Robert C. McLeod: Presentation to the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, Bill-C55 - An Act to Amend the Oceans Act and the Canada Petroleum Resources Act

November 27, 2017
Ministers' Statements and Speeches

Delivered on November 27, 2017

Check Against Delivery

Good Day.

I am here today to bring to your attention the Government of the Northwest Territories concerns with Bill C-55 – An Act to amend the Oceans Act and the Petroleum Resources Act. 

In making the is presentation I will be sharing with you some of the recent history of the Northwest Territories so that you can hopefully understand both our specific concerns and the cumulative impact of federal actions, including Bill C-55, on the people of the Northwest Territories.

The Government of the Northwest Territories supports self-determination of Indigenous people and Indigenous governments and has developed as a public government with self-government in mind.  We have been at the negotiating table with Canada and Indigenous governments from the territory for many years, negotiating land claims and self-government. 

Of particular interest to this intervention is the Inuvialuit Final Agreement, which created the Inuvialuit Settlement Region and was signed by Canada, the  Inuvialuit, Northwest Territories and Yukon in 1984.  The current Prime Minister’s father’s signature is on that agreement. I am an Inuvialuit beneficiary myself.

On April 1st 2014 the Government of Canada and the Government of the Northwest Territories brought into force the Northwest Territories Land and Resources Devolution Agreement.  This agreement was negotiated over many years and finally gave the Government of the Northwest Territories responsibility for onshore land, water and resource management.

Prior to our 2014 devolution, the federal government made all resource management decisions in the territory. 

For the people of the Northwest Territories and the nine Indigenous governments that signed on to the agreement, devolution was a game changer.  Devolution meant that decisions about the Northwest Territories land, water and resources would finally be made in the Northwest Territories.  This is something the vast majority of Canadians take for granted.  The engagement of First Nations, Inuit and Metis governments and inclusion of resource-revenue sharing was historic.

What does this have to do with Bill C-55?

Section 3.2 of the Devolution Agreement contains a commitment for Canada, the GNWT, with the participation of the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation, to commence negotiations for the management of oil and gas resources in the Beaufort Sea, and other northern offshore areas. This commitment includes the negotiation of resource revenue sharing resulting from offshore oil and gas development. 

Negotiations were to start 60 days after the signing of the devolution agreement – which occurred on June 23rd, 2013. That means that negotiations should have begun no later than August 23rd, 2013.

Despite repeated requests from both the GNWT and the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation, the federal government has not been willing to sit down to negotiate this critical agreement.

On December 20th 2016, the Prime Minister called my Premier 20 minutes before announcing that all Arctic Canadian waters were indefinitely off limits to future offshore Arctic oil and gas licensing.

“Indefinite” - that was the word the Prime Minister used, and neither the yet‑to-be-negotiated interests of the Government of the Northwest Territories, nor the rights of the Inuvialuit were taken into consideration prior to that decision being made.

This is despite other provisions in a separate agreement included in the Devolution Agreement and signed by then Minister Valcourt, Premier McLeod and Nellie Cournoyea, Chair and CEO of the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation, that states that the parties will share information around terms and conditions of licences as well as any other petroleum resource management matter which the parties consider appropriate to share. Surely an indefinite moratorium fits the description of appropriate information to share through our trilateral committee.

It concerns us greatly as a government that despite a clear commitment to negotiate the management off the offshore including resource revenues, Canada made the unilateral decision to shut down development in that area.

Yes, the announcement also said there will be a five-year scientific review.

But almost one year later we still don’t know exactly what will be included in that review.  In addition, as a direct result of the federal government’s refusal to begin negotiations on the offshore, the NWT has no clear role in the review of a decision that clearly impacts the livelihoods of our people.

Now, Bill C-55 is on our lap, proposed legislation that will once again impact the offshore.   

Bill C-55 has made it all the way though second reading in the House of Commons, and contains significant increases in Ministerial power and authority, and yet again, the GNWT was not consulted on its development. Specifically, we are very concerned with the amended ability for the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans to designate Marine Protected Areas by order and without consultation.

We are also concern that the amended Bill will give the appropriate Minister under the Canada Petroleum Resources Act the ability to simply cancel an oil or gas interest in an area that MAY be designated as a Marine Protected Area.

So, let me recap for you:

  • The federal government is still refusing to fulfil its commitment and come to the table to negotiate the management of oil and gas resources in the Beaufort Sea with the GNWT and the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation. 

While actively avoiding this commitment:

  • The Prime Minister announced an indefinite moratorium in the Beaufort, and is creating a process to review this moratorium without allowing the GNWT to define its  jurisdiction and interests; and
  • Significant increases in federal Ministerial authority have been added to both the Oceans Act, and the Canadian Petroleum Resources Act in Bill C-55, which is making its way through parliamentary review, again without any consultation of the GNWT.

AND, all of this is being done in the absence of any clear federal enunciation of their vision for the Arctic.

