Elizabeth May: Mr. Speaker, I was somewhat surprised that my question to the Prime Minister on December 5 just before our Christmas break was viewed by whomever categorizes my late show questions as one relating to natural resources, as I really feel it deals with first nations rights and the responsibilities of the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development. The reality is that the question I raised deals with a critical issue in general and a very disturbing issue in particular.
On December 5, I asked my question of the Prime Minister. This was coincidentally the same day the Prime Minister created his own special task force and asked Mr. Doug Eyford to prepare a report on forging partnerships and building relationships with first nations in relation to proposed west coast energy projects.
When that report came out, it made it very clear what everybody already knew. The Supreme Court of Canada had made it abundantly clear that the federal government, provincial governments and corporations dealing with first nations rights and territories have a strong constitutionally protected requirement to fully consult in a meaningful way with first nations before participating in resource development on their land.
Mr. Eyford’s report contained four points. He urged the Prime Minister to build trust, foster inclusion, advance reconciliation and then take action.
What I raised with the Prime Minister was the distressing case of what took place on Elsipogtog First Nation, a Mi’kmaq community near Rexton, New Brunswick. The first nation community was dealing with an energy proposal, the non-conventional issue of hydraulic fracking. The community of Elsipogtog was widely supported by people in New Brunswick and adjacent communities, who were also concerned and did not want fracking. They were concerned about their groundwater.
The protests that led to arrests were against SWN, a Houston-based company, that wanted to do hydraulic fracking and seismic testing. This testing was supported by the New Brunswick premier but not by the people of New Brunswick and not by the Mi’kmaq people. Exploration testing was to be done without consultation with Elsipogtog and Mi’kmaq first nations in contravention of numerous court decisions, most notably the Marshall decision, which dealt specifically with Mi’kmaq first nations’ rights. This first nation has unceded territory. No treaty could possibly be produced that would allow what has been going on in New Brunswick with the pressure for hydraulic fracking on first nations territory.
I will quote my question to the Prime Minister:
|In the context of the increasing tensions in New Brunswick in the fracking protests there, does the Prime Minister recognize that he is legally bound by our Constitution to ensure that the Mi’kmaq of Elsipogtog are fully consulted in advance of any fracking on their unceded territory?|
The Prime Minister responded by saying he understood his obligations and in fact had just received the report to which I referred moments ago from Mr. Eyford.
I remain deeply concerned about this incident as a representative of British Columbia and the member of Parliament for Saanich—Gulf Islands. There is a tremendous amount of anxiety about what could be coming if there should be, God forbid, a pipeline approved over first nations’ territories where British Columbians and first nations do not want it.
If the example of what has taken place at Elsipogtog were to be played out in British Columbia, I would be deeply concerned. There was neither consultation nor was there an attempt to build trust, good relationships or reconciliation. Instead there were the violent RCMP arrests on what had been up to that moment a non-violent protest. We need an explanation.
Colin Carrie: Mr. Speaker, I think my colleague is aware that fracking is mostly under provincial jurisdiction. However, I am happy to say that our government always strives to meet its constitutional obligations.
Aboriginal consultations are a key part of our responsible resource development initiatives. I am pleased to have this opportunity to explain how our government is working to strengthen aboriginal involvement in Canada’s resource sectors.
Canada’s resource industries already employ some 32,000 aboriginal people, more than any other sector of our economy. This level of employment will only increase as we see more and more projects come forward. Indeed, over $650 billion worth of projects have been proposed, the majority of which are near or on aboriginal lands. These projects could have an enormously positive impact on the prosperity of aboriginal communities.
The member opposite has been clear in her opposition to resource development. I hope the member opposite will excuse me if we follow a different path.
Our government wants to ensure that we develop our resources responsibly to create jobs while ensuring that the environment is protected. Our government’s plan for responsible resource development is improving Canada’s regulatory system by reducing red tape and modernizing processes, while strengthening environmental protection and enhancing consultations with aboriginal peoples.
As my colleague mentioned, we are taking action. Douglas Eyford, Canada’s special federal representative on west coast energy infrastructure, recently provided the government with recommendations that will support greater aboriginal participation in resource development. The themes of the Eyford report–trust, inclusion, and reconciliation–can guide all parties in building further the relationships that will underpin responsible resource development and the participation of aboriginal peoples. The report by the special federal representative is a solid basis for sustained engagement with west coast aboriginal people. It recognizes an opportunity for aboriginal communities to realize long-term benefits and to be partners in west coast energy development.
Our government has been, and currently is, engaging and will continue to engage with aboriginal communities on concrete ways to move forward on the recommendations in the report.
The Eyford report builds upon previous initiatives taken by our government to support aboriginal participation in the resource sectors. For example, in 2012 the federal budget provided more than $690 million for skills development, education, and infrastructure. In addition, our plan for responsible resource development includes a commitment to ensure that consultations with aboriginal peoples on natural resources projects are more consistent, accountable, meaningful, and timely.
The plan includes, first, the integration of consultations with aboriginal peoples into the new environmental assessment and regulatory processes; second, the provision of $13.6 million over two years to support aboriginal consultations on projects; third, the designation of a lead department or agency as a single crown consultation coordinator for each major project review; fourth, negotiation with provincial and territorial governments to better align government processes and improve the involvement of aboriginal peoples; and fifth, the promotion of positive and long-term relationships with aboriginal communities to facilitate greater participation of aboriginal peoples in the direct and indirect benefits of new resource projects.
Elizabeth May: Mr. Speaker, I did reference Mr. Eyford’s report. However, it is clear from the events in Elsipogtog that it has certainly come too late for that relationship. There has been no consultation advanced.
While it is true that fracking is a provincial responsibility, the federal environment commissioner, in his fall 2012 report, found that for the parts that are federal, such as tracking toxic chemicals used in fracking, Environment Canada did not even have a full list of those chemicals used, and it always remains a federal fiduciary responsibility to ensure that first nations’ rights are not being infringed upon through resource development.
As for the question of going forward in British Columbia and my opposition to resource development, I do not oppose resource development. I oppose the reckless, untrammelled rapid development of oil sands for the sole purpose of shipping out raw product. If the bitumen were being processed in Alberta, I think our discussions would be very different. However, all pipeline proposals are for raw bitumen mixed with a diluent that has to be purchased from Saudi Arabia.
Colin Carrie: Mr. Speaker, as our government has stated repeatedly, we will ensure that aboriginal consultations fully meet our duty to consult and are open and meaningful. We will continue meeting with first nations groups to strengthen the ongoing dialogue between the federal government and first nations.
Resource projects give aboriginal communities the potential to turn the high cost of isolation into a huge advantage of proximity. In fact, most mines and exploration properties in Canada are located within 200 kilometres of an aboriginal community. There are 400,000 aboriginal youth under the age of 15, representing a major wave of potential new entrants into the labour market, and over the next 10 years it is expected that Canada’s resource sectors will need to hire thousands of workers.
The scale of economic activity is enormous and it is estimated that there is a potential of $650 billion worth of major resource projects in Canada in the next decade. Such development would create thousands of new jobs. Right now, the resource industries make up about one-fifth of our national economy, creating and supporting more than 1.8 million jobs across our great country. In addition to the good jobs they provide, the resource industries generate over $30 billion in royalties and tax revenues, funds that support schools, hospitals, and other vital services for all Canadians, including aboriginal communities.