House of Commons Hansard #76 of the 35th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was self-government.

Topics

Yukon First Nations Self-Government Act
Government Orders

June 1st, 1994 / 4:05 p.m.

Sault Ste. Marie
Ontario

Liberal

Ron Irwin Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

moved that Bill C-34, an act respecting self-government for First Nations in the Yukon Territory, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Madam Speaker, I rise to speak in support of Bill C-34, the Yukon First Nations self-government act, and to urge the speedy passage of this important and historic piece of legislation.

This act, together with the Yukon land claim settlement act which is also before the House, will usher in a whole new era of stability and opportunity for the Yukon Territory. It will provide Yukon First Nations with the power to govern their own affairs to a degree not heretofore possible. It will strengthen relations between aboriginal and non-aboriginal Yukoners and it will create an atmosphere of certainty which will encourage investment, development and jobs in the territory.

For these reasons this legislation has the strong support of not only the Yukon First Nations but of all sectors of Yukon society. The council of Yukon Indians was one of the very first aboriginal groups to request claims negotiations following the decision of the then Liberal government to settle land claims in areas where no previous treaties or agreements were in force. That was more than 20 years ago and the road to claims settlement and self-government has been a long and sometimes arduous one.

In 1986 the decision was taken to incorporate self-government into the negotiating process. Yukon is the first to come forward in Canada with both claims and self-government agreements. This has made the negotiations more complex, but in the long run I believe it will prove beneficial to settle both the land claim and self-government issues as a package so that we can begin to move ahead quickly on all points.

With this legislation we are on the verge of bringing to reality the hopes and dreams that had been nurtured by Yukon First Nations for more than two decades. In scope and complexity this is the most ambitious self-government arrangement negotiated to date. The legislation is unique in a number of respects. It is the only self-government legislation to apply to First Nations representing seven different aboriginal language groups in 14 communities. It is the only one that covers all the First Nations within a single province or territory.

Under the terms of an umbrella final agreement signed last year by the federal and territorial governments and the council for Yukon Indians the government is committed to negotiate individual self-government agreements with each of the 14 individual First Nations. In fact, four of these First Nations signed self-government agreements at that time. These were Champagne and the Aishihik First Nation, the First Nation of Na-cho-ny'a'k-dun, the Teslin Tlingit Council and the Vuntut Gwich'in First Nation.

Self-government for these First Nations which cover about 36 per cent of the total Yukon aboriginal population will take effect immediately with the passage of this legislation.

The government is currently engaged in active negotiations with an additional five First Nations. I am optimistic that several of these will be completed by the end of this year. I hope that the government will also commence self-government negotiations with at least some of the last five First Nations later this year.

Overall, we expect to have completed self-government agreements with all 14 First Nations within five years.

Before reviewing some of the main features of this legislation, I would like to make clear to the House exactly what we mean by self-government in the context of this bill.

These agreements were negotiated under the previous government's community based self-government policy. They make no reference to the inherent right of self-government and they will not receive constitutional protection as treaty rights under section 35 of the Constitution Act upon passage of this bill.

I have indicated to the council for Yukon Indians, however, that I will consider this matter very seriously and once I and my colleague, the Minister of Natural Resources, have finished our consultation on the implementation of the inherent right we will be reporting to cabinet and back to the council of Yukon Indians.

The principles embodied in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Constitution of Canada as a whole will continue to apply. First Nation constitutions will also provide protections for the rights and freedoms of First Nation citizens.

Although the council for Yukon Indians has long held that Yukon First Nations have an inherent right of self-government and have lobbied long and hard to see it recognized, it was their strongly expressed wish that we proceed quickly with this legislation rather than delay the legislation pending the outcome of the inherent right of self-government.

I believe this was a wise decision on their part. By proceeding now on the basis of the current policy they will begin to reap the benefits of self-government at the earliest possible date.

At the same time, the agreement provides that the Yukon First Nations will in no way be precluded from benefiting from any rights or entitlements that might arise from the discussions I am carrying out at present with the aboriginal, provincial and territorial leaders on the implementation of the inherent right of self-government.

I would also like to comment at this time on the very constructive role played by the territorial government in these negotiations. They were tripartite negotiations throughout and indeed much of the work of implementing self-government will involve interface, co-operation and compromise between the First Nations and the Yukon government.

The territorial government has been very supportive throughout this process and the Yukon legislature has already passed self-government legislation which will come into effect as soon as this act is proclaimed.

Turning to the main points of the bill, one of the most important features is that it establishes First Nations as a legal entity with the power to enter contracts, to acquire land and to form corporations. This is a very important step in empowering the First Nations to manage their affairs and to plan and carry out their economic and social development.

The Indian Act will not apply to the First Nations or their citizens or settlement land with five exceptions. First, the Indian Act will apply for the purpose of determining which Yukon First Nation citizens are Indians within the meaning of the Indian Act.

