Mr. Speaker, like my colleague, I had the privilege of sitting on the aboriginal and northern affairs committee under your tutelage as the committee chair, and also under my colleague from Peace River. That was an important part of an opportunity to learn a lot about the first nations.
Now, of course, we have the safe drinking water act. I am really pleased to be able to stand here and speak to this. The legislation includes a mechanism that would allow for the development of these regulations. They are desperately needed to safeguard drinking water and allow for proper waste water treatment in first nations communities.
It is time to move forward to create the regulations needed to safeguard drinking water in first nations communities. Bill S-8 addresses an urgent need, and I implore the opposition to support the government on this legislation.
Currently, provincial and territorial regulations protect the safety of drinking water in the vast majority of communities across Canada. In first nations communities, however, no such regulations apply. The lack of regulations has been a major contributor to the poor state of drinking water in many first nations communities.
A lengthy process of consultation did occur, and engagement and review contributed to the legislation now before us. The process began more than seven years ago, when the expert panel on safe drinking water for first nations considered a series of regulatory options. The panel hosted a series of public hearings in first nations communities across Canada. More than 110 people presented to the panel, and a total of more than two dozen individuals and organizations provided written submissions. This work helped identify that a region-by-region approach was needed to develop effective regulations, as stated by my colleague from Peace River. Bill S-8 proposes this approach and recognizes that no one-size-fits-all solutions exist.
In 2010, the Government of Canada introduced Bill S-11, a different version of the legislation now before us, which also called for a region-by-region approach. Although this version died on the order paper, the review conducted by the standing committee of the other place clarified many of the issues that remained to be addressed. A key issue was that legislation on drinking water might abrogate or derogate from existing aboriginal and treaty rights of first nations. Most first nations representatives and many parliamentarians repeatedly raised concerns that the legislation and subsequent regulations on drinking water could infringe on existing aboriginal and treaty rights. Section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, protects these rights.
Between Bill S-11 and the introduction of Bill S-8 in February of last year, the Government of Canada continued to discuss legislative options with first nations groups. A breakthrough on the non-derogation issue came during the “without prejudice” discussions that the Government of Canada held with regional first nations organizations. During these discussions, first nations proposed that future legislation include a non-derogation clause, a provision clarifying the relationship between drinking water regulations and first nations rights. This was also a sentiment echoed by many witnesses who appeared to speak to Bill S-11. The clause now included in Bill S-8, clause 3, is virtually the same as the version proposed by the first nations as a result of those discussions.
In essence, the non-derogation clause included in Bill S-8 would not prevent the government from justifying a derogation or abrogation of aboriginal and treaty rights if it is necessary to ensure the safety of first nations drinking water. The non-derogation clause in Bill S-8 would effectively balance the need to respect aboriginal and treaty rights under section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, and the need to protect human health.
It is a delicate balance to strike, but I believe the clause in Bill S-8 succeeds and would help achieve a larger goal. Consider the following example. Let us say that the only feasible water drinking source for the first nations community is on reserve lands. Under Bill S-8, regulations could be developed to protect this drinking water source, even if the regulations limited the ability of first nations individuals to use the land pursuant to their treaty rights.
Perhaps the first nation wanted to build a commercial development on the land. If the proposed land use threatened the viability of the water source, and by extension, the health and safety of community residents, derogating from a possible aboriginal treaty right to use the land could be justified.
The inclusion of the non-derogation clause in Bill S-8 would immensely strengthen the proposed legislation. It would address a key concern of first nations and other groups while promoting the health and safety of members of first nations communities.
Another important development that occurred with Bills S-11 and S-8 was the publication of the national assessment of first nations water and waste water management systems. It represents the most comprehensive study ever done of the facilities used to treat and distribute drinking water in first nations communities. The national assessment is valuable, because it provides not only an important point of reference but also an impetus for parties to work toward an effective solution.
It is important to recognize that Bill S-8 proposes a collaborative process to establish regulations in each region of the country. The government will work with first nations and other stakeholders to draft effective regulations. These regulations could be crafted to meet the particular circumstances of the region and the needs of the first nations community.
Much work remains to be done to ensure that residents of first nations communities can have the same level of confidence as other Canadians when it comes to their drinking water. Moving ahead with Bill S-8, complete with the non-derogation clause, represents an essential step forward in providing first nations with the regulations needed to safeguard drinking water in first nations communities. I encourage the members of the opposition to stop voting against Bill S-8 and to recognize the important health and safety issues at stake.
Canadians across this land, in most communities we are aware of, have safe drinking water. It is really important that all Canadians have safe drinking water, including first nations, who have suffered for a long time, in certain circumstances, without it. It is incumbent upon our government to assist those first nations to make sure that, in fact, they have the same kind of safe drinking water that all other Canadians enjoy.
I would remind all hon. members not to refer to other hon. members in the House by their given names, but, rather, by their titles or ridings.
Resuming debate, the hon. member for Peace River.
Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege for me to stand tonight and speak to this bill. It was my privilege about seven years ago to go to my first meeting as a yet to be elected member of Parliament. There were a number of folks who were gathering in a community just outside of Peace River to discuss the issues of rail service in the local community. They had called me in because I was a nominated candidate and they believed it was important that I heard the concerns of the local community as we prepared to go into an election campaign.
Over the last eight years, I have been dedicated, in many ways, to ensuring that I bring the voice of Peace Country businesses and shippers to this House, our government, and to the shipping and rail companies, to address the concerns of my local constituents.
