Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague from Churchill for her, as usual, great speech and debate in the House.
I am proud to be part of a party that has so many representatives from the northern parts of our country. Although I say that I am a northerner from Sudbury, that is in the perspective of Ontario. However, when we look at the great mass of our country, the north takes on a different perspective.
One of the interesting points I heard my colleague talk about throughout her speech was the importance of listening to first nations, Metis and Inuit people from right across the country. We do have some concerns being expressed now by many first nations and aboriginal people from the Northwest Territories in relation to the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act and to all of the appointments being named by one minister.
We are in a time where we need to change the way we deal and work with first nations and aboriginal peoples right across the country.
I would like to hear my hon. colleague's comments as to what we can do to further enhance that with relation to the agreements we are seeing in today's bill.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my friend from Sudbury, who mentioned my tie. Just to let folks know, this is the official tartan of my hometown of Glasgow. There is a plug for the European City of the Year in 1998.
Nonetheless, in contrast to how our colleagues on the other side, many of whom come from Alberta, would see the national energy program, which the Liberals hoisted upon them many years ago, how must folks in the north feel? I have been to Yellowknife on occasion. It is a wonderful place. How must they feel, and how would the Conservatives feel if they were under the same sort of program that the folks in the north are when it comes to their resources?
I would love to talk to the member for Fort McMurray—Athabasca about how he would feel if he were under the same sort of a regime in Alberta that the Northwest Territories is going to be under, imposed upon them by this legislation. My guess is that there would probably be a riot in Calgary, but that is of course speculative on my part.
I wonder if my friend could comment on that very issue and the contrast of the two. It would seem to me that in an egalitarian place such as this country, we would want to treat them the same.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today and speak in support of Bill C-15, which is the Northwest Territories devolution implementation bill.
I think the short title does not reflect what the bill is really all about. The bill is really an act to replace the Northwest Territories Act, to implement certain provisions of the Northwest Territories Lands and Resources Devolution Agreement and to repeal or make amendments to the Territorial Lands Act, the Northwest Territories Waters Act, the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act, other acts and certain orders and regulations.
The bill would do a lot, and I think it is important, in the debate we are having in this House today and then at committee, to truly look at all of the implications that Bill C-15 would bring forward.
As my colleague for Welland mentioned earlier, it is truly important that we get this bill right, especially for the people of the Northwest Territories who have been working toward gaining province-like powers for decades. That is why members have heard from many of my colleagues today that the NDP is in support of the bill and of the Northwest Territories taking over some federal responsibilities in the north. Truly, who knows best about the territory and area? The people of the Northwest Territories do. They are the ones who should be deciding on how their resources ought to be used, and ultimately the authority should rest with them.
This brings up a few questions that we, as New Democrats, would like to see answered today or in committee.
First, considering that many first nations in the Northwest Territories are strongly objecting to the changes to the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act, why are the Conservatives ignoring these concerns and pressing ahead with the creation of a superboard?
This is a type of question that we definitely need to have answered. If we cannot get it answered today, it is something that will need to be asked in committee.
As we heard earlier from our Conservative colleagues, the creation of a superboard is for efficiency. Well, a superboard may not always be efficient if we do not bring forward the will, needs, wants and requests of all of the citizens of the Northwest Territories. We already know that many of the first nation groups within the Northwest Territories have some concerns.
I am hoping, through this debate and the opportunity in committee after second reading, that we can start getting some of these questions answered.
Another question: Considering the massive revamp the bill represents, why did the Conservatives reserve control over appointments to the environmental review board and main control over approval of licences?
Right off the top, I was talking about the importance of devolution and of the citizens and Government of the Northwest Territories having the control and ultimate say over their resources, their land and their territories. However, with Bill C-15, the government is saying, “We can give you some, but all of those requirements are now going to fall right back to the minister”.
I think this is a question we need to get an answer to so that we can ensure we are doing this right.
For myself, coming from a resource-based community in northern Ontario, the great riding of Sudbury, that conversation comes up often. Why do we not have more say over the resources that are coming out of our ground in Sudbury? It is a conversation that many of my municipal councillors have with the province and that the province has with the feds. This is something we need to look at and ensure that conversation happens.
This begs the question then: Is it not premature to bring forward changes to the environmental review board creating a single superboard and eliminating the regional land and water boards before the completion of the land claims that are happening right now in the Northwest Territories?
Again, these are questions that need to be answered and we are hoping that this debate will allow for more of that.
Let us look at a bit of the history. The negotiations concluded with the Northwest Territories and the Government of Canada in March 2013, and the Legislative Assembly voted to approve the final agreement on June 5, 2013. There were several first nations, Métis, and Inuit organizations that all took part in signing the devolution final agreement on June 25. The agreement gives the Northwest Territories residents a greater voice in decisions about how public land, water, and resources are managed, how the economy is developed, and how the environment is protected.