Second, the Indian Act will continue to apply to reserves outside Yukon held for the use and benefit of a Yukon First Nation predecessor band. There are four such reserves held for two Yukon First Nations.

Third, the application of the Indian Act to reserves in Yukon is subject to negotiation.

Fourth, the minister's authority under the Indian Act to administer individual Indian money, which the minister currently holds, will continue.

Fifth, section 87 of the Indian Act which provides for a tax exemption for Indians will cease to apply to all Yukon First Nations and Yukon Indian people three years after the legislation comes into force. The First Nations will have the legislative power to enact laws. Yukon self-government legislation grants law making power in four main areas. These include laws relating to internal management and the administration of certain rights and benefits received under the land claims agreement.

They also include laws of a local or private nature which apply on settlement lands, laws relating primarily to the provision of programs and services to First Nation citizens, and laws relating to the First Nation power to tax interest and settlement land and other methods of direct taxation of First Nation citizens on settlement land.

By agreement these taxation powers will not be exercised for at least three years unless the First Nation and government agree otherwise. The First Nation power to tax does not limit the federal government power to tax. What this means is that the First Nation as a government will negotiate with the governments of Canada and Yukon to ensure co-ordination of First Nation tax laws within the existing system.

In the long run this taxation power will enable First Nation governments to use taxation of its citizens and of use of their settlement lands as a revenue source for providing local programs and services which the First Nation governments deem necessary for its citizens.

While federal law of general application will continue to remain paramount unless inconsistent with the bill, the land claims bill, and the related agreements the law making powers granted to the First Nations will further strengthen control over their own affairs.

Each First Nation will have a constitution. These constitutions will provide for a number of things, including recognition and protection of the rights and freedoms of First Nation citizens.

The constitutions will also spell out how the validity of First Nation laws may be challenged, how financial accountability to the people will be assured, and how First Nation governing bodies will be established. These constitutions will provide the basic guarantees that the First Nations will be governed democratically and responsibly.

The First Nations shall also have law making powers with respect to the administration of justice. However, the legislation suspends this power until the year 2000 unless an agreement is reached between the Yukon and federal governments and First Nations on how the First Nation may exercise its power to make laws in relationship to the administration of justice.

All parties are legally obliged to enter negotiations toward this goal. In the meantime, First Nations will not exercise this power. I am hopeful an agreement can be reached long before the year 2000.

In the interim First Nations will have a limited power to establish penalties for violation of First Nation laws. Offences under the Yukon First Nation law will be prosecuted in Yukon courts and will be treated as an offence under the Territorial Summary Convictions Act.

The administration of justice is an area that has in the past caused much friction between aboriginal Canadians and society at large. Hopefully Yukon self-government agreements will lead to a regime in which the maximum responsibility possible will be handled by each First Nation within the framework of Canada's constitution.

The self-government agreements call for the transfer of many programs and services now being provided by the federal or territorial governments directly to the First Nations. First Nations will advise the government in each year of their priorities and plans for such transfers.

Government policy will neither be to rush this process nor to retard it but to respond promptly to the wishes of First Nations. The pace must be set by the First Nations in accordance with their perception of their capabilities, their priorities, and their aspirations.

In this regard I foresee a substantial downsizing of my department in Yukon over the next several years as all 14 First Nations implement self-government. The downsizing will be in the order of 75 per cent of the staff with the remaining 25 per cent kept in place to fulfil federal responsibilities and obligations set out in the self-government agreements.

Finally, the agreement and the legislation propose a new and much improved set of financial arrangements than those we have had in the past with First Nations. These will be modelled on the current and successful five-year financial transfer agreements that now exist between the federal and territorial governments.

The financial transfer agreements will be the primary funding instrument between Canada and the Yukon First Nations and will be the mechanism for flowing current levels of band funding toward the cost of operating self-government, funding for current government programs that are taken over by the First Nations and funding related to the land claim implementation.

The new financial regime will allow First Nations to engage in longer range planning with a greater degree of certainty and to establish their own priorities against a certain fiscal stability.

Since taking on this portfolio last year I have met with many Yukoners and received many more letters from all sectors of Yukon society; aboriginal leaders, business leaders, religious leaders and politicians from all parties. All are urging the speedy introduction and passage of this bill, as well as Bill C-33. I have been particularly impressed by the emerging

consensus and the depth of desire not only for passage but speedy passage of both bills.

They recognize the importance of resolving the question of land claims and self-government to the future development of the territory.

They recognize the potential benefit of those agreements to the future well-being of the Yukon First Nation who make up one quarter of the territory's people.

They recognize that the certainty embodied in these pieces of legislation can only encourage more investment and development in Yukon to the benefit of all its citizens.

