House of Commons Hansard #132 of the 35th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was farmers.

Topics

Indian Act Optional Modification Act
Government Orders

1:35 p.m.

NDP

Len Taylor The Battlefords—Meadow Lake, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on Bill C-79, the bill that makes what they call optional modifications to the Indian Act. I was very pleased to hear the words of the minister in introducing the bill to Parliament and as well to hear a number of the Liberal members commenting on why they think the act needs to be changed and eventually eliminated.

I applaud the minister of Indian affairs for his work over the past three years in visiting with aboriginal people from coast to coast to coast. He has travelled more extensively than probably any other minister of Indian affairs that I am aware of.

It seems that while he was travelling he learned some of the language Indian people want to hear, but the actions he has taken are not the ones the majority of Indian people would like him to take. The Indian people in Canada would like the language being used by the minister and by government members to be more adequately reflected in the legislation proposed and in the actions the government takes in terms of removing some obstacles that are in their way, along with providing them with the resources necessary to assist them in getting themselves out of the difficulties past legislation and government practices have put them in.

In looking at Bill C-79 I recognize there are a number of positive aspects to it. However, they are almost insignificant in terms of what it is that needs to be done for aboriginal people in Canada today. The legislation allows the government to remove itself from certain aspects of Indian community life. It allows different First Nations to buy into the proposal or to leave things as they are. Let us look at some of the specifics.

For example, departmental officials will no longer have to approve the sale of farm produce. This is admirable but that has not been going on for years. This part of the Indian Act has basically been ignored by all the officials, the department and the minister for years.

The act allows for a First Nation not to require the instruction from the minister on road repair. I am sure most First Nations are glad they no longer have to ask the minister for permission to fix their roads, but they have no money to fix their roads. Their roads are in horrible disrepair and it is because the resources are not available to fix them. They do not have to ask the minister because they cannot fix them in any case. If the government were truly interested in assisting in this regard, it would ensure that the necessary moneys were there, not just for road repairs, but for the

establishment of new roads to connect with provincial highway systems which ignore a lot of the First Nations communities.

The bill also states that the terms of office for chief and council could be extended from two to three years. Obviously many of the Indian governments would applaud the move from two to three years, but most of them have been asking for an extension to four years. Because other governments around them have terms of office of four years, many of them see that the work they start is interrupted at the end of the second or the third year. Most of them have been thinking that four-year terms would be appropriate. Having the opportunity to set their own terms of office in conjunction with people in their own communities is very important.

I notice in the briefing papers that the government indicates it would "not fundamentally affect the crown's fiduciary relationship and treaty obligations". The word fundamentally is very important to aboriginal people in Canada. Fiduciary responsibility of the federal government is paramount. The fiduciary responsibility exists and cannot be changed, yet the government acknowledges that it will not be fundamentally affected. That means there may be an effect on the fiduciary responsibility. We must ensure that does not happen at all.

All of this follows the release of the report by the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. There has been a great deal of comment around the country about the expense and the expanse of the royal commission. Fifty-eight million dollars was spent on the royal commission, money that the minister even said he would rather have spent on housing than on the royal commission.

Regardless of what we think about the process and the financing of the royal commission, the fact is the documents released by the royal commission exist. This is the most extensive study of the relationship between aboriginal people and the rest of us that has ever taken place in this country.

I do not claim to have read the entire royal commission report. I am only almost finished the first volume of the several volumes of the report, but I am overwhelmed at the value of the information contained in the document. In skimming the other documents that I intend to read over the next few months, I can tell that the royal commission has done a tremendous job of identifying the problems that aboriginal people have faced and suggesting some solutions as to how to overcome those problems.

Certainly getting rid of the Indian Act is a part of that, but it is not negotiating the Indian Act away one Indian band at a time or one section of the act at a time. What this country needs is a thorough parliamentary First Nations provincial government review of the Indian Act and the overhaul of it in one fell swoop with the idea of ensuring that the resources are available to all levels of government to ensure that the replacement is a success.

It makes no sense to replace the Indian Act one nation at a time, one clause at a time. This does not seem to me to be the most efficient way of doing it. Certainly the words, the study, the thought, the work that has gone into the report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples make it very clear that substantial changes are necessary both in attitude and in programming in order to fix a number of the problems that exist. Some of them cannot be fixed by this type of negotiation; they will simply be fixed within the Indian communities on their own.

When we ask First Nations communities what is at the top of their list for correction, they are not saying they want to get the minister off their backs from selling farm products. They talk about the need for more housing. They talk about the need to improve their health and justice systems. They talk about the need to fix their education system to ensure that their young people are well educated and skilled both in traditional knowledge and in the ways of the neighbouring communities, to ensure that their young people will be successful as they get older. They also talk about culture and language, economic development and self-government, land and resources which ensure their economic development packages are successful.

