House of Commons Hansard #160 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was first.

Topics

Marine Conservation Areas Act
Government Orders

12:35 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

Is that agreed?

Marine Conservation Areas Act
Government Orders

12:35 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The House resumed from November 16 consideration of the motion that Bill C-49, an act providing for the ratification and the bringing into effect of the Framework Agreement on First Nation Land Management, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

First Nations Land Management Act
Government Orders

12:35 p.m.

Provencher
Manitoba

Liberal

David Iftody Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in my place today to speak to Bill C-49, the first nations land management act. This bill ratifies a framework agreement that will enable 14 first nations to opt out of land management provisions of the Indian Act.

Hon. members whose constituencies include one or more of these first nations will attest that they have been leaders in land administration for many years. This historic land management initiative is brought forward at their request. It is the result of government to government negotiations that will enable these first nations to implement their own land management regimes.

Those who have been following the negotiations of the framework agreement on first nations land management will be aware as well that the process has brought the 14 signatories together in a spirit of co-operation. They will continue to co-ordinate activities through a land advisory board which they will have to establish to help them with the development of land codes, negotiation of individual agreements, model laws and monitoring of the process.

The first nations through the board will also establish a resource centre, develop training programs and maintain records in relation to the first nations land codes and amendments.

The land advisory board is a tool that first nations have developed to build partnerships among themselves and to build capacity in their communities. This is a road to self-government. It is a road to self-reliance.

When decisions can be made at the local level without departmental approvals, the first nations will be able to respond more quickly to economic opportunities. The first nations will have the legal capacity to deal directly with banks to borrow, contract, expend and invest money.

Revenues, profits and fees from reserve lands administered by these first nations will be available as security for loans from financial institutions. These specific first nations will have the authority to enter into co-management arrangements with other jurisdictions to develop integrated land and resource use co-management systems that can serve as security.

From the date a land code takes effect, moneys other than those derived from oil and gas activities will be collected and managed by the first nations. Specific accountability mechanisms are being built into these land codes to ensure financial accountability to members. Capital moneys derived from oil and gas activities would continue to be held in accordance with the Indian Oil and Gas Act.

Another benefit of this legislation for first nations is the limitations it places on alienation and expropriation. These are important provisions. They speak to the sacred bond that first nations hold for their land.

The Indian Act permits surrender and sale of reserve lands but has no provision requiring the replacement of sold lands. The bill before us removes these provisions from first nations operating under the land code. They would be able to alienate reserve lands but only if they were exchanged for other lands that would become reserve lands.

This bill does not remove the federal government's expropriation powers. The Indian Act gives the governor in council power to permit expropriation of reserve land by provincial or local authorities for public purposes.

This bill continues to permit the governor in council to expropriate land for the Government of Canada, provided such expropriation is justifiable and necessary for a federal public purpose that serves the national interest. Certain minimum steps would have to be satisfied. Compensation would have to be paid. This would include land of equal or greater size and of comparable value to the land expropriated.

In conclusion, I want to emphasize that the 14 first nations that are taking part in the framework agreement are eager that this legislation be passed so that they can start managing their lands in accordance with this new regime. The people of those communities have a great deal at stake in how we proceed. It means jobs, economic growth and a secure livelihood for many people in those communities.

This legislation is about much more than land management. It is about self-reliance. It is about economic opportunity. It speaks to the new relationship that we are building with aboriginal people, one based on the principles of mutual respect and recognition, responsibility and sharing.

In January this government launched a new action plan for aboriginal people called “Gathering Strength”. This plan set the direction for a new course that would bring real and practical improvements to the lives of aboriginal people. The spirit and vision of this plan is captured in the proposed legislation before us today.

I and the signatories to this agreement urge all members to support it. I therefore move:

That the question be now put.

First Nations Land Management Act
Government Orders

12:40 p.m.

Reform

Mike Scott Skeena, BC

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to the parliamentary secretary. He chose very nice words and I am sure some people might be persuaded by them.

I would like to say up front that some aspects of this bill are certainly going in the right direction and we would like to support them, especially in terms of devolving land management away from Ottawa and to the reserves. However, the fact is that the power to manage these lands is now going to be in the hands of band chiefs and councils rather than with the department of Indian affairs.