Yukon needs economic growth if it is to provide hope and meaningful employment for its young and growing population. More than half of Yukon's aboriginal population is under 24 years of age.

In recent years there has been a marked improvement in the education and training opportunities available to First Nations. All of this means little unless there are jobs to be had in a growing economy. Yukon needs investment and it needs resource development, industrial diversification, strengthened infrastucture and service industry enhancement.

I am convinced that this self-government agreement, together with the land claim settlement, will give a very real stimulus to the investment and growth that Yukon needs and for the creation of jobs.

The government has made it clear that improving the quality of life of Canada's aboriginal people is a major concern and priority. The document Creating Opportunity expressed it this way:

The priority of a Liberal government will be to assist aboriginal communities in their efforts to address the obstacles to their development and help them marshal the human and physical resources necessary to build and sustain vibrant communities.

This legislation will provide new hope and opportunity for Yukon's First Nations and will go to the very heart of that commitment. The bill is clearly deserving of our support.

On a more personal note and in closing, it is unfortunate that I cannot mention that above us in this assembly are people who have been working most of their adult lives toward this day. There are times in this portfolio, not often, that you walk away with a great sense of satisfaction that hope has been provided. These people from the CYI who have been here all week and out in front of the House of Commons yesterday were saying to each other: "We have been waiting 20 years". I cannot imagine working 20 years on one piece of legislation but they have and they have worked hard.

One stretch I was at went on for five solid days. That is the kind of commitment we saw in the last few months of drafting the agreements. With Canadians like these there is a lot of hope for our country, that they have that commitment to their own people and to Canada. They are to be commended.

I would be remiss if I did not mention in closing the help of the hon. member for Yukon. I received some excellent briefings from that member. When all the paper was piling up and I was not sure exactly what was happening underground, I would speak to her and she would tell me the way it was. I really appreciated that.

I urge all members to give the legislation speedy consideration and passage so our fellow Canadians in Yukon can begin to enjoy the new life that they have hoped for and worked so hard to obtain for two decades. This day is here and they are to be commended.

Yukon First Nations Self-Government Act
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

Bloc

Claude Bachand Saint-Jean, QC

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to speak today on Bill C-34. In response to the Minister of Indian Affairs, who mentioned that he finds some days very satisfying, I will confide that I found the last 24 hours extremely dissatisfying and very arduous. First reading took place yesterday morning at 10 o'clock, so you can imagine my surprise when, in the afternoon, a pile of documents, one foot high, appeared on my desk for me to read before today's debate on these two bills. We are dissatisfied because we worked well into the night and are exhausted.

Fortunately, we were basically already in favour of self-government. If we took the trouble to review these documents as thoroughly and as humanly possible under the circumstances, it is because we had in mind these people in the Yukon who have been waiting for so long to see this matter of great concern to them finally settled.

Consequently, we did our utmost. We may have missed a few things, but for our part, we are in favour of Bill C-34.

I would like to take this opportunity to salute all those who dropped by my office during the week. On Monday night, we received a delegation from Yukon. I immediately cleared up an unfortunate misunderstanding, and I would like to do the same here now.

The Bloc Quebecois never intended to delay the presentation of this bill. As you know, there has been a problem with the translation of the maps, but my party decided that it would not oppose the first reading. We mentioned that to these people from Yukon, because rumours had been going around in the north and in Yukon to the effect that we would oppose this bill at first

reading, on the basis of the Official Languages Act, which was not true, of course, and that is why I take this opportunity today to set matters straight.

As I said before, the Bloc Quebecois already has a position on self-government. We support self-government. To define the concept of self-government, we have the choice of several dictionaries. For my part, I referred to the Petit Larousse .

Self-government is defined as "government of a group by the action of its own members, independently from a central power". As for government, is it defined as "the right, function or power of governing, of running a country".

An agreement on self-government means that the central power, the Crown in this case, agrees to relinquish a certain number of areas of responsibility to this group, to effectively enable it to assume responsibility for itself and decide its own future. That is no different by the way, from the traditional claims of Quebec which in fact wants a little more than self-government, namely complete sovereignty.

I have to mention in passing the similarity between the two situations. As I said earlier, the Bloc Quebecois has always been in favour of self-government for native peoples and it demonstrates its support today by supporting Bill C-34.

The agreement was negotiated under the existing policy concerning self-government. This means that government commitments with respect to self-government for the nations concerned are not governed by the provisions of clause 35. They are not considered as part of a modern treaty. There is no protection under the Constitution, contrary to what we will see later in the case of Bill C-33. This must be made very clear from the start. Protection under the Constitution cannot be guaranteed today by tabling these agreements.

About self-government, it should be pointed out that more than one definition must be examined more closely. Finally, self-government is exercised to some extent at the discretion of both sides. Advocating self-government is one thing, but this does not mean that there is a standard pattern that fits any situation for all bands and all first nations.

