This is page numbers 6289 - 6352 of the Hansard for the 18th Assembly, 3rd Session. The original version can be accessed on the Legislative Assembly's website or by contacting the Legislative Assembly Library. The word of the day was assembly.

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Bill 34: Mineral Resources Act
Third Reading Of Bills

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The Speaker Jackson Lafferty

Masi. The Member has requested a recorded vote. To the motion. Member for Kam Lake.

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Kieron Testart Kam Lake

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I want to start in addressing this bill by confirming my support for this, for Bill 34, and I will confine the majority of my commentary to the process that brought this bill to third reading today.

The Minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment lived up to his promises: this bill has made no one happy. Instead, we have a bill that has created confusion, uncertainty, and shown a huge contrast in how legislation has been developed and reviewed in this Assembly by different committees.

Mr. Speaker, the standing committee's clause-by-clause review lasted four-and-a-half hours. Yesterday, the Committee of the Whole review lasted nearly six hours, late into the early-morning hours. This unprecedented amount of time this Legislative Assembly spent in review of this bill was in no way deliberate. Rather, it was the sincere effort of the honourable Members on this side of the House to get clear answers from the government on parts of the bill that were drafted to be "intentionally vague." I cannot agree with the suggestion that this bill is "world-class." The vast majority of important content is left entirely to regulations. Such broad authority and lack of real detail fails to provide the certainty that industry, the public, and Indigenous governments have asked for over the years.

At this point, I can say that much of the policy intent of these vagaries has been teased out through questioning of the Minister and his officials. Thorough review of Hansard should give clarity to those who seek it, but I cannot fathom why it took a combined 10 hours of public hearings to get to this place. The standing committee made best efforts to collaborate with the Minister, including a six-hour working meeting between the Minister, committee members, and staff on both sides. Government intransigence has no place in the spirit and intent of this institution, and I strongly encourage for this not to happen again, especially on such a crucial piece of legislation, vital to our economy.

Mr. Speaker, I will conclude again by reiterating my support for this bill, now that I am confident clarity has been achieved over the most contentious sections of the bill. It is high time the NWT modernized its mining legislation and, while far from perfect, it is good enough for now. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

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The Speaker Jackson Lafferty

Masi. To the motion. Member for Frame Lake.

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Kevin O'Reilly Frame Lake

Merci, Monsieur le President. I have always said in this House that I support mining as long as it contributes towards sustainability and provides benefits to Northerners. Our job, despite some heckles, is to ensure that our government sets clear rules around sustainability and benefits. The Mineral Resources Act is not about promoting mining. It's about setting up a system for mineral rights management. A lot was promised, not all of it delivered.

The bill is really about trying to balance a complex set of rights and interests. The bill was developed by the Minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment. The department has a job to promote mining, and I've always given the department and the staff lots of credit because they do a great job in promoting mining. The problem is, in the post-devolution role, they also now have a job of trying to manage the mineral rights, and that complex set of interests sometimes competing. I don't think it's good to have both of those mandates within one department. I think it creates conflict.

Mr. Speaker, we did make some progress in improving the bill as a standing committee, and I want to give the department credit for the work that was done to create a public component to the registry. There's going to be an annual report. Unfortunately, we're only going to get total royalties. The role and composition of the mineral rights board has been clarified. There are benefit agreements and some legislative requirements around those. There's a lot of contention around this bill, and my colleague from Kam Lake discussed some of that. I've been here for four years, and I've watched the Legislative Assembly for many years before that, but to have a four-and-a-half-hour clause-by-clause review, six hours in Committee of the Whole, that speaks for itself. Earlier today, Mr. Speaker, we dealt with a bill, Corrections Act, in about 40 minutes. That is an example of how consensus government can and should work.