These are all matters which require a great deal of attention from all members of this House, from all members of provincial legislatures and from all municipal governments across this country. We as communities, as people living together, must understand the history of this country, how all of our people have worked together to get us in the position we are in today. Tinkering with the Indian Act, one clause at a time, one band at a time, certainly will not achieve the goals which we wish to achieve.

I wish the minister well as we go into the election period. I know there are major challenges in front of us. I challenge the minister to address those serious, important issues before we face the people.

Indian Act Optional Modification Act
Government Orders

1:45 p.m.

Bloc

Osvaldo Nunez Bourassa, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-79, which amends the Indian Act.

This bill allows bands so wishing to amend certain provisions of the Indian Act. We are looking at the reform of a bill passed over a century ago. That was a long time ago. The amendments concern 45 of the 120 sections of the Indian Act.

The main areas affected by the changes are estates, new powers to band councils, electoral procedures, infractions and the application of criminal law on reserves. For example, the chief and the band council have a three year mandate; we do not know why. The

minister has the power to annul an election; we do not know the reason for that either.

Because the new powers this bill confers are optional, only the nations so requesting will be covered by this new legislation. The others will remain under the old one.

This is a bad bill. The report of the Erasmus-Dussault royal commission of inquiry noted the bill was outdated and backward and said that amending it was not the way to establish a new relationship between natives and non natives.

With Bill C-79, Canada returns to its colonial past with respect to its aboriginal peoples. At the time, the only aim of the Indian Act was to assimilate the native peoples. This bill does not even have the approval of those primarily affected by it-the native peoples. In December 1996, of 610 aboriginal communities, 542 came out against this bill. In other words, more than 85 per cent of the First Nations categorically reject the process set in motion by the federal government in this respect.

How can the government go ahead when the vast majority of those affected oppose its proposal? Many of the commitments the Liberal Party of Canada had made to the aboriginal people before the election were not fulfilled. Even the aboriginal people involved in developing the election platform set out in the red book made sure to publicly dissociate themselves from the Liberal Party of Canada when they saw this government's attitude and behaviour toward the First Nations.

There is no mention anywhere in the seven pages of promises relating to the aboriginal people in the red book of any amendment to the Indian Act. Where does this initiative come from? The red book states at page 98: "A Liberal government will develop a more comprehensive process for consultation between federal ministers and aboriginal representatives with respect to decision making that directly affect First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples".

This is another example of a serious consultation problem on a bill that concerns specifically and directly aboriginal peoples. This approach is contrary to the red book, which goes on to say: "It does not make sense for the federal government to be unilaterally making policy or budgetary decisions that affect the lives of aboriginal people, without their consent".

The fact of the matter is that it is the core of the commitments made to the aboriginal people that this government failed to honour. Where is the "new partnership", the "mutual respect", and the "participation of aboriginal people in the decision making process" this government had promised before the 1993 election?

On November 21, the report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples was released. This is a comprehensive, important and interesting study prepared by the Erasmus-Dussault commission. I agree with the objectives stated in this report concerning self-government, the recognition of aboriginal nations and territorial claims.

Canada's aboriginal nations are distinct. As such, they must have increased self-government, so as to be able, among other things, to generate revenues and to protect their languages and cultures. Aboriginal nations have a right to be sovereign in strategic sectors such as health, education, language and economic development. It is the only way they can ensure the preservation and development of their own identity.

However, aboriginal people must first be recognized, so that they can negotiate directly with the federal and provincial governments. We must repair the harm done over the years to aboriginal people by the various Canadian governments. After more than a century of Canadian policies designed to assimilate, if not eliminate aboriginal people, it is time the federal government recognized its mistakes, assumed its responsibilities and made the necessary changes.

Aboriginal nations must achieve self-government status to stop being financially dependent on Ottawa. I am pleased that the Government of Quebec negotiated and signed a modern day treaty with the Crees. The James Bay Agreement made it possible to improve the Crees' economic situation and to let them take charge of their development. I should point out that the fair sharing of the land was instrumental in the success of this initiative.

It is well known that I come from Latin America, where Indians make up a large part, sometimes the majority, of the population in certain countries. From the beginning of colonization in 1492, the aboriginal peoples were exploited and exterminated. Today, more than 500 years later, they are still living in inhumane conditions, in unacceptable poverty and misery.