If this is coming from the Government of Northwest Territories and the citizens of Northwest Territories, it is incumbent upon us, as federal parliamentarians, to work together to ensure that we have the debate to allow for them to have more of a say in lands, minerals, and development. That is why we have some concerns on this side of the House. We have some concerns when superboards are the ones that will be making the decisions or when the minister has the final say in appointments to these superboards. We cannot put the power in one person when it is representing such a large area with so many people.
Among other things that are important to mention is that the results of public engagement in the proposed Northwest Territories lands and resource devolution agreement were based on more than 40 public and stakeholder meetings in all regions of the Northwest Territories during April and May of this year. Forty public and stakeholder meetings is fantastic when we think about the involvement, by the Northwest Territories government, of its citizens on this issue.
Unfortunately, in this House, with the current government, too many times we have seen the elimination of public consultation and the reduction of stakeholder consultation. We bring certain issues to committee and listen to witnesses and testimony from stakeholders and citizens. They give testimony on how to make things work better and how to make a bill function within the laws of the land. What ends up happening in committee is that those ideas that are brought forward are not heard by the government members. The government will bring forward amendments, and its amendments pass. When we bring forward amendments on this side of the House, after listening to the testimony of our witnesses and stakeholders and putting in hours of work and research, they are sloughed off to officials to slam down. The next thing we know, they are defeated.
It is incumbent upon us as parliamentarians to ensure that we create bills, legislation, and laws that do the right thing so that we only have to do it once. Creating amendments all the time should be the exception, not the norm. However, what we see right now is amendment after amendment having to be presented, because unfortunately, what we have seen is the current government not always putting forward the best legislation but putting forward legislation that is based on a lot of politics.
Right now we have the opportunity in this House, in this debate, and in committee to make sure that the people of the Northwest Territories have that say, that they have the opportunity to have those powers to make sure that they are looking after their communities, families, and citizens. It is a great land. The member for Western Arctic talks often about the great people in his riding and the work he does for them. I am very proud to be able to work with the MP for Western Arctic on several issues when it comes to small businesses, tourism, and consumer affairs.
With that, I look forward to continuing the conversation during the question and answer period about the importance of this bill and the importance of devolution to the Northwest Territories.
Mr. Speaker, I am going to forgive my colleague from Sudbury, whom I have worked with very positively in a number of different dimensions, for inferring that there is some alternative intention of the bill.
He began his speech by mentioning a framework for supervised injection sites. In fact, the real issue is that there is no framework. He refers to section 56, which simply provides an opportunity to get an exemption for research on illicit drugs or for use with things like sniffer dogs. There is no framework at all right now.
Bill C-2 is the first attempt to put a framework in place for supervised injection sites. Would he not agree that some of the aspects of the bill should be in place to make sure that the community has a say and that police, the municipality, and the provincial health officer have a say in where these sites go, when we are talking about people who are hopped up on illicit drugs and who are going to be leaving these sites and going into communities?
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-2, an act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. For members representing urban communities, like mine in Sudbury, this is a very significant and potentially dangerous piece of legislation, particularly as communities continue to see intravenous drug use taking place in outdoor public spaces.
There is also a very important public health component of this legislation, particularly as it relates to communicable diseases, such as HIV/AIDS. As the former co-chair of the HIV/AIDS and Tuberculosis Parliamentary Caucus, I think some of the concerns of people on the front lines of the fight against HIV/AIDS merit strong consideration before this legislation is allowed to move forward.
Let me begin by focusing my comments on what this legislation would seek to do and how the changes to Canada's regulatory framework surrounding safe injection sites may actually contravene the ruling of the Supreme Court of Canada on this subject. Essentially, what Bill C-2 is proposing is a complete reworking of the current framework governing safe injection sites in Canada by creating a lengthy and arduous list of criteria that supervised injection sites would need to meet before the minister would grant them an exemption to operate under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.
Among the numerous new provisions that would be included in the application process, many seem to be designed solely for the purpose of slowing down the process itself, while others, such as principles the minister must adhere to before approving an application, seem to be intended as a means of giving the minister unilateral power to accept or reject a new application. Essentially, these new criteria would make it much more onerous for organizations to open safe injection sites in Canada.
What is most troubling about this exhaustive set of new application criteria is the fact that this legislation seems to be an attempt to circumvent the Supreme Court's decision on this matter by creating a system that is so onerous and arbitrary that the minister could subjectively reject applications at his or her discretion.
In its 2011 decision, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the minister's decision to close Vancouver-based InSite violated its patients' charter rights and that the minister's decision was arbitrary, undermining the very purposes of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, which includes public health and safety. Here the court based its judgment on section 7 of the charter, and stated:
The infringement at stake is serious; it threatens the health, indeed the lives, of the claimants and others like them. The grave consequences that might result from a lapse in the current constitutional exemption for InSite cannot be ignored. These claimants would be cast back into the application process they have tried and failed at, and made to await the Minister's decision based on a reconsideration of the same facts.