I just don't understand what happened exactly with the Mineral Resources Act, other than the Minister did not seem to be able or willing to work with committee on the issues that we heard and raised. These weren't items that the committee itself dreamt up. This is what we heard. It seemed to me like we were raising issues, and if they didn't fit within the confines of the policy work that they had already done, it was just not going to get addressed.

Much of the work that committee did was trying to seek some clarity in the sea of uncertainty. We did get a lot of intentions out of the Minister on the record. That's great, but there's this overall broad enabling authority with some great intentions, but we just don't know how that's actually going to play, and that's not how the bill actually reads.

To my mind, there are still three main areas that require further work. We really failed to recognize legitimate interests of community governments in this bill. They have a legitimate interest in protecting their lands, water, and infrastructure, and we should really be doing our best to try to avoid land use conflicts in the future. That's not what this bill does. We had opportunities to do that, and I really regret that we weren't able to reach an understanding of how we could do that. We tried to insert a notification process, provisions, and ability to request restricted areas. These things actually exist in some other jurisdiction now, Mr. Speaker, as best practice in Ontario and in Quebec. That's not what we do in the Northwest Territories. It's not what we will do in the Northwest Territories.

Another area that still, I think, needs some work is benefits. I've been on the public record that I always support the concept of Indigenous governments getting benefits for mining, even if it requires legislation. I'm very much in support of that, and it is a reflection of best practices that what this bill does is attempt to codify some of that. There's a solid process in the bill for that, dispute resolution and so on, and I support that. I want to give the Minister some credit because some of the concerns I had around some vague and unclear language, even in the Indigenous government benefits section, have been cleared up as a result of some of the amendments that were made last night. Unfortunately, that kind of precision and clarity is not in the bill when it comes to public benefits. We heard some great intentions out of the Minister last night, but there are no clear triggers or expectations of what those benefits are going to look like and how far back they can reach in the mining cycle. Is it actually going to include prospecting? I don't think that's what our public deserves. There's an expectation that we're going to do our job to communicate clearly what our expectations are. Unfortunately, the legislation doesn't do that.

The last item, Mr. Chair, that I wish to speak to is zones. I've said, and I've been on the record, that I think this is just clearly bad public policy. I can't see any record of any requests for zones such as they have been drafted in the bill. I think this is a mixing of objectives of trying to promote mining and encourage investment. At the same time, is trying to balance a whole variety of competing interests. I still believe that this has a potential to create a race to the bottom, where different regions are incentivized to lower and create more favourable standards to try to attract investment in our regions. As I said, I don't think this is sound public policy.

This was very much a rushed review despite the amount of time that we spent on it, Mr. Speaker, in committee and in this House. I think we can and should have done a much better job collectively, and that's what our citizens, I think, really deserved. I don't think this is best practices. I know it's not best practices. This is not world-class, and we saw that from how other jurisdictions have dealt with some of these issues.

Our job as standing committee and as legislators today is to try to resolve these issues and concerns that were brought forward during the bill, create certainty, and balance the competing interests. Unfortunately, this was not accomplished, Mr. Speaker. I will not be supporting Bill 34. Thank you.

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The Speaker Jackson Lafferty

Masi. To the motion. Member for Yellowknife Centre.

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Julie Green Yellowknife Centre

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I rise to discuss some process issues with this bill. As you may know, we received the report on this act, this world-class, most-significant bill since the Devolution Act, yesterday, still warm from the photocopier, about two inches thick, and we who were not on the committee had no time or opportunity to go through it fully engaged, obviously, in what's happening here.

For people like me who are not part of the Standing Committee on Economic Development and Environment, I was at a real disadvantage to appreciate the complexity of the motions that were being proposed and the ways in which they would change the bill. I also was unable to attend the clause-by-clause because my committee was having a clause-by-clause the same evening.

The net result of this isn't anyone's fault. I'm simply saying that the whole timing issue prevented informed consideration on my part of the bill, and really represents a significant downside of the legislative burden that has been a part of the last six months of this Assembly, the fact that the bills were all backed up and there were no choices about when the reports came in and when they had to be discussed. I mean, the very same thing happened with the Corrections Act.