The Erasmus-Dussault report is critical, and rightly so, of the living conditions of native people in Canada, "the best country in the world" as the Prime Minister so often tells us. In Latin America, these conditions are much worse.

I take this opportunity to urge the federal government to put the issue of Amerindians on the agenda when meeting with various countries, whether bilaterally or multilaterally through the OAS, or in other international forums.

International co-operation must be developed in this regard with respect to the Americas. The Erasmus-Dussault report describes and deplores the immense problems confronting Canada's native peoples with respect to health, education, unemployment, housing and crime. Native peoples are a minority representing 3 percent of the population. They are often the victims of racism and discrimi-

nation. In addition, this study points out that over 10,000 households on reserves are without indoor plumbing.

The Liberals have done nothing to resolve these serious problems. Nor will they with Bill C-79. For all these reasons, I will therefore be voting against Bill C-79.

Indian Act Optional Modification Act
Government Orders

1:55 p.m.

The Speaker

The hon. member for Lévis has the floor. Dear colleague, I wonder whether you would prefer to wait until after oral question period to begin your speech? Did you hear the question?

Indian Act Optional Modification Act
Government Orders

1:55 p.m.

Bloc

Antoine Dubé Lévis, QC

I am in agreement.

Indian Act Optional Modification Act
Government Orders

1:55 p.m.

The Speaker

We will take these five minutes to begin statements by members. You will lead off when we resume debate. Thank you.

It being almost two o'clock, we will go to Statements by Members.

Harry Burke
Statements By Members

1:55 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Steckle Huron—Bruce, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I rise in the House today to recognize a constituent of mine, Mr. Harry Burke. He is a local artist who was inspired by the names that he found inscribed in stone at the Exeter cenotaph.

He was so deeply stirred that he began an intricate endeavour to paint portraits of each of the people who had so valiantly served their nation in its time of crisis.

His project originated with the idea that these individuals were more than just names cast in marble. They were people with families and friends and they should be remembered as such.

I have had the opportunity to view Mr. Burke's work. I was struck by the realistic manner in which the faces of our fallen countrymen were captured in each portrait. So accurate were the images that family members and veterans were moved to tears as they viewed the impressions of their departed companions.

I would like to relay my heartfelt appreciation to Mr. Burke for his substantial investment of time, energy and emotion into this venture. His valuable contribution pays a fitting tribute to those Canadians captured forever on his canvas.

Mining Industry
Statements By Members

1:55 p.m.

Bloc

Bernard Deshaies Abitibi, QC

Mr. Speaker, wollastonite is a little known mineral, a white crystalline substance used in the manufacture of plastics, ceramics and paint. Production of this mineral has doubled over the past decade. This is good news for the first wollastonite mine in Canada, which is located in Quebec near Saint-Ludger-de-Milot.

At the present time, annual production is forecast at over 50,000 tonnes, and the mine has the potential for expanding its production to 85,000 tonnes. Such forecasts are, of course, forecasts as well of economic growth and increased employment for Quebecers.

Thanks to such initiatives, the mining industry has become a pillar of the Quebec economy, providing close to 17,500 people with jobs. In order for this progress to continue, I am asking the government to turn its promises into concrete actions and to do away with the costly duplication in regulations which is hindering investment in Quebec's mining industry.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police
Statements By Members

1:55 p.m.

Reform

Art Hanger Calgary Northeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police deserve a fair deal from this government. Under present law, RCMP personnel are unable to voice their concerns or grievances through a police association.

The Reform Party recognizes that RCMP officers should have the right to organize democratically and bargain collectively. This means that officers should be able to do so through voluntary membership in a police association. To those officers who want to bargain collectively, Reform applauds your efforts.

Reform also recognizes that the RCMP wants real freedom of association. To those officers who feel their concerns are best addressed individually, Reform supports your right to opt out of compulsory union membership. We support your right to work.

I say to the RCMP officers in the gallery, on the Hill here this week or out in the communities, your concerns are not falling on deaf ears.

Reform challenges the solicitor general to act now. Give RCMP officers a fair deal.

Justice
Statements By Members

1:55 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Elsie Wayne Saint John, NB

Mr. Speaker, today it was my pleasure to meet with members of various police forces from

my home province of New Brunswick. They are here in Ottawa representing the Canadian Police Association.

The men I met with are concerned because of the government's long delay in bringing forth legislation providing for DNA data banks. Fingerprints are kept in a bank. Why is DNA treated differently? Setting up a DNA data bank would allow police forces across the country access to a wealth of information which could help them conclude unsolved violent crimes. The government really has to get its priorities straight. It does not want a criminal's genetic fingerprint on file, but it does want all law-abiding gun owners on file.

