basis of the precautionary principle and of science and traditional knowledge.
We know that oil and gas exploration has been part of the northwest economy for many years, so much so that it is part of the 1984 Inuvialuit Final Agreement and the 1993 Nunavut Land Claims Agreement. However, at the same time, we know that northerners and southerners, indigenous and non-indigenous peoples, and all Canadians can agree that a catastrophic blowout in the deep water of the Beaufort Sea could cripple the Inuvialuit way of living and their future prospects. This is another reason this bill is important.