Based on certain claims, depending upon the willingness of the various nations, some areas of responsibility can be transferred quickly and others not so quickly, while others yet would not be transferred not at all. It is rather difficult, when discussing self-government for first nations, to say: "Here is a complete, comprehensive and definitive profile of self-government". It will take shape as these kinds of agreements develop and it can vary from band to another.

So far, four first nations in the Yukon Territory have entered into agreements on both lands claims-these are covered by Bill C-33-and self-government.

These are the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations, the First Nation of Nacho Nyak Dun, the Teslin Tlingit Council and the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation.

That still leaves about 10 nations. The minister said that, during the year, we may indeed conclude and ratify agreements with five other nations. I think the fact that we may complete these negotiations within five years is a good sign and that it is the first step these nations must take to get rid of the Indian Act trusteeship although in fact-as I will explain later-they can opt for continued coverage under this act. I will explain some of its provisions a little later.

However, a number of preconditions are attached to self-government. As I pointed out a few minutes ago, the First Nations increasingly want to face themselves from the Indian Act trusteeship but they are a little afraid of what will replace it. I think a bill such as the one before us today shows that the Indian Act could be replaced with agreements enabling members of the First Nations to take control of their own destiny.

As a precondition, the First Nations must be willing to get rid of this trusteeship and to take control of their own future. The House of Commons, which has jurisdiction over this, must also recognize that this trusteeship must end and gradually give the First Nations the opportunity to take control of their own destiny. The will must also come from the House of Commons.

Last but not least among the preconditions-also the most important in my opinion-is mutual respect. This mutual respect is sometimes difficult to achieve. The agreements may not have been as difficult to negotiate, but this respect must still be maintained and cultivated on a day-to-day basis. We must mention it whenever such bills are tabled because the public often feels uncomfortable toward Natives and vice versa. I think that if we want to spread the beneficial effects of these agreements, we must achieve mutual respect. That is not always easy.

As we know, our vision of democracy as we experience it here today is not necessarily that favoured by the First Nations. They are not too familiar with the concept of delegated voting. Does that mean that their vision of democracy is not as valid as ours? I do not think so. It is just a little different and we must respect it.

We have a common law system and a civil law system based on property rights to land among other things. We are not used to letting our neighbours move their trees 15 or 20 feet onto our lands without saying anything.

We must understand that, from the natives' point of view, the land does not belong to them; they belong to the land. So the way they see things is somewhat different and often very different

from our view. I think that for future agreements like those before us today, this respect will have to be cultivated, and I assure you that I will be there to try to instill this respect.

Turning now to the presentation and the bill, if I look at what is in the agreements, the ability of these nations to make laws in the Yukon is being recognized. The things I noted which are major for me are that once they have to administer their affairs and pay for them-we realize in the bill and we agree-these people should run their own affairs more and more. If money is granted to them in the form of transfers or new royalties, we must also accept that they can enact legislation saying how they want to administer their affairs. That is how it is in the bills, and it is important that this be pointed out.

Also, still in a spirit of respect for native cultures, we realize that some programs will now allow a certain spiritual or religious influence in the way they run their affairs and the way they make their own future; for them, beliefs and cultural practices are extremely important and we will let their main programs be imbued with this culture.

There may also be legislation on native languages. From the representations made to my office this week, I gather that there are six or seven aboriginal languages in the Yukon and the common language in which they communicate most often is English, would you believe it. Later, my conclusion will emphasize the fact that the two cultures complement each other well, and I think that the opportunity now given to them to legislate in their own language in Yukon is a step in the right direction. Here, a parallel can be made with the Quebec government, which has some power to legislate on language issues to protect culture. Consequently, the Bloc Quebecois fully supports this approach.

Medical care, health care and social services. This is a very holistic approach, as well as a feature of native culture. They try to prevent disease instead of trying to cure it, and even the treatments they apply are different from ours. Thus, they will be able to follow their cultural and traditional ways as regards medical care, health care and social services.

Training programs and tools. Again, I want to establish a parallel with Quebec. They are lucky to be able to enact legislation on training. Giving that possibility to these people will enable them to train their manpower according to the needs of their economic development, both traditional and modern. Unfortunately, Quebec still does not have that opportunity and, frankly, I envy them in that respect.

Education programs and services are also a major component of what we are prepared to give back to these people. It would be important for them to put in place an education system which would really transcend their traditional values. In that respect, we are pleased with the part of the agreement which allows native peoples to take charge of their education programs and services.

There will also be the possibility of enacting legislation related to local or private interests. There are provisions in the agreement and in the bill which are somewhat similar to what was provided in Bill C-16, the Sahtu legislation. The object was to find a happy balance between modern and traditional values. I think that goal was reached with the conclusion of this agreement.

