:: Statements Ottawa

Adobe Acrobat Reader for PDF document required.

Download Adobe Acrobat Reader Web Accessibility icon

[version française]

Bill C-15 Northwest Territories Devolution Act
the cleanup of Giant Mine in Yellowknife, NWT
Keystone XL Pipeline
Mackenzie Gas Project Impacts Act
Question regarding the Nutrition North food program
Statement Nutrition North food program
Bill S-6 First Nations Elections Act
Question on polar bear information
Statement on the Giant Mine clean up
Statement on Climate Change
Question on the Giant Mine clean-up
Question on Social Insurance Number
Question on the Arctic
Bill C-47 (Northern Jobs and Growth Act)
Speech in the House of Commons on Northern Infrastructure
Question on the high cost of living in the north
Question on Arctic Council
Statement on Opposition Day Motion on Aboriginal Rights and Treaties
Further discussion on Treaty Rights
Question on devolution
Statement NWT Day

MP Dennis Bevington speech on Bill C-15 Northwest Territories Devolution Act.

December 04, 2013

Mr. Dennis Bevington Former MP Northwest Territories:

Mr. Speaker, as a lifelong northerner, I am pleased to have the opportunity to address Bill C-15, the devolution implementation bill.

I would first like to congratulate the premier of the Northwest Territories, Bob McLeod, his cabinet ministers and the staff for the hard work they have put in on this file. That extends back through the time of the Northwest Territories to many other people who have dedicated their service in building a territory with political rights that are equivalent to those in other parts of Canada.

Bill C-15 has two very significant and different parts. One makes changes to the Northwest Territories Act, an act that is virtually the constitution of the Northwest Territories. All actions there fall under the Northwest Territories Act. Other laws are being changed to implement the devolution agreement between Canada and the Northwest Territories.

The second part brings in changes to the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act, primarily doing away with the regional land and water boards created through land claims agreements with the first nations, replacing them with a single super board. There are other changes in the act, and I will speak to those as I go along. They are very significant changes that, apart from what the minister has said, will leave even stronger powers for the minister over resource development in the Northwest Territories. It is quite clearly the case.

We in the New Democratic Party support devolution. We see this as a step forward for the Northwest Territories in some respects, and we will look to the bill going to committee. We will look to the opportunity to put forward amendments that may better serve the people of the Northwest Territories.

The devolution part of the bill partially realizes the dream northerners have had for over 50 years: taking more authority over their lives from bureaucrats in Ottawa. I have lived that life and I know what that life is.

The Carruthers Commission in 1966 moved the capital of the Northwest Territories to Yellowknife and brought a number of bureaucrats there, but that was what we could call “second-stage colonialism”. We brought the federal government into the Northwest Territories and to the greatest extent it ruled the north from the north, rather than from Ottawa.

The federally appointed Commissioner of the Northwest Territories was the speaker, premier and lieutenant governor, all rolled into one, up until 1975. In 1975, we had our first elected territorial council of 15 members. This includes the territory known as Nunavut now, under one roof.

Before that a mixture of people elected and appointed by the federal government provided governance. Executive powers still lay with the commissioner, assisted by a deputy and an assistant commissioner.

With the appointment of John Parker in 1979, the move began away from an executive commissioner toward a more ceremonial role as lieutenant governor. I will get back to that point, because it is a point I want to bring up in this speech.

In the late eighties, health services, administration of justice and the management of forestry were devolved to the Government of the Northwest Territories, which has handled all of those as well as can be and deserves great praise for providing services to people across a vast territory with limited resources.

We have taken on education, social services, highways, airport administration and a number of the roles that would be classified as provincial. That was never satisfactory to the north, as after the nineties when we had constitutional development conferences in the north, where we talked about our future and what direction we would take, I think we all felt that we wanted to be a unique place in Canada.

We wanted full respect for aboriginal governments. We wanted partnerships between aboriginal governments and public governments so that we would have a territory that would truly represent the people, the history and the real claim that first nations have to the land and resources of the north. That is a dream that is still held by most northerners.

There were devolution efforts in the early part of 2000, with the Liberals. The deal was virtually the same as this. Perhaps they were offering a little better money, at the time, and I think a little more control over development. That deal was actually rejected by the parties, in the end, because there was not a common agreement.

I think one of the great accomplishments of Premier McLeod, with the devolution file, has been to bring many of the first nations on board. Premier McLeod himself is of aboriginal descent and has a great deal of respect among first nation peoples—among all of us in the north—for his strength and his fairness. I think that is something that has helped the devolution file tremendously.

The MVRMA part of the bill, however, would implement the Conservative desire to move forward with more rapid resource development in the Northwest Territories. That is what we see here. That is the purpose of this. This is the great trade-off that has been made with this bill—the trade-off that we all have been put under.

When I got a comprehensive audit of people's attitudes toward changes in the MVRMA done by outside consultants a year and a half ago, it was pretty clear that most people in the Northwest Territories were not thinking that the regulatory system needed more than some very straightforward tweaking.

One thing we all did agree with was that the land use plans, which are part of the MVRMA, needed to be completed, including McCrank. Everybody agreed with that. The current government has not moved very fast to make that happen, which was one of the biggest problems we had in the regulatory system.

For more than 20 years, the aboriginal people in the Northwest Territories have hung their hat on having some say and control over the resource development process on lands and waters. They have tied this to the MVRMA with their duly developed land claims agreements with the Gwich'in, the Sahtu and the Tlicho governments.

These people have agreed to regional boards. They have supported regional boards. Yes, there are provisions that perhaps one single board could be made, but what we have found in the Northwest Territories is that regional boards actually provide a useful and necessary function within the Northwest Territories to, clearly, provide that vision that we talked about earlier, the vision of a territory that had balance between aboriginal and non-aboriginal governments.

So, what we would see with this bill is that particular structure would change to a single board. It might be possible to change it back later. That is very much a question that is up in the air now.

However, certainly, an NDP government would go back to take a look at this. We would go back to see whether this was appropriate for the development of the Northwest Territories according to how the people see their development taking place.

The MVRMA remains a Federal legislation, but it is an essential part of how the balance of the Northwest Territories is developing.

Let us talk about the changes to the NWT Act for devolution. The question here is whether we are moving to more province-like powers. Yes, in the administration of environment and the administration of land, we are. In the enforcement of those provisions, yes, we are. Those are things that are valuable. I thank all of those involved in pushing those forward for the people of the Northwest Territories. However, there are other things that trouble us in the bill, where we look for amendments, perhaps.

When it comes to directions to the commissioner, I mentioned the commissioner was moving more to the state of a lieutenant-governor ceremonial position. This bill would draw him back into the fold of the federal government. Bill C-15, clause 4, states:

The Commissioner must act in accordance with any written instructions given to him or her by the Governor in Council or the Minister.

This is stronger language than in the current NWT Act. The Yukon Act contains no comparable sections, and in Nunavut these instructions are made public through tabling in the Legislative Assembly.

What do we see here, in this particular section of the devolution act? We actually see more control being applied through the commissioner's office. Strengthening the federal control of the NWT, when combined with the provision of section 29 that adds the power of the minister to order the commissioner to withhold assent to bills that are passed in the Legislative Assembly, the commissioner, under the instruction of the minister, can withhold assent to those bills, and has up to a year to do it.

What we see there is fairly strong control over any changes that could be made in the Northwest Territories in the years to come with different governments there that may have agendas different those of the present government or any other government.

Regarding borrowing, this bill would continue the process whereby Ottawa sets the amount of debt the NWT can acquire. NWT debt is not a burden on Canada. This is an outdated and colonial practice that inhibits our development by not allowing us to invest in things like hydroelectric generation capacity. We have to go to the federal government, cap in hand, and ask it to please give us a little more borrowing power and to possibly let us do something that we know is good for our people.

I put a bill forward in the last Parliament. This issue has been very well discussed and is very well understood. The opposition at the time voted unanimously, and we passed that bill through second reading. Only the Conservatives wanted to limit the borrowing capacity of our government.

What is it in like in the provinces? The federal government may not give direction to a provincial lieutenant governor. All natural resources are completely under the control of the provinces, with no Ottawa interference. There is no control over borrowing. The lieutenant governors cannot be directed to not assent to bills.

These are things that are in the devolution agreement. We see that the devolution agreement would give us more in certain areas but would put reins on us in other areas. That would limit our capacity, unlike other Canadians. These things can be changed by amendments, and I encourage the government to support some amendments that would give us more flexibility under this act.

Let us move on to the changes to the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act. This measure would eliminate regional boards created through the land use process. It would replace them with one super board with only 11 members. This bill also would also give the minister the right, in any part of this bill and for any of the boards that will exist in the Northwest Territories, to provide binding policy decisions to those boards. In other words, the minister could tell the board the way it will judge actions.

