Order. The member for Western Arctic knows to address his comments and questions to the Chair and not to the member opposite.
The hon. member for Oxford.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today in the House to speak on Bill C-15, 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.
I had the pleasure to speak on this bill at second reading before it went to committee. Although I am not a northerner—I am from the south, from Vancouver, and I represent a very urban community—I must say that I did relate to many of the issues in this bill and the concerns that were expressed about it. In particular, I want to pay tribute to the NDP member for Western Arctic, who has done an incredible amount of work not only on this bill but on the issue generally of the devolution of powers and support of the Northwest Territories. As someone from an urban riding, I appreciate the vastness of the territory that the member represents and all of the communities he has to communicate with to find out what concerns there are on the ground. It is really quite phenomenal, and that I cannot relate to in a geographical sense.
I know that the member for Western Arctic has been painstaking in his journey and his consultations with people. When he speaks to us in the House about Bill C-15 and the concerns about it that he took to committee and the amendments that he tried to get, we know that it comes from the grassroots. It comes from consultations with local communities and individual constituents, and that is why we are here: to bring that kind of information and that grassroots approach into the House.
Therefore, when a bill like this comes forward—an historic bill, something that we have been working toward for many decades in terms of devolution, and something that New Democrats have certainly supported for decades to ensure that the Northwest Territories can take over federal responsibilities in the north—it is very disconcerting when local voices are not heard. Unfortunately, I think this is what happened with this bill.
New Democrats supported the bill at second reading. We thought that the bill, in terms of its general principle and its thrust and its journey of devolution, was a very important milestone. We were very hopeful that when the bill went to committee, there would be a thorough examination and that particularly the government members of the committee would come to an understanding that this bill had too much in it. For example, it would make amendments to the Mackenzie Valley agreement that are very problematic and that people in local communities were expressing a lot of concerns about.
I want to thank the NDP members who were on the committee: the member for Nanaimo—Cowichan; the member for Manicouagan; the member for Western Arctic, whom I have spoken about; and the member for Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing. These members worked very hard.
There were only four meetings in which the committee looked at the bill, but it is quite interesting to note that one of the meetings was a nine-and-a-half-hour meeting in Yellowknife. That is very telling. It shows that the committee travelled to the north and listened to witnesses who came to the committee. I have never heard of a committee hearing witnesses for nine and a half hours.
The fact that it was done in the local community tells us that there was a lot of interest in the bill. Obviously there were witnesses who wholeheartedly supported the bill without reservation, but, having read some of the transcripts and having spoken to the member for Western Arctic and others, I know there were people in Yellowknife and in the Northwest Territories who expressed their concerns about the consequences and impacts of this bill.
I want to quote one of the witnesses, Mr. David Bob, who is the vice-president of the Northern Territories Federation of Labour. When I read his comments, I thought he succinctly outlined some of the problems with this bill.
Bill C-15 should really be split into two distinct bills that can be debated and voted on separately. Combining devolution legislation with amendments to the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act is a tortured exercise and one not worthy of a government wishing to be transparent and democratic. While some may quibble over the details and outcomes of devolution, that part of the bill will probably earn general consent from the people of the NWT.
The part of the bill that completely disrupts our existing regulatory system, however, is sure to elicit substantial adverse reactions. The intent of devolution is to transfer greater authority over land and resource decisions to the north and northerners, but we do not believe this would be achieved by the proposed changes to the regulatory regime contained in part 4 of the bill.
As I have said, that is a revealing quote from a key witness on this bill that has now come back to the House. I think the NDP submitted 11 amendments. The Conservatives did not submit any amendments. Two of the NDP amendments were approved, but it is really disconcerting to see some of the fundamental questions about the bill covering too much by going into the Mackenzie Valley agreement and that it will cause a lot of negative consequences in the local community.
That is unfortunate. Overall, the NDP is still in support of this bill at report stage. We are going through that debate now and then we will go onto third and final reading, but I hope there will be a measure of thoughtfulness once the bill is passed, as I am sure it will, and that there will be a willingness on the part of the government to review this devolution and listen to the concerns of northerners, and that with the practicalities of implementing the devolution and transfer of those powers, the needs of the community will be heard.