Among other things, these people are given back the responsibility for protecting natural resources. Traditional activities such as picking, trapping, hunting and fishing, which they have been doing for centuries, are recognized. We are telling them "go ahead, its yours, its your territory". Because of their closeness to nature and the Earth, these people have eloquently shown that they do not need complex legislation. Through their culture, they have learned to respect nature when they hunt and fish. They are not the type of people who would fish out lakes and then have nothing left. They do not need specific laws on this: it is part of their culture.

Again, I must make another parallel with Quebec. There are provisions regulating signage, including billboards. I envy them. This is somewhat like Quebec's law 101. I hope that the Supreme Court of Canada will not periodically challenge the fact that they can post notices in a language understood by their people, and that they will not be required to include some English on their signs. Once again, I envy their authority to enact laws of a local or private nature, laws concerning signage, for instance.

They will also be able to issue various permits, which will also be useful in the case of construction projects. I will not enumerate every single case, but it is clear they will have a great deal of latitude in many areas. This is very good for them, and I am delighted. Regarding construction regulations, they seem to have their own approach to labour relations. I repeat, I do not expect a lot of legislation on the subject. These people usually have a great appreciation for fairness, so I do not imagine there will be many labour problems in the construction industry in the Yukon.

They will have jurisdiction over transportation and vehicle use, which makes sense. Regulating and prohibiting alcohol consumption are a major problem, and I think this point was made before. It is a major problem that affects society, but especially societies with tremendous social problems, and one realizes these are often connected with the problems created by alcohol consumption. The fact that they intend to deal with this issue through their own social and health services may be a completely different approach. So there is a connection between health and social services and how they intend to use legislation

to regulate or prohibit alcohol consumption. This being a crucial problem, I agree they should be given the opportunity to deal with it themselves.

The same applies to public safety. As far as protecting the environment is concerned, I think I gave a good description of the situation. Because of their attachment to land and water, it is important for them to be able to deal with these issues. I think they can teach us a thing or two about protecting the environment and the great respect they have for their Mother the Earth, as they often say. I think it is entirely appropriate to give them back their jurisdiction over the environment.

There will also be legislation to regulate or prohibit firearms. We must realize that, because of modern hunting techniques, the number of firearms in circulation in Yukon, as in many parts of the north, is considerable. It makes perfect sense for them to be able to regulate possession of firearms.

Here again, I have every confidence that the possession of firearms will be regulated so that the focus is on possession for the purposes of daily survival, rather than for the purpose of committing crimes. I have no doubt whatsoever that this will be the intent of the regulations.

The bill also provides for laws of general application. I noted in the agreement that a separate agreement could be negotiated to resolve the problem of inconsistencies arising between catch all laws. If I understand the terms of the agreement correctly, further negotiations will take place in the near future once this legislation has been in effect to determine if indeed there are some inconsistencies between these legislative texts. There will have to be some discussion on points of agreement and the necessary changes will have to be made. I felt it was important to take note of this provision in the bill and in the agreement.

In other words, we are not making any final decisions here today. There is nothing to stop us from re-opening the debate at some later date. If we disagree on certain issues, we have to find a way to talk about it and if inconsistencies arise, then we will have a mechanism with which to try and smooth out any irritants.

Regarding the administration of justice, once again, we are prepared to allow them considerable latitude. In the agreement, this issue is even the focus of a separate sub-chapter. We realize that there are many problems involving the justice system and here again, the problem is one of culture. We realize that it is difficult to get the First Nations to understand our notion of justice.

I think that even more respect will have to be shown for First Nations to ensure they have their own justice system, with all this can entail. Again, if problems do arise, I think we will just have to get together and see how we can work things out.

But I think it is becoming increasingly difficult to apply the White justice system in its entirety in the Yukon Territory or in the northern territories. It is inappropriate. I think that more respect must be shown for the value systems of these nations, and their justice system. And this agreement will give them an opportunity to implement them.

Concerning taxation, there are also very interesting provisions in this agreement, from what I have seen. I was pleasantly surprised for the First Nations to notice, for example, the possibility of taxation for localities, as well as the possibility to collect property taxes and to operate a taxation system with legislative powers in taxation matters.

I would say that for once, we are allowing them to free themselves from this guardianship, the dependence created by the Indians Act. And if we can manage to make our transfers match their capacity to break away and develop their economy, I think that will be great. The possibility also exists for transfers to continue, since nothing in here says that these have to stop because we give them taxation powers.

I think that a transition period is necessary and the bill leaves an opening so that transfers will continue, and if these people succeed in developing their economy, of course, then I think that transfers from the crown should be reduced accordingly.