There is no consultation with the Government of the Northwest Territories included in that provision. That would make sense. It would make sense that the people who are taking care of the environment and the land would have some influence over the policy decisions that are going forward to the boards that make decisions about development. What would be wrong with providing that consultation to the Government of the Northwest Territories? Again, with a simple amendment we could put that in place. If the Conservatives want to listen, that is fine.

There have been environmental audits done in the Northwest Territories. The main problem with our regulatory system, according to these independent environmental audits that were done in 2010, was that foot-dragging by Ottawa on appointments and on approvals of developments was the biggest impediment to resource development in the Northwest Territories. Now we would have a system whereby one government would control some things and the other government can have a say over everything when it comes to resource development. This is a difficult situation. This is going to lead to conflicts.

We need one government in charge of making decisions, and that should be the Government of the Northwest Territories in consultation with and working together with the first nations, who have a right to land and resources in the Northwest Territories and who we want to have as complete partners in the development of the Northwest Territories.

This is a goal that we all have. It is a goal that northerners have in the Northwest Territories. We are not interested in matching up to Alberta. We do not want Alberta in the Northwest Territories. That is not what we are here for. We want our own government, under our own rules, with our own relationships, with the groups that make up the north and have lived there for hundreds and thousands of years and have done very well with that.

There is strong opposition among the first nations to the changes to the MVRMA. The Gwich'in Tribal Council made a unanimous decision to reject the changes at a meeting held in Inuvik by community leadership representing all the Gwich'in communities. These are the words of Gwich'in Tribal Council president Robert Alexie. He said: “My people have spoken, and what Canada is proposing is clearly unacceptable”. The T'licho government is opposed. Grand Chief Eddie Erasmus has said:

There's no need to change the Wek'èezhli Land and Water Board. There's nothing wrong with it. Absolutely nothing wrong with it. It's working very well. Why fix something that is not broken?

With regard to appointments, why is the minister holding on tightly to all the appointments to all these boards? Why is he saying that a nomination from the Government of the Northwest Territories to any of these boards must meet his approval? Why do aboriginal governments that make nominations to these boards need the minister's approval? How is that devolution? How is that taking charge of our own affairs, when nominations can be rejected outright? When it comes to the chairs of the new super board, the minister only has to consult on appointing a chair. The minister's man will be in Yellowknife as head of the super board. He will be getting instructions, binding policy direction, from the minister about how things develop in the Northwest Territories. How does that represent true devolution?

I do not know if anyone across the way understands, but if they go talk to their provincial counterparts, they may understand what provincial-like powers actually are. The minister said the Yukon is doing extremely well with environmental assessments. Yukon actually makes decisions for itself. The Yukon first nations make appointments to their boards. The Yukon is doing it by itself. Bill C-15 does not permit us to do the same things that the Yukon is doing.

I have been through two phases of colonialism in my life. The first was when the federal government in Ottawa simply sent representatives up to govern us. I was a student in school, and different kids would come from Ottawa because their parents would be sent up there for a couple years to do northern duty. I was great friends with people from Ottawa and with their children, but they were not northerners. That was phase one.

Phase two was when the government came to the north. We have made remarkable progress in that time. We have done a lot with our territory. It is a great territory, one that I am absolutely proud to represent here in the House of Commons every day. I love the place. I want it to grow. I want to be a Canadian just like everyone else, but what we have here is only the third stage in colonialism. It is the stage when we take care of most things on the ground, but the decisions are in Ottawa. That is where we are at. We will work with the government as much as we can, but in the end, we know that our job as New Democrats will be to give the people of the north a real say, a say that is equivalent to that of other Canadians in how they manage their affairs.

PDF download
available as Acrobat PDF Bill C-15 Northwest Territories Devolution Act. statement

MP Dennis Bevington questions the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs Bernard Valcourt on the cleanup of Giant Mine in Yellowknife, NWT

November 22, 2013

Mr. Dennis Bevington Former MP Northwest Territories:

“Mr. Speaker, this summer the Mackenzie Valley Review Board gave conditional approval for cleanup plans for the old Giant Mine. The Conservative's response has been to reject recommendations on independent reviews, on health and on citizen input.

Giant Mine is the poster child for why we need strong environmental regulations. Buried underground are 237,000 tonnes of arsenic. Why is the minister refusing to take all measures to ensure this poison is never released?”

Bernard Valcourt, Minister of Aboriginal Affairs.

“Mr. Speaker, contrary to what the member alleges, we are currently reviewing the environmental assessment report submitted by the Mackenzie Valley Review Board. We will make a decision that is in the best interests of northerners and all Canadians.”

PDF download
available as Acrobat PDF cleanup of Giant Mine in Yellowknife, NWT question

MP Dennis Bevington’s statement on the Keystone XL Pipeline in the House of Commons

November 07, 2013

Mr. Dennis Bevington Former MP Northwest Territories:

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to debate this topic. I live downstream from the oil sands in the Northwest Territories. We have great concerns about those oil sands. I will start with a little history. In 2007, the oil sands industry in Alberta was looking at massive investment in upgraders. What happened to change that? In Texas, the government of the day in the United States decided that Venezuelan heavy oil coming from the Chavez regime was not appropriate. The Chavez regime agreed with that and we saw the stifling of heavy oil to the Texas refineries. That changed the situation in 2007.

The upgraders then were to be replaced with the heavy oil upgraders in Texas, and the multinationals that ran the Alberta oil industry had no consideration at all for Canada only their bottom line and their corporations, which is what they can only look at, decided to go to Texas. The bitumen could be put into the heavy oil upgraders there. They would not have to invest $60 million to $100 million over 20 or 30 years to build upgraders, modern upgraders that could provide the best possible service in upgrading our bitumen. They would not have to do that in Alberta. They would not have to make that decision. They would not have to invest that money, but they needed to get a pipeline. They wanted to get a pipeline down to Texas where they could use those heavy oil upgraders, which would increase their profits. They did not really have a reason to support Canadian industry, to support Canadian workers or to support the Alberta economy. In fact, if they used these heavy oil upgraders, that could open up more investment than they could put into the oil sands, so they could produce more of it and ramp up the speed by which they developed this resource, because they were just taking it out of the ground and shipping it somewhere else. They could start moving more and more projects.

How does that make the people in our region feel? When we talk to the people in Fort Chipewyan, the people in Fort MacKay or talk to any of the people who actually live in that region, like myself, in Fort Smith, we do not like it. We want orderly development. We do not want the oil sands to blow up to three times its size in the next decade and a half because we are simply taking the oil out of the ground and shipping it out of the country. If we were building the upgraders in Canada, there would be plenty of jobs and economic development for Alberta. This would work. This would mean more orderly development of the oil sands.

Instead, what do we have? We have the Wild West going. The Jackpine project has just been approved. What did the Environmental Assessment Board say about the Jackpine project? It would have significant impact on the environment. However, for economic reasons, it was allowed to go ahead anyhow. It was needed for the economy. Because raw bitumen was just being shipped out, these plants had to be built that take it out of the ground and get it out of the country. What kind of process is that for Canada?

Who are the big promoters of this project in the United States? The guys who control the petcoke industry, the Koch brothers. The biggest climate change deniers in the world love this product. They love to get the petcoke into the states where they send that dirty product that comes out of the upgrading using the coking process, which is a process that actually should not be the main process right now for upgrading, but I will get into that a little later. They take that petcoke and sell it to China, the dirtiest product to put into a coal-fired plant the world has ever seen. That is what is done with it. That is what we end up supporting with our Canadian Keystone pipeline.

The Koch brothers were pretty careful at the beginning. They would not admit any involvement with Keystone. They did not want to tie any of their processes, but it has been proved now, pretty conclusively, that these guys are doing it for their purposes. This is what Canada is supporting right now. The dirtiest product is going to go from the United States to China and to other countries to be burned in their coal-fired plants. Keystone XL would produce about 15,000 tonnes of petcoke a day from its process. What can we do differently? We could build upgraders in Canada. When they switched to coking from hydrogen addition, it was because the price of natural gas went through the roof at the beginning of the last decade. Where is the price of natural gas now? It is down there.

We are building LNG terminals to ship the natural gas out of the country when we could be using it in upgraders in Alberta to upgrade the bitumen in an environmentally reasonable fashion, reasonable but not perfect. Instead, we are going to build the Keystone pipeline, ship it all down, put it in the old beat-up refineries along the Texas coast that have handled Venezuelan heavy crude for the last 40 years. It will stick it in there, it will process it there and it will take the petcoke and ship it to China.

How does that fit with Canada's image in the world? What does that make Canada? More of a pariah? Is this what the Conservative government wants: everyone in the world looking at Canada as a purveyor of ill-gotten environmentally unfriendly good? Is that the Conservative government's plan for Canada's economy?

The Conservatives have to shake their heads a little. They have to recognize that Canada has a place in the world. We are not alone in the world. We are not immune to the opinions of the rest of the world. We live off the opinions of the rest of the world through trade. If we do proper trade, people will continue to work with us.

