Madam Speaker, the sanctimony of the member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley is quite something.
Before I begin my remarks today and speak to the motion by the hon. member for Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, I want to take a moment to congratulate him on the passage of his private member's bill in the House last week. Bill C-262 is a fitting tribute to, and a crowning achievement in, his lifetime of work promoting and defending the rights of indigenous peoples. It is a bill inspired in part by what he endured as a former student in the Indian residential school system, and by his determination to reconcile with those who had, as he says, put him away for 10 years. It is a bill that speaks to those without a voice, and it is a bill that reflects his own remarkable courage, perseverance, and selfless public service.
I know that the member opposite often says he was not alone in his pursuit of justice, but there is also no denying that his decades long journey exacted a heavy toll on him, not just in terms of his endless and exhausting hours of work, but in the personal sacrifices too, including precious time lost with loved ones. We are forever indebted to him for this, and all members on this side of the House are honoured to have supported his bill. In fact, our only regret about Bill C-262 is that it did not pass in the House unanimously. History will almost certainly question the bill's opponents harshly, but I will leave it to them to explain their position to Canadians.
Today, the hon. member opposite asked for our support again with a motion that builds on Bill C-262, a motion that among other things asks all members to reaffirm their support for the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and to advance a nation-to-nation approach that respects the right of indigenous peoples to self-determination. Our government is readily willing to do both, as we have many times before. We share much in common with the hon. member, more perhaps than he may even realize, but I will get to more of that later.
Where we differ is on the Trans Mountain expansion pipeline. Our government's decision to approve the $7.4-billion project, as well as our announcement last week to secure the existing pipeline and ensure that its expansion proceeds, has never, ever been about choosing sides or putting one province ahead of another, or one indigenous community before another. Instead, it has always been about Canada's interest. That includes the rights of all Canadians and the rights of indigenous peoples. It is our responsibility and within our jurisdiction to work in close partnerships with provinces and indigenous peoples, to consult and engage as the crown, and to act in the national interest to ensure the stability and growth of the Canadians economy, and to get our resources to market sustainably and competitively.
The TMX pipeline is part of that. It is in Canada's national interest as a result of the most in-depth indigenous consultations ever done in this country on a project; as a result of a significant number of letters and submissions from the Canadian public; and also because of the thousands of good, well-paying jobs it will create, the better prices it will ensure for Canadian oil, and the increased government revenues at all levels that will follow. All the while, our government is making unprecedented investments to enhance environmental protection and support indigenous participation.
To understand all of this and how we have arrived at where we are today, it is helpful to look back at where we started. From the moment our government was sworn into office, we made it clear that there is no relationship more important to Canada than the one with indigenous peoples. We have heard the Prime Minister say that many times in the House and elsewhere. He wrote it in the mandate letters of every federal cabinet minister, and he made it a central pillar of our government's vision for this clean growth century, starting with the Speech from the Throne, which was delivered exactly two and a half years ago today.
I want to read an excerpt from the throne speech so that Canadians can appreciate how it has guided our every action over the past 30 months. It reads:
Because it is both the right thing to do and a certain path to economic growth, the Government will undertake to renew, nation-to-nation, the relationship between Canada and Indigenous peoples, one based on recognition of rights, respect, co-operation and partnership.
It is because of that perspective that we fully endorse the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and why we are acting on the calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and why the Prime Minister appointed a working group of ministers last year to review all laws, policies, and operational practices related to indigenous peoples.
In short, our government's efforts are cut from the same cloth as the hon. member's Bill C-262, and they go even further in ensuring that the crown is meeting its constitutional obligations regarding aboriginal and treaty rights. We are adhering to international human rights standards, including the UN declaration. We are supporting the implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's calls to action and we are doing all of these things in collaboration with indigenous peoples.
The result is that this past February the Prime Minister announced a historic new approach for renewing the relationships between Canada and first nations, Inuit, and Métis people, one that underscores that true reconciliation must start with the recognition and implementation of indigenous rights. Our government is doing this by developing a new recognition and implementation of rights framework, a framework that is being co-developed through national engagement to rebuild indigenous governments and nations and to support a path toward self-determination.
One of our government's earliest expressions of this new approach was the introduction of Bill C-69, which transforms the way Canada reviews major new resource projects by co-developing with indigenous partners a direct and permanent role in impact assessment and regulatory process from beginning to end, which brings me back to the Trans Mountain expansion project.
One of the first things our government did in coming to office was to launch a new interim approach to environmental assessments and regulatory reviews in Canada, an approach based on five guiding principles that included more meaningful consultation with indigenous peoples and explicit inclusion of indigenous knowledge. Then, to enable even more voices to be heard, the Minister of Natural Resources appointed a special ministerial panel to travel up and down the length of the proposed pipeline's route, holding additional hearings beyond the National Energy Board's own regulatory review.
