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BILL C-15 NWT Devolution Implementation Bill
The New Voting Bill
Let’s not re-start the Cold War in the Warming Arctic

Bill C-15 NWT Devolution Implementation Bill

January, 2014

By Dennis Bevington MP Northwest Territories

Bill C 15, the NWT Devolution Implementation Bill currently working its way through Parliament, will be discussed in Yellowknife on January 27th. The Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development has been tasked with holding hearings on the Bill and stakeholders have been invited to make presentations.

All Parties in the House have supported the Bill in principle during the first debate held in December, although the inclusion of the changes to the regulatory system and the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act (MVRMA) are troublesome as the Conservatives have chosen to bundle all of these initiatives into one omnibus Bill.

Both the Gwich’in and the Tlicho have strongly opposed the creation of the Super Board which is to replace the Regional Land and Water Boards that have been in place for the past decade. Grand Chief Eddie Erasmus took the opportunity at a reception hosted by the Tlicho in Ottawa on December 11th to criticize the Conservative Government saying that the Tlicho would take all actions possible to protect their Agreement, and the Wek'èezhìi Land and Water Board, which have been working extremely well.

In a letter sent in September of this year to Minister Valcourt, I requested that he present the Devolution Bill separately from the regulatory changes to the MVRMA. In talks with the Tlicho delegation in Ottawa last month, they confirmed that the two proposals were always presented as separate Bills in the consultation process and that there was no indication they would be combined.

The Government of the NWT has now said that it supports the creation of the Super Board. This is a change from its position two years ago when they opposed this idea in a letter to the previous Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan. Although the Legislative Assembly has voted in favour of the Devolution Agreement, this Agreement is silent on any changes to the MVRMA.

Questions remain. Has Premier Macleod received any formal support from the Legislative Assembly for the GNWT's changing position? Was the GNWT forced into supporting the Super Board to get its Devolution package forward? In our consensus style politics, was this radical change discussed openly?

As a long-time advocate for the end of Ottawa's influence over the development of our resources in the NWT, I am willing to support the devolution aspects of this Bill. But as a past Co-Chair of the Constitutional Development Steering Committee prior to Division of the NWT, I have strong misgivings about the direction that the imposition of a Super Board will take us.

The Inuvialuit through their claim will retain their regional strength, a structure that will ensure a distinct presence in decision making on their traditional lands. The same should continue for the settled First Nations Governments in the NWT. The Regional Boards have provided that, to a degree that has been acceptable. The remaining unsettled claimant groups, including the Metis need to finish out the process that they are currently involved in.

The Super Board inclusion is therefore unnecessary and therefore nothing more than ill-conceived manipulation by the Conservative Government which may sow seeds of greater discord in the future.

I suppose we could accept Premier Macleod's placating that perhaps in five years or so the Federal Government would be willing to reconsider the MVRMA but by that time the Super Board will well established, and difficult to change.

As Grand Chief Erasmus says, “Why change something that isn't broken?”

PDF download
available as Acrobat PDF From The House January 2014 Opinion Editorial

The New Voting Bill

March, 2014

By Dennis Bevington MP Northwest Territories

The Conservatives have proven again with Bill C-23, the Fair Elections Act, that they have mastered the art of political double speak. We in the Official Opposition have renamed Bill C-23 the "Unfair Elections Act" because of its many provisions that will likely reduce voter turnout in the next election, and enhance the advantages for the Conservative.

How does this work, you may ask? Aren't we all on the side of increasing voter turnout?

The percentage of people voting has dropped steadily over the past few decades. This is very pronounced among younger voters. Surely this is a trend that anyone concerned with the health of our democracy would want to change?

When one examines the proposed Conservative legislation, the opposite is the case. Take for instance voter identification cards, which have been used by hundreds of thousands of Canadian voters when they go to the polls. With C-23, these cards, which are sent by the Government to all voters prior to the election, cannot be used by the voter to help establish their identity or their address when they arrive at the polling station.

Why has this been done? There are no cases on record of any voter fraud utilising these essential notices that go to Canadian citizens.

Another aspect of current voting practises that will be taken away is vouching by one person in the constituency for another who may not have proper identification with them when they get to the polls. One hundred and twenty thousand Canadians used this process in the last election, including many people in northern Canada. For families, seniors, disabled people and for students, the vouching system was one way to establish their right to vote, at the polling station, on election day. Once again, there are no cases of voter fraud in this instance and the studies that have been done on the subject show no deliberate abuse of the vouching.

