That, in the opinion of the House, the federal government, in exercising its jurisdiction, should submit natural resource development projects to a broader consultation with First Nations and citizens in communities and urban areas affected by the establishment of such activities, and that public willingness should be a criterion in obtaining a development permit to the same degree as impacts on human health, ecosystem maintenance, employment and economic development.
Mr. Speaker, the motion that will be debated in the House is the culmination of the environmental citizenship initiative that began in Manicouagan in 2009.
Why 2009? That is the year I became active in environmental issues after my band council, where I was legal counsel, received a visit from a Romanian engineer who had come to inform us that a company was prospecting for uranium on our land. The people on my band council were quite amazed to learn about it because no one had been informed. Ultimately, there was an outcry about this situation.
Thousands of citizens—about 2,000— marched in the streets of Sept-Îles in the middle of the winter, to speak out against these activities. They were protesting the lack of transparency and the secrecy surrounding the activities, rather than the mining itself, although the mining, even at the exploratory stage, could cause problems for the water tables and the Moisie River watershed, which is nearby.
The public spoke out against this mainly because there was a lack of transparency and of will. An economic entity had acted in secret.
The company's stock price plummeted after this protest. Ultimately, the company fled the Côte-Nord, and its shares were decimated.
Other areas in the north have supported the claims that the public should be involved in the decision-making process associated with industrial projects. Grassroots mobilization is now significant and can be assessed due to the multiplicity of action-based measures and tools put in place by citizen advocacy groups. When I talk about citizen action, I will be contrasting it with the significant financial clout of industry players, such as the major industrial lobbies.
For example, three days ago a document surfaced. It was from a group that was hired by TransCanada as part of the energy east project. The document revealed that the industry players in 2014 are not even hiding it anymore and are prepared to put it on paper: their desire to muzzle the public is so strong that they are willing to pay up to $7.75 an hour for people to speak out publicly against those who are questioning the legitimacy of the project and how it will impact the environment.
The industry players in 2014 are prepared to invest money in these tactics rather than working together, trying to listen to the public's claims and coming to an agreement. In fact, they operate behind closed doors and are prepared to spend serious money. We see the disparity and the lack of balance here, since the public has little financial clout. Big business is willing to pay $7.75 an hour, which opens Pandora's box, so to speak. In short, we can see that there is a serious imbalance of power.
The only tool people have left is mobilization. In the past, that particular tool has not been very good for investment. In 2009, Terra Ventures' share price dropped dramatically and ended up being worth nothing, and the company had to leave the region because it did not start by including people.
I feel that citizen participation is indispensable. Genuine listening and paying attention are critical to securing public willingness, which is one of the main points of this motion. Citizens must be involved from the earliest stages of any given initiative. If citizens are not involved, eventually they will get up in arms, and that is bad for the industry and the economy in general.
The fundamental basis of all these demands is noble indeed. Citizens are entitled to expect to be more involved in processes related to natural resource extraction undertakings.
As I said, in 2009, a public education campaign about the Lac Kachiwiss project ultimately led to mobilization. Now, in 2014, public participation has increased dramatically and is not happening just in Sept-Îles or on the North Shore. It is happening across Canada.
In fact, that is what the TransCanada report indicated. In Quebec, activism on environmental issues is going strong, and there are more ecologists. Is that a bad thing? Time will tell. Still, more and more people are mobilizing about this.
That is why industry players now have to pay through the nose to hire the services of big communications firms. I have a message for National, the firm that is currently operating just outside Sept-Îles: we are keeping an eye on you and the Arnaud Mine, given that the same modus operandi is being used on the north shore. The local people are on to you.
The public awareness raising that began in 2009 has paid off because still in 2014, we are seeing incredible mobilization and citizen involvement on the north shore. We have even been cited as a national role model. It is for the common good, after all.
The message to industry players that has been developed over the years is that actively seeking public approval for proposed mining activities is a guarantee of a stable climate that is conducive to investment, unlike the view the government takes.
The Conservatives and successive governments have seen citizen engagement as an obstacle to Canada's economic growth. That is where they err in fact and in law, since citizen engagement is a guarantee of stability and good for the economy and investment. If people are involved from the early stages of a given initiative, this greatly diminishes the chances that they will end up demonstrating in the streets to make their voices heard, sometimes more assertively than not. When 2,000 people are outside when it is –25 degrees Celsius, with small children, dogs and placards in tow, that is not good for investment or the country's international reputation.