Today I was at the Standing Committee on Health, and this issue came up again. Unfortunately, it is all too familiar to us to see what is happening with devolution. We see the federal government wash its hands and say it does not have anything to do with health care anymore and might transfer its programs and services to the Assembly of First Nations or other organizations, but the resources are not provided.
There is still a responsibility for the federal government to provide those resources once the transfer has been made. We see this in health care. I am sure we will not see an acknowledgement in the budget today that the provinces and territories have been shortchanged $36 billion in health care. It is a provincial delivery system, but there is a federal responsibility.
In terms of Bill C-15, which is before us today, unfortunately it is the same old story. Devolution in this circumstance is warranted, it has been asked for, and it is something that we support. However, it is critical that the federal government listen to the local community and not just do the legal transfer. There is more to it than that. The federal government must provide the resources required so that the authority, in this case the Northwest Territories, can carry out its legal responsibility under the agreement.
Those are the observations I have at third reading. I thank my colleagues on the committee who went through the bill, who gave it due diligence, who listened to people, and who made amendments. Unfortunately, most of them were not supported.
We still support the bill, but I can say that we will be vigilant. We will watch this. We will continue to work with northerners and with people in the Northwest Territories, particularly aboriginal first nations people, to make sure the bill is not just a legal document but actually has a positive impact on people in local communities.
Mr. Speaker, I think my colleague from Western Arctic hit it on the head. Business needs predictability. If it does not have predictability in this area, the influx of additional capital that may be needed to either expand the mines or keep them operating can indeed dry up. If that happens, mines can either decide to shut down or throttle back.
As the government has said in its own legislation, this is not just about the economy of the Northwest Territories, because under the act of devolving it keeps 50% of that resource, of that wealth that is generated. If the government causes unpredictability in the mining sector, which generates wealth to the broader Canadian public—because clearly the federal government represents all Canadians across this land—it would actually be harming the broader Canadian economy, simply because it has not given predictability. It would perhaps have actually sent the participants on a path of litigation, which ultimately would end up in a place where no one needs to be, and ultimately the economy would be the great sufferer.
Being the the great manager it says it is, the government apparently is about to once more mismanage this economy.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-15. I will not give the bill's full title because I only have 10 minutes, but essentially we are talking about Northwest Territories devolution and changes to the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act.
I want to acknowledge the work done by the member for Western Arctic. He has clearly outlined the NDP position on this and has indicated that the NDP is in favour of devolution and supports the Northwest Territories' taking over federal responsibilities in the north. As well, the NDP and the member for Western Arctic have acknowledged that the NWT knows best how its resources ought to be used, and that ultimate authority should rest with the Northwest Territories.
However, as we have heard, in typical Conservative fashion, instead having a straightforward, clean bill, we have one where they have inserted changes to the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act. That is where the most opposition in the NWT has come from. I am going to spend my brief time talking about the opposition to the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act and am going to refer to it as the MVRMA.
My colleague from Victoria has quoted from the article “Devolution dishonoured” from Monday, February 10's NWT News/North, so I am not going to quote from it extensively. However, I want to start my remarks with this. The article said:
While devolution is undeniably good for the NWT, what the GNWT is losing in return—regional input, trust and co-operation, not to mention political integrity—tarnishes the accomplishment.
It goes on to say:
The regional boards, by all accounts, worked with industry and bolstered public confidence that development was being done to the benefit of the people affected.
Those are critical comments because much has been made about the need to improve regulatory management, yet in the testimony before committee and in other comments submitted in written briefs, it appears that the regulatory management under these regional boards was working.
I want to refer to a letter of January 20 to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs from the Tlicho. In their conclusion they say:
C-15 will unravel the advances in reconciliation that have been made between Canada and the Tlicho people over the past two decades. Canada has failed to recognize the unique constitutional reality in the NWT created by land claims agreements. It cannot legislate in a manner that is inconsistent with these modern treaties. This is not just about “consultation”. It is about ensuring that legislative choices are constitutionally sound and do not breach constitutionally protected treaty rights or undermine the purpose and intent of our Agreement.
