Hughes takes on Minister of the Environment in rare parliamentary committee

Ottawa – First Nations are being asked to accept changes to Canada’s Environmental Assessment Act on faith alone according to MP, Carol Hughes.   The MP contends that negotiations without an even application of appropriate notice highlight the government’s questionable commitment in their duty to consult.

Hughes was taking part in a special departmental review as she grilled the Minister of the Environment testifying before the Committee of the Whole.  The committee scrutinized the estimates for Environment Canada that are included in the Budget Implementation Act.  The MP for Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing was acting in her capacity as associate critic on First Nation issues since many of the Minister’s initiatives relate to changes that will affect First Nations’ territories.

Hughes’ questions covered many subjects, including the government’s spurious definition of appropriate notice that rests on the belief that publishing on websites sufficiently addresses the responsibility of the state in that capacity.

“To a reasonable person, ‘Notice’ means First Nations will actually be contacted and provided with information,” said Hughes. “Where there is a digital divide in this country, which the government has failed to address, even a broad interpretation of ‘notice’ doesn’t hold water. 

Hughes also took aim at the Harper government’s notorious secrecy and wondered whether anyone in Cabinet was advocating on behalf of Canada’s First Nations.

“If First Nations want to know whether their rights and interests have been accommodated, or even acknowledged, it appears the only vehicle for finding out is using a costly and lengthy discovery process through litigation,” the MP told the Commons.

The special committee meeting is a relatively new development in parliamentary oversight that forces Ministers to defend their department’s estimates before the House of Commons.  Two departments are scrutinized in this way at the discretion of the Official Opposition.  The Department of National Defence went before the Committee of the Whole last week.