The question is: Is this necessarily a bad thing? I would answer that it could be a very good thing if there were rigid requirements for accountability on reserves today. We are becoming increasingly aware—and this is something the minister of Indian affairs has continued to try to downplay, conceal and deny for the last couple of years—that there are serious problems with accountability on many reserves. We are not sure how many of the reserves have these serious problems, but they are certainly evident in a big percentage of the reserves in Canada today.

I want to make it clear that this lack of accountability is not necessarily a failure of the band chiefs and councils. It is a failure of the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. As much as the minister protests to the contrary, there are indeed very serious problems with fiscal and democratic accountability on reserves.

If the parliamentary secretary or anybody else on that side of the House, or on this side for that matter, doubts this, I would draw their attention to an article that was printed in today's edition of the Ottawa Citizen which deals specifically with this issue. It states:

After a season of badly handling some itsy-bitsy, teenie-weenie plaything scandals, the Chrétien government could soon have a real one on its hands.

On Indian reserves there is alleged corruption involving countless millions of dollars. There are police investigations in Alberta, there are media reports beginning to expose the story and there is acknowledgement in the highest power circles in Ottawa that the surface is only being scratch.

Taxpayers spend more than $4.4 billion in annual subsidies to native peoples. It is the only government budget that never gets cut. The allegations are that much of the money does not reach destitute Indians on the reserve. Instead it is pocketed by native intermediaries in Armani suits. The oversight department, Indian and Northern Affairs, doesn't seem to know where much of the money has landed.

The minister, Jane Stewart, said recently over lunch that while it is terribly unfair to tar all native peoples with the same brush on this issue, funding mismanagement is a serious issue.

This is important because it is the first time we have heard the minister actually acknowledge that it is a serious issue. Up until now she has been trying to tell us that it has not been an issue at all.

The article continues:

Is “serious issue” bureaucratese for major corruption scandal? Top policy makers in the government give that impression. They cite examples of unbelievable graft.

If this is the case, why isn't the government moving on it? Getting out front on the controversy instead of waiting to be cornered by revelations in the media and by opposition parties?

“Can't”, said one of the big men on Prime Minister Jean Chrétien's campus. “Racism. We'd be accused of racism”. The mere fact, he said, of suggesting the native peoples are incompetent at administering their finances would cause a terrible backlash. For evidence, he could cite the Reform Party, which has raised the issue and which has been painted in prejudiced terms as a result.

Thus political correctness takes it toll again. Great wads of public money go up in smoke, but owing to sensitivities involving minorities, a waiting game is played.

The article continues:

A Senate committee on aboriginal peoples has begun hearings, some of which will delve into this issue. Senator Janis Johnson, the deputy chairman, who is from Manitoba and who is well versed on the subject, said that while there is some terrific progress being made among native peoples through government programs, there is no underestimating the extent of the problem. “If the general public knew what chaos this department was in and all the money that was flying around, they wouldn't believe it. It is out of control”.

That is exactly what we have been saying for two years on this side of the House.

The article continues:

Despite Ottawa's always-escalating infusion of monies, up to 25 per cent of the country's 600 Indian bands are in debt to the tune of hundreds of millions.

This is consistent with the kind of feedback we are getting from grassroots people on reserves and it is the issue that we have raised in the House of Commons since the summer of 1997, only to be ridiculed and castigated by the minister of Indian affairs and others on that side of the House.

We have been told by the minister that only 3% of bands in Canada are in non-compliance, and yet we have departmental admission that 25% of the bands in this country are running deficits in excess of 8% which has required the department to step in and co-manage.

I would like to give the House some examples of how this affects people on reserves; where the rubber meets the road, if I can use that expression.

In my riding several years ago Gitksan band members came to me and said that the Minister of Health, who is responsible for aboriginal health in Canada, was considering signing a health authority or transfer agreement so that the Gitksan band would have primary responsibility in delivering health care to its members.

These people came to me because they were very concerned. They did not want this to happen. They said that their band, as it was then constituted, was not capable of administering health care and they did not want it.

I wrote several letters to the minister of health of the day and explained the views of these people and asked that the minister reconsider and not proceed with the transfer of health authority. She reassured me in glowing terms—and I have all of the correspondence in my file—that there was nothing to be concerned about, that it was widely and publicly supported by the Gitksan people and that they would do a good job.

