Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today in this historic place to speak on Bill C-6, an act to provide for an integrated system of land and water management in the Mackenzie Valley, to establish certain boards for that purpose and to make consequential amendments to other acts.
As this is my maiden speech in the House, I would like to take a moment to express my gratitude to the voters of Calgary East. They are the reason I am here today and I assure them I will be their voice in this House over the next four years.
I would also like to thank the volunteers who so tirelessly worked on my campaign. Most important, I want to express my thanks to my family. My wife Neena, my daughters Priti and Kaajal, and my son Aman have stood by my side over the last few months and I realize the next four years will be trying ones but I want to express just how much they mean to me.
I would like to speak to several of the concerns that I and my party have with this bill.
Reform's main opposition to this bill evolves around the creation of yet another level of bureaucracy. In addition there are specific industry concerns that need to be addressed before this legislation comes into being. It would be much easier to iron out any wrinkles in the agreement prior to its taking effect than to introduce an amendment to legislation at a later date which only adds to the bureaucratic jungle and the backlog of legislation we currently face. Our time and energy as parliamentarians could be better spent elsewhere.
With that said, I do realize the validity of the goals of this legislation and in particular the need to implement past agreements made by the Government of Canada. It is also important to take steps to better manage and protect our lands for our children and our grandchildren.
We are dealing today with an agreement made by the Mulroney government. In 1994 under Bill C-16 a land claims agreement was made between the federal government, two First Nations bands and the Metis calling for an integrated system of land and water management to apply to the Mackenzie Valley through the creation of certain boards. The Reform Party opposed Bill C-16 due to its creation of an additional and unneeded level of bureaucracy and opposes Bill C-6 that we are debating today for the same reasons.
In 10 minutes I do not have the time to go into great detail on all the concerns. However, I would like to spend a moment or two on an issue that is of great concern to me, the establishment and management of the various boards that act as watchdogs over the use and development of the Mackenzie Valley.
These various boards will be partly comprised of individuals nominated by the First Nations involved and partly from the nominations of the territorial and federal governments. I have no real concerns over the appointment of individuals nominated from the territorial and First Nations groups involved. However, with this Liberal government's previous history of nominating its political pals from days gone by, I am concerned that this will be yet another political patronage ploy for the government.
One only needs to look at the government's appointments to the Senate since it was elected to power in 1993 to see that it would much rather appoint its political pals than the best suited individuals for the jobs. With its record I am left to wonder how the government will decide to choose who will sit on the various boards.
In particular I am concerned as to the technical expertise these individuals will bring to their positions on the board. As it deals with a very sensitive environmental area, I would ask the government to put aside its own political agenda, that is making sure all of their political pals are not put in place, and ensure that board members are put in place because they are the best individuals for the job.
Other involved parties have specific concerns with this legislation as it currently stands. The Northwest Territories Chamber of Mines, which speaks for some 600 groups and individuals, has serious concerns after the briefing it was provided by the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development at the end of September. Specifically the Northwest Territories Chamber of Mines has four main concerns.
Not only does the bill provide new obstacles for resource development, it also raises several concerns about the possibility of litigation in the future. It also leaves the various parties open to the use of deliberate delaying tactics in the periodic environmental reviews that must occur under this bill. I have already expressed my concern over the election process of board members which the chamber also raises.
In each of its concerns there are several compounded and complex issues within each area of concern. I would like to take a moment or two to outline some of the complexities of these issues and hopefully someone from the government side will help to clarify any confusion that exists.
With respect to the obstacles for resource development, there is growing concern over the rights to compensation, the powers granted to the boards regarding permits and leases, and an enforcement policy which can best be described as confused. I believe that for effective management of the land and water resources in the Mackenzie Valley area there needs to be more specific policies set in place before this bill is passed into law. We need to be proactive in setting out specific guidelines, especially in the areas of jurisdiction of the boards. We cannot be making up the rules as we go along.
Second, several questions remain unanswered concerning the unresolved issues not addressed in this bill. The participants of the briefing session that DIAND held in Yellowknife at the end of September left with the understanding that such unanswered questions would only be resolved by the courts. Our current court system is weighed down enough with litigation. It would take years before litigation arising from the flaws in this bill could be resolved. This should not and cannot happen.
With environmental concerns playing a fundamental role in how we approach matters regarding land and water management, the concern over various delaying tactics that groups can impose in ensuring that the periodic environmental reviews and assessments that must occur through the bill is real and must be dealt with. Although the government officials feel that these concerns are improbable, past experience suggests that these concerns are indeed justified.
Before I conclude, I would like to reiterate our concerns with the bill and why our party will be opposing it at second reading. There are too many unanswered questions as to how the land and water management will be structured. In my opinion the government is simply reacting to the commitments made by the past government without thinking about the environmental consequences of the bill.
We agree that the government should hold to its responsibilities even if they were made by previous governments. However, the question remains, at what cost? We should look more closely at what the consequences of this bill are.
Second reading deals with the principle of the bill. Without some major amendments at committee and at the report stage we feel that this bill will do more damage than it will do good. It will only cause a more confused bureaucracy with unclear regulations, regulated by a board or a series of boards that are appointed by the government.
Our environment should be first and foremost in our minds as we study this bill in more detail. I therefore urge my colleagues to join me in opposing this bill as it is.