Territories should have say over borrowing limits

There are so many things wrong with C-38, the Conservative's budget implementation bill, which would lead me to vote against it.

There are so many things wrong with C-38, the Conservative’s budget implementation bill, which would lead me to vote against it.

Wrongheaded elements include the total rewriting of Canada’s environmental protection law, a very serious issue for the territories. Living in a resource-extraction region, northerners understand the importance of careful and complete environmental reviews, which can prevent environmental headaches like Giant mine in Yellowknife.

However, as the only member of the opposition from the three northern territories, I must focus on the changes to the constitutions of the three territories: the Yukon Act, Northwest Territories Act and Nunavut Act.

Buried deep inside the bill are changes to the borrowing provisions for all of the territories. These changes will result in increased federal control over the NWT, Yukon and Nunavut.

These amendments increase federal control over the territories, not whether borrowing should be increased. In my view, the only bodies which should control the borrowing of the territories are the legislative assemblies of the three territories.

These changes will continue the federal control and enable the federal cabinet to determine what constitutes borrowing, the entities or classes of entities, which apply to the borrowing limit and the manner in which the value of borrowing is determined.

These amendments are the outcome of a behind-closed-doors review of the territorial borrowing limits to clarify the definitions used by all three territories with respect to what constitutes borrowing for the purposes of the limits.

This review came from a 2006 request from the government of the Northwest Territories that the borrowing limit be changed to reflect the approach to debt and borrowing that the territory adopted in its fiscal responsibility policy.

Testifying before a House of Commons committee, Margaret Melhorn, then the NWT’s deputy minister of finance, said, “This requirement for federal approval to borrow is a shortcoming in the NWT Act. We would prefer either to eliminate the requirement altogether or to base it on provisions similar to our fiscal responsibility policy.”

Instead of presenting these amendments in separate bills, which would have allowed northerners to have their input into the changes of their constitutions, the Conservatives have rolled them into an omnibus bill with only one aim.

That aim is to drive as many changes to Canadian society through Parliament, without any proper review, as fast as possible. This eliminates a vital element of democracy, which is: Canadians must be given the opportunity to have input into the laws that affect them.

It is ironic that the same budget bill that severely weakens environmental protection by lessening regulation increases the regulatory control of northerners by Ottawa.

It is unacceptable that the Conservatives would violate the fourth pillar of their own northern policy (improving and devolving northern governance) by unilaterally changing the constitutions of the three territories without a public consultation process.

Northerners must make it clear to the government that they do not support increased federal control and are unwilling to accept an undemocratic process to amend their constitutions.

Dennis Bevington,

MP for Western Arctic

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