Rather than investing in communication programs designed to repress people, industry players would be much better off working in a truly inclusive manner. That does not mean just saying on paper that they held consultations, when people's concerns have not been taken into account, the public really has only secondary influence, and industry players are trying to sideline people and pit community groups against each other.
That is what is happening right now in Sept-Îles with National, the firm I mentioned earlier. The industry behind this is creating its own community groups and then pitting them against existing groups. Rather than dealing with the situation directly and involving people who may have dissenting opinions, the industry is trying to pit other community groups against them so that these matters are dealt with in the streets. That is not a very progressive idea.
Given that people have leverage when it comes to natural resource extraction initiatives, it was important for me to place the concept of the expression of public willingness in the context of decision making. The public should be involved when economic incentives and environmental impacts are being examined.
Implementing natural resource extraction initiatives has an effect on economic development and the environment. In the future, the best approach would be to hold some sort of plebiscite to get the public's approval and make sure that people support the project. That is just as important as any other social, economic or environmental considerations. People need to feel as though they are involved and their opinions are taken into account.
When I was writing my notes and the motion, I felt it was crucial to stay away from older concepts such as sustainable development and social accessibility. It is sad, but these concepts have been recycled and are now trademarked. That is why I chose instead to use the concept of the expression of public willingness.
When I eat my cereal in the morning, it says “sustainable development” on the box. It has become a trademark. The industry has appropriated these concepts and they are now devoid of all meaning. Claims are being made left and right. There are sustainable development experts in 2014. It means nothing now, and people are not stupid. That is why I put forward this new concept of the expression of public willingness.
How long will it take for the industry to recycle that concept? That is what I am asking. I know one thing for certain, and that is that it is very clear: expression of public willingness, public approval and, finally, acceptability. This is where true social acceptability lies. A plebiscite must be held to determine whether the public really agrees with the proposed idea and initiative.
When I was writing this motion, I tried to distance myself from worn-out social and environmental concepts in order to offer a completely innovative vision for the Canadian people who are looking for another voice in Parliament.
In a certain way, the public is rejecting the government's initiatives. Cynicism has seeped into society, partly because of how essential and defining concepts, such as sustainable development, have become watered down. It started out as a noble concept. It is still somewhat noble today, but it has been overused, especially since our environmental safeguards have been ignored and gutted. Take, for example, the Navigation Protection Act. The legislation included environmental protection, but it was gutted and the only tool available to people now is mobilization.
Once again, there is the misconception that public mobilization and engagement are a barrier to economic growth. Yes, that is how it is in 2014. Indeed, when people take to the streets with signs, that attracts attention. The media pay attention, and that influences stock prices and value. If companies invested as much in including people as they are currently investing in suppressing public opinion, we would not have the level of public outcry or the troubling situation that we have right now.
The disillusionment and the gradual rejection of government initiatives in this country by a growing segment of the population—not only in Quebec, but across Canada, contrary to what the TransCanada communication plan indicated—are closely tied to feelings of powerlessness regarding public protection measures that have proven to be meaningless. We must face the facts: public powers, under constant pressure from industry money, have managed to ignore social and environmental public protection mechanisms for the most part.
For members' information, over the past three years, mining lobbyists have come to see me six times at my office. I am a nice enough person and I will not show them the door. I work with them, but they know that I am not really in favour of the proposed measures. They even had the audacity to show up with two lawyers who took notes and an army of legal experts and stakeholders. The last time they came, I did not have enough room in my office to offer all of them a seat. Now they come in groups of six. I continue to open my door. I cannot refuse. The mining industry is important to Manicouagan. We can see where things stand with someone who is not really in favour of the measures being proposed in 2014. Imagine someone who is open to what they are proposing; they must always be in their office. These people have rented an office not far from Parliament. They are close by and they are ever-present on Parliament Hill. If they came to my office six times, I can hardly imagine what it must be like for the Conservatives. They must have a red phone, like Batman, to have a direct line to them. I submit this to you.
I talked about the constant pressure from big industrial lobby groups. I think one thing should be perfectly clear to those who oppose this idea and to my colleagues in the House: citizen involvement is a guarantee of stability. It is good for the market. The parties need to involve citizens, not disingenuously say that they are being consulted. Citizens' concerns and goals must be genuinely taken into account. Stability flows from a genuine desire to include people. They are on the wrong track now. Suppressing public opinion is the wrong way to go, and TransCanada's communication document was a bad idea. There really has to be a desire to include people.
I submit this respectfully.