In conclusion, from having looked at the agreement, although I was up until three or four o'clock in the morning-I did not really keep track of the time-I realize that it is a step in the right direction for the people in the Far North and the Yukon. I even ask the ten other First Nations to speed up the discussion. I think that it is really a step in the direction of getting rid of this trusteeship. We are telling them: "The white man's law that applied to you need no longer apply now. You are being given jurisdiction and being allowed to develop your economy. Go ahead. We will even help you to do it. We will respect your traditional values, we accept that you are still a little reluctant to take the route of modern economic development. We will give you a hand with it".

All this to say that I am happy for the four Yukon nations which have signed these agreements. I hope to see, in the near future, all 14 Yukon nations reach such agreements.

These people must be congratulated for their tenacity. They must be congratulated for their democratic consultation process. As you know, when negotiations last for 20 years, those who were involved in the process two decades ago have now become what they call elders. These elders use their wisdom to help those who now sit at the negotiating table.

Another feature of the native culture is the fact that those who negotiated are happy for themselves of course, but their main source of contentment is to enable their children and grandchil-

dren to take charge of their own destiny. This must be pointed out and emphasized.

These people have worked very hard and the elders of the time, as well as today's negotiators, can now see the results of their efforts. I think this may be an example to follow for all First Nations in Canada. As I said, these people negotiated with determination, but they also did it in a peaceful way and this is important.

At times, negotiations broke down. As well, there are issues on which no agreement was reached. Negotiating is not a perfect solution. The two sides are never completely satisfied. However, this exercise was conducted peacefully. It led to an agreement on self-government and a bill to confirm it. As well, the elders are happy for future generations. This is typical of the native culture and it is an example which we should follow.

For all these reasons, the Bloc Quebecois will certainly support Bill C-34.

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4:50 p.m.

Reform

Elwin Hermanson Kindersley—Lloydminster, SK

Madam Speaker, today the House has been asked to debate Bill C-34, a bill regarding self-government for aboriginal peoples in Yukon. The bill apparently affects serious issues such as land, moneys, language, rights and freedoms, perhaps even constitutional matters.

Reform members have been most co-operative in dealing with government legislation proposed in the House. We have had regular consultations with the government and a great rapport has been built up between our caucus and the government with regard to the handling of legislation. We often disagree on the content of the legislation but we are very happy to debate the issues in this House. However, we would like to debate them from a position of knowledge.

We have some real concerns about Bill C-34. The bill was placed on the Order Paper for one week before the government finally introduced it yesterday. Members of the Reform Party, knowing the complexity of this issue as I mentioned earlier, contacted the minister's office last week to see if they could be briefed on the intent of the legislation in order to adequately prepare for the debate. I suggest that this was a fair request but it was a request that was denied.

Finally my colleagues received the departmental briefing only this morning, the very day of the debate. Also, we had less than 24 hours to review this legislation. As my hon. colleague from the Bloc mentioned, he was up until three or four o'clock in the morning trying to wade through all of the material.

Probably one of the reasons it has become so complicated is that Bill C-34 is directly connected to Bill C-33. While I have not yet been able to see it, my colleagues tell me that Bill C-33 is nine or ten inches thick. It requires some time to review and to understand the complications and the factors involved with its relationship to Bill C-34, the bill we are debating today.

The Reform Party refuses to take part in this type of debate when it is not properly prepared, through no fault of its own. The government has not been able to properly manage its legislative agenda. It is in the position where all of the bills are in committee, on notice, or have not yet been introduced. Furthermore, it was indicated to our caucus that we would be debating Bill C-18 today, a bill which we have studied at great length and are prepared to discuss.

It is with much regret after having stated these facts that we feel we cannot contribute in the most meaningful way at this time on this bill. We do not want to be a part of the government's ineptitude. With much respect for the House and wanting to maintain quality debate, I move:

That this House do now adjourn.

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4:55 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Maheu)

The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

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4:55 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

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4:55 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.

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4:55 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Maheu)

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

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4:55 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

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4:55 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Maheu)

All those opposed will please say nay.

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4:55 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

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4:55 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Maheu)

In my opinion the nays have it.

And more than five members having risen:

Yukon First Nations Self-Government Act
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Maheu)

Call in the members.

(The House divided on the motion, which was negatived on the following division:)

Yukon First Nations Self-Government Act
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Maheu)

I declare the motion negatived.

It being 5.42 p.m. the House will now proceed to the consideration of Private Members' Business as listed on today's Order Paper.

Voluntary Firefighters
Private Members' Business

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Bob Speller Haldimand—Norfolk, ON

moved:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should consider the advisability of amending the voluntary firemen's tax exemption from $500 to $1,000 in order to account for inflation and recognize the value of their services to the community.

Madam Speaker, within the wording of this motion, somehow something missed my recognition. What it says in the wording of the motion is: "amending the voluntary firemen's tax exemption". As we all know, across rural Canada we no longer have only firemen. We also have many firewomen across the country. It is a generic word.