We heard through our engagements with indigenous peoples and non-indigenous Canadians in Alberta and British Columbia and across Canada that the project is in the national interest, that the jobs and revenue are needed, and that the risks can be mitigated. However, we also heard that we needed to manage the risks of the project very closely, which is another reason why we launched our country's single largest investment to protect Canada's oceans, marine life, and coastal communities, a $1.5 billion investment that will strengthen the eyes and ears of our coastlines, the longest in the world.
It will enhance our response capabilities in the unlikely event of a spill and ensure that coastal and indigenous communities are at the forefront of development and implementation of the plan.
It is also why we invested in and co-developed an indigenous advisory monitoring committee for the TMX pipeline, the first committee of its kind in Canada to help oversee the safety of a major energy project through its entire life cycle. Indigenous participation in this advisory and monitoring committee includes representatives that both support and oppose the project. This partnership and diversity of views is essential to advance our shared goals of safety and protection of the environment. As a result of these efforts, indigenous voices will be at the forefront, their counsel sought, their knowledge valued, and their rights protected. It is the beginning of a new way of managing resources.
As Chief Ernie Crey of the Cheam First Nation has said of the advisory and monitoring committee: “Indigenous people won't be on the outside looking in. We'll be at the table and on site, to protect our land and our water.” He is right.
The Prime Minister has said that the true measure of any relationship is not whether we all agree, but how we move forward when we do not agree. That is where our focus is.
When our government approved the TMX pipeline, we knew there would be Canadians who would disagree vocally and sometimes vehemently. That is the nature of a healthy and fully functioning democracy. Major energy projects can be controversial. They can divide political parties, as we have witnessed with the Alberta and British Columbia provincial governments who share the same political stripe. These projects can also divide indigenous communities that hold aboriginal and treaty rights protected under our Constitution. Look at those who support and those who oppose this project. There are Canadians who feel so deeply about these things that they will protest in the street and get themselves arrested, as two members of Parliament already have. This right to protest is a cherished Canadian liberty. We live under the rule of law.
I will now return to where I began in my remarks. I opened by commending the hon. member opposite for the passage of his bill, Bill C-262, and I suggested that he shares more common ground with our government than he may realize. There is a very good reason for believing that. It is because of something he said in February when he appeared before the Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs to discuss his private member's bill. At that time, the member for Pontiac asked the hon. member opposite if he could articulate any distinction between free, prior, and informed consent, and a veto. I will quote the hon member for Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou at length because, as a lawyer, he displayed his great grasp of the law. The hon. member said:
I think the distinction is an important one and we need to understand that in this country. The right to free, prior, and informed consent, like all human rights, not just the human rights of indigenous peoples, is a relative right. You need to balance that right with the rights and interests of others, which veto does not do. Veto is an absolute thing, and I don't think our court system, constitutional or otherwise, would ever take that kind of view. That's not how our Canadian legal system works and that's not how the international law system works either.
The member's explanation is one of the best I have every heard. It is also consistent with one of the most frequently cited interpretations of what free, prior, and informed consent means, as developed by the former UN Special Rapporteur, James Anaya. Mr. Anaya said that consent “should not be regarded as according indigenous peoples a general 'veto power' over decisions that my affect them”. Instead, the overarching objective of free, prior, and informed consent is that all parties work together in good faith to make every effort toward mutually acceptable arrangements, thereby allowing indigenous people to “genuinely influence the decision-making process.”
This is the approach our government took in reaching its decision to approve the Trans Mountain expansion pipeline.
The member opposite is correct in noting that there are indigenous communities that oppose the project, including six indigenous groups that are exercising their rights in court. There are also 43 rights-bearing indigenous communities along the length of the proposed expansion route who have signed mutual benefit agreements that will create real opportunities in those communities, 32 of which have submitted letters of support. These signified partnership agreements reached between the company and communities go beyond the government's consultation and beyond the 157 conditions of the project that must be in place before operation.
In addition, the Minister of Finance has noted that since we announced our decision to purchase the existing Trans Mountain pipeline and proceed with its expansion, many investors have already expressed interest in the project, including indigenous groups.
Overriding the consent of those indigenous peoples who support the project or the majority of Canadians who are also in favour of its proceeding is not the solution here, but the contrary. It would go against the intent and spirit of the hon. member's motion.
The goal of free, prior, and informed consent is to ensure a holistic approach to interests through transparent processes aimed at building consensus.
It is the same goal at the heart of our current legislation to modernize Canada's environmental assessments and regulatory reviews. It highlights the importance of everyone in this House to support developing a recognition and implementation of indigenous rights framework that makes enshrining the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples real and meaningful, and that will fully support indigenous peoples in their path to self-determination.
How we manage and develop our national resources speaks to who we are as Canadians and the values that define us. Decisions like these are not always easy, popular, or indeed straightforward. I know the member opposite understands that as well as anyone. He has dedicated his life to advancing reconciliation through inclusive and sustainable resource development. We share similar visions; we have the same goals.
While I cannot support the member's motion as it is worded today, I believe we are all well begun with better rules to build a better Canada, one that our children can inherit with pride and build with confidence.