Hon. Bernard Valcourt (Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, CPC)
moved that Bill S-6, An Act to amend the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act and the Nunavut Waters and Nunavut Surface Rights Tribunal Act, be read the third time and passed.
Mr. Speaker, in 2007, this government launched a comprehensive northern strategy focused on sovereignty, the environment, the economy, and governance. Under the leadership of this Prime Minister, for the past nine years we have been providing northerners with the tools they need to take advantage of the vast natural resources at their disposal in an environmentally sustainable manner. By doing so, we are creating jobs and economic opportunities for northerners, ensuring the long-term prosperity of the north for generations to come.
Members can take great satisfaction from our progress in advancing the northern strategy in recent years thanks to extensive federal infrastructure investments, whether it be the creation of the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency under the able leadership of the Minister of the Environment, the devolution of the Northwest Territories, the Canadian High Arctic Research Station in the eastern Arctic, the Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk highway, Canada's leadership on the Arctic Council, or the extension of protected land and marine areas, and the list goes on.
The bill before us today, Bill S-6, is the next example of how we are delivering on our northern strategy. This bill will complete the modernization of regulatory regimes in the north by bringing Yukon and Nunavut's regulatory regimes up to speed and on par with other Canadian jurisdictions.
This legislative work was started in 2013 with the Northern Jobs and Growth Act and completed in the Northwest Territories last year with the Northwest Territories Devolution Act. Now it is time to finish what we have started.
The proposed amendments to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-Economic Assessment Act and the Nunavut Waters and Nunavut Surface Rights Tribunal Act are designed to make the regulatory systems in Yukon and Nunavut more efficient and effective, while ensuring sound environmental stewardship.
This is what Yukon Premier Darrell Pasloski told senators during hearings on the bill:
We [the Yukon] are now in a position where we are not as competitive with other jurisdictions. Quite frankly, we would like to get back on an equal footing with the other jurisdictions in this country.
Bill S-6 would do just that. It would make the two territories' regulatory regimes consistent with others across the north and in the rest of Canada. This would ensure Yukon and Nunavut remain attractive places to live, work and invest for generations to come.
Let me briefly highlight the many advantages of Bill S-6 for each territory. I will begin by summarizing some facts about updating YESAA.
It is important to underline that the amendments were informed by extensive discussions and consultations in Yukon over a period of seven years. These included the five-year review of YESAA as well as more recent engagement on this legislation.
Bill S-6 is consistent with the Umbrella Final Agreement and the individual first nations final agreements signed by the federal and territorial governments and Yukon first nations.
Decision-making powers over natural resources that currently rest with the territorial government or the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board would not change. Neither the federal government nor the territorial government would have the authority to influence, direct, or interfere with an assessment process. It is especially important that aboriginal input and participation would remain central to the YESAA process.
It is important to point out that the Senate Standing Committee Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources completed its review of the legislation last fall. At the end of its review, it endorsed the bill unanimously. I submit that it correctly recognized that the passage of this bill would help foster economic development in the region and would create jobs, growth, and long-term prosperity in an increasingly global marketplace.
These are the facts.
Allow me to take a moment to clarify, for the record, a few of the concerns that have been raised with regard to this bill, because as with every bill that comes through this place, there is very rarely unanimity. Bill S-6 would provide the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development with the authority to give binding policy direction to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board. The minister could also delegate his authority to the Government of Yukon in certain situations, if the need arose.
Including the power to delegate authorities to the territorial government is, I submit, consistent with the northern strategy and its aim of devolving and improving northern governance. It does not conflict with land claim agreements nor does it disrupt the tripartite spirit of the environmental assessment process. Further, and I have made this very clear, the government has no intention of exercising its authority to delegate any powers to the territorial government in the near term. Of course, if any such delegation were contemplated in the future, it would be consistent with the Umbrella Final Agreement and would also be in the best interests of Yukoners, including Yukon first nations.
When it comes to the issue of policy direction, there has been a lot of fearmongering about what types of policy direction the minister could issue. Allow to me alleviate these concerns. Not only does this power already exist in the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act, but in each and every case when this power was exercised, which was four times, it was to protect the interests of first nations and to ensure that all the parties involved, namely the board, had a common understanding, with the government, of agreements the government had subsequently undertaken. That is important to point out.
Policy direction could only be given within the framework of existing legislation and land claims agreements and after consultation with the board. This amendment would apply to matters such as board conduct, the use of new technology, and satisfying roles and responsibilities regarding aboriginal consultation.
Contrary to the myths that have been spread around, it absolutely does not affect the independence of the board or the board's decision-making abilities with respect to a project under consideration or a completed assessment. The board maintains the jurisdiction, as set out in the agreement, of an independent arm's-length body responsible for making recommendations to decision-making bodies based on their socioeconomic and environmental assessment.
Finally, and I am not sure if my colleagues are aware of it, this authority also exists and is consistent with territorial legislation that allows a Yukon minister to issue policy direction to boards, which has been done on one occasion.
