That, in the opinion of this House, the government should become actively involved in the Voisey's Bay nickel project, specifically to speed up the settling of native land claims and to expedite the completion of all environmental studies.
Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague the member for Compton—Stanstead for seconding my motion. Obviously the Voisey's Bay nickel find in Labrador of major importance. We have taken this time today to bring it to the attention of the House to see if we can exert some influence on the Government of Canada in particular and the Government of Newfoundland as well to expedite this process.
I am pleased to introduce discussion today on this proposed development of the rich nickel deposits at Voisey's Bay in my home province of Newfoundland and Labrador. Members will note that my motion was originally filed exactly 19 months ago today.
During this period a series of developments have taken place which we hope can bring us closer to the approvals required for this project to proceed and for the maximum benefits to be realized for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador and of course for Canada. But it is symptomatic of our sometimes cumbersome system and the red tape that we create that even now questions remain about whether positive economic activity will be allowed to proceed.
Despite the fact that my Motion No. 194 was submitted over a year and a half ago, the questions it addresses remain pertinent and topical. Developments on this file are ongoing and include the presentation of the environmental assessment panel's report to government on the first day of this month, the associated commentary from Inco representatives at the company's annual general meeting held yesterday, and ongoing consultations with aboriginal groups.
I fully understand that there are important questions which must be answered before a mining operation of this magnitude can be undertaken. In this case the most important questions include the project's impact on the environment, the status of aboriginal land claims and the revenue sharing arrangements with the provincial government in particular.
At the same time I feel it must be pointed out that those who propose to develop this rich natural resource, thereby creating employment and generating a new revenue source for our government, have to date lived up to their environmental responsibilities. Inco has acted in good faith on the environmental assessment process and invested considerable time and resources to co-operate fully with the panel set up to review the various aspects of this project.
There are still some outstanding issues on the questions of processing and refining. I am in full agreement with the province's position with regard to the requirement for a smelter and refinery in Argentia, Newfoundland. Every Newfoundlander agrees that the export of these raw materials from our province would be absolutely devastating to our economy. We are sticking to our guns. We are, all of us together in Newfoundland and Labrador, saying to Incoand its shareholders that there must be a refinery and smelter in Newfoundland if there is to be a mine site.
The spirit of my motion is to call on the Government of Canada to play a lead co-ordinating role in ensuring that while the important environmental and land claims issues are addressed, government itself does not become an impediment to progress.
I would like to share with my colleagues the fact that new discoveries of nickel have been found in Australia and other places in the world. Despite the fact that these deposits were found after the discovery in Voisey's Bay, the Australian projects in particular have in that time been designed, duly approved, developed, fully constructed and are now producing nickel.
The message is not complicated. The message is simply let us not allow the machinery of government itself to constitute a barrier to economic activity. Let us examine the advice carefully prepared through the work of the environmental assessment panel. Let us consult with the aboriginal people who hold land claims in the area. But let us do so in an expeditious manner so that when we know these valid considerations have been satisfied, we do not stand in the way or indeed cause even further delays.
The proposed Voisey's Bay development has, since its inception, been faced with a series of obstacles to overcome. I do not want to leave any member of the House with the impression that the concerns that lie behind some of these delays are not valid or important. Nobody that I know of is suggesting that such a project would ever be undertaken without due regard for the environment and without close consultation with the aboriginal groups in the area. But we must adopt a reasonable approach. We must not be blind to the fact that our people suffer when the wheels of government turn so slowly that the viability of a significant development project is put in jeopardy.
There are some obvious practical matters to be taken into consideration with regard to the timing of the government decision and its impact on the Voisey's Bay development potential. One of these is the very short construction season available in Labrador.
Because of the length and severity of the winter in the Labrador climate, construction can only be carried out during a relatively brief window of time every year. As a consequence of this, a delay of, let us say, three months in the government's decision making does not mean a delay of only three months in the start of construction. If the government were to wait until the end of this summer before giving its approval for the Voisey's Bay project to go ahead, the whole development would remain dormant, on ice, pardon the turn of phrase, until the weather warmed up some time in the year 2000 so the project could begin. A three month delay in decision makingmeans more than a full year's delay in construction.