Two and a half years later the roosters are coming home to roost. We found out, for example, in the spring of this year— and I raised it with the Minister of Health—that the Gitksan health authority had invested over $300,000 in the stock market in high risk stocks and had taken a $40,000 loss. That is a matter of public record.

Last week we found out through front page headlines in the Smithers Interior News , a local publication in northwest British Columbia, that $695,000 was paid out in honorariums over a period of two and a half years to board members. These are not people who work for the health authority, but just the health board.

How is that advancing the cause of health care in the Gitksan communities? What is that doing for people in the Gitksan communities who tell me they have to sleep in their pick-up trucks because when they go to Vancouver to see a specialist they do not have money for a room?

There was a fellow who went to Prince George for a gallbladder operation and there was no money for transportation fare. He hitchiked to the hospital and had the operation. Nowadays when we have an operation they try to get us out of the hospital as quickly as they can, so he started to hitchike back to his home town. He had to stop in Burns Lake because he was so sick. He had to hitchike from his hospital bed to get back home. There was no money for him, but there was $695,000 paid out in honorariums to board members and $300,000 was invested in the stock market. That is the problem.

Do I blame the Gitksan band? I blame the Department of Indian Affairs and the Department of Health for not ensuring that the people who were going to be responsible for these activities were well versed in ethical procedures, that there was a sound procedure in place for management and that there were sound reporting requirements in place. Apparently those things are non-existent. That is why we have the terrible situation we are faced with today. That is why the Gitksan people have had their health care badly compromised.

I can give another example. The Nisga'a people have recently signed a land claim agreement, in principle anyway because it has not been ratified by this House. It was reported that in one of their communities over $1 million in welfare payments was misused and misdirected. These are small communities and over $1 million represents a tremendous amount of income for these bands.

We have testimonials from grassroots aboriginals from right across Canada. My colleague from Wild Rose has the files in his office, but I believe that well over 125 bands have expressed concerns to us and asked us to look into these matters.

There are examples in Ontario. One band came to us and said that the band council had received money for a sewer and water project. They hired a contractor. The contractor was aware that the money was in place. The contractor went to work. The band received the money. The contractor requested payment and found that there was no money because the band had spent the money on something else.

There are allegations of a chief in Saskatchewan using band funds to buy used cars. He brings those used cars back into the community, sells them to the individuals in that community and pockets the cash. The list goes on and on. I could provide example after example.

This is really not about aboriginal people. It is about a failed system. It is about the failure of the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development to ensure that this did not happen in the first place. It has created an environment in which accountability is almost non-existent. It has become a breeding ground for practices that can best be described as unethical and at worst corruptive.

For example, all elected public officials in Canada, beginning with the Prime Minister and going right down to municipal officials, publicly report their salaries and expenses on a regular basis. Everybody in Canada is entitled to know what I make as a parliamentarian, what my expenses are and how much my travel costs are. That is all a matter of public record. If we go onto a reserve, no way. What we get is a financial report which is a glorified pie chart that gives us a percentage of the total revenue that the band has spent on administration, the global amount that is spent on health care and so on. But we do not get a breakdown and we do know what the public officials are making. That is the reality that these people are living with.

This bill proposes to transfer much greater powers for land management to chiefs and councils without first correcting the very serious deficiencies with accountability, both democratic and fiscal accountability, on the reserves.

I know the parliamentary secretary is aware of this, although I am sure he will not want to talk about it. I would argue that it is no accident that the aboriginal women's association of Canada and the aboriginal women's association of British Columbia are opposed to this bill. It is they who are most often the ones who pay the biggest price for lack of accountability. They know full well that there is no accountability with this bill. They know full well that they will be worse off as individuals with this bill in place.

They are not suggesting that the system, as it is, is great. They are saying that they do not want the responsibility for land management to be transferred until and unless there is a proper system of accountability in place so that their views will be respected in their communities.

People have told us not to worry because provincial laws with respect to family issues—and this will come down to family issues—including the disposition of family assets in the event of marital breakdown, will still apply. In other words, what they are saying is that there are provincial laws that govern marital breakdown and there are provincial laws that govern the disposal of family assets. Even though the chief and council will have land management rights, the provincial laws will supersede or override in cases where there is a conflict.

In response to that I give the House this example. I may have used it before, but it is worth hearing again.

During the last election campaign I met a young native lady in Prince Rupert. I thought she was interested in the campaign, but she was there to see me as a member of parliament. She was quite distraught. She was tearful. She said “Mr. Scott, I need your help”. I asked her to explain the problem.

She said that she was 35 years old and a young mother with three young children. Two of the children were not much more than babies. The oldest was only seven years old. Her children demanded a great deal of her time. Her husband had left her and she had no means of looking after herself. She was being forced to live on welfare.

She had some skills, but she could not work because she had to look after her children. With what she was getting on welfare she could not buy the food and clothing which she thought her children were entitled to. I understood her situation.

I asked where the father was. She said that he had taken off with a new girlfriend and did not want anything to do with her. I told her that she had rights. She could go to court and force the father to pay child support. In essence, her problem was getting enough funds to support her children properly.

She said that she had tried that, but as soon as she got a judgment that required her husband to pay child support he moved back onto the reserve. Guess what? That court order requiring her husband to make child support payments was not enforceable on reserve. Where are her rights?

How can the government, the minister and the parliamentary secretary suggest that we put people in even more peril with this lack of accountability, putting more people like her at risk?

Right now, in the event of a marital breakdown on a reserve, who most often winds up with the family home? In non-aboriginal society most often it is the woman because most often the woman ends up being the primary caregiver to the children after the marriage breaks down. On reserves it is the other way around because the decision as to who ends up with the marital home is not in the hands of the courts, it is in the hands of the chief and council. They effectively run the community.

These serious problems have to be addressed and in a manner which is acceptable to people living on reserve before we can support this kind of legislation.

While the principle of the bill can be supported, and we would like to be able to support it, it is putting the cart before the horse. There has to be accountability first before going to the next step and devolving more and greater powers to band councils.

The serious and persistent problems on aboriginal reserves must be addressed first in a manner which is satisfactory and acceptable to grassroots band members before the government proceeds with this bill and this kind of legislation. To not do so is to once again fail some of the most vulnerable people in this country.

First Nations Land Management Act
Government Orders

1 p.m.

Provencher
Manitoba

Liberal

David Iftody Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Mr. Speaker, I am extremely delighted that the Reform Party has come such a long, long, long way in the last five years and is now coming around to support aboriginal women and native rights in Canada. That is a great thing. I want to commend the hon. member for his good, decent and necessary work in that area.

I want to make a couple of points. I will get to the questions of accountability with respect to the legislation before us and address the hon. member's concerns. He is concerned, and I think rightly so, about the division of matrimonial property on divorce or separation. I believe that he has missed the point entirely in this piece of legislation. Hon. members who read it carefully will find that some of the member's concerns and objections very clearly will be dealt with.

Only two days ago the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development was discussing issues such as poverty on reserves in many first nations communities. In that particular instance it was Inuit communities. Members from the Reform Party requested that the minister come before the committee. We had arrived at this place because the Reform Party members had concluded through their own logic, and I followed it closely, that in this particular instance it was not the problem of the Inuit leadership that had caused these difficulties. We brought in the department officials and they agreed at the end of the debate and two or three or four hours of discussion on it that it was not the department officials, that maybe it was the minister's responsibility.

Perhaps, just perhaps, one of the reasons there are difficulties in these communities that we are all concerned about or we ought to be concerned about is because there is not sufficient funds going to these communities to do the job. The leaders who came before the committee made a compelling argument that they are doing their best with scarce resources.

If the salaries of all the chiefs and councils across the country were cut in half and their flight privileges to go to meetings or whatever were taken away, do we honestly think that would clear up the problem in Canada? Is our analysis so superficial that we would honestly believe and debate this kind of thing in the House and that we would think that would be an answer to these difficult problems? I really do not think so and I do not think that any member can stand and say that with a straight face in the House of Commons.

Talking about representation, one of the signatories to Bill C-49 is a band from the area of the member from Prince George. The chief and council met with the member and said that surely if the Reform Party believes in the grassroots notions that its members always talk about, then a vote in the community involving the women of the community as well would hold some weight. If it were true and if they held true to their own values and principles, then it would hold some weight in terms of swaying that particular member of parliament to support this legislation.

The vote was 381 to 51 for the community in Prince Albert to support Bill C-49. The member from Prince Albert ignored the grassroots and stood in this House to say it was unconstitutional and all sorts of silly things which are not true. Where is the grassroots there?

Another member from the Reform Party only two weeks ago found three aboriginal people. Out of a community of some 30,000 aboriginal people he found three in his entire constituency. He equipped himself with a tape recorder and a camera and went about diligently looking under stones, trees, carpets and beds to find somebody in the community who would criticize the leadership so that he could come back to the House and say that he had discovered a great evil in Canada and he was going to lay it bare in front of the Canadian people.

I ask the hon. member if in fact his colleague from Prince George and that band had voted for this particular bill 380 to 50, is that not grassroots representation?

First Nations Land Management Act
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1:05 p.m.

Reform

Mike Scott Skeena, BC

Mr. Speaker, the parliamentary secretary jumped around from Prince George to Prince Albert, but I think he meant Prince Albert.

I would say that having one vote on one reserve is not sufficient. We are aware that there are some reserves that are not suffering through the problems of accountability because they have progressive leadership which has ensured that they have proper accountability. They largely have their membership on side. That is not the case in many bands.

If we want to talk about a plebiscite, then let us have a plebiscite of all the aboriginal reserves across Canada. If the government can show us at that point that there is resounding support for this, I would agree to support it tomorrow. I do not think that that support is there.

If the member is thinking that we are picking and choosing and trying to create something out of nothing in terms of the accountability issue, which is what he seems to be suggesting, we have not suggested that anyone's salary should be cut in half. We have not suggested that people should not travel. We have suggested that the members of the band should know what the salaries are and they should know what the expenses are. That is all we have said. We did not say to cut anyone's salary. We do know that some of those chiefs are earning upward of $150,000 a year tax free. I think their members would have a bit of a problem with that.

The final answer to the member's question is there will be another meeting hosted by my friend from Wild Rose in Edmonton this Saturday. I would really urge the member if he is concerned about the issue to please come and listen to these people. My friend from Wild Rose will not be saying very much. He will be listening and I urge the member from across the way to do the same thing.

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1:05 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, I used to live in the Yukon Territory and I worked quite extensively with the Kaska-Dena council in that area. Now I am working with northern fishing groups who are mostly aboriginal, first nations and Metis people in northern Saskatchewan and northern Manitoba for them to gain more control or access to their own resource in terms of the fishing industry.

I know it is a long question and deserves a long answer, but would the member and his party not agree that the government and we as parliamentarians should be helping aboriginal and Metis people to gain greater access and control of their own resources?

First Nations Land Management Act
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1:05 p.m.

Reform

Mike Scott Skeena, BC

Mr. Speaker, we should certainly be doing everything we can as parliamentarians and as representatives to work toward improving the economic circumstances of aboriginal people. We know that they face some of the most desperate circumstances in this country. We know that is not acceptable when our Prime Minister lauds this country as one of the best in the world in which to live and we have people essentially living in third world conditions. That frankly is wrong. I agree with the member. We have a responsibility and we should take it seriously.

We have to address the issue of accountability at the outset. Before we can get on to anything else, that needs to be resolved.

First Nations Land Management Act
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Reform

Myron Thompson Wild Rose, AB

Mr. Speaker, the parliamentary secretary seemed to allude to the fact that there really is not much problem in the way of accountability in these reserves. In the department's own report as reported in the Ottawa Citizen a couple of days ago, upward of 25% and probably more are in dire need in terms of fiscal responsibility and indebtedness.

I have been to the reserves and I have seen the conditions. I have seen the people living in squalor. A report came down through the department of Indian affairs that Canada is considered the number one country in which to live, which is great, but if we factored in the reserves, we would be about number 65.

Is the member aware of the reports coming through the department of Indian affairs and would he care to comment on them?

First Nations Land Management Act
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Reform

Mike Scott Skeena, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my friend from Wild Rose for his question. I am very aware of it. As a matter of fact, we have been raising this issue as vociferously as we can for well over a year and a half.