When we see comments like this, we wonder about the section 35 analysis that may or may not have been conducted by the government and what that analysis might have indicated about potential breaches of agreements that have been signed. I was one of the fortunate people who was in the House when the Tlicho agreement was passed. It was a great day for Canadians. However, when we continue to see the spirit and intent of these agreements undermined by future legislation, it does raise some concerns about the government's attention to the spirit and intent of these agreements.
I want to read from the brief that was provided by Alternatives North and Ecology North on January 17. I want to read from it because it outlines very clearly the concerns about the proposed changes to the MVRMA. It talks about the legislative foundation and states:
The political and legislative base for the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act is co-management of the NWT's lands and waters, through an integrated regional- and territorial-level system of environmental planning and assessment and regulatory review....
This integrated co-management model arises from federal commitments made in the Sahtu and Gwich'in Comprehensive Land Claims Agreements in the early 1990s. The current version of the MVRMA (1998/2005) states in its preamble that “the Gwich'in Comprehensive Land Claim Agreement and the Sahtu Dene and Metis Comprehensive Land Claim Agreement require the establishment of land use planning boards and land and water boards for the settlement areas [i.e. regional boards] referred to in those Agreements and the establishment of an environmental impact review board for the Mackenzie Valley, and provide as well for the establishment of a land and water board for an area extending beyond those settlement areas....
It goes on to say that the following:
The relationship between the regional land and water boards and the territorial land and water board is clearly articulated in the land claims agreements and in the MVRMA. Section 24.4.6(b) of the Gwich'in Comprehensive Land Claim Agreement (1992), section 25.4.6(b) of the Sahtu Dene and Metis Comprehensive Land Claim Agreement (1993), and, subsequent to the enactment of the MVRMA section 22.4.3 of the Tlicho Land Claims and Self-Government Agreement (2003) all state that where a territorial board is established that also has jurisdiction within the respective settlement areas, the regional boards become 'panels' of the territorial land and water board, which is how the system currently operates.
The brief continues:
In essence, this integrated co-management model, since Its legislative inception, has embraced regional planning boards, regional land and water boards/panels, an environment impact review board, and a territorial land and water board through which the regional boards/panels operated. The model also includes an adaptive management component through section 148 of the MVRMA, which calls for an independent environmental audit every five years to assess environmental trends and the integrity of the environmental management system.
The integrated co-management system, founded in land claims agreement legislation in the MVRMA and actualized through public government institutions, has operated successfully for over a decade in the Mackenzie Valley, to the benefit of all NWT residents.
It goes on to outline a number of other issues. However, I know that my time is short so I want to touch on a couple of problems that were highlighted in this document. They are under the section entitled “Problematic Amendments to the MVRMA”.
The first issue it touches on is the board/panel restructuring. It states:
First, the proposed amendments to the Preamble of the MVRMA is a significant reinterpretation of the Gwich'in and Sahtu Land Claim Agreements, and therefore the Tlicho agreement, in that it drops a key phrase. Instead of stating that “[these Agreements] require the establishment of land use planning boards and land and water boards for the settlement areas...”...the amended Preamble states that the Agreements “require the establishment of land use planning boards for the settlement areas”.
Canada has essentially unilaterally reinterpreted the intent and scope of these agreements by reneging on its commitment to regional boards. This is an important point because it is where people are suggesting that there could be court challenges because of that unilateral attempt to reinterpret these agreements signed in good faith by all parties.
Second, the definition management area in section 51 of the current act where it refers to the respective land claim settlement area is being repealed on page 100. This amendment means that Canada and the MVRMA no longer recognize the distinct nature of settlement areas within the NWT. We often talk about how important local and regional control is, and this repeals that provision.
Third, sections 54 through 57(2) and 58 through 68 of the current act, which establish and define the role of the Gwich'in, Sahtu, and Wek'eezhii land and water boards, are replaced by sections that consolidate land and water management roles and authorities in a centralized Mackenzie Valley land and water board. These amendments dislocate land and water management authorities from their respective land claims regions and diminish the sense of ownership and engagement that aboriginal regions currently have in land and water use decisions.