I really regret that this is the way it is. It leaves me feeling that I haven't done a complete job as a legislator, through no fault really of my own, and no fault of anyone else, but for the fact that this is the way the schedule worked out. For this reason, I don't feel I can either support or oppose the bill, and I will be abstaining. Thank you.

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The Speaker Jackson Lafferty

Masi. To the motion. Member for Deh Cho.

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Michael Nadli Deh Cho

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I will be supporting the motion despite having some concerns. I'm not on the committee that oversaw at least the discussion on the overhaul of this piece of legislation, and I understand from my previous work that the big concern of Indigenous peoples was the idea of a free entry system where, if it exists on their traditional lands, industry could basically go in, explore, find a deposit, and basically own it. Whether it was your outdoor toilet behind your house, it could happen, and you don't have a say in that. That was the biggest common concern that I think was and still continues to be an issue, but there is a common effort being pulled together by Indigenous people to try to make some changes on that whole fundamental issue.

If there are any concerns, they are in regard to settlement areas as defined, which I sought clarity on yesterday with the legal counsel for the committee. It makes reference to settlement areas. It doesn't really specifically reference and stipulate areas that don't have settled land claims. They are basically not recognized. The Dehcho, for that matter, and the Akaitcho are not referenced in this draft, and for that matter, the Metis. Of course, that is a very serious concern. We try not to leave anyone behind in terms of major government initiatives, but in this piece of legislation, it creates "haves" and "have nots," which is not right.

The other interesting track about this is that it heralds section 35 rights, Aboriginal and treaty rights, and the interesting thing is that it upholds the territorial legislation. It enables the legislation. It's a fine balance. It's a house of cards. It's a framework of creating a climate for mineral resource development, and the major players, the mining industry, governments, the public at large, and Indigenous governments, had a hand. That's a presumption that everybody played a hand in developing this piece of legislation.

With that in mind and those points that I outlined, I continue to try to advance forward, and I will be supporting this. Mahsi.

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The Speaker Jackson Lafferty

Masi. To the motion. Member for Hay River North.

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R.J. Simpson Hay River North

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Some of the other Members have referenced last night. It was about six hours that we discussed this. At the clause-by-clause, there were another four and a half hours, and the committee itself spent days and days and days focusing on this act and how we could make it better. Even now, after all of that, as I stand here, I am still torn about whether or not I fully support this legislation, and there are a number of reasons for that.

There are a number of reasons to support the legislation. It is not, maybe, the world-class legislation that we were promised, but it does some very progressive things, like legislating benefit agreements. I have said this before; I think that what we do with this in the future will be used as a model elsewhere in Canada and, perhaps, around the world.

The problem with that is that the bill wasn't ready to be brought forward, and the benefits agreement section is a perfect example of that. It was not done, but, for whatever reason, it was brought forward. One of the Members mentioned free entry and the fact that, early on, there was no buy-in for free entry and the fact that the working group was able to get to the point where all of the Indigenous governments could agree on a system for entry shows how progressive this bill is.

I am concerned about the vagueness of certain points, that so much of this was left to regulations. There are big policy issues that should be discussed by the legislators and not left to regulations, which are usually reserved for things that are more technical. I am disappointed that there were major amendments proposed by the government on the floor of the House that bypassed the committee process, which is where the public is supposed to have their say into the legislation.

However, with all of that said, I do have faith in the people within the department who have been working on this. We have seen a lot of departmental officials come before us as a committee over the last four years, and I have always said that the mineral resources people are some of the best that we have in the government.

I feel like, if I support this bill, I would be rewarding bad behaviour on the part of Cabinet by bringing forward something when clearly it wasn't ready and clearly the proper processes weren't followed in terms of bringing forward amendments -- appropriate to democracy, not procedurally incorrect, but appropriate in the spirit of consensus government.