I want to bring to the attention of all hon. members that many of our fire brigades now include women and they provide a very responsible and important role within those fire organizations.

It is my pleasure today to stand and to talk about Motion No. 193. This motion, although deemed not votable by the House management subcommittee, recommends that the government consider the advisability of amending the voluntary firemen's tax exemption from $500 to $1,000 which I think puts it into the context of inflation and speaks very well to the services that these firefighters provide to our rural communities.

There is no question in the minds of anyone in the House about the exceptional work done by volunteer firefighters. My motion tries to pay special attention and tribute to these men and women in recognition of their dedication and selfless service to their communities.

Volunteer firefighters serve communities with very little compensation. Generally they are given honorariums that cover out of pocket expenses incurred while dealing with fires and assorted emergencies and in dealing with training sessions. I am confident that there is no one in the House who will disagree with me that this remuneration is worth every penny they get.

The Income Tax Act exempts the first $500 of allowances received by these volunteer firefighters, but in 1980 that was increased. It used to be $300 and it was increased to $500 in

1980 to recognize the growth of inflation at that time. Since 1980 it has stayed exactly the same as it is today.

Over the last 14 years annual inflation rates have increased as many of us know. In fact, most of this honorarium now is subject to tax. Unfortunately this effectively takes the expense reimbursements away from the firefighter.

In my opinion this is mostly unfair and that is why I brought forward this motion again this session. I brought this forward in the last House. Unfortunately at that time it was not a votable motion. It was talked out by the government members who used to be on this side of the House. There are one or two of them on the other side of the House now.

Volunteer firefighters provide an invaluable and vital service to our communities and form a solid protection base under which rural communities exist within this country. Not only do volunteer firefighters provide a service to rural communities, that is where they are mostly seen, but also to urban areas, as members know, where we have a number of volunteer firefighters.

There are almost 76,000 volunteer firefighters across the country. It is a significant number of people who have dedicated their time and service to their country and have really proved to Canadians what volunteerism is all about.

These volunteers spend many hours in training and on the upkeep of their fire stations, the care and maintenance of their fire equipment, all without any remuneration. They drive their privately owned vehicles in response to emergency alarms. Their privately owned vehicles are also used to travel many miles to deal with training sessions. Many of these people spend a number of hours throughout the week in specific training sessions to help them in doing their job.

Frequently volunteer fire departments are the only service organization in a number of communities across this country. They are the ones out there helping our children in distress, the ones out there on the roads dealing with the messy situation at a traffic accident which many of us would rather not see.

These are the people behind the scenes whom we do not see. They are in the face of these tragic situations, dealing with them. They are the ones raising money for community halls and community centres. They are the ones in small towns across this country who are the backbone of volunteer work in these communities.

They are the people who really keep these communities going. They can be found taking all sorts of other roles within communities such as organizing hockey and baseball teams, community garage sales and fund raising for many important community events.

It would hardly seem right when it is remembered that in many volunteer fire departments the practice is to pool those moneys received from this disbursement of a lot of their hard work and labour. A lot of times this pooled money is put back into the firehall.

As members know, in many rural areas money is not available to provide some of the needed equipment. A lot of time the reimbursements they get for some of their own expenses go back into these community halls, into their equipment and uniforms. Basically our rural firefighters and our volunteer firefighters are paying for the service that they provide to our communities. Obviously these men and women are dedicated volunteers as has been stated and they take great pride in their communities. I believe it is only right and proper for the government to recognize this contribution and that is why I brought this motion forward.

Let me stress once again that these men and women, these very proud Canadians, are giving freely of their time and energy and have put their lives on the line for many Canadians.

I had the opportunity of going into a fire with some of my local volunteer firefighters. There are 13 in my area. They took me into a burning house all packed up in a training exercise. They showed me what it was like, what their lives were like, on many occasions. I was scared. It was a very scary, very tough situation, and it really gave me a good sense of where these people are coming from on a daily basis.

I do not feel that they have been recognized at all for this service and I am not suggesting in any way that these people want special recognition. In fact, a lot of them would wonder why I am up here trying to give them more money because most of them in the earlier years did not even use up their full compensation. It is an important thing. As a House we should recognize it, for recognition is long overdue.

We have seen the effects in the recessionary years across this country. More and more communities are turning to volunteer firefighters to provide these essential services. As I said, the money is not there and how much would it cost Canada if we had to pay firefighters instead of relying on the generosity of volunteers?

There can be few people in this country who do not know, who have not been directly affected by these volunteer firefighters. More now than ever we need to strengthen and expand the forces to fill the gaps that are occurring because of the lack of services provided because of the downturn in the economy.

I put it to this House that the costs involved in providing this increase are small compared with the savings made in terms of

human lives as well as dollars. I suggest that this House would save greatly by voting this increase to volunteer firefighters.