I sat on a board that dealt with environmental issues on rivers. The Al-Pac pulp mill on the Athabasca River, through public pressure, was forced to increase its environmental capacity before it was built. The executives of that company told me five years later that it was the best thing that ever happened. They could sell their pulp anywhere in the world as a high premium, environmentally correct product. It was the best thing that ever happened to them.

What are we doing with our oil sands that are going to be around for 150 years? What kind of reputation are we building for this product that we want to sell to the rest of the world for decades to come? We are doing nothing. We are just trying to get it out of the ground as fast as possible. Mine it and ship is the viewpoint right now in this industry.

We could move in another direction. We could set up the most modern upgraders in the world using the excess natural gas we have for hydrogen addition. We could produce an industry that had a lot more environmental aspects to it. We would also then have synthetic oil, which we could send anywhere in the world. Synthetic oil created out of bitumen can go into any refinery in the world.

Rather than being a hostage to the Texas coast where, in a few years, perhaps Venezuela will be back to being a friend of the United States and then, all of a sudden, we would be competing with heavy oil coming by tankard loads from Venezuela to the same refineries. All of a sudden, the value of the bitumen would start to drop because there would be competition for the same upgrading.

I appreciate that I have one minute left, but if we look at it environmentally, our country has about one minute left. We have moved so quickly to a position in this world where we are simply not accepted anymore. We are not accepted as being good citizens of the world. This is a tragedy that goes on the backs of all those people sitting across there. The Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Prime Minister are the guys responsible for the mess we are in today. They sit there and grin and pretend that this is all just going to pass by. It is not going to pass by. We will remember what they did.

PDF download
available as Acrobat PDF Keystone XL Pipeline statement

MP Dennis Bevington speech on the Mackenzie Gas Project Impacts Act in the House of Commons

October 29, 2013

Mr. Dennis Bevington Former MP Northwest Territories:

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to debate this particular bill, another omnibus bill coming from the Conservative Party, which contains a number of very significant issues.

One of those issues deals with an act that is really only directed toward the constituency I represent, the Northwest Territories. It is called the amendments to the Mackenzie Gas Project Impacts Act, and the bill changes the conditions of a particular fund that was set up through the work of the previous Liberal government and then through the work of the Conservative government in 2006 to deal with potential impacts from the Mackenzie gas project, a project that was put forward by Imperial Oil and, throughout the last decade, went through environment assessment.

Support of most first nations groups along the Mackenzie Valley was achieved for this 1,200-kilometre-long pipeline with a collector field in the Mackenzie Delta. The Inuvialuit of that region also supported the project. We did go through a process by which this project achieved support.

Part of that support came because of the decision by the federal government, both Liberals and Conservatives at the time, to a provide socio-economic impact fund to the communities. This fund, which was established as a trust fund of $500 million, was to be divided among the communities, the regions, the aboriginal organizations that represented the regions down the Mackenzie Valley and in the Mackenzie Delta. The Dehcho region was to receive $150 million; the Gwich’in region, $82 million; the Tulita-Deline region, $61 million; the Inuvialuit $150 million; and the Kasho Gotine-Colville region, $57 million.

These sums were to be distributed over 10 years once the project had been approved and we had seen work going forward with the project, once the companies had initiated efforts to start the project. This money was clearly identified for socio-economic impacts over 10 years, so that the sums of money were to be used for projects designed and developed by the communities.

These communities up and down the Mackenzie Valley, in the Mackenzie Delta, went through an extensive process to identify what they saw were their concerns in developing this pipeline: how it would affect their communities, how their communities could alleviate some of the impacts of such a major project, a $16 billion project, being conducted in an area where there were mostly traditional communities in very much pristine wilderness.

We had a situation where these communities had gone into a two-year planning process and came up with detailed plans of how these dollars were to be spent. The government at the time, through an act of Parliament, set up an independent corporation that would manage these funds and ensure that the corporation would only provide contributions to regional organizations in respect of a project if the project mitigated the existing or anticipated socio-economic impacts on the communities in the Northwest Territories arising from the Mackenzie gas project. Quite clearly, this was designed solely for that purpose.

There was an independent body set up by the Conservative government through an act of Parliament to manage this money and ensure that it was managed in a correct and careful fashion, following the procedures that had been set up and the planning that had taken place in these communities over a period of two years, from 2006 to 2008. All of this work was accomplished and it was put in place.

That is the basic history of what has happened with it. Now, the Conservatives are talking about changing this project and the act to one where a minister, who is not designated in the act, will have the sole responsibility for issuing the funds for this rather large amount of money. We have a situation where the minister is not known. One of the significant differences in the bill is that in the previous bill, a corporation may only deal with this particular aspect when it is dealing with money, but now the new minister may designate the funds.

There is a subtle change in the way the legislation is put out, which I have some concerns about, because I represent the people who went through the two-year planning process to come up with the ideas that would be initiated. Those ideas were ones that spoke to culture, language, young people, the significant and important social impacts that the communities recognized would exist after taking on a major industrial project. It would forever change the landscape in their regions. It would forever change the economics and would put enormous social pressure on these communities.

What we have now is a move to a system that would have a Conservative minister handing out cheques for particular projects as he or she deems appropriate. This is a concern that I have. When we had the corporation in place, the corporation would have followed the directions that the communities had struck. It would have been an impartial body. We would have taken it away from the potential political interference that goes on with funds that are not clearly and carefully delegated to the right areas.

Did the government not learn anything from the Muskoka minister's gazebo scandal? Did it not learn anything about the importance of dealing with funds in a non-partial, careful fashion so that the precise purpose of what these funds are developed for is implemented?

We went through the process in the Northwest Territories. We established what these funds were to be used for in agreement with the Government of the Northwest Territories and the federal government. These plans are in place. Where is the protection now for the work that people have done?

It is changing. Why is the government changing this? Where was the consultation with anyone in the Northwest Territories about this process? When did the government actually talk to people and say it wanted to take it out of the hands of an impartial corporation, which is very carefully configured to ensure that the dollars are spent in the way that the communities want, and put it into the hands of a minister who may or may decide to support projects, based on political considerations? Where was that consultation? How did that work? Where is the success of that?

What we have is a $500-million fund that has now been cut loose by the Government of Canada, by the Conservative Government of Canada, into the hands of a minister. It may or may not work in the way that is was designed to work.

This is a pattern that we can follow with the Conservative government. It started off with good intentions. It felt accountability was important when it started off. It recognized that it did not want to follow the Liberal pattern. Now it is back. What pattern is it following? It is back to the way the Liberals used to govern. It is back there now. This is just another indication. I really am sorry that this has happened.

PDF download
available as Acrobat PDF Mackenzie Gas Project Impacts Act statement

Question regarding the Nutrition North food program

June 13, 2013

Mr. Dennis Bevington Former MP Northwest Territories:

Mr. Speaker, the Conservatives' nutrition north program has done nothing but increase the cost of groceries across northern Canada. It costs $17 for a box of cereal in Iqaluit, $19 for a bag of rice in Pangnirtung and $25 for baby formula in Clyde River.

The Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut legislatures have voted unanimously to have the Auditor General investigate this program, but the Yukon and Nunavut MPs are very silent.

Will the Minister of Health heed the demands of the territorial governments and call in the Auditor General to investigate this boondoggle?

PDF download
available as Acrobat PDF Nutrition North food program question

Response to question on the Nutrition North food program.

June 13, 2013

Minister Bernard Valcourt (Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development)

Mr. Speaker, the fact of the matter is that the hon. member should pay close attention to what is happening in his home. Northerners have asked for greater access to healthy foods at lower cost and we have responded to their request.

The results are clear: the program is working. As a result of the nutrition north program, they now have access to high-quality nutritious foods at a lower cost. I saw the results of the advisory committee just last week. It was again reporting lower costs for northerners and—

PDF download
available as Acrobat PDF Question on the Nutrition North food program response

Nutrition North food program

June 12, 2013

Mr. Dennis Bevington Former MP Northwest Territories:

Mr. Speaker, the Conservatives' nutrition north program, created by the Minister of Health, has done nothing but increase the cost of groceries across northern Canada.

From Labrador to the Yukon, people are paying outrageous prices for food: $16.29 for a can of beef ravioli, $13.39 for a box of spaghetti, $14.49 for a bag of muffin dust, $59.59 for a package of ground beef. Unlike the old food mail program which subsidized the cost of shipping food north, nutrition north subsidizes the cost of selling food, resulting in record profits for some northern grocery stores.

Northerners have taken to the streets to protest this failure, including a march by Inuit to Parliament Hill. However, there has been no action by the Conservatives. Now the legislatures of the Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut have voted unanimously to have the Auditor General investigate this program.

When is the government going to listen to northerners and fix this boondoggle?

PDF download
available as Acrobat PDF Nutrition North food program statement

Bill S-6 First Nations Elections Act

May 28, 2013

Mr. Dennis Bevington Former MP Northwest Territories:

Mr. Speaker, I have the opportunity here, quite late on Tuesday night, to speak to this particular Bill.

It has been my viewpoint over the past two years on the Aboriginal Affairs Committee that the Conservatives really have not been consulting in the correct fashion with First Nations across the country. They come in with the wrong attitude. What we really need is to have First Nations design the legislation that they would like to see enacted for their governments, their people and their nations. We can then take that in Parliament and understand how we can amend it so that it works.

However, we have the opposite way and we saw that with the Accountability Act, an Act that really was an unfortunate piece of goods that came from the government. It was universally condemned by First Nations. They did have a couple of supporters there, but they were some very specific people who had problems in their own particular communities. Those who understood the nature of the First Nations-Canada relationship rejected the accountability act.

We are now at Bill S-8, the Safe Drinking Water Act, which we would think that everyone could get behind and support. However, once again, we see that the method of consultation and delivery of these bills is simply not working. The Conservative government is not providing the First Nations with the opportunities to design the legislation so that it works for them. In this case, with the Senate putting forward Bill S-8, we also have the additional problem that we cannot make requirements for resources to ensure that First Nations can actually meet standards that they would all want to meet.

The history so far of the majority government has been of one that refuses amendments. I think of Bill C-47, when we put forward some 45 amendments on a bill that only affected Nunavut and the Northwest Territories. Of those 40-some amendments, the Conservatives turned down all of them, even though the amendments were designed to make the bill work better. They were not coming from people who had great opposition to the Bill. They were coming from people who were concerned that the Bill should work right.

In other words, once again the Conservatives failed to provide a methodology of consultation that delivered a product that people could get behind. I see that this pattern is being repeated with Bill S-6. The Conservatives did go into some consultation. They did hold meetings with First Nations. They got recommendations from First Nations about how this Bill should be set up. The problem is that when the bill showed up, those recommendations were not carried forward in the fashion that the First Nations had assumed.

We can see that in the problem with the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs. The first Grand Chief, who was involved in the consultation side of it before the Bill was put out, was pretty happy with what was going to happen. He said that, but then when the bill arrived in the Senate, the Manitoba Chief that I quoted in my question to the parliamentary secretary said, "No, that is not what we are after".

The consultation process is wrong. The consultation process does not deliver the goods for First Nations. That is the problem here and the government has to change its direction in order to make legislation that truly represents First Nations' points of view. The legislation is for the First Nations. This legislation does not affect other people in Canada. The legislation is for the governments of the First Nations. Therefore, it should really have those elements as the prime elements within the legislation.

That seems to be simple. We are not here to force our way upon other governments. We are here to provide guidance and accommodation and to make the system work.

Conservatives have a different view. They view it from that economic development lens. We heard the parliamentary secretary say that. Implicit within all the work that the Conservatives are doing is the idea that economic development for the First Nations is the most important element. The most important element is not what the First Nations want, not what the First Nations deserve, but what will make economic development work. That is the Conservatives' point of view.

What we see in legislation over and over again is that message. What is important for economic development is the primary thing that we will see in legislation that comes from the Conservatives on First Nations issues. If First Nations go along with that, and the government can get some to go along with that, those will be the quotations that are used. Those will be the validations that Conservatives seek.

What really is needed? We really need to listen to the First Nations. This legislation is for them, it is not for us. It is not telling us how we are getting elected. It is working with the First Nations to come up with a system that they endorse, that they want for their very valid self-government efforts.

In the consultation process there was probably a little more give, a little more understanding, but when it came back to Ottawa, the changes were made to ensure that it worked for the government and it plans. That is the reality of what we are dealing with.

We have trouble with the Bill. We also have trouble supporting it at second reading and taking it to committee. We have done this over and over again, but we are not getting any results. We are not getting the government to come onside for valid amendments to Bills.

That is the process by which we all want to engage in here. This is what we want to do at committees. We want to have the opportunity to take what the people want, take what the government wants, come up with some compromises. We do not want this hard line attitude about the committees and about how amendments are dealt with at committees. That is not working for us. What we are saying is that will oppose this Bill at second reading because it does not what the First Nations want.

It is a tragedy that we cannot take the Bill to committee with some kind of assurance that some of the important elements that need to be fixed in the Bill will be fixed. However, when we beat our head against the wall and do not get results, then we should quit beating our head against the wall. That is sensible.

We can fight it here in Parliament. We can go to committee and hear the witnesses who will say that they want amendments and to make the Bill work properly. That is what we have heard over and over again. With all the legislation that has come in front of us, it has always been the case that the First Nations witnesses who testify want solutions. They do not want to go away empty handed.

It is a tragedy and it is wrong. That is not the way we should do government. Government is for the people. The people who are affected by legislation are the primary concern of the legislation. This is not for all of Canada. This is for First Nations. They have the primary say here. If we go against that principle, we are really going against the principle of democracy if we are not allowing the people who are affected by the law to have the dominant say over how the law is put together.

If a law affects all Canadians, then we all have a say in it. The responsibility is different. However, in the case when we are making laws for First Nations, First Nations that have a constitutional right of self-government, that have been in this land for thousands of years, who signed treaties, they should have a say in it. We did not take the land away from them, we signed treaties with them. The Queen agreed about how these treaties were taken care of in 1763.

That is our history. Do we want to rewrite history? We should write it the way it has been done.

I really would like to get along with the government on legislation for First Nations when it starts getting along with First Nations and when it starts listening to First Nations. This is what the legislation is for. These are the people who are affected by the legislation. It is not for businessmen, not for those who look upon reserves as potential new sources of land and resources. No, it is for those people. Let us remember that when we deal with legislation. If we do not, we are simply not doing the job that, as Canadians, we know we should be doing.

PDF download
available as Acrobat PDF Bill S-6 First Nations Elections Act statement

Question on polar bear information

April 30, 2013

Mr. Dennis Bevington Former MP Northwest Territories:

Mr. Speaker, not only are they denying responsibility, but they deny science. We do know what kind of science Conservatives believe in: pseudo-science. When the member for Yukon was asked by a constituent for polar bear information, he gave them a report penned by a trio of climate change deniers. He even called evidence from Environment Canada scientist’s government propaganda.

When will the government stop misinforming the public, stop attacking science and start making fact-based decisions?

Hon. Peter Kent (Minister of the Environment, CPC):

Mr. Speaker, no government in Canadian history has done more than our government to promote the values and traditions of the Arctic and Arctic communities. The same goes for the member for Yukon. Whether it is his defence of the humane seal hunt or whether it is his efforts to protect the Inuit's sustainable management of the polar bear, the people of the Yukon can depend on the member for Yukon.

Together with other range states, Canada has been taking great strides in recent years in coordinating action on polar bear conservation.

PDF download
available as Acrobat PDF Question on polar bear information

Statement on the Giant Mine clean up

April 26, 2013

Mr. Dennis Bevington Former MP Northwest Territories:

Mr. Speaker, the Department of Aboriginal Affairs has finally admitted it misled Canadians when it said the cost of dealing with the over 270,000 tonnes of arsenic at Giant Mine was only $449 million. The new figure is nearly $1 billion and could go higher. Canada only received a little over $400 million in 2002 dollars in royalties over the 60-year life of the mine, meaning Canadians are on the hook for around $600 million.

While the Conservatives were hiding the massive cost to Canadians to clean up the environmental disaster at Giant, they were slashing environmental protections, particularly for the oil sands and the oil industry in general.

Considering the massive cost to Canadians for cleaning up one single mine, I have to wonder just how many billions of dollars our children and grandchildren will be paying because of the Conservatives' and the Liberals' failure to ensure the environment is protected in their rush to exploit the oil sands.

The cost of cleaning up the oil sands tailings ponds alone will be gigantic.

PDF download
available as Acrobat PDF Statement on the Giant Mine clean up

Statement on Climate Change

April 25, 2013

Mr. Dennis Bevington Former MP Northwest Territories:

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Sherbrooke.

We have had a bit of debate about who is responsible. In reality, the responsibility for the development of the fossil fuel industry in our country lies with the Liberals. It was a Chrétien government, along with Ralph Klein, that set up the deal on the oil sands. That favourable tax deal and the lack of proper regulation drove the development of this industry, which is causing us extreme problems right now in our presence on the world stage and our greenhouse gas emissions. There is culpability on the part of both of these governments since 1995, dealing with the oil and gas industry.

I come from the north. We know about climate change. Environment Canada's temperature data for the Mackenzie Valley since 1951 has shown average temperature increases of 2.5° Celsius. For Inuvik, this data shows an annual increase of 3.1°. The average winter temperature increases are even greater. Inuvik has seen an increase of 5.8° Celsius over that period of time. Norman Wells and Yellowknife have seen average increases of 3.9° Celsius. We understand about climate change.

We understand the impact; whether it is on our forests, or on our permafrost, where in some cases we have lost 40% of it, or on the ice melt in the Arctic, of the changing conditions on our climate, the increased temperature causing those effects. The Mackenzie River spring melt and ice-free dates have advanced by about 20 days in the last century.

On September 26, 2012, our environment critic and I tried to have the House conduct an emergency debate on the rapidly decreasing amount of summer Arctic ice. Why did we do that? Because that summer, Canadians were experiencing, not just the north but the rest of Canada, the impacts of climate change. Why was that? Because things were changing and changing rapidly. Before we reach 2° Celsius, we will be impacted tremendously by climate change.

The United States had the highest August temperature since 1885 and droughts throughout the country. What caused that? A report by Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University and Stephen Vavrus of the University of Wisconsin showed that the extreme weather was directly related to the loss of Arctic summer ice cover. Arctic summer ice cover has dropped precipitously in the last decade, and it was at its lowest level last summer. It is 50% below what it was in 1979. It is adding heat to the ocean and the atmosphere to redirect the jet stream, the fast-moving, high altitude river of air that steers weather systems across the northern hemisphere.

The studies show that jet stream is behaving differently. It is becoming slower, with bigger troughs and ridges. This is causing major impacts to our climate. This is causing greater large-scale climate events like the storm, Sandy, that hit the New York coast.

I will not go into the details of why this is happening. Members can look on the website. They can find those details for themselves. This is an issue for all Canadians. The changing jet stream is the main culprit behind the extreme weather events that we see, so we know we will continue to see those major and extreme weather events moving forward. We need to understand how to deal with that in Canada.

I will take a step back now and talk about how we should be dealing with it in the north. It is clear the Conservatives and the Liberals before failed completely to deal with northern Canada and effectively with climate change, to help northerners reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and make their communities more sustainable.

Instead, governments looked on the north as a resource extraction area. That goes for both those governments. They both considered the north to be of prime importance. Instead of the north improving its situation, it will add to the world problem of climate change.

The other path that should be taken in the north is northern sustainability. Sustainability is a word thrown around to cover a variety of situations, from large industrial projects that support local employment and business to the allowable yield of wild animals for human consumption. As a long-time northerner, I would see sustainability defined as the ability to maintain a modest lifestyle that can be enhanced and made prosperous with the addition of carefully managed medium-term resource development projects. I want something that gives me confidence that my grandchildren will have a prosperous future. We need to look at how to change the North’s reliance on fossil fuels.

Southern Canada has been in a bit of an artificial envelope because people use natural gas to heat their homes. The price of natural gas has not gone up in 10 years. In northern Canada, where people heat their homes with fuel oil, the increase in the last decade has been 400%. Considering the amount of heating required in the north, it is a big problem, a big problem that is not being solved, yet it is an issue that the government could deal with. It could work with the people in the north. Northerners are trying to make a difference there. The Government of the Northwest Territories has been very successful in converting many of its buildings to biomass. It has come out with a solar energy strategy. These are things that can help people in the north, but where is the federal government on this? It is not there yet.

Obsolete thinking about energy as an exportable, non-renewable resource has taken Canada out of step from where it should be. It is more involved in increasing greenhouse gas emissions in this global environment than simply within Canada. That is where see the failure of the Conservative government right now.

What have been the actions of the Conservative government over the last year in terms of influencing the world on climate change? It has stepped out of the UN committee dealing with desertification, one of the serious issues that is going to be in front of us with climate change. It has refused to deal in the House with the serious issues facing our weather systems.

The Arctic Council has worked for years to put climate change as the main item on its agenda. What is the new minister, who is taking over the chairmanship, talking about for the Arctic Council? She is saying we should talk about resource development. She is saying we should move this international body away from dealing with the impacts of climate change and more toward exploitive behaviour.

We have disengaged from Kyoto. We have given up on major agreements that can drive the rest of the world to join us in improving greenhouse gas emissions. We need to work together in this world. This is not a problem that can be solved in Canada by improving our efficiency or setting regulations for Canadians; this is a problem that has to be dealt with around the world.

Now the President of the United States is geared up for climate change. What major effort is Canada putting into the United States right now? We are trying to sell oil that has a large greenhouse gas profile attached to it. We are pushing it very hard in the United States. Where are we working with the United States on the issues surrounding greenhouse gas emissions? Where are we trying to deal with the President, who said that is going to be one of his major priorities?

We are religiously promoting the sale of fossil fuels. That is what the government is doing. That is its direction. That is the intensity of its efforts in the international field. How does that fit with dealing with the crisis that is coming with the change in climate? How is the government being responsible? It is not.

The government needs to understand that climate change is not a situation that we can gradually improve in the future: climate change is here today. The government should deal with it and get on it.

PDF download
available as Acrobat PDF Statement on Climate Change

Question on the Giant Mine clean-up

March 27, 2013

Mr. Dennis Bevington Former MP Northwest Territories:

Mr. Speaker, confidential documents on the Giant Mine cleanup demonstrate it actually costs less to protect the environment than to just let polluters off the hook.

The Treasury Board now pegs the cost of cleanup of the arsenic trioxide at double the government's previous claim, $903 million.

Will the government admit it is wrong? Protecting the environment protects the taxpayer as well. For $1 billion, surely we can find a better way to treat this poison other than freezing it underground.

Mr. Greg Rickford (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, for the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency and for the Federal Economic Development Initiative for Northern Ontario, CPC):

Mr. Speaker, it is clear that the need to clean up this mine is urgent. That is why we have taken immediate action to address some of the urgent needs, and we are working to ensure that a full remediation is put in place.

We expect to receive the report from the Mackenzie Valley Environmental Impact Review Board very soon and we will continue to take the necessary steps to protect the health and safety of workers in nearby communities.

PDF download
available as Acrobat PDF Question on the Giant Mine clean-up

Question on Social Insurance Number

March 07, 2013

Mr. Dennis Bevington Former MP Northwest Territories:

Mr. Speaker, the Conservatives' requirement that first-time applicants for social insurance numbers have to apply in person has made it nearly impossible for people in remote communities to get a card.

In Nunavut, communities like Grise Fiord, people must travel to Iqaluit, costing thousands in air fare and a week's journey. Getting a SIN card is the first step in getting a job.

This move flies in the face of Conservative rhetoric about job creation Will the minister reinstate the mail-in process for these cards?

Hon. Diane Finley (Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development, CPC):

Mr. Speaker, I can assure the House that everyone who needs a social insurance number will get one.

In fact, Service Canada will ensure that for those who are in exceptional circumstances, appropriate arrangements will be made.

PDF download
available as Acrobat PDF Question on Social Insurance Number

Question on the Arctic in the House of Commons

March 05, 2013

Mr. Dennis Bevington Former MP Northwest Territories:

Mr. Speaker, documents have revealed that Conservative mismanagement is now forcing Canada's military to scale back plans in the Arctic.

The air base at Resolute Bay is shelved. The promised navy port is nothing more than an unheated shed and the navy's Arctic patrol ships are delayed until at least 2018.

When will the Conservatives realize that Arctic sovereignty comes from working with other Arctic nations and listening to northerners?

Do they not understand that high-priced photo ops for the Prime Minister do nothing to help Arctic communities?

Hon. Peter MacKay (Minister of National Defence, CPC):

Mr. Speaker, as the member would know, Canada's north and our efforts to augment security in the Arctic remain central to the Government of Canada's efforts through our years in government.

The northern strategy remains central. The increase in Canada's presence and sovereignty in the Arctic is apparent. The Canadian army will continue to conduct training exercises that are ongoing now.

The opposition, including that member, has been critical of these efforts throughout all the time we have put into infrastructure, into new equipment, into exercises that augment Canada's sovereignty and security.

PDF download
available as Acrobat PDF Question on the Arctic

Bill C-47 (Northern Jobs and Growth Act)

March 04, 2013

Mr. Dennis Bevington Former MP Northwest Territories:

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to BILL C-47, An Act to enact the Nunavut Planning and Project Assessment Act and the Northwest Territories Surface Rights Board Act and to make related and consequential amendments to other Acts. I will not use the wildly inaccurate short title the Conservatives have dreamed up for this bill, because this is a bill that speaks to more than simply job creation.

The bill affects two regions of the country that are moving toward more self-determination at all times, two regions of the country that are settling their land claims in a good fashion with the opportunities that come with settled land claims.

We have a situation in the Northwest Territories where aboriginal governments and public governments have to get along. We have to learn how to get along and how to work together.

In Nunavut there is a single government that represents all the inhabitants of Nunavut, one land claim. Its job is slightly less complex than that of the Northwest Territories, but both are working very hard to achieve unique and satisfactory arrangements between the constitutionally entrenched rights of first nations and Inuit and the rights of public government that are held by all of us.