Mr. Speaker, even as I sit down here, I am not quite sure what I should do. Is this better legislation? Absolutely. Will it get to where it needs to be? I believe so, but, like I said, we have processes in place. Before I became an MLA, I saw lots of pieces of bad legislation, and I said, "I don't want to be part of that." Yet, here we are where there is legislation that is not fully formed and is not ready for prime time, and we are sitting here ready to approve it.

That is really why I am torn, Mr. Speaker. I guess we will all see, including me, how I vote on this. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

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The Speaker Jackson Lafferty

Masi. To the motion. Member for Sahtu.

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Daniel McNeely Sahtu

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I am in favour of this motion. Ever since we inherited devolution, I feel very comfortable in saying that we have something. As a result of that, we have the abilities in the agreement to govern our destiny and manage our affairs and exploit our affairs in a manner that we see is responsible.

As mentioned numerous times in our road trips for this piece of legislation, we live in a very diverse area with a number of jurisdictions, including reserves, settled claims, unsettled claim areas. Making choices and making decisions is the hardest part of leadership, but making them shows leadership. Our people have placed us in this Assembly to do just that.

This new piece of legislation goes back to the recommendation from the Neil McCrank report on upgrading legislation and regulations. I am very confident that the government has the resources and the necessary staff to direct them in that manner.

I really want to show to the people that we are here, and to industry, that we have heard everyone during the road reports during the development, during the "what we heard" report that was tabled by the government a year ago, and that we are doing our best to engage, listen, and design a piece of legislation that would create, as we mentioned numerous times, certainty and confidence in industry's interest to have a presence here in our territory and the large amount of benefits that they bring.

I feel comfortable that we have drafted a piece of legislation. In some views, it may not be the best, and that could be said for every piece of legislation that we have dealt with, but in the spirit of balance and comfort and certainty, I am satisfied with what we have drafted, and we will leave it up to the staff of the government to draft regulations to accommodate the legislation and basically try to bring commerce and stability to our area. Mahsi.

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The Speaker Jackson Lafferty

Masi. To the motion. Member for Yellowknife North.

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Cory Vanthuyne Yellowknife North

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I appreciate everybody sharing their comments today. It just goes to show the importance of this bill. I want to not reiterate everybody's concerns, but I do want to say that, with well over 100 motions, I had the opportunity, as the chair, to observe the growth of this process and of this bill, from the time in which it was originally proposed, and I can tell you that, when we saw that originally, there was a lot of deep and dire concern from committee at that time.

There has been a willingness from the Minister and the department to come together with the committee on a few occasions to recognize that there was some serious and important work that needed to be done to get this bill to a place that it needed to be.

I also want to take this opportunity, Mr. Speaker, to commend the many stakeholders that took part in getting this bill where it is today. Most important are our Indigenous governments and organizations and, of course, industry. I think their ability to be patient with us and to understand and have an understanding is very admirable and committee, I think, really, genuinely appreciates that.

I want to acknowledge my committee's frustration; they have shared that over the last number of days. As the chair, I have the opportunity to see the peaks and valleys of this bill as we have moved forward, but I want to also commend the committee for the tremendous effort that they have put into getting this bill to where it is and exposing those challenges that we've had, and digging down, and going into the depths of this, and never relenting, and continuing to pound forward. I mean, I think, clearly, at points in time we were ready to just throw our arms up in the air and kind of give up, but the proof is, when you sit here until 11:30 at night in a clause-by-clause, and again until after midnight the other day in Committee of the Whole, there is genuine effort that has been put into this bill.

I, Mr. Speaker, think that that's too much at risk to not support now. I think the work that we've done, that everybody has done, is to be commended, and it would be too risky to let all of that go to a future Assembly. So, Mr. Speaker, I will for sure be in support of the act. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

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The Speaker Jackson Lafferty

Masi. To the motion. Minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment.