Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to support Bill C-57, which seeks to amend the Federal Sustainable Development Act.
Before I begin, I would like to thank the members of the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development for their excellent work, their positive approach, and their constructive suggestions. The committee's recommendations, which are set out in the report entitled “Federal Sustainability for Future Generations”, contributed to the development of Bill C-57, particularly with regard to the adoption of the sustainable development principles. Those principles were very well received.
The amendments to the Federal Sustainable Development Act reaffirm the government's ongoing commitment to strengthening Canada's relationship with indigenous people and enforcing their rights.
Bill C-57 includes a new set of sustainable development principles, one of which is the principle whereby indigenous people must be asked to contribute because of their traditional knowledge and their unique connection with and understanding of Canada's land and water. This principle reflects the important role traditional knowledge plays in supporting sustainable development, as well as the government's commitment to reconciliation based on recognition of rights, respect, co-operation, and partnership.
However, there are certain environmental problems that disproportionately affect indigenous peoples. For example, climate change and resource development alter wildlife migration patterns and ranges. These changes have an impact on indigenous peoples' access to traditional food sources, as well as on their food security and culture.
Furthermore, persistent organic pollutants and heavy metals can migrate long distances to northern Canada. Scientists have observed high levels of these contaminants in Arctic wildlife, so there is a health risk for indigenous peoples who use these animals as a food source.
Indigenous peoples' relationship to the land is particularly crucial to the mandate of the Minister of Environment and Climate Change, because her department is responsible for preserving, protecting, and improving the quality of the natural environment. At the same time, the government recognizes that indigenous peoples were the original stewards of the air, land, and water. Over many generations, they built up a vast store of knowledge about nature. That is why it is essential to continue to establish and maintain strong, positive relationships with indigenous communities and indigenous governing bodies. In the coming years, the government will continue to make use of all that knowledge, which is going to help shape our collective environmental future.
The Government of Canada committed to renewing the crown's relationship with indigenous people based on the recognition of their rights. We believe that adapting our work based on the recognition of rights is an important opportunity for us to build a relationship of trust with our indigenous partners; enhance the integrity of policies, research, and analysis; and obtain better environmental outcomes for all Canadians.
As part of our participation in the negotiation of various treaties and other conventions, we are working with indigenous partners to preserve and protect our wildlife and environmental resources. We are striving to implement transparent and rigorous consultation processes based on respect for the right of indigenous people to determine how land and resources will be used.
The government recognizes that there is still a lot of work to be done in this regard. We need to assess our contribution to the government's reconciliation agenda, including the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, on an ongoing basis.
We must also strengthen our commitment to our indigenous partners and look at opportunities for aligning programs, policies, and departmental rules and regulations with indigenous rights and interests. Like every federal department and agency, Environment and Climate Change Canada operates on the Principles respecting the Government of Canada's relationship with Indigenous peoples, drafted by the Department of Justice to be used a guideline in shaping the work of the department in its relations with the indigenous peoples, including a rights-based approach.
At the heart of this change in culture and path to reconciliation is the recognition of the importance of our relationships with indigenous peoples. Consulting indigenous peoples is more than just a legal obligation, it is a way to make more informed decisions. Our government is determined to ensure that indigenous peoples have the opportunity to participate in, engage in, and contribute to this ongoing dialogue.
For the reasons I just mentioned, Environment and Climate Change Canada consults representative organizations and the governments of the first nations, the Inuit, and the Métis across the country. When the proposed changes were being drafted, indigenous peoples raised a few key themes. They told us that traditional indigenous knowledge is important for sustainable development and that indigenous peoples need to be heavily involved. They also mentioned that the government should implement measures that reflect respect for indigenous rights as a priority and recognize the role of governments in indigenous communities and societies.
The representative organizations and governments of the first nations, the Inuit, and the Métis also expressed the need to provide support to indigenous communities for activities such as implementing climate change adaptation plans and modernizing infrastructure. They also indicated that we need to set more ambitious objectives when it comes to the quality of drinking water for first nations.
The federal sustainable development strategy, which we introduced in October 2016, reflects what we heard. For example, we know that Canada's drinking water is among the safest in the world. In fact, 98% of Canadians have access to drinking water. However, access to drinking water remains a challenge in first nations communities living on reserve. The strategy contains a target to eliminate long-term drinking water advisories affecting public systems on reserve.
The Government of Canada is working with first nations communities to improve on-reserve water infrastructure, address drinking water advisories that are one or more years old, and prevent short-term advisories from becoming long-term ones.
All Canadians, including all levels of government, indigenous peoples, civil society, and the private sector have a role to play in advancing our sustainable development objectives and ensuring that no one is left behind. In 2016, our government undertook an extensive consultation process to review our international aid policy.
We also heard from indigenous peoples who want more say on environmental issues. Our bill proposes increasing the number of representatives of aboriginal peoples on the Sustainable Development Advisory Council from three to six, to ensure that the strategy reflects the rights and perspectives of indigenous peoples and the wide range of challenges they face across Canada.
Bill C-57 reflects what we heard from indigenous peoples. It also reflects the government's commitment to reconciliation based on the recognition of rights, respect, co-operation, and partnership.