Fourth, section 54(2) of the amended act establishes an 11 member central board, with one member each nominated by the concluded land claims regions, two members nominated by the unsettled land claims region, two members nominated by the territorial government, and three members, excluding the chairperson, appointed by the federal minister. It goes on to say that this grants the federal minister the right to unilaterally appoint the chairperson, which is not currently the case, where the board member is nominated chairperson for appointment.
Section 56 of the amended act calls for the project panels of three members to be determined by the federally appointed chair, which may or may not include a member from the region in which a project is to occur. In that very piece itself we could have decisions being made for a region without any representation from that region. That just does not seem a logical way to proceed, particularly when this act is being sold as involving more northern control.
Finally, one of the concerns raise is increased ministerial authority. It states:
Given that the MVRMA amendments are contained in Bill C-15, which has been put forward as a bill to implement the devolution of land and water management authorities to the [GNWT], it is baffling how certain sections of Part 4 of Bill C-15 result in increased authority for the federal government at the cost of territorial and Aboriginal government authority and/or the authority of northern boards! This appears to be devolution in name only, but not in practice.
That is a good place to conclude.
Although, as the member for Western Arctic has rightly pointed out, New Democrats support devolution, the MVRMA undermines that process by taking away the regional responsibilities that have been working well over the last decade.
Mr. Speaker, I find it very ironic. I come from a first nations background and heritage, and I am very proud of it. I am also very interested in economic development and growth in Canada. Canada was basically refounded on resources and development.
Instead of first nations and aboriginals being held down, the government is trying to give them a hand up, trying to work in partnership with first nations and aboriginals in the Northwest Territories. What I find very ironic is the NDP believing it is a paternalistic approach of not allowing aboriginals to be partners in economic development. Here is what I mean.
I will quote the member for Western Arctic:
We know that resource development hasn't reduced the poverty, and we can't simply rely on resource development to redistribute income in a fashion that's going to work.
My question to the member is this. Does she believe that no resource development will help Canada and aboriginals, especially those in the northern territories, on job creation, and helping Canada prove that jobs can work for everybody?
Mr. Speaker, I am very honoured to speak to the bill, an important bill for our team.
I also want to acknowledge the very hard work of my colleague and friend, the member for Western Arctic. I have had the opportunity to work with him for a number of years, in fact since I was first elected to this House just over five years ago. As a northerner myself, I have always admired his commitment to the people of his territory and, more broadly, to the people of the north. He and I have found common ground on many issues, or perhaps it is that the bond tying all of us from the north together is the recognition that northern people must have control over what is theirs, over their territories, over decisions that matter to them, over their government.
I know very well that this same notion has guided the work of the member for Western Arctic, day in and day out in the House, and also on this very important piece of legislation, Bill C-15. As a northerner and a northern member of Parliament, I know the importance of working with first nations, not just working with them in a symbolic way but respecting their rights, their treaty rights and inherent rights as aboriginal peoples, and that their rights, including their right to self-government, are instrumental in guiding the work of the federal government.
This is not simply something that we recognize on paper. This is someone we enact in our work, certainly in our party, and which guides us in our work on the ground. I know that to be the case in my province of Manitoba.
What it also means is speaking truth when legislation comes to the House that disrespects those very rights. I wish I could say that Bill C-15 was the first example of the federal government turning a blind eye to treaty and inherent rights, but it is not. We have seen piece after piece of legislation going after those rights, disrespecting them and the absolute centrality of consultation with first nations. Once again, unfortunately, we are seeing this unfold with Bill C-15.
The member for Western Arctic, our leader, and NDP members of Parliament have said that devolution is absolutely necessary. For years the Northwest Territories has worked for this goal. People have worked hard and the people of the Northwest Territories deserve what so many other Canadians and northern Canadians have, which is a say in their destiny, in their future.
However, Bill C-15, as it stands, also neglects a very important relationship between the crown and first nations directly. Unfortunately, if Bill C-15 passes, the treaty rights of first nations in the NWT, the aboriginal rights of aboriginal people in the NWT, would not have the same kinds of protection and recognition as others, and certainly as they ought to have.
It is not our saying this. The member for Western Arctic is representing people in his constituency, people like Jake Heron from the Métis nation, who, speaking on the consultation process, said:
It’s very frustrating when you are at the table and you think you’re involved, only to find out that your interests are not being considered seriously.
