Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time this afternoon with the member for Winnipeg Centre, but first let me acknowledge that we are here on the traditional unceded territory of the Algonquin people.
The proposed legislation now before us would modernize the regulatory regime that governs resource development in the Northwest Territories.
The central goal of Canada's approach to regulating resource development in the north has been to realize a project's full potential value while minimizing and mitigating any negative environmental, social and economic impacts. To achieve this goal, regulatory regimes across Canada include measures to assess proposed projects and to track the progress and performance of approved projects.
Environmental impact is a key consideration throughout all phases. In general, and particularly in the north, environmental impact is defined as any effect on land, water, air or any other component of the environment, as well as on wildlife harvesting.
The assessment includes any effect on the social and cultural environment or on heritage resources.
The northern regime has long been ahead of the southern environmental assessment regime in this respect. In the north, regulatory regimes are notably different from those in the rest of Canada, for several reasons. The most significant reason is that many northern indigenous people have concluded land claim agreements with the Government of Canada, and these agreements have created a robust system through which indigenous governments have a meaningful role in processes to review and license proposed resource development projects, have representation on boards, and have a strong voice in the process from the beginning to the end. This is reconciliation in action.
The Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act is part of the legal framework for resource development in the north. The act authorizes a unique regulatory regime that references a series of comprehensive land claim and self-government agreements with indigenous groups, including the Gwich'in, Sahtu Dene and Tlicho.
The regime features an integrated and coordinated system of boards and ensures indigenous representation. The result is co-management. The Government of Canada, the Government of the Northwest Territories and indigenous governments all participate in reviews of and final decisions about proposed projects.
In recent decades, the north has experienced unprecedented change, and the pace of change continues to accelerate. Territorial governments have acquired new authorities under devolution, for example, and diamond mining has generated billions of dollars in revenues and created thousands of jobs. As well, the impacts of climate change have been greater in the north and have accelerated more quickly there than anywhere else in the world. Given these realities, the regulatory regime governing resource development in the north must evolve to keep pace, and this is the main impetus for Bill C-88.
About eight years ago, the Government of Canada began a process to modernize the regulatory regime at the same time as it moved to devolve greater authorities to the Northwest Territories. In 2014, Canada enacted the Northwest Territories Devolution Act. Along with authorizing devolution, this act also made important changes to the regulatory regime. One of these changes was the amalgamation of four existing boards into a single entity, the Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board.
Almost immediately, the Tlicho government and Sahtu Secretariat Incorporated launched court actions against Canada. The lawsuits claimed that amalgamation violated land claim agreements. The Supreme Court of the Northwest Territories granted an injunction, which effectively halted amalgamation and prevented the implementation of several elements of the regulatory regime. Bill C-88 proposes to repeal amalgamation, which would resolve the litigation and support Canada's commitment to reconciliation with indigenous peoples.
Bill C-88 would also authorize a series of policy elements that the court injunction also blocked. These elements include development certificates and an enforcement scheme for part 5 of the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act. They also include regional studies, extensions of the terms of board members, regulation-making authorities related to consultations, a 10-day pause in the environmental impact assessment process, and a requirement to give proper notice of government inspections of Gwich'in- and Sahtu-owned land.
Together the changes proposed in the legislation now before us would significantly strengthen the regulatory regime in the north. They would ensure that the assessment of environmental impacts would remain paramount in both the review of proposed projects and the monitoring of approved projects. The changes would also ensure that any contravention of a regulation could result in a stiff penalty, such as a large fine, and possibly, incarceration. Bill C-88 would also ensure that indigenous governments would continue to participate meaningfully in reviews of and decisions about development projects in the north.
Another aspect of Bill C-88 aims to further strengthen environmental protection in the Arctic through the Canada Petroleum Resources Act. As my hon. colleagues can appreciate, Canada's Arctic features some of the most fragile ecosystems in the world. Two years ago, the Prime Minister committed to stepping up Canada's efforts to protect Arctic ecosystems. In particular, he called for a ban on any new Arctic offshore resource exploration and extraction. Rather than set a deadline for the moratorium, the Government of Canada committed to reviewing it every five years. The review will focus on an assessment of the latest climate and marine sciences.
Along with imposing a moratorium, the Government of Canada began a series of consultations with territorial and northern indigenous governments and the holders of offshore oil and gas rights in Arctic waters to discuss their interests. A central focus of these consultations was how best to balance environmental and economic concerns and how to protect the offshore environment while pursuing safe, responsible activities that create jobs and economic opportunities in northern indigenous economies. The result of these consultations are the proposed amendments before us in Bill C-88.
First, to complement the moratorium on new licences, the amendments would allow the Government of Canada to ban any oil and gas exploration or development activities under 11 existing exploration and significant discovery licences in the Beaufort Sea.
The amendments would also fix a problem that came to light regarding the plan for a science-based review every five years. Some oil and gas rights in the Arctic offshore will begin to expire before the completion of the next review period. With a ban on activity in the Arctic offshore, these rights suddenly lost all their value. The discussions identified a solution, that being a freeze on the terms of existing rights for the duration of the moratorium. Bill C-88 would authorize this solution.
Canada's regulatory regime is among the best in the world, because it continually seeks to strike an appropriate balance between economic, environmental and social concerns. Key to this ability is the careful and thorough assessment of potential project impacts. An effective regulatory regime makes it possible to foster both economic activity and environmental protection.
The legislation now before us aims to achieve this goal in the north, and I urge my hon. colleagues to endorse Bill C-88 at second reading.