BILL C-47 was shown in committee to be very flawed. The Conservative member forMississauga South said about it at committee, “No one got exactly what they wanted from this legislation”. None of the people in the north who wanted to see the legislation go forward got what they wanted.

The bill is so flawed that the Conservative member for Palliser said, “None of the stakeholders involved in the development of the Nunavut Planning and Project Assessment Act got everything they wanted in the bill”.

Why is that? This is a bill for those people. This is a bill for the people of Nunavut to deal with their rights going forward. Why did they not get what they wanted? What was the problem?

This is a bill so poorly executed that the Conservative member for Desnethé-Missinippi-Churchill River said, “Nobody, including industry, got everything they wanted in this legislation”.

The bill is going forward in a flawed fashion. It is an essential bill. It is a bill that is needed by Nunavut, especially, for its requirements for the legislation from this Parliament. It needs this. It has been waiting for this for a long time.

Committee witness after committee witness brought forward numerous mistakes Conservatives made in developing the bill, but they chose to ignore those. They chose not to address amendments. They simply voted them down, one after another.

As Chief Roy Fabian of the Kátl'odeeche First Nation in the Northwest Territories said of the process used to develop this legislation, “It is extremely frustrating to attend meetings and express concerns, provide recommendations to address the concerns, and then see that input ignored”. Who knows better what is good for the north than those who reside in the Conservative headquarters in Ottawa?

Because the bill was so badly drafted, the opposition put forward 50 amendments to fix these mistakes and 49 of those amendments were recommended by various stakeholders. The 50th, which was another one, was based on wording from the parliamentary secretary who attended meetings in Yellowknife, substituting the word “and” for “or” in the legislation when he talked about the use and the understanding of traditional knowledge by those who were to be appointed to the board. We wanted to clarify that, but the Conservatives would not accept that either.

Let us look at some of the amendments we have put forward.

There were two amendments that would ensure the Nunavut Planning Commission would hold public hearings as part of its review of an application. This amendment was requested by Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated. It provided for transparency of process, which would make the commission more accountable. What is wrong with that?

There was an amendment making clear that projects approved under one land use plan would be grandfathered and would remain unaffected by changes or amendments to a land use plan. This amendment was requested by the NWT & Nunavut Chamber of Mines. People in the industry wanted assurance when they went forward with a project that they would not be blind-sided later on by changes to any land use planning. Why would the Conservatives turn this down?

There are amendments replacing the vague word “opinion” with the word “determined”. These changes would have strengthened the language of the act. The amendment was requested by Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., the land claims group that worked so hard to establish its homeland in Nunavut. Its ideas for the bill were turned down.

There was an amendment that would require the board to have a participant funding program. By providing participant funding, the review process would be more efficient and economical. This amendment was requested both by NTI and by the Nunavut Impact Review Board.

We all know that in the north, communities that want to talk about projects that are going forward on their land are separated by large distances. It is very expensive to travel. The ability to get expert witnesses in front of a board to deal with these issues is absolutely imperative for these communities so that they can deal with the difficult questions that come out of projects of the magnitude we have seen proposed in Nunavut. This amendment would have guaranteed participant funding for those groups. It was turned down as well.

Another amendment from the NWT & Nunavut Chamber of Mines would require that the act be reviewed by a committee of Parliament five years after it came into force. This was pretty straightforward. If 50 amendments came forward to us on the precise nature of the changes required to make the act work better, and all of them were rejected, would one not think it would be appropriate to provide a review process after five years? I sat on the Mackenzie Valley Environmental Impact Review Board when it was first set up. It was quite clear within two or three years of being put into practice what changes to that legislation were required.

We have a situation such that we will not have a review. The review is not going to take place. This legislation is going to be stuck. The opportunity to bring it back to Parliament will require political support from whatever government is in power at the time. It will have to be put back on the agenda to get some changes made. That is really not very good.

There was the amendment restricting the NWT surface rights board's jurisdiction to lands outside municipal boundaries. It provided certainty to municipalities that have planned for land use inside their own communities. This amendment was requested by the NWT Association of Communities and also by the non-governmental organization Alternatives North. It was a simple amendment that would have allowed municipalities to deal with their land in an appropriate fashion without having the strange situation that can come up when there are mineral claims within municipal boundaries.

Finally, and this is not finally in terms of all the amendments made but is the final one I am going to talk about, there was an amendment giving authority to the NWT surface rights board to require financial security to ensure compliance with its orders. This amendment was requested, once again, by Alternatives North. This comes from the practices we have had over the years. We have seen the results if we do not insist on financial security on behalf of the companies that want to use the land. We do not have to be told that this is a bad idea. This is a good idea. This would give certainty to everyone involved in the process.

All of these amendments went down and continue to go down. Discussion by Conservatives on the committee was practically nil. They did not want to talk about it. They were not instructed to talk about it. It really is an unfortunate fact of this legislation.

I could go on and on about these amendments, but I will now move on to the bill itself. Parts of the bill implement long-standing commitments Canada has made under land claims agreements, most of them signed in the 90s, some under the Mulroney government and some under the Liberal government. It should really have been the Liberals who developed the legislation as part of the land claims implementation process. However, like so many other things, the Liberals just did not get around to it.

When they did produce drafts, as the minister has pointed out, they were not successful. Because of the Liberals' failure to complete their work in Nunavut, the land use planning process has been muddling on for 20 years.

Meanwhile, on the other side, in the Northwest Territories, the lack of a surface rights board has had absolutely no impact. In the absence of a surface rights board, an ad hoc system of arbitration panels was set up to deal with land access issues. In their 20-plus years of existence, only one application to resolve an access dispute has been filed, but it did not even proceed. In fact, even with this legislation in place, it would be unlikely that the board would be used. As the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs said to the committee: “[I]t probably won't be asked to do very much”.

To paraphrase Norman Snowshoe, vice-president of the Gwich'in Tribal Council, testifying at the committee on the bill, what is the rush? Where is the problem? In fact, Mr. Snowshoe went on to say that they could have said more about the bill, but they do not have the resources to do a proper job of analyzing what the government is up to. Most of the other land claims groups and the groups in unsettled areas simply do not have the time to put into the kind of consultation required to determine whether this is in their interests or not.

The government's response is that we need to get this done for devolution. Devolution is an important aspect of moving forward in the north. There is no doubt about that. Certain agreements have to be in place. However, we have time.

The Conservatives chose to lump these two bills together. The surface rights board act probably should have been brought forward at a later time, when more aspects of the devolution deal were fully understood by northerners.

There has been very little public input, to this day, about devolution. When we talk about a bill that has to be done before devolution, we are talking about something that actually impacts on how devolution is going to turn out. Why do we have this rush now to put this in before devolution? Really, it should be part of the devolution discussions. It could have been put into any of the other amendments that are going to be required for devolution at the time devolution comes forward. If the government is serious about devolution and is serious about moving it forward, as it has said, then certainly, the NWT surface rights board act could have been dealt with at that time. It could have been part of that package.

We are really talking about a bill that is dealing with two regions of the country: NWT and Nunavut. If the bill was for these two regions of the country, why did the Conservatives consistently, and without any discussion, ignore all the recommendations for amendments that came forward from the legitimate groups that were witnesses in front of these committees? These were simple amendments. These people were not against the bill. They wanted to ensure that the bill would work correctly and would work for them and their interests. Surely, in this country, we can understand that.

Should the Conservative MPs not have been saying how the people of the north got what they wanted from the legislation rather than that no one got what they wanted? I learned a long time ago that if no one is happy with the job one has done, one has done a poor job.

This legislation for Nunavut is required. It is part of what has to happen in Nunavut. The fact that so many of the amendments came from Nunavut says that people in Nunavut are not going to be satisfied in the end with the job the legislation does.

NWT is close to a devolution agreement, according to press statements, but not according to any public process we have been able to identify that allows people in the Northwest Territories to understand what devolution actually is. However, Nunavut is still a long way from an agreement.

Given these differences in where each territory is in the devolution process, why did we bundle the two acts together, implementing vastly different land claims requirements?

As Kevin O'Reilly, of Alternatives North, submitted at committee:

[W]e do not believe that placing several different implementation provisions in one bill is a proper approach. This makes amendments and meaningful debate difficult at best. We would have preferred for separate bills for each land claim area to allow for better consultation and opportunities for improvement.

That is precisely why the government bundled these two acts together. It does not want to hear from Canadians. The Conservatives have an assumption that they are right, that they are the ones in charge, and that their rightness is self-evident. Therefore, every act they have put forward in this new Parliament, with their shiny new majority, is perfect, and anyone who says otherwise is not really a good Canadian. As a northerner and a person who listened to the northerners, I would say that we did not get this bill completely right. We have not dealt with what the northerners want in it.