Yet here we are, not even two years later, facing a subversive attempt to undermine the decision of the court with a bill designed to find a backdoor means of closing down supervised injection sites. For instance, despite already having the Supreme Court of Canada rule in favour of its continued operation, InSite will now have to once again apply for a section 56 exemption under the new criteria. This means that InSite is being asked to validate its existence once again and that the minister can still arbitrarily shut down the institution.
This speaks to the heart of why I am so concerned about the way this process is unfolding. Without pulling punches, it is clear that Bill C-2 is part of a larger attempt by the Conservatives to align all government policies and programs with their anti-drug and abstinence ideals. They are slowly removing all avenues for Canadians to safely address their addictions at safe injection sites and to access medical marijuana for therapeutic needs.
With the Conservatives' agenda, we are turning back the clock on public health achievements and community benefits gained from harm reduction programs that have been proven to be successful over the past two decades.
In an attempt to garner support for the bill, Conservatives have been suggesting that it should be passed, because it will help keep heroin out of our backyards. However, the bill will make it almost impossible to open safe injection sites. It will actually put intravenous drug users back into public spaces in certain communities and make it more difficult to safely remove this activity from communities that do not currently house a supervised injection site.
Let me use a local example from my great community of Sudbury to illustrate how backward the government's thinking is on this issue. The Point, Sudbury's needle exchange program, has for the last 20 years supplied clean needles to reduce harm to intravenous drug users. While the majority of those needles are returned after they are used, some still end up on the ground. This means that each year, as the snow melts across my city, the thaw tends to reveal hundreds of discarded needles in our city's parks, playgrounds, and other similar public spaces.
Some Conservatives might cite this as a prime example of why we, as legislators, should be making it more onerous for intravenous drug users to access clean needles. However, I believe that it underscores that we have not created an effective system that allows these individuals to access clean needles in a space removed from the public so that used needles are not carelessly discarded on our city's streets. Evidence from Vancouver's experience with InSite supports this belief, as there was a significant drop in the number of discarded syringes, injection-related litter, and people injecting on the streets one year after InSite opened.
While no organization in my community has thus far come forward with an application to open a supervised injection site, should one eventually come forward with an application, the government's desire to make the process more onerous would actually reverse course on a 20-year public health trajectory. It would once again lead to a higher threat from discarded needles, and more importantly, from the threat of deadly communicable diseases, such as HIV and AIDS.
I mentioned previously my involvement in parliamentary initiatives related to HIV and AIDS. Given this experience, I firmly believe that the most disturbing thing about what Bill C-2 is proposing is the impact it would have on the spread of communicable diseases. For instance, the Pivot Legal Society, the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, and the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition have jointly stated:
[Bill C-2] is an irresponsible initiative that ignores both the extensive evidence that such health services are needed and effective, and the human rights of Canadians with addictions.... It is unethical, unconstitutional and damaging to both public health and public purse to block access to supervised consumption services.
Once again, empirical evidence confirms the efficiency of supervised injection sites in preventing the spread of communicable diseases. Drug users who use lnSite are 70% less likely to share needles, and reducing needle sharing has been listed as an international best practice to reduce the rate of HIV/AIDS.
In conclusion, it is worth highlighting that safe injection sites currently operate in 70 cities in six European countries and in Australia. The experience in these cases, as with InSite, has been positive for drug users, because of health improvements; for the surrounding communities; and for reducing the transmission rates of HIV/AIDS.
By making the application process more onerous and arbitrary, the Conservatives are using processes as a means of clandestinely supporting their ideological beliefs regarding the morality of drug use, ultimately threatening more than 20 years of evidence-based public health policy. New Democrats support the use of evidence-based decision-making, and for this reason, I will not be supporting this ideologically driven attempt to skirt the decision of Canada's highest court.
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to pay tribute to House of Commons security constable Luc Baronette, who lost his battle with brain cancer this past Friday.
To his spouse, Nicole, his four-year-old daughter, Adele, and his other daughter, Danika, who will be two at Christmas, our deepest sympathies. Our thoughts and our prayers go out to them at this time.
Luc was 33 years old and was from Sudbury. He was a 12-year veteran of the security services here on the Hill and competently moved through the ranks throughout his career. His friends tell me he was a special character who could light up a room with his laugh and that he enjoyed golfing, fishing, hockey, motorcycles—well, anything that burned gasoline, for that matter. He had a sense of humour like no other, and his love for his friends, colleagues, and family had no boundaries.
Luc was a volunteer firefighter. He worked with our seniors and had a special affiliation with our war veterans.
On behalf of all parliamentarians, again, we offer our condolences to Luc's family. Luc will be missed.
The electoral district of Sudbury (Ontario) has a population of 92,161 with 74,228 registered voters and 212 polling divisions.
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