I know that all members of the House are familiar with the difficulties experienced by the province of Newfoundland and Labrador in adjusting from the collapse of the northern cod fishery that drove our economy for centuries. I and my colleagues in the Progressive Conservative caucus have identified the problems created by the fisheries crisis, emphasized the need for new avenues of economic growth and made constructive proposals to that end.
The problems are real and they have a human face. I see it firsthand on a regular basis. Many of the people affected are my constituents and still others have been forced from a lack of economic opportunity to leave our province. Can members present in the Chamber imagine that 30,000 Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have been forced to leave Newfoundland in the last three years alone?
The area of Placentia and Argentia for example is in my federal riding of St. John's West. The closure of the former American military base in Argentia dealt a significant blow to the economy of that whole area of Placentia Bay. Since the Americans' departure, the Canadian government has invested in the neighbourhood of $100 million in environmental remediation, cleaning up the toxic waste and making the area suitable for new industrial and commercial development.
One of those new industrial commercial developments is the Voisey's Bay smelter and refinery. Much of the land has been put on reserve for this project and indeed, we have probably lost some other business activity in the area because we are waiting for this smelter and refinery to happen.
The proponents of the Voisey's Bay project have proposed a smelting and refining facility for the Argentia area that will provide the much needed economic boost to the local economy. I take my responsibility to the people of this area very seriously. I am here as their elected representative to fight to make sure that the smelting and refining facility does become a reality in Argentia. We have a responsibility to seize every opportunity that will generate new activity in the economy.
I would like to share with hon. members some information that illustrates the importance of new economic development in Newfoundland and Labrador.
According to the most recent labour force survey figures from Statistics Canada, unemployment in the province of Newfoundland stands at an intolerable 17.6%, more than twice the national average of 7.8%. The rate is three times that of Alberta with 5.8%, or Manitoba with 5.4% unemployed. That is good news for the people of those provinces and I congratulate the governments of Alberta, Manitoba and certainly Ontario for creating an environment in which economic activity is encouraged.
Former U.S. President John F. Kennedy once said that a rising tide floats all boats. I say to members that whatever positive signs may be evident in some parts of the country, Newfoundland and Labrador cannot afford to have a lethargic government act as an economic anchor.
Third party analysts agree that Newfoundland and Labrador will experience slower growth in 1999-2000 than it did last year. Even with developments in new industries outside the province's traditional economic backbone, the fishery, estimates are that growth in Newfoundland and Labrador next year will be only one-half of what it was last year. Surely it must be obvious that the last thing we would want to do is delay unnecessarily the start-up of a new development that will benefit the country, the province and its people.
Another point I would like to make, lest I be accused by some of overstating the impact of the Voisey's Bay project, is that I realize this development in itself is not a panacea for all of our problems. We all know that the days of seeking the magic megaproject solution that can stand alone and satisfy all of our economic needs are long past. This has much more to do with getting the fundamentals right.
In getting the fundamentals right, Newfoundland and Labrador exports more raw material per capita than any other province in Canada. Ontario as an example exports the least raw material per capita. There is an obvious correlation between the amount of raw materials we export and the unemployment rate. If rawmaterials are used wisely, we will get a much lower unemployment rate.
We have an opportunity for an important new addition to the economy of Newfoundland and Labrador. Moving forward with the project will be helpful. Failure to do so, failure to take full advantage of our natural resources when the opportunity to develop them presents itself, would be a clear indication that we are a long way from being able to effectively build a new economy in the absence of a viable commercial cod fishery.
I ask my colleagues in this House to join with me in making a strong statement calling on the federal government to assume a leadership role not only in seeing that the necessary criteria are satisfied but also in co-ordinating negotiations among all the stakeholders. Let us work to ensure that this project, including the Mill/mine in Labrador and the smelting and refining facilities in Argentia, can proceed without further delays for the benefit of all Newfoundlanders and indeed for all Canadians.