We are now finally starting to get the government's attention because there has been a lot of press on this lately. There have been front page articles in the Globe and Mail and stories appearing on CTV and CBC. The government can no longer hide from it. It has to admit that the policy of concealment is a failed policy and that the government will have to deal with the issue.

I believe we will find that over the next year or year and a half this issue will occupy much more time on the part of government and certainly on the part of the Indian affairs minister and the parliamentary secretary than it has in the last 10 or 12 years.

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1:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

Before we resume debate, the time for 20-minute speeches and 10 minutes of questions and comments has expired. We will now go to 10-minute presentations with no questions and comments.

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1:10 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Charlie Power St. John's West, NL

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak on Bill C-49, the first nations land management act, on behalf of our caucus and our critic from the south shore of Nova Scotia.

We know this act is not all encompassing. We know it does not solve all the problems of our first nations, however our caucus will be supporting it because it is a step in the right direction.

This piece of legislation has been almost 10 years in the making, beginning in 1989 as the lands revenue and trust review. That agreement encompassed a number of areas, of which land management was only one. While that agreement fell through, a number of first nations persevered with negotiations for land management.

A framework agreement on land management was signed by 13 first nations on February 12, 1996. The 13 first nations were joined on May 12, 1998 by Saint Mary's in New Brunswick to bring the total number of first nations to 14. I would like to commend these 14 first nations for taking the initiative to develop the framework agreement and to persevere with it.

As we can see, it is progressing through the legislative process. It is being watched carefully not only by the 14 signatories to the agreement who are eager to begin implementation, but by many other first nations as well.

The framework agreement may become a model for other such agreements on land management once this legislation passes and the first nations are given the opportunity to implement it. Thirty or forty first nations have already expressed an interest in this framework agreement. I expect many more will do so as they are able to see the benefits of such legislation.

We are all aware of the faults of the Indian Act. This legislation will allow first nations to move out from under some of the restrictions of the Indian Act and provide opportunities for first nations to manage their own land and resources through land codes that they will develop specific to their own requirements.

Not only does this transfer authority from the federal government to the first nations, but through the land codes it also encourages stronger community participation. Land codes must be ratified by the communities and voted on by those first nations people living both on and off the reserve. This is an onerous job but one that the first nations felt was important enough to warrant the extra work.

By providing votes to those people living on and off reserve, it broadens the process by including the experience and observations that all these individuals might bring to this process.

The legislation is necessary to implement the framework agreement that deals specifically with land management. This is not a treaty and has not changed the constitutional rights of first nation peoples or the powers of section 91 and section 24 which state that reserve land is a federal jurisdiction. The first nation land, which will remain reserve land as defined in the Indian Act, will provide the first nations with greater control and autonomy over these lands. It is a step toward self-government, something this Progressive Conservative caucus supports. We will continue to support the first nations in this land management agreement.

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November 26th, 1998 / 1:15 p.m.

NDP

Chris Axworthy Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, SK

Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the New Democratic Party I am pleased to participate in the debate of Bill C-49, an act to provide for the ratification and the bringing into effect of the framework agreement on first nations land management and to offer my party's support for this important bill.

I am proud to be part of a party that has done so much to ensure the issue of aboriginal self-government has received its rightful attention in Canada. I am proud to be part of a party whose provincial governments have done so much to ensure the implementation of our obligations enshrined in treaties long agreed to in the context of 1998. These treaties have provided the rest of Canada with huge benefits. It is a privilege to be supporting Bill C-49. I am glad the government has seen fit to agree with 14 first nations in this context. I am pleased to see that two Saskatchewan first nations, the Muskoday and Cowessess are involved in this historical agreement.

In the spirit of the royal commission this bill honours a federal government commitment to aboriginal people and the implementation of new ideas oriented toward creating a new relationship between the Government of Canada and first nations peoples. Bill C-49 is an act to implement an agreement between the federal government and 14 first nations. It relates to the establishment of a new regime under which these first nations will finally be have the power and the right recognized by the Government of Canada to manage their own reserve lands and their own resources.