As I mentioned earlier, this motion unfortunately like many motions across the House because of the archaic nature of our Private Members' Hour is not votable and I know that is a problem for a lot of members across this House. In this debate today I hope at least that members in this House will recognize the important role that volunteer firefighters provide to our communities.

I hope that all Canadians who are listening to this today will give a pat on the back to their local firefighters.

Voluntary Firefighters
Private Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Bellehumeur Berthier—Montcalm, QC

Madam Speaker, today I welcome the opportunity to speak to the hon. member's motion to raise the voluntary firemen's tax exemption from $500 to $1,000.

I would like to start by commending the hon. member for his motion, since it also gives us an opportunity to acknowledge the work done by these people and to say they are useful members of our society, and I think that is a message we can send them from this House.

The hon. member said twice that because of the standing orders, his motion was not votable. I do not know whether the hon. member could ask for unanimous consent, but if he did, I am sure he would obtain unanimous consent for the House to vote immediately on this motion. I do not know whether the hon. member is listening.

Raising the voluntary firemen's tax exemption from $500 to $1,000 would be an opportunity for members of this House to give tangible recognition of the social commitment and dedication of all voluntary firefighters in Quebec and Canada.

I think the average person does not quite realize how important voluntary firefighters are to our communities. They are voluntary, because considering the compensation they receive would hardly justify considering them otherwise. And as such, they should not have to pay income tax on the pittance they earn by serving the community.

They are not permanent workers, since their main occupation is not as firefighters; they earn their living doing something else. However, they are on call and must leave everything behind to respond to distress calls. Moreover, volunteer firefighters must use their own vehicle to get to the emergency situations which they must face. These men and women, because there are indeed men and women in this service, must carry pagers with them so that they can be reached day and night. They must also attend different courses and conferences, as the hon. member mentioned earlier.

It is important to note that the tax exemption has not been changed since 1980. At that time, it went from $300 to $500 to account for inflation; some people thought that the $300 amount was not fair any more and should be amended to $500. That calculation has not been done since 1980. I think that, today, we could make exactly the same calculation and come up with the amount of $1,000 as proposed in this motion.

Since 1980, while inflation has been considerably increasing every year, volunteer firefighters have been paying more taxes on a service they voluntarily provide to their communities. Consequently, it would be normal to increase the tax exemption according to the standard of living in our society. Also, it is important to keep in mind the abilities, both physical and academic, that such a job requires. Generally, volunteer firefighters have attended all the basic first-aid courses: St. John's Ambulance, Red Cross, CPR and others. This is quite something for a job you do only on a voluntary basis.

We should also point out, and this is very important, that volunteer firefighters help municipalities to provide a service they could probably not afford otherwise. It is a fact that in the rural municipalities that cannot afford a professional firefighting brigade, the role of volunteer firefighters is vital. The safety of millions of people is in their hands.

Without them there would be a multimillion dollar void which would have to be filled with our taxes. I believe the hon. member mentioned that point in his speech. If we do not raise this exemption, if we do not acknowledge in some way the work of these dedicated men and women, and if they stop being volunteer firefighters, municipalities and taxpayers will have to pay dearly to get a similar service. So, why not raise this exemption again? This would send a tremendous message to these men and women who put their lives on the line to save others.

On a social and community level, how many times have I seen volunteer firefighters take part in fundraising campaigns, either for the MIRA foundation, the United Way, or shelters for abused women or drug addicts? How many times have volunteer fire departments joined civil defence teams to assist communities ravaged by floods, tornadoes or other environmental disasters?

In my riding of Berthier-Montcalm, I saw the volunteer fire department at work, fighting against floods along the St. Lawrence and cleaning up after a tornado hit Maskinongé. They do a terrific job. Public security is in good hands. On the national level, the tragic fire at the tire depot in Saint-Amable, in the Montreal area, highlighted the remarkable role played by these men and women who are much more than volunteer firefighters. They got involved after the fire to make sure that the neighbour-

ing population suffered as little as possible from the damage to the environment and got all the help they needed.

I believe that such events opened the eyes of many. One must realize that these volunteers have to leave their jobs, their homes, and their families to go and help the community when it is threatened. I call upon the government to vote in favour of this motion- it will not be a direct vote, but through this House, the government should get the message-to increase this tax exemption from $500 to $1,000 without delay. Together, we must send our heartfelt thanks to all the volunteers who are dedicated to public security across Quebec and Canada.

Volunteer firefighters are too often forgotten by the government and the population as a whole. Today we have an opportunity to thank them by supporting the motion. As elected representatives, we feel secure because of them and we must support the motion.

As for me, I thank the 994 volunteer firefighters in50 different municipalities in my riding. I want to show them my entire support in this motion and I will see to it that the government adopts it as fast as possible.