Gabrielle Mackenzie Scott from the Tlicho government said:
Our key message to AANDC is that there is nothing wrong with the system, and it needs time to grow and improve.
Bob Bromley, an MLA, said:
The federal government's proposal to collapse the regional land and water boards into one big board is disturbing, unnecessary and possibly unconstitutional. ...a single board does nothing to meet the real problem, failure of implementation.
Mr. Speaker, we have heard people from the Gwich'in Tribal Council commenting on their opposition to the changes to the Mackenzie Valley Resources Management Act. They said:
We have a land-use plan. We have a land and water board. We have a claim. People know the process, and it works very well up here. It's only in the unsettled claim areas that there seems to be concern with the regulatory regimes and the speed with which they process applications, or lack of speed.
John B. Zoe, the senior advisor to the Tlicho government, also commented on the lack of consultation:
We’re saying we should have a deeper involvement and have a say and have our voices heard on what those changes are, because that’s a three-party agreement that was made in 2005.
It is clear that accepting the linkage of the two distinctly different legislative bills affecting the Northwest Territories betrays important first nations.
I want to relate a news story from the Northwest Territories yesterday. It notes that the agreement in this form betrays the Sahtu, Tlicho, and Gwich'in governments, who all worked with the government of the Northwest Territories until they had built the trust to sign onto devolution.
We have the power to stop that betrayal. We have the power and the federal government have the power to deviate from this pattern that the Conservative government has undertaken, that governments before it have undertaken, frankly, since colonization: that the federal government knows best and that the rights of first nations and aboriginal people are secondary, and that if they are disrespected, it is okay.
I am proud to be part of the NDP, which represents many northern people across our country. Our party believes that treaty rights and inherent aboriginal rights not only must be respected but also must guide our work every step of the way. Full consultation is key to coming up with any legislation that would affect indigenous people's futures. We do not tolerate the paternalistic approach of the Conservative government.
While we recognize that everyone in the House agrees that devolution must happen, and in a timely way given the tremendous amount of work that the leaders and people of the Northwest Territories have done, this cannot preclude the work we must do in respecting first nations and their inherent rights.
We are asking that devolution go forward with the exception of the parts of the bill that directly impose on first nations and their inherent rights. We should do better, help create a system of devolution, and support the kind of devolution that everyone in the Northwest Territories wants, and not just some people but everyone, including having first nations at the centre of this system.
I am very honoured to have been able to speak to the bill. I am very honoured to stand in this House and represent northern people who deserve nothing more than to be heard, to have their rights respected, and to have control over their destiny in our country.
Mr. Speaker, again, I congratulate my friend and colleague, the member of Parliament for Western Arctic, for his extraordinary work and the respect he has on all sides in this discussion.
Of course, Premier McLeod made that statement. It is a reflection of exactly what the NDP is saying here today.
The Conservatives, by bundling these changes to the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act, are in fact holding devolution hostage to the acceptance of those changes. We are asking them to play this frankly and openly. Remove those parts and deal with them separately. Indeed, if they have a guarantee for review in five years, let us start looking at what is necessary now.
Every Canadian is concerned about how we are doing resource extraction and water management in this country. The federal government has an obligation. It is not an option. It has an obligation to watch out for the water resources in this country. The Conservatives have not been following that obligation. They have not been respecting it.
We are concerned that this is an attempt to force the Northwest Territories to agree to this. That is exactly what Premier McLeod was saying in his statements in committee, which is that they are about devolution. That is what he and his government are trying to get, and by the way, the sections we are discussing here today are our problem. That is why we are talking about it.
I do not agree when the Conservatives try to impugn the motives of the opposition when they say that we should be listening to Premier McLeod. I return the invitation to listen to Premier McLeod. He is saying that this is a matter for the federal Parliament. This is our job. Let us remove this section that has nothing to do with devolution and deal with it separately. That is what the people of the Northwest Territories want, and that is what the official opposition wants.
Motion No. 4
That Bill C-15 be amended by deleting Clause 136.