We have a requirement for this bill, and it will move forward. What gives me hope is that the other day, the Premier of the Northwest Territories indicated in a northern newspaper article that he was under the understanding that the surface rights board act would become NWT legislation after devolution. If that is the case, and it does become legislation that the Northwest Territories legislature can amend, then that act will only be imperfect for as long as the people of the north decide it is. That is a positive aspect. If the devolution agreement goes as the premier said, and the legislation will actually be transferred to the government of the Northwest Territories, then it will be our responsibility to make it work right. I have no doubt that we will do that.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Nunavut in the future. We have no devolution agreement in principle. It is my understanding that a negotiator has been appointed for devolution. That is a good sign. However, there was a negotiator appointed for devolution in the Northwest Territories probably a dozen years ago or more. That is not a hopeful sign for Nunavut. Nunavut needs its say over the legislation it uses in its territory. Let us hope that Nunavut can move forward with devolution as well so that it can make the choices it needs to make for itself.

PDF download
available as Acrobat PDF Bill C-47 (Northern Jobs and Growth Act) statement

Speech in the House of Commons on Northern Infrastructure

February 26, 2013

Mr. Dennis Bevington Former MP Northwest Territories:

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have an opportunity to speak to this tremendous resolution that has been brought forward by our member for Trinity-Spadina.

When we talk about infrastructure, most Canadians, depending on where they live, think of the needs of big cities. However, Canada's rural and remote municipalities have infrastructure needs just as great as, or greater than, those faced by cities like Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal, but are quite clearly without the same political leverage or resources needed to accomplish those things.

As a member from one of the most remote parts of Canada, a former long-term mayor and the president of the NWT Association of Communities, I know just how great the infrastructure challenge is to northern communities. It is composed of a number of different things.

Appearing before the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs in 2009, David Austin, representing the Association of Yukon Communities, stated:

...we need to recognize that it is not possible to construct infrastructure in Yukon at costs approximating those of southern centres. The shortness of the season and the lack of skilled trades people in some specific trades are factors. The distance from major markets...transportation costs for materials and economies of scale are difficult to achieve in the Yukon's relatively small economy.

His comments can be applied to the rest of the north: to the northern territories, to the northern aboriginal communities across the country and to northern parts of all the provinces. Probably 300 communities across Canada could be called rural and remote.

Yellowknife, the capital of the Northwest Territories, currently has a well-documented infrastructure deficit of approximately $67 million, meaning that there is this much infrastructure that is in dire need of replacement.

We live in a very difficult environment where the costs are high and where replacement becomes necessary because of climate change and the nature of where we are living.

Yellowknife mayor Mark Heyck recently stated:

...I believe we need to invest more in maintaining our municipal infrastructure than we have in the past, and we need to carefully prioritize our capital projects to put more emphasis on critical infrastructure....

We are not talking about things that are just for the sake of esthetics or simple things like that, but things that are absolutely required to run a small city.

He went on to say:

We also need to be active in territorial and national lobbying efforts through the NWT Association of Communities and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities to ensure the territorial and federal governments are adequately assisting municipalities with the cost of addressing our infrastructure deficit.

Just as Yellowknife probably helps out the rest of the country with its great mining industry located there, with the value per capita of the gross domestic product so high, right across northern Canada we are expected to be shouldering the burden of the GDP in this country to a greater extent than any other part of the country. We need to have proper infrastructure to accomplish that.

The 2008-2012 business plan of the Northwest Territories Department of Public Works and Services is even more direct about the infrastructure needs in the territories. It stated:

The fiscal reality is that the GNWT's infrastructure needs exceed, by a wide margin, its financial ability to address them. Therefore, the GNWT is challenged to explore broad and innovative approaches to infrastructure planning, acquisition, usage and maintenance.

The only trouble is innovation can only go so far, meaning that we simply need to invest.

To meet the NWT's infrastructure need, the territorial government has had to borrow. Because of the borrowing limitations imposed by Ottawa, it ran into serious difficulties.

The NWT Minister of Finance stated in this year's territorial budget address a week or so ago:

...every dollar spent on infrastructure is borrowed money, bringing us closer to our borrowing limit and leaving no flexibility to respond to a potential economic downturn or make strategic investments to support economic development and grow our economy.

Therefore, the NWT is in a robbing Peter to pay Paul situation, and the future is not well taken care of.

In Nunavut, the infrastructure deficit is just as great. The Nunavut government estimates that it will require $6 billion over the next 20 years to meet its existing infrastructure needs.

It has a need for 3,600 more housing units. It needs a deep water port at Iqaluit and other communities. We had a tremendous presentation this morning at the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development on the incredible lack of transportation infrastructure in Nunavut.

Nunavut needs to find alternate sources of energy. It is currently using 33.4 million litres of diesel for electrical generation. That is unaffordable to that area and will continue to be unaffordable for the future.

Iqaluit, a city of 7,000 people, has a $160 million infrastructure deficit. They may be able to scrape together, as the mayor said, the $20 million for badly needed upgrades, but they cannot even come close to addressing the issues that are in front of them.

Earlier this month, the Premier of Nunavut was here in Ottawa lobbying for $500 million over five years for only two projects. That did not go very far. Those are the kinds of situations our communities and our governments across northern Canada are in.

We are expected to be the economic generators of the future, but the investment has to be made now.

It is unfortunate that politics comes into infrastructure investment. We need a clear strategy to move Canadian infrastructure into the 21st century. I served for five years on the Federation of Canadian Municipalities' green municipal fund investment, and there was an opportunity across the country to identify good investments that made sense for the environment and made sense for the long-term costs to communities.

That information is still available through this great organization, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. We can make a difference with our infrastructure, but we have to take the proper steps.

Improving infrastructure is more than just roads, more than ditches and dumps, more than those things. It is setting our communities up so that they can move to a green future.

That is really important. When we invest in something that is not sustainable, that investment hangs around for 40 years making trouble, so we do need to be smart and clever and invest in the proper things.

Our municipalities across this country have taken the effort to understand how those investments are made and are likely to be the best ones to lead us forward in the future in making investments.

It is incredibly important for the federal government to recognize the partnership that should be in place with the municipalities when it comes to investment in infrastructure.

I want to quote the former mayor of the City of Yellowknife, Gord Van Tighem, who spent many years in the position. He said, “In towns that have good water, affordable housing, power, and jobs, people can live healthy lifestyles.” Healthy lifestyles should be the goal for all Canadians.

The government could take real action on meeting Canada's infrastructure deficit if it would only take a strategic approach instead of funding projects politically to gain the most political advantage.

We really have to move away from that. We have to move to a system that allows municipalities to make logical, rational choices about the future according to the best possible practices that have been identified for accomplishing our goals.

Sustainability is so important. We cannot leave our grandchildren with this infrastructure deficit. We cannot accept that our grandchildren will still be trying to go to work in situations that are not cleverly thought out by this generation. This generation has a responsibility to leave something better than we have to date. That should be our goal.

I hope the Conservatives will support this resolution and that we can work unanimously to build a better Canada.

PDF download
available as Acrobat PDF Speech in the House of Commons on Northern Infrastructure statement

Question on the high cost of living in the north

February 26, 2013

Mr. Dennis Bevington Former MP Northwest Territories:

Mr. Speaker, Statistics Canada's latest report shows that consumer costs in the north have risen twice as fast as elsewhere in the country.

The report shows that the major factor increasing the price of food is the Conservative's own nutrition north program.

This flawed program has stuck northerners with overpriced, over-packaged, poor-quality food. Clearly, the government has to take action to reduce the high cost of living in the north.

The NDP has long called for a 50% increase to the northern residence tax deduction. Will the government include such a measure in its upcoming budget?

Hon. Bernard Valcourt (Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, CPC):

Mr. Speaker, the fact of the matter is that there is no government in the history of this country—

An hon. member: In the world.

Hon. Bernard Valcourt:

Yes, in the whole world, that has done as much for northern Canadians.

Let us just look at the example of the northern jobs and growth act, which is geared especially to trying to improve the situation of people living in northern Canada.

Instead of opposing that legislation, the opposition should support us.

PDF download
available as Acrobat PDF High cost of living in the north question

Question on Arctic Council

February 1, 2013

Mr. Dennis Bevington Former MP Northwest Territories:

Mr. Speaker, with the chairmanship of the Arctic Council, it looks like the Conservatives may once again tarnish Canada's reputation on the world stage. The effects of climate change and the massive loss of Arctic sea ice are creating urgent issues in the Arctic, which require international co-operation. However, last week in Norway the Arctic minister said Canada's focus will be on business.

Why is the government wasting the world's time by using this important forum to advance corporate interests?

Mr. Greg Rickford (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, for the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency and for the Federal Economic Development Initiative for Northern Ontario, CPC):

Mr. Speaker, this is coming from a member who openly mused last week in Yellowknife, where I was, that the Northwest Territories did not need any more jobs.