These 14 first nations are opting out of the Indian Act land management provisions but the act ensures that first nations lands are protected for future generations by prohibiting any surrender or sale or any expropriation by provincial or municipal governments. It is a new partnership that increases the self-reliance of aboriginal peoples in the management of their own resources and their own futures. For that we must all be very pleased.

This legislation must be viewed as a commitment by Canada to aboriginal peoples, to the political evolution of first nations and to the concept of self-government and self-determination to which surely we are all fully committed. The process needs to be linked to an orderly transition to a new relationship between Canada and the first nations peoples.

First nations are plainly looking forward to obtaining the responsibilities for managing their own lands and resources contained in Bill C-49. This is a good agreement that will help create employment and economic opportunities for aboriginal people. It will also help to increase their own stewardship of their own environment. In renewing the partnership with first nations the federal government must implement policies and government to government relations at a pace that works for first nations and for all Canadians.

We support the idea that the framework agreement will be open to other first nations. They may join if they feel ready and that it is in their best interest to do so. We hope many more will do so. We call on the government to ensure the right to self-determination for first nations peoples and to maintain the territorial integrity of each first nation.

The legislation supports the capacity building initiatives for the implementation of self-government. We must be sure the resources will be provided to facilitate the participation of first nation women in the governance process.

It has been unfortunate that members of the official opposition have chosen to drive a wedge between Canadians and aboriginal peoples in their discussion of not only this piece of legislation but almost every other piece of legislation, policy or other issue dealing with aboriginal peoples.

It is unfortunate that in the process members of the Reform Party, including the members for Prince Albert and Athabasca, have really attempted to accentuate any divisions that exist within Canada regarding Canadians of non-aboriginal and aboriginal descent.

It is not helpful, as we build relationships and move forward, to accentuate the difficulties and to drive a wedge between decent minded Canadians who want to find a solution to this problem and aboriginal peoples. It is doing a disservice to all of us as we see the incitement to disagreement, the incitement to disregard and the incitement to lessening respect perpetrated by members of the Reform Party.

It is good to see first nations within the constituencies of Reform MPs pointing this out to their MPs in the hope that their MPs will be more accurate, truthful and better represent their constituents who are first nations. In particular the Muskoday First Nation has being explicit, clear and firm with regard to misleading comments by the member for Prince Albert, calling on him to clear the air and to make sure he rectifies the statements which he has made that give the impression that this is not an agreement accepted by first nations people.

The Muskoday First Nation in its referendum voted 309 to 40, an 89% approval rating, for this agreement, almost as good as the last NDP byelection in Athabasca where the NDP candidate received 94% of the vote. Those approval ratings are not only significant but we do not see them very often.

Here we have both men and women in a first nations supporting overwhelmingly the opportunity to finally take control over their own resources.

It is time the Reform Party stopped baiting and antagonizing Canadians. It must stop focusing on the negatives and start building partnerships with aboriginal peoples. Bill C-49 is a good example of this partnership between the federal government and the 14 first nations that will strengthen the first nations governance and support the development of strong communities and strong local economies.

The NDP is fully in support of Bill C-49. We look forward to its implementation and expansion to other first nations. We also look forward to it ensuring that first nation peoples will finally be able to express themselves in an appropriate way in Canada with the full support of the federal government and the Canadian people.

First Nations Land Management Act
Government Orders

1:20 p.m.

Reform

Jim Hart Okanagan—Coquihalla, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on behalf of the people of Okanagan—Coquihalla to speak on Bill C-49, the first nations land management act.

The bill has special significance for the people of Okanagan—Coquihalla, as my riding is home to the West Bank Indian Band, one of the 14 first nations that will be affected if the legislation passes.

The legislation will have a major impact on both native and non-native residents living on West Bank lands. Currently the federal, provincial and West Bank First Nations have come to an agreement in principle that is even beyond the scope of this bill.

Having reviewed both the first nations land management act and the West Bank First Nations agreement in principle, I have two very serious concerns that I would like to share with my colleagues today and with the government.

First, the West Bank First Nation treaty process in principle was negotiated by federal, provincial and aboriginal parties without consulting the public.

In fact there was a veil of secrecy that surrounded the negotiations.

Second, preferential rights for certain Canadians to lands and resources are entrenched throughout the draft of this agreement based solely on race.