Motion No. 5
That Bill C-15 be amended by deleting Clause 137.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin my comments on the proposed amendments by congratulating my friend and colleague, the hon. member for Western Arctic.
I would like to start by congratulating my friend and colleague the member for Western Arctic for the extraordinary work he has done and the leadership he has shown in this file.
The amendments proposed would delete clauses 136 and 137 of Bill C-15, and it is important to get on the record to explain why. This is quasi-constitutional work that we are doing here today. As the House knows, the travaux préparatoires and the debates follow this type of amendment if it ever has to interpreted by the courts in the future.
The people of the Northwest Territories have worked toward gaining more province-like powers for decades. The NDP is in favour of devolution and supports the NWT in taking over federal responsibilities in the north. At the same time, Northwest Territories Premier Bob McLeod and his team of negotiators should be congratulated for achieving this significant evolution in the governance of the Northwest Territories.
Bill C-15 would provide the people of the NWT with something that we who live in the provinces take for granted: control over what happens on our land and the ability to profit from the development of our natural resources.
In less than 50 years, governance in the Northwest Territories has evolved from a colonial administration run by a committee of bureaucrats here in Ottawa to a fully elected and accountable government. I have had a chance to meet the members and the premier, to visit them in their House. The evolution they have gone through is quite extraordinary.
Therefore, Bill C-15 is a major step in that evolution, which the NDP fully supports.
For those of us who live in the provinces, it is only natural that we control our own resources. However, that was not the case for the Northwest Territories.
The preparatory work is often consulted by the courts when there is a constitutional matter at issue, or in this case quasi-constitutional, since this will affect the very foundation of how a territorial government is organized.
Unfortunately, the Conservative insistence that changes to the regulatory process be included in Bill C-15 is contrary to a respectful nation to nation process when dealing with first nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples in Canada. This, for the NDP, is crucial. An NDP government would make sure that no decision taken at our cabinet table would fail to respect first nations treaty rights, inherent rights, and Canada's international obligations.
The changes to the system of land and water boards, created through first nation land claim agreements, are disrespectful to the Dene and Métis of the Northwest Territories. The Conservatives heard over and over from the NWT's aboriginal governments and many concerned residents that they did not support these changes, but the Conservatives, unfortunately, were deaf to these concerns.
However, as a number of first nations have raised concerns about the amendments to the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act, we proposed amendments based on these concerns during the committee review, to make sure that Bill C-15 meets northerners' expectations.
Our member for Western Arctic tried splitting the bill at committee so that we would not impede devolution but allow for a full debate on the more controversial changes to the MVRMA. Once again, we are trying to find workable solutions, but the Conservatives are up to their old tricks.
At report stage, we are moving that clauses 136 and 137, creating a single regulatory board for lands and waters and eliminating the regional land and water boards, be deleted. These sections would eliminate the current system of regional land and water regulatory boards and change the structure of the Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board to an 11 member board with a chair appointed by the federal minister. This system was created as part of the implementation for the Gwich'in and the Sahtu land claim agreements, and the Tlicho lands, resources, and self-government agreement.
However, by unilaterally changing this system, the Conservatives are ignoring the spirit and intent of these modern day treaties. The original system consisted of three regional land and water boards corresponding to the three settled land claim areas, and the Mackenzie Valley board for projects that span more than one region or are located in areas where there is no settled land claim. This system gives the people, particularly aboriginal people, of the Northwest Territories a voice in how their land and waters are developed.
It is for that reason that the official opposition, the New Democrats, believes that these sections should be deleted. Let the good parts go through. Have the proper debate. Develop a respectful nation to nation approach. That is the way for the future.
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate that. I was expecting the cautionary note. Quite frankly, I was getting as close as I could to the line in terms of language I could use to refute the language of hypocrisy that, unfortunately, is allowed in this place. That is a word that should not be allowed in this place, but the hon. member used it, and I wanted to refute it without crossing the line. I appreciate that you told me I did not cross it, Mr. Speaker, although, of course, I would have apologized immediately if you had called on me to do that. I wanted to clear the air on that.
