Hon. Nick G. Sibbeston: Honourable senators, I will speak briefly on this bill that was reviewed by our Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples for the last two weeks.
Although the bill was approved by the committee without amendment, we heard strong presentations on why changes should be made. Bill C-5, as the honourable senator stated, is the result of ten years of extensive consultation and a negotiation process between the government and the Indian Resource Council. The IRC represents approximately 130 First Nations that have oil and gas production or potential on their lands.
In the end, the IRC agreed that Bill C-5, although it did not address all the concerns, was good enough. Part of this agreement included a "letter of comfort" from the minister that the IRC would be fully involved in drafting regulations and that there would be a process of continuous change to lead to further amendments to the act in the future.
I note that the other place amended this bill to require the minister to report back to Parliament on these processes within two years. This amendment reflects perhaps a healthy scepticism about Canada's dealing with Aboriginal people.
However, not every First Nation was happy with the result. We heard from the Stoney Nakoda nation, who belong to IRC and were involved in the consultation, on changes they felt were needed to clarify and strengthen the bill. They were supported in writing by a number of other First Nations.
These First Nations are among the largest producers of oil and gas and they are the most experienced in dealing with this industry. They also recently had a case before the Supreme Court of Canada. This group of people are familiar with the law and the legalities, and are most experienced in the oil and gas business. These people made representations before us to make further amendments to the bill.
We were told by the government that any changes to this bill would require reopening consultations and a delay of the bill. The IRC said they were concerned that extensive changes would cause the government not to move forward with this bill. Note the subtle difference.
We have a situation where the federal minister, when he appeared, told us not to amend anything; do not do anything lest it will unravel the whole bill. Then, the IRC said that they are afraid that if the Senate provides an opening or makes amendments that they were concerned that hey may have to deal with all the other issues. Because it was negotiated, the situation is difficult.
I raised the point about making the amendments and looking at these amendments as gifts that the Senate could provide to the First Nations. I proposed amendments, but unfortunately they were not supported by my colleagues.
However, I will talk briefly about what some of these changes would have been. It is important to understand two things about the amendments that were proposed, and which I moved in committee. First, all proposed amendments related to outstanding matters that the Indian Resource Council itself had identified and proposed, but which government officials had rejected. These changes would be, in effect, a gift to the IRC. It is doubtful they would refuse to accept them by demanding further consultation. Second, these amendments would not have transformed the bill radically.
The first amendment would assure First Nations that the minister would carry out the minister's fiduciary responsibility whenever the minister delegated authority to provincial governments. Part of the process is that the provinces would adopt or harmonize provincial oil and gas regulations; a process wherein First Nations activity would be regulated by the provinces.
The clause that I wanted to advance began by saying, "for greater certainty." A clause like this one would provide comfort to First Nations to assure them that although they would be under a provincial regime, the federal government still has fiduciary responsibility.
I felt that little amendments such as those examples could have been passed and could have been part of the bill. They would have given more comfort to First Nations.
Two amendments would have given First Nations shared power with the minister to take actions against businesses that had breached their contracts or failed to pay royalties. The fourth amendment would have permitted First Nations to develop their own oil and gas resources for their own purposes.
All these changes would have increased First Nations ability to take control of their lands and resources and improve their economies, not radically but in an incremental way.
These amendments are consistent with recommendations the Senate has made time after time in the last few years. I hope that eventually these and other amendments will come before us as a result of the continuous change process described in our committee.
The Senate has a well-earned reputation for carefully taking into account the concerns of Aboriginal and other people, especially where their rights are concerned, or the duty of the government is to uphold their rights.
I think this is a case where we could have enhanced that reputation and I am sorry we did not. Obviously, if the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples could not support amendments, I felt there was no point in me advancing them here.
We have a negotiated bill, in a sense, that was suitable and satisfactory to the IRC, the main body of First Nations that represents all of the oil and gas producing First Nations. While the bill is good, we had the chance to make it even better. Unfortunately, we will not have done that if we support the bill as it is, without amendments.
I am sorry about the situation, but I hope that in the future we can have the courage and determination to go that one step further to improve the situation for First Nations.
Hon. Gerry St. Germain: Honourable senators, I would like to thank all committee members who worked on this legislation and other issues in the committee.
I agree that it would be nice if we could meet the requirements of everyone involved, but we should never let perfection become the enemy of the good. There is a lot of good in this bill and it has been negotiated for 10 years.
The Indian Resource Council definitely did not want to reopen this matter. They have been working on it for 10 years, and they felt if it is reopened, it may be another 10 years before we would get back to the stage we are at now.
I am sure the honourable senator is fully aware that the First Nations Oil and Gas and Moneys Management Act can be opted into. I realize there is hesitation in that regard because there is a possibility — or a view is held by the First Nations — that the government would be absolved from its fiduciary responsibility if they take this action and move from the Indian Oil and Gas Act to the First Nations Oil and Gas and Moneys Management Act. Am I correct in that assumption? Was that the thought process?
I want this on the record, not that Senator Sibbeston was trying to neglect anything, but it is important for the Senate to know that the First Nations Oil and Gas and Moneys Management Act is available to First Nations if they wish to opt into it.