While the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board has a clear record of completing reviews in a timely manner, the Yukon Environmental and Socio-Economic Assessment Act does not set out the “beginning-to-end” time limits for project reviews that exist in every other jurisdiction in Canada.
Bill S-6 fixes that problem. The time limits in Bill S-6 are intended to put Yukon on a level playing field with the rest of Canada and the world, minimize investor uncertainty and make project planning more predictable, while allowing for necessary extensions that could arise with more complex projects.
Of course, the time required by the proponent to gather information and undertake any studies necessary for the review would be excluded. We heard repeatedly from government and industry about the time and money spent on assessments for minor changes that had no substantive impact on a project or the environment.
This proposed legislation clarifies that authorization to renew or amend a project would only require a new assessment where there has been a significant change to the project. This would reduce the administrative burden on the proponent and the board and ensure predictability for established projects.
First nations would have a direct role in determining whether there has been a significant change when the project is located on settlement land and the first nation is a decision body for the project.
There has been much debate about the Yukon component of this bill, particularly with regard to the concerns I just mentioned. I think hon. members will have no choice but to agree, after hearing these remarks, that indeed the bill was developed with the best interests of Yukoners in mind, including those of Yukon first nations, and will help us to finally bring this bill into law.
I want to take a moment to recognize the tireless efforts of the member of Parliament for Yukon on this bill. If it were not for him, it would not have been possible, due to the NDP's interminable ban on committee travel, for the committee to have concluded its hearings in Yukon to hear directly from Yukoners, which was significant. I think Yukoners should be grateful for such a hard-working Conservative member of Parliament.
Another aspect of this bill that has not been debated, it seems to me, is the one that concerns Nunavut. For the record, the Government of Nunavut has called on us to take action to modernize the Nunavut Waters and Nunavut Surface Rights Tribunal Act.
The hon. Johnny Mike, Minister of Environment in Nunavut stated:
...the Government of Nunavut believes that this bill will make a number of improvements to the regulatory regime in Nunavut....this is an important piece of legislation for the North and will contribute to the environmental protection and economic development of Nunavut.
In developing this proposed legislation, the Government of Canada sought the input of the territorial government and Nunavut Tunnagavik Inc., NTI, which represents the Inuit of Nunavut. We also engaged with the Nunavut Water Board, with industry and other federal government departments prior to preparing the Nunavut related provisions of Bill S-6. We listened closely to the input received during consultation, which is reflected in the proposed legislation.
Residents of Nunavut can look forward to an improved regulatory environment as a result of these efforts. The changes proposed would introduce beginning to end time limits on the issuance of water licences and reduce the duplication and uncertainty of unnecessary reviews. They would also give the Nunavut Water Board the ability, at its discretion, to issue water licences for the anticipated duration of a project. Life of project water licences would extend the maximum duration of a licence from 25 years to the anticipated life of the project. This would enable companies to undertake long-term planning and implement the principle of one project, one assessment.
Bill S-6 also addresses the long-standing disincentive to investment in Nunavut, security over bonding. Over bonding occurs when a company is required to provide more security than would be required to remediate a project at its completion because both regional Inuit associations and the Nunavut Water Board have set security amounts. With Bill S-6, the federal minister of aboriginal affairs and northern development would be given legislative authority to enter into agreements relating to security with Inuit landowners and the project applicant. The Nunavut Water Board would still be responsible for setting the amount of security, but the board would be required to consider any arrangement reached.
Bill S-6 would also implement stronger enforcement provisions to increase environmental stewardship, as well as align the act with other federal environmental statutes. The proposed legislation would increase fines for violations and allow for the creation of administrative monetary penalties to encourage compliance with regulatory requirements and remove the financial benefit of rule breaking.
There is broad support for the Yukon and Nunavut regulatory improvement act throughout Nunavut. Northerners recognize that consultation has been robust and that the proposed amendments would foster investor confidence, economic opportunities and growth while promoting sound environmental stewardship in the eastern Arctic.
For example, while giving testimony at the Senate committee, the witness from the Nunavut Water Board said:
...we were very much part of the working group and very much contributed to that working group all throughout and indeed are quite satisfied how well some of the issues we raised were heard.
As well, the President of NTI, Cathy Towtongie, wrote to me, saying, “NTI has no objections to the modest changes proposed to the Nunavut Waters and Nunavut Surface Rights Tribunal Act”.
My colleague, the Minister of the Environment, who represents Nunavut, has further reinforced the desire of her constituents to see Bill S-6 passed. As she has observed, the proposed legislation plays a crucial role in preparing for devolution to be successful in Nunavut. It would ensure the water management regime that is eventually transferred from the federal government to the Government of Nunavut would encourage investment and allow the territory to fully benefit from increased resource development.
Of course, our government remains committed to moving forward with the implementation of the legislative changes in a collaborative manner, respecting the spirit and intent of the land claims agreement in both territories.
For all of these reasons, I urge all-party support for this most worthy proposed legislation.
Subtopic: Yukon and Nunavut Regulatory Improvement Act