Canada's north is home to world-class reserves of natural resources. This represents tremendous economic potential, not just for northerners but for all Canadians. That is why we are working with aboriginal groups, the territorial governments and the private sector to ensure those resources are developed in a sustainable manner.

We have strong laws and regulatory frameworks to protect our environment in the north. We want northerners to be able to benefit today and for generations to come from jobs and economic growth in the north.

PDF download
available as Acrobat PDF Question on Arctic Council

Statement on Opposition Day Motion on Aboriginal Rights and Treaties

January 31, 2013

Mr. Dennis Bevington Former MP Northwest Territories:

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the Member for Joliette.

The motion before us reads:

That the House, recognizing the broad-based demand for action, call on the government to make the improvement of economic outcomes of First Nations, Inuit and Métis a central focus of Budget 2013, and to commit to action on treaty implementation and full and meaningful consultation on legislation that affects the rights of Aboriginal Canadians, as required by domestic and international law.

I want to take some time to focus on the Northwest Territories, which is a singularly unique area of Canada where we have settled and unsettled claims. We found the best way to improve the economic situation of our indigenous people in the Northwest Territories is to settle land resources and self-government claims.

In the parts of the Northwest Territories where the claims have been settled, people have increased prosperity and the private sector, which wants to invest there, has certainty in the regulatory process. That is very clear. The opposite is true for those areas of the Northwest Territories, which still have unsettled claims.

In testimony before the members of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Committee during hearings in Yellowknife on Bill C-47, the N.W.T. and Nunavut Mining Associations and the N.W.T. Chamber of Commerce both stressed the value of having settled claims.

There are some examples of how settled claims can improve the economic situation of First Nations people, Inuit people, and I will speak to two of them.

One is the Inuvialuit. The Inuvialuit were the first to settle their claims in the Northwest Territories. They did a very good job of it in 1984, with excellent claim settlement. They took over large pieces of their traditional territory. They got surface and subsurface rights in the oil-rich Mackenzie Delta and the Beaufort Sea area.

They were in a position to take advantage of resource development, resource exploration in that area, and they have built an amazing Inuvialuit Development Corporation, which owns outfits like Canadian North Aviation. Members may have flown on it themselves. It owns the Northern Transportation Company Limited. It has investments and opportunities for Inuvialuit people throughout the Northwest Territories, at all levels of employment.

It is through this settlement that the Inuvialuit were to get their heads into economic development, rather than spending their time trying to fight with the federal government over land claim settlements.

We could talk about the Tlicho government, settled under the Liberal government in 2004. Its land extends through diamond-rich areas of the Northwest Territories. It has rights to large areas of land, surface, subsurface. It has opportunities on that land. What has it done with them? It has created the Tlicho Development Corporation. That development corporation, in less than 10 years, has gross revenue in excess of $130 million, employing 800 people.

This is the kind of effort that could be made by first nations when they achieve control over traditional lands and territories, not when they are stuck on reserves, not when they do not have the opportunity to participate fully in the resource economy.

However, this is not the case in the areas of the Northwest Territories that do not have settled claims. In the Deh Cho and the Akaitcho regions, both incredibly rich areas of the Northwest Territories, the Deh Cho with its gas deposits, the Akaitcho once again with mining and great opportunities as well, negotiations on land claims are stalled. They have been stalled with the government for many years.

Much of the fault lies with the federal government through actions like continually changing negotiators, never giving negotiators the ability to make decisions, revisiting areas which have been agreed to in negotiations and changing negotiation mandates. These are all things that completely obfuscate the system.

In these two regions there is much uncertainty. The investment is difficult. Now there are brave companies, and I speak of Avalon as one company that is going through the environment assessment process. It won awards for its ability to talk to the first nations in those regions and to bring them into the process themselves.

We see industry taking over the role of government in providing the authority to First Nations to make decisions on their land. That is what it takes in unsettled areas.

Chief Roy Fabian of the K'atl'odeeche First Nation recently told the Aboriginal Affairs Committee the following during hearings on Bill C-47 on the Surface Rights Board Act:

“This legislation is a serious matter that strikes at the heart of Treaty 8 and jeopardizes our attempt at reconciliation with Canada. The legislation appears to be an attempt to circumvent our land claims process and undermine our authority over our lands. I want to make it clear that this Bill, if passed, will not be recognized as valid law on K’atl’odeeche territory. If the federal government attempts to impose this legislation on our Treaty land then we will consider our legal options to oppose this legislation and resist every attempt to grant an access order on our land.”

Where does that leave industry? Where does that leave certainty? Where are we going with that? That is not working, is it?

Chief Fabian highlights a key element in current federal-aboriginal relations, namely that federal action or inaction is causing a rising sense of dissatisfaction among Canada's First Nations, its aboriginal people, leading to movements like Idle No More. It is leading directly there. It is leading to a movement that we can all get behind: we should not all be idle on this issue. We should not be obfuscating. We should not be trying to make this a harder thing to accomplish, to get land claims settled in this country.

Canada's aboriginal people are no longer content to just sit patiently while Ottawa gets around to finally addressing their concerns. They are idle no more. Congratulations to First Nations. Congratulations should come from all Canadians. We are glad they are idle no more. We are glad they are standing up for their rights. We are glad they are standing up for the land and the environment. These are things that have to be done. They are not getting done by the government. First Nations can provide the leadership.

Canada's First Nations want full settlement of their claims on traditional territories and will not wait while federal negotiators play games. They will be idle no more when it comes to getting these claims settled.

Canada's aboriginal people want to be treated fairly. They want to build the economies of their communities and regions. They are not opposed to development. I have shown that. They want to be full partners in development have a say in how it occurs. However because of delays by the federal government, they are no longer willing to wait.

Canadians should get behind them. Let us all be idle no more when it comes to First Nation issues.

PDF download
available as Acrobat PDF Motion on Aboriginal Rights and Treaties statement

Further discussion on Treaty Rights

January 31, 2013

Mr. Dennis Bevington Former MP Northwest Territories:

Mr. Speaker, when I travel through the Northwest Territories to the different communities, I see that those that have settled claims have relationships at the community and regional levels with all people. They are working with all people. That is how we get things done in Canada.

Things are done in Canada from a position of having something to offer. When first nations have settled claims, when they have certainty on their land, they have something really tangible to offer. They can control that offer as well, tailoring it in a way that works for them.

That is progress. That is going to make progress. That is what all Canadians want.

I am landowner. I control the land that I have. I make decisions about it. I invest if I have to. I look for partners if I have to. These are things we do as Canadians. I want first nations to have all those abilities that we all have as Canadians, tied to what they have from their ancestors, what they have from their position on this land.

Thirty times the courts have agreed with aboriginal people on land issues. Thirty times in a row. When are we going to wake up? When are we going to quit being so idle on these issues?

PDF download
available as Acrobat PDF Further discussion on Treaty Rights statement

Question on devolution

January 30, 2013

Mr. Dennis Bevington Former MP Northwest Territories:

Mr. Speaker, after more than 10 years of negotiation, the Northwest Territories is on the edge of assuming jurisdiction over its lands, waters and immense natural resources.

In order to accomplish this devolution, the House must amend a number of laws, including the Northwest Territories Act, which is the basis of all the power we currently have.

As a courtesy to this House, can the minister give an indication of what other acts will have to be dealt with in order to provide the NWT with increased powers?

Hon. John Duncan (Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development)

Mr. Speaker, our government shares a common vision with northerners, and that is to give them greater control over their economic and political destinies.

Concluding an agreement will be an important and positive step in the evolution of northern governance and will deliver economic benefits to the Northwest Territories.

We will continue to work with our partners in NWT to reach an agreement that creates a practical, innovative and efficient governance model for the territory.

The benefits of devolution are clear, as we have seen in the Yukon. We want the Northwest Territories to benefit from this as well.

PDF download
available as Acrobat PDF Question on devolution

Statement NWT Day

January 30, 2013

Mr. Dennis Bevington Former MP Northwest Territories:

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise on NWT Day to celebrate the progressive people and government of the Northwest Territories. They know the key to prosperity is sustainability, protecting our fragile environment while carefully pursuing economic development.

As part of this process the NWT government has put in place a number of unique, exciting and purposeful strategies. The biomass strategy leads the country in converting public and commercial buildings from expensive and polluting fuel oil to clean renewable energy. Canada's first solar energy strategy will reduce the diesel fuel used for electrical generation in our communities.

The waters of the Northwest Territories remaining clean, abundant and productive for all time is the vision of the widely praised NWT water stewardship strategy. This strategy respects aboriginal rights and treaties and protects the values of all northerners when making decisions about NWT waters.

Tonight the NWT is hosting a gala at the Château Laurier. I hope all members will join us and learn more about the Northwest Territories.

PDF download
available as Acrobat PDF Statement NWT Day