These two concerns are disturbing in a country such as Canada. Secrecy and preferential treatment based on ethnicity do not mesh with the spirit of democracy and equality before the law.

I would like to look at these two issues more closely. I believe the majority of the Canadian public and backbench Liberal MPs will agree these concerns warrant a rethinking of the way the government deals with land management issues.

The first paragraph in the agreement in principle states:

Until otherwise agreed to by the parties, this agreement and supporting documentation shall be treated as confidential by the Government of Canada and the Westbank First Nation, subject only to release to Westbank First Nation citizens for their consideration.

Now there is Liberal democracy in action. While consent by the Westbank First Nation through a referendum is required, the remaining population of Westbank will not be consulted.

According to Indian affairs statistics the Westbank First Nation is comprised of 517 members. Yet there are 7,000 non-natives on Westbank land. They are voiceless on this bill and this issue.

To make matters worse, the final Westbank agreement will be declared valid once approved by cabinet and the enactment of the legislation. Once the needed legislation is passed by parliament, the federal cabinet can simply move an amendment to the agreement leaving no room for democratic review.

By not consulting non-aboriginal residents, the resource industry and other interested parties, the Liberal government is demonstrating its Meech Lakian tendency to reject bringing democracy into the process of dealing with far reaching aboriginal land claim issues.

My second concern is that this agreement compounded by Bill C-49 creates inequality by granting special rights and privileges based solely on race. The Westbank First Nation made up of 517 individuals will be authorized to formulate its own constitution with sweeping powers. The 7,000 non-aboriginal residents will be largely excluded.

Will the law making power granted under this agreement, Bill C-49, undermine the Constitution? Is the rule of law so little regarded by our political leaders? From my reading of the agreement and Bill C-49, I would have to answer yes to both of those questions.

Take clause 37 in this bill:

In the event of any inconsistency or conflict between this act and any other federal laws, this act prevails to the extent of the inconsistency or conflict.

To me it sounds as though the rule of law and the supremacy of the Constitution are being disregarded. Bill C-49 will undermine the rule of law and the Constitution by granting to aboriginal people the right to create laws that will supersede those of the federal government.

Caught in the middle will be the 7,000 residents of Westbank who are non-native. They will lose their rights to be governed by the laws of Canada, subject instead to the laws set by the minority based on race. This is absolutely unacceptable.

Debating legislation that grants special rights and privileges to a select group is not something I imagined I would be debating when I became a member of parliament in 1993.

The land management powers given to the Westbank government will be extensive. It will have jurisdiction to manage, administer, govern, control, regulate, use, protect and benefit from Westbank lands. It will also be able to grant licences and control zoning in addition to controlling access to and trespass on Westbank lands. These are extraordinary powers given to a minority of people on Westbank land.

The law making process under Bill C-49 and the Westbank First Nation agreement also exclude the non-Indian majority living in Westbank.

Only Westbank citizens will be eligible to vote in elections for the Westbank Band Council. Westbank citizens will be those 18 years or older on the Westbank band list. The majority in most cases are non-ethnic first nations people and will have no vote on the laws of the Westbank band though they will be bound by those same laws. It appears to be taxation without representation.

The most these non-aboriginal people are entitled to is to making representations. I quote from the agreement in principle:

—representations to the Westbank government with respect to proposed to Westbank laws and proposed amendments to Westbank laws that directly and significantly affect such non-Westbank citizens wishing to make representation.

This flies in the face of the principles of democracy. How can the government espouse democracy and equality abroad while cultivating undemocratic institutions within our own borders?

Bill C-49 and the whole self-government process need to be brought back to the drawing table. Canada has thrived as a nation that has garnered international acclaim due to our quest for the principles of democracy, equality and rule of law. As a member of parliament with a number of Indian bands in my constituency I have worked hard to support economic development and educational development projects within natives communities. However, trampling the rights of the majority is not the right path to take and that is the path the Government of Canada has chosen.

The secretive and piecemeal fashion in which we are approaching land issues is a recipe for future discontent among all parties involved. The Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development is part of the problem, not part of the solution. We need to build a new and brighter future and a better relationship between aboriginals and non-aboriginals. Aboriginal people need to be full and equal citizens empowered to manage their own lives without being marginalized. Bill C-49 is not the answer to this problem.