Senator Sibbeston: My understanding is that there is an alternative. First Nations can opt into the other act that the minister provided, but that act is not intended to deal with oil and gas. It is intended to deal with most other matters besides oil and gas — the general administration of First Nations' lands, et cetera. While there is the possibility of opting into that act and using it as a vehicle for more control over such matters as oil and gas on their lands, that is not the intent of the act. There is no regulatory scheme to deal with oil and gas. The amendments to the Indian Oil and Gas Act propose to set up such a regime. Bill C-5 proposes, in certain instances, to adopt provincial-type regimes already in place that are pretty effective for the most part.
As I said, the big concern of some First Nations is whether that scheme will still protect them. The day-to-day control of activities on First Nations reserves may be subject, by this act, to provincial regulations. In that case, the concern is whether the federal government minister's fiduciary responsibility is lessened in any way. That is one of the issues.
One of the clauses starts with the words "For greater certainty." What is the harm in having a clause like that in the bill, which would have provided further clarity?
In response to the honourable senator's question, yes, it is an option, but it is not likely that they would use the other act to deal with oil and gas matters on First Nations' lands.
Hon. Nick G. Sibbeston: Honourable senators, Senator Willie Adams has served the people of the North in an honourable, down-to-earth, sincere and effective manner. Willie was born on the land in the area of Leaf River, 60 kilometres west of Kuujjuaq in 1934. His mother had two girls and him, and his father was the Hudson's Bay manager. Without going through all the details, later in his life he discovered that his father is still living in Newfoundland and is 94 years old.
In 1970, we were both members of the N.W.T. Territorial Legislative Council, a partly elected and partly appointed body that eventually evolved into today's legislative assembly. I was elected for Mackenzie Liard and he was elected from Keewatin South, and we were seatmates for four years. In 1975, we both left the council. He went back to Rankin Inlet to continue his business career and two years later, in 1977, was appointed to this chamber by Prime Minister Trudeau.
I want to say a word about the fact that someone like Willie Adams, coming from humble beginnings in the North, has been able to make a contribution to the government in the North as well as in the Senate. Honourable senators must remember that we in the North had never had government as we now know it. We had never had a democratic government; we were governed from afar in Ottawa.
It was in that era that Willie became involved in politics. He comes from a background that was different from the environment of today. During his life in politics, the region of the Northwest Territories was divided, and governments in both Nunavut and the Northwest Territories have evolved into more responsible governments.
For the last 32 years, Willie has been a stalwart defender of the interests of the North, first as a senator for the Northwest Territories and then for Nunavut. He has brought an Inuit style of decision-making to this chamber and to the many committees that he has served on over the years. He does not make fancy speeches; he tells simple stories about how the lives of ordinary Inuit are impacted by government policies and laws.
Recently, in our Standing Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources, where Senator Angus is the chair, he brought in a clock to try to limit senators to their set time. We reminded Senator Angus that he would have to recognize the cultural difference and recognize that someone like Willie needs more time, because the way of the Inuit and other Aboriginal people is to tell a story and to take their time to make a point. Fortunately, Senator Angus was patient and allowed that approach.
Honourable senators, Senator Adams performs his work with humility and humour and adds a great deal of civility to our deliberations. Willie's first language is Inuktitut, and it is a great legacy to him that on the days before his retirement the Senate has begun a pilot project to permit Inuktitut to be spoken and translated here.
Willie, I wish you the best in your retirement. I am glad to see your family and other people from the North here.
Hon. Nick G. Sibbeston: Honourable senators, last month at their annual general meeting in Inuvik, the Northwest Territories Association of Municipalities passed a resolution dealing with the protection of N.W.T. water resources from the development of oil sands in Alberta. The Dene Nation, at its leadership meeting in February, passed a similar resolution.
The resolution expresses a widely held belief that the Government of Alberta and the Government of Canada have not managed the Alberta oil sands in a sustainable way that protects the environment of downstream communities. There are concerns about both the quantity and quality of the water flowing into the Mackenzie River Basin from the Athabasca River.
Although the Mackenzie River Basin Board was established in 1997 as a result of a transboundary agreement between Canada, the three provinces and two territories within the watershed, this body seldom meets and is widely regarded as toothless. Nevertheless, the existence of this board recognizes one undeniable fact: Watersheds do not respect territorial, provincial or even national boundaries.
Although the Mackenzie River lies entirely in Canada, like most rivers, its water flows through several jurisdictions. Many of our other great rivers also cross into the United States.
Water is already a contentious issue in many parts of the world and promises to become even more so in the face of global economic development and climate change. Demand for water will rise even as changing weather patterns make some areas dryer and others wetter.
Although few people envision real conflicts with our southern neighbour, there can be no doubt that water will be a source of friction in our relationship. Lessons we learn from protecting the Mackenzie may prove valuable in future discussions with the United States.
Canada is singularly blessed with supplies of fresh water, but we are entering a period of great uncertainty. Uncertainty demands that we exercise caution in protecting this vital resource. We need to find mechanisms that will help us to protect the ecological integrity of river basins, both national and international, while still allowing development to proceed in a sustainable manner.
Honourable senators, they say that no cloud is without a silver lining. The current recession has caused hardship for many people. However, it may also give us an opportunity to rethink the pace of development in the oil sands and to create better ways to protect our most precious natural resource — water.