Although the Prime Minister announced the development of an Arctic Policy Framework at the same time as he announced the moratorium, the federal government has not given the policy framework the same momentum as Bill C-55.  

We are involved in the Arctic Policy Framework and look forward to seeing our priorities reflected in it.  

We face the very real possibility that prior to a clear statement of Canada’s vision for the Arctic, and prior to the required consultation, that Bill C‑55 will become the law of the land. 

Similar to our position prior to devolution, we are being relegated to bystanders in decisions that affect the very livelihoods of our communities.

I do not want to give the impression that the NWT does not support conservation. Many of our residents continue to pursue traditional lifestyles, in many cases hunting, trapping and fishing a predominate source of income and food for NWT households.  Conservation is integral to our way of life in the NWT.

We also live daily with the legacy of decision making far from home prior to today’s robust regulatory regime. The NWT is home of one of Canada’s more toxic waste sites. If the current contents of Giant Mine were to enter into the water system there is sufficient arsenic there to kill the entire world population ten times over.

It is for that reason that the Northwest Territories is on track to surpass the 17% Canada Target 1 conservation target for 2020.  Once the planning and decision-making processes are completed, the Northwest Territories conservation network will extend from 13.5%, which is its current size, to 20.4% of the territory.

The NWT offshore is also currently home to two Marine Protected Areas.  The Tarium Niryutait and Anguniaqvia Niqiqyuam Marine Protected Areas, and marine portion of our Terrestrial Protected Areas, cover over 5300 square kilometres of the Inuvialuit Settlement Region.

In addition to conservation, it is important that NWT residents are provided with every opportunity to enjoy a good quality of life. 

Every Northerner deserves the opportunity to experience the wellness and the strength of community that people equate with Canada and with being Canadian.

The Government of the Northwest Territories has a clear vision of what is needed to achieve this bright future for the people of the Northwest Territories. But the reality is that right now, this is not the experience of the Indigenous people living in the NWT’s remote communities. 

The Government of the Northwest Territories is working to change this. We are working to lower the cost of living and increase community wellness and quality of life in each of our communities. 

The key to achieving this vision is sustainable development through economic diversification, and developing our many natural resources that can be used to drive the global green economy. 

We understand that opportunity and personal and community wellness are derived from educational attainment and good jobs, which are integral aspects of reconciliation. Achieving our vision through sustainable economic development will create these opportunities in each of our communities.

We need a strong federal partner who wants to be a part of creating this positive future for all of our remote communities in the NWT, including the infrastructure that most of the rest of Canada takes for granted.

For centuries, people have been coming north looking to take advantage of its natural resources and northerners have had to adapt to those demands. Once it was whale oil and fur, right now its diamonds. Our people had hoped that oil and gas would be a part of that story, too, but it appears that southern tastes and priorities have changed again. As a result, Northerners are being asked to sacrifice their hopes for good jobs and a strong economy yet another time because of decisions made elsewhere.

In a public forum in Yellowknife last summer the Prime Minister acknowledged that he had closed one door of economic opportunity for our territory, but committed to work towards opening many more doors. We appreciate this commitment, but Northerners are still waiting to hear what the plan is and how Canada intends to open those other doors.

In summary, for your purposes today, I need you to leave you with two thoughts for your consideration.

First, the GNWT has concerns with Bill C-55 as drafted, specifically the increase in unilateral authorities given to federal Ministers.

Secondly, the NWT, although cold and remote, is a real place with 44,000 people living it, in 33 communities, who are right now living with the cumulative impacts of your decisions. 

It is easy from Ottawa to say that there has not been real economic impact from this decision, because your budgets are of a scale that doesn’t show the economic impact that even a $7.2 M decrease in activity, as the federal government has described it, can have in a region like the Beaufort Delta. It is easy from where you are to miss the importance residents place in that money coming from outside of government. 

You may not feel it here, but the unfulfilled federal commitment to negotiate responsibility for the offshore with the Government of the Northwest Territories and the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation, the imposition of the moratorium, and now Bill C-55 arriving in Parliament without our consultation are all connected. 

They have created a cascade of mistrust that we asking you to recognize and begin to repair.

The decisions you make here in Parliament “for us” and without consulting us, have a direct impact on our lives, our economies, and our community wellness. 

You cannot understand the impacts of these decisions for two reasons, firstly because our reality is not your reality, and secondly because you have not consulted us.

I am asking you today to take the first step in beginning to repair what could, and should, be a strong relationship between the federal government the Government of the Northwest Territories. This step is to ensure that there is northern and Indigenous involvement in key decisions that impact Northern lives, including traditional activities. This action supports reconciliation and shows respect for both the Government of the Northwest Territories and existing Agreements with Indigenous peoples in the NWT. Please uphold this country’s strong commitment to consultation:

  • Amend the Bill C-55 to ensure that federal Ministers do not have the unilateral authority to make decisions about Canada’s marine environment without consultation; and
  • Ensure there is a proper consultation process for Bill C-55.

Thank you.