If the Conservatives continue that argument, we will continue to give the government a civics lesson on how this place actually works. The hon. member should be concerned about his reputation, because there are enough Canadians who know the truth to know that this is just games. This bill, this issue, our election laws, deserve better than just games.
What we are talking about here is a 244-page bill. In the past, the government of the day, when it wanted to make changes to the elections laws, first consulted with the Chief Electoral Officer, which this government did not do. One “Hi, how are you? Nice to meet you” meeting does not constitute consultation on bringing in a 244-page bill that completely revamps the way we hold elections in this country. That is not consultation.
In the past, the government would not only consult with the Chief Electoral Officer—this is pretty shocking in a Conservative House of Commons—but would actually talk to the other parties. Why did they talk to the other parties?
We have the Olympics going on right now. One of the first things they do before hitting the ice or the snow is decide what the rules are going to be. Then they make sure that everyone affected by those rules gets an opportunity to have a say. In the absence of that, one does not have an electoral system that is supported by all the participants in the system. This is not rocket science.
I have to say something, just in passing, about the minister who introduced the bill. I know the minister well. I have worked with him for years and years. He is very smart. He is a good guy. I like the minister. However, let us be honest. He is probably the most partisan attack dog the Conservatives have ever had over there. That is saying a lot, given the role the foreign affairs minister played before. That is quite an accomplishment. They took the most super-hyperpartisan person in their entire caucus and gave him what is supposedly the most statesperson-like role in the House, which is to bring these kinds of rule changes into our elections act. Right off the bat, that was the person who was asked to carry the bill in the name of the government. The government did not even talk to the Chief Electoral Officer. Give me a break. There is no partisanship in this at all? Let us find out.
The government members have been saying that the reason they support shutting down debate in this place, and a number of them have said it, even today, is that they are going to send it to committee, because that is where House of Commons work gets done. That does not justify it totally, in our view. However, if that is the position of the government members, then something certainly needs to happen at committee that would give people some confidence that they really meant it when they were standing here.
The official opposition brought forward a very reasonable motion, with no games, no politics. The cards are all on the table. In fact, our motion on how the committee should deal with this actually states the day we would begin clause-by-clause. It would be May 1 of this year. It is not our intention to delay or obstruct in any way the ability to pass this law and have these new rules in effect for the next election. That is not our objective. What we are asking for is to use the months of March and April to travel the country to give people an opportunity to have their say.
My friend, the member for Western Arctic, stood and said on the vouching issue that it would impact his members. The minister stood and said that this is not true. I live in Hamilton. How do I know? It makes a whole lot of sense that we would go there and give people an opportunity. It is a huge country. It is almost a continent in and of itself. We have such different environments for voting procedures because of where people live, the weather, and distances. We have all the urban issues they have in any G7 country that holds elections.
For all of those reasons, what I would like to hear from the government is that it is prepared to give us countrywide public hearings. Allow people to come and make their cases and to send submissions to the committee.
We would spend two months to give Canadians and experts an opportunity to have their say. We would start here in Ottawa with experts and the minister giving us a briefing on all the details. Then we would go out across the country to find out what the issues were. We would then come back and have another few days in Ottawa to bring back some of those people to put to them what we had heard and found.
We commit that no later than May 1, if this motion passes at committee, we would begin clause-by-clause, knowing that the government majority is going to carry the day. That is fine. It has a majority, and it will win the vote. It will win every vote on every amendment. However, we need this time. If the government is truly honest about wanting to give Canadians their say on this 244-page document that changes the fundamental foundation of our democracy, our election laws, then at the very least, Canadians should be given an opportunity to have a say. This law belongs to them, not to the Conservative government.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from the Yukon, who is working hard for all northerners.
Our government is getting results for northerners. We reversed the cuts of the previous Liberal government and even created a stand-alone economic development agency, CanNor, to focus entirely on the territories.
We are moving forward with devolution in the Northwest Territories, we have made record infrastructure investments, and we have increased funding for skills training.
While the leader of the Liberal Party and the NDP member for the Western Arctic refuse to stand up for northerners and Canadian sovereignty, our government will continue to defend Canada's north.
The electoral district of Western Arctic (Northwest Territories) has a population of 41,464 with 28,787 registered voters and 73 polling divisions.
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