To the many men and women representing our police forces I say, continue your fight. To the government I say, let us do what is right and get this legislation passed in the House.

Flag Day
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

Liberal

Brenda Chamberlain Guelph—Wellington, ON

Mr. Speaker, Canadians across this great country recently celebrated flag day and honoured our maple leaf flag.

In the past few months 4,000 Canadians have indicated to me that they want an official pledge of allegiance to the Canadian flag and are supporting my private members' bill C-302.

Over 350 municipal councils from communities like Gambo, Newfoundland; Puslinch, Ontario; Beaconsfield, Quebec; Leaf Rapids, Manitoba and Hay River, Northwest Territories have passed resolutions supporting this legislation.

Canadians pledge allegiance to the flag in a variety of ways. Thousands of Canadians are telling me, either individually or through their local councils, that it is time for Canada to adopt an official pledge of allegiance.

Religious Tolerance
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

Liberal

Gurbax Malhi Bramalea—Gore—Malton, ON

Mr. Speaker, I wish to express my deep concern over last Thursday's display of religious intolerance and blind bigotry displayed by police in Karachi, Pakistan against the Christian minority.

I believe it is essential for people of different religions, including minority groups, to respect each other's faith. We are all children of God, so rather than work to destroy each other, we must try to eliminate the true source of conflict which is religious intolerance.

In the words of Patrick Henry: "Religion must only be directed by reason, not by force or violence. All individuals are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, and it is the mutual duty of all to practice tolerance, love and charity toward each other".

Therefore, I would ask that the Government of Canada issue a strong call for religious tolerance and understanding in Pakistan.

The Environment
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

Liberal

Charles Caccia Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, last week the Quebec government introduced a plan to cut $246 million from its environment budget, partly through allowing polluting industries to police themselves.

The Alberta government is also in the process of reducing the budget of its environment department by $164 million and 1,360 jobs by the year 1999.

Not to be outdone, the Ontario government has cut its ministry of the environment and energy budget by one-third, eliminating 752 staff and has also reduced the staff of the ministry of natural resources by 2,150 people.

In light of these actions, Canadians are more than ever looking to the federal government to ensure high standards of protection for their water quality, their air quality and their soil quality.

Employment
Statements By Members

February 18th, 1997 / 2 p.m.

Reform

Darrel Stinson Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

Mr. Speaker, after 76 straight months with national unemployment over 9 per cent, the worst string of jobless rates since the great depression, unemployment in my riding of Okanagan-Shuswap stands at 10.7 per cent.

Those are not just numbers, they are people: from new graduates looking for their first jobs, older workers laid off because of downsizing, to people in the prime of life who are unable to support their families no matter how hard they try.

Last October bankruptcies were up 61 per cent from October 1993 when the Liberal government took office. Families are also carrying the highest debt load in history.

These figures are a national tragedy. And what response do we get from this caring, sharing Liberal government? Last week it tabled legislation that will sharply increase payroll taxes, making it more costly than ever before for businesses to hire new employees.

Out of work Canadians want to know: Where are the jobs, jobs, jobs this Liberal government promised them?

Canada Social Transfer
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

Bloc

Paul Crête Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup, QC

Mr. Speaker, to some people, Canada is the finest country in the world, yet it is also the country in which a Quebec family on welfare, composed of one parent and one child, must struggle desperately to survive on $8,337 less than the poverty level.

This actual drop in purchasing power is the direct effect of federal government cuts to transfer payments to the provinces.

In fact, under the new Canada social transfer, the provinces will be receiving approximately $7 billion less for health, postsecondary education and welfare. The federal government needs to loosen its grip and have the courage to fight the deficit at the expense of someone other than the most disadvantaged.

Education
Statements By Members

2:05 p.m.

NDP

Svend Robinson Burnaby—Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, last month seven post-secondary education groups representing universities, community colleges, students, professors and student aid administrators urged the federal government to adopt a comprehensive package of student aid measures to provide affordable futures to students. They note that fast rising student debt loads are fueling a deep anxiety on the part of students and their parents.

The measures they propose include targeted grants for high need individuals, repayment assistance where required to help former students meet their debt obligations, a work study program to provide opportunities for students to earn while they learn and tax measures to help Canadians save for their children's education.

New Democrats strongly believe in the need for continued federal investment in student assistance in order that every student who is academically qualified is able to benefit fully from Canada's post-secondary education opportunities regardless of his or her financial status. We urge the Liberals to implement these progressive proposals.

Later today we will see the Liberals' budget and we will know whether they are serious about tackling soaring student debt loads and growing inaccessibility to post-secondary education in Canada.