Too bad for these Canadians, who in opinion polls have shown that they are less likely to vote for the Conservative Party.

Another very contentious part of Bill C-23 is the restriction on the ability of the Chief Electoral Officer(CEO) to promote the importance of getting out to vote. In other words, the CEO can only advertise the bare bones of his job, how to vote, proper identification, and location of polling stations. Any other efforts, such as promoting youth to vote, or explaining the importance of your vote will be prohibited. This aspect of the law is completely ridiculous and its inclusion in Bill C-23 can only be explained as voter suppression.

Six years ago, when the Conservatives brought in the new requirements for voter identification, I took a stand against that bill, saying that it would place an unnecessary burden on northerners and many other Canadians. That turned out to be the case. Now with this legislation, the situation will become much worse. What is the rationale for this legislation? Do the Conservatives understand through their extensive polling that their future electoral success lies with selective voter suppression?

This type of behaviour is rampant right now in the United States, where Republican governments in different states, realizing that minorities who don't vote for them, are constantly upgrading their election rules to cut these groups out of voting. We don't need this type of anti-democratic behaviour in Canada, and all of us should be vigilant against it.

In Parliament, the Conservatives forced closure on debate on second reading of Bill C-23. They refused at committee to hold public hearings across the country to find out what people think of the legislation. They are using their majority to push this bill through the House of Commons process. The Senate will likely be no help as well as they are a majority of Conservatives who take their orders from Prime Minister Harper.

Where is our democracy going, when fundamental issues like the rights of voters are treated in this fashion?

PDF download
available as Acrobat PDF From The House March 2014 Opinion Editorial

Let’s not re-start the Cold War in the Warming Arctic

May, 2014

By Dennis Bevington MP Northwest Territories

The Arctic with its rapidly melting ocean is the focussed area of the globe in this new century. With its potential shipping routes, fisheries, land and sea bed resources, the Arctic holds prizes that now resonate on an ever smaller and crowded Earth.

On the environmental side, the changes that are occurring in the polar region have implications for all countries. Understanding the pace and extent of polar warming can assist in planning for the profound alterations to our societies as Climate Change moves forward. We already see the effects in North America on how our jet stream, the high altitude air flow, is changing weather patterns. Europe knows that escalating ice melt in the Arctic will have a profound impact on the Atlantic Gulf Stream, their major climatic influence and worldwide, nations fear the impact of rising water levels.

Everyone has a stake in what is happening in the Arctic and up until very recently, cooperation and collaboration were the bywords for Arctic interaction. This wasn't always the case.

Prior to end of the Cold War, confrontation, secrecy and massive expenditures on surveillance and military were the standard practise. With the end of communism in the 90's a great thaw began in international relations visa via the Polar Regions. Canadians played a large role in this, first by founding the Standing Committee of Parliamentarians of the Arctic Regions and then, with the active participation from groups like the Inuit Circumpolar Conference, we stepped forward in building an institution for arctic collaboration, the Arctic Council.

The Arctic Council has been a model for partnerships of all Arctic Nations and Indigenous Peoples and “observer” status to the Council is sought by countries from around the world.

Regardless of whether conflict was on in Iraq or Georgia, Afghanistan, Chechnia, Libya or Syria, international cooperation in the Polar Regions has moved steadily along, peacefully and progressively. Countries had agreed to utilise the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea to settle maritime boundaries. A search and rescue treaty was signed among all the nations. Both commercial and environmental multi-lateral issues were being advanced steadily.

But something different is happening now.

One might put it down simply to the crisis in the Ukraine, but it actually began last year. After Prime Minister Harper, in a candid interview with the Globe and Mail, said that he was not interested in international cooperation in the Arctic, only sovereignty.

“The Antarctic model is absolutely and completely unacceptable to the government of Canada and to the people of Canada. We want to make sure that [this] kind of thinking is not part of any … department of the government of Canada.”

The ensuing events in the Ukraine have given an opportunity for this brash statement to play out as the Chair of the Arctic Council, Minister Leona Aglukkaq, has boycotted an important meeting in Russia on Climate Change factors. As well this week it was revealed that the face to face meeting of the Arctic Council in Iqaluit this summer has been cancelled - supposedly because of a lack of agenda.

Canadians need to watch how this attitude going to play out going forward. There is much at stake and a confrontational attitude should not be the approach we are taking in our part of the world.

Is Canada's two year chairmanship of the Arctic Council to lead to its diminishment?

Is that what the Prime Minister wants?

PDF download
available as Acrobat PDF From The House May 2014 Opinion Editorial