Today we stand on the precipice of having one of the largest and most comprehensive pieces of legislation to address many of the concerns we have heard about for the last number of years. However, it did not just arrive here.
My colleague just spoke about the extensive consultations that were undertaken across this country. I can assure members that is in fact the truth. I have the privilege of personally knowing the man our government named as the chair of the rail freight service review. The committee that he chaired was responsible for looking for solutions to the reality that our government recognized, and that this review committee also recognized very quickly, that being that small business owners, those people who are seeking to ship, really do have a disadvantage when it comes to negotiating with large rail companies.
Mr. Walter Paszkowski, the chair of the committee, served an invaluable role. He comes from Sexsmith, Alberta. It is a community that I have had the opportunity to call home. It is a farming community. It is an agricultural community. It also neighbours the city of Grande Prairie and is surrounded by the County of Grande Prairie. There are also a number of lumber producers in that community, as well as a growing oil and gas industry. That industry continues to depend on rail, and is growing in the necessity of being serviced by the rail industry as well. Therefore, we have three sectors that have become entirely dependent on rail service.
Having been a farmer and a former provincial agriculture minister, Walter knows the necessity of rail in the region of northern Alberta that I represent. He also has had the privilege over the last number of years to serve as the economic development officer for the County of Grande Prairie. It is a growing community. It is the community that I now call home. I can say that he has served our community well. We have been proud to lend him to the federal government, to all Canadians, to serve in this capacity. As Canadians, we can all be proud of the work that Walter has undertaken, both in this review and our local municipality, as well as his service in the provincial government before that.
With great disappointment, I would note that he announced just weeks ago that he is intending to move into what he is calling full-time retirement. I know that will mean he will do more work than ever because that is the kind of guy he is. I hope that Walter will take some time with his beautiful wife Marlyss to do some of the things they have never had the opportunity to enjoy because of Walter's dedication to public service. Marlyss has remained by his side throughout that process. Not only on behalf of Peace Country residents, but Canadians from coast to coast, I want to thank him and Marlyss for their service to Canada, to Peace Country, and to the province of Alberta. I know from the applause that my colleagues recognize that as well.
As Walter and the commission undertook their work, they recognized that there needed to be a new process put in place to ensure that shippers in our local communities, from coast to coast, had better and stronger clout in the process.
Now we have before us legislation that articulates a process, by which, if commercial negotiations fail, there is an arbitration process to ensure that shippers' interests are defended. This is the first time we have seen legislation like this. This is legislation that we promised.
We know what happened. As the service review was being undertaken, all of a sudden we saw CP and CN begin to improve their rail service. It was kind of interesting. It was almost comical in some cases where, all of a sudden, the rail service was beginning to improve. We recognized at that point in time, as well as communities across the country, that service could improve and that there were mechanisms in place that the rail companies had at their disposal to ensure this happened.
We have seen that it has not been applied consistently. Some communities are still falling behind in terms of service and some communities are moving ahead. Some industries are moving ahead in being served and some are falling behind.
In my local community there has an improvement in grain shipping over the last number of years. There has been some movement and infrastructure improvements on the lines. I note, though, that at times we still a struggle with cars being delivered on time, but I have also heard major concerns from the lumber mills in the communities of Grand Prairie and further north where there are still some major challenges in getting cars allocated in the time frame to which these companies have committed. These new mechanisms will go a long distance to ensure there is a balancing of the rights and responsibilities of both players.
My bigger concern, as a representative of Peace country and the industries of agriculture, forestry and oil and gas, is about those people trying to get products to market. Our government has been dedicated over the last seven years that we have served in government of expanding trade with places around the world. One thing we know is that while we produce the best-quality agricultural, forestry and oil and gas products in the world, we continue to struggle to get these products to market.
We can sign all kinds of trade deals all over the world, but unless we can get our products to market, we will not to get the prices we deserve or continue to grow trade relationships. This is vitally important. Our government has been committed to growing our economy across the country, but what that means in reality is that every community across the country has to see efficiencies when it comes to exporting the things we are seeking to export. We are an exporting nation. Significant portions of the things we produce in communities like mine go to markets outside of our country. We look to rail service to provide mechanisms to get our products from the communities that I represent in Grand Prairie and further north to markets. If they go to Vancouver, the port of Prince Rupert or Chicago, they need to move and they need to move on time.
Our government is focused on continuing to develop trade relationships to ensure that our products can get to market. We are also ensuring that there are mechanisms to ensure that rail companies will undertake their responsibilities and move products.
I congratulate the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, who has undertaken the heavy lifting with regard to this bill. This is important legislation. There are a number of people who I should thank. I should note the fact that the chamber of commerce in Grand Prairie and the surrounding area was dedicated to seeing this legislation move forward. It has been a strong lobbyist, not only at the local level but strong and vocal when it comes to the advocacy for a bill like this at the provincial and national levels. I want to thank the chamber of commerce as well as all the folks who undertook—
The hon. member for Peace River. The hon. member is only going to have about four and a half minutes. Time will expire at 9:47 p.m.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from Prince George—Peace River for an excellent question, and the answer is very simple: absolutely none, not a single megatonne of greenhouse gases.
He is quite right. The previous Liberal government paid mere lip service to climate change while greenhouse gases increased during their term by fully 30%. The only thing the NDP leader's plan would reduce is jobs and economic prosperity.
We are the first Canadian government to actually reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The electoral district of Peace River (Alberta) has a population of 138,009 with 96,378 registered voters and 272 polling divisions.
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