House of Commons Hansard #11 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was treaty.

Topics

The Late Hon. Ian Wahn
Oral Question Period

3:10 p.m.

Bloc

Madeleine Dalphond-Guiral Laval Centre, QC

Mr. Speaker, just over one month ago, on September 14, 1999, Ian Grant Wahn died at the age of 83.

A native of Saskatchewan and a lawyer by profession, Mr. Wahn served in Holland and Germany during World War II. From 1962 to 1972, he made his career in federal politics. He was elected four times to represent the Toronto riding of St. Paul's as a Liberal, defeating Progressive Conservative Roland Michener, who would go on to become Governor General of Canada.

During his political career, Mr. Wahn's interests included finance, justice and industry. During his last term of office, he chaired the Standing Committee on National Defence and External Affairs.

In a tribute to his father, one of his two sons spoke of his charisma, his kindness and his consideration for others. His greatest desire was to help correct what he felt to be wrong. It was therefore not surprising that he introduced bills that reflected his social vision with respect to abortion, divorce, birth control, and immigration.

On behalf of the Bloc Quebecois, I pay tribute to a politician who, for ten years, devoted his energies to the service of his fellow citizens. His children, his grandchildren and his friends can be proud of him.

The Late Hon. Ian Wahn
Oral Question Period

3:10 p.m.

NDP

Bill Blaikie Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, on behalf of the NDP caucus, I would also like to pay tribute to Mr. Ian Wahn and to offer condolences to his family at this sad time.

We pay tribute to Mr. Wahn because although none of us had the opportunity to know him, we note that he had a very distinguished career serving this House of Commons and serving his country in both peace and war. He also had a distinguished academic and legal career.

We gather all these things up and give thanks for the life and work of a distinguished Canadian citizen.

The Late Hon. Ian Wahn
Oral Question Period

3:10 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Elsie Wayne Saint John, NB

Madam Speaker, I join with my colleagues in the Progressive Conservative caucus to pay tribute to the late Ian Wahn.

He has quite properly been described as a gentleman politician and a Canadian patriot. A Rhodes scholar, he answered his country's call and served in Holland and Germany with the Queen's Own Rifles of Canada during the second world war.

After the war he worked as a lawyer. He worked on such projects as the trans-Canada pipeline. But his sense of public service drew him to public office where he accomplished exemplary work in the field of immigration. While he sat on the opposite side of the House from our members, he won the respect of both sides with his outstanding character, kindness and diligence.

Canada is a better place because of his lifetime of service. We join all members in extending our condolences to the Wahn family. They can be very proud of their father and their grandfather.

Points Of Order
Oral Question Period

October 26th, 1999 / 3:10 p.m.

NDP

Angela Vautour Beauséjour—Petitcodiac, NB

Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order.

A question was asked today regarding a serious problem with a New Brunswick UI recipient. The member for London North Centre stated in the House in defence of his government “The people of Ontario are paying your bills”, meaning New Brunswick. He is the chair of the national Liberal caucus. I believe a discriminatory comment like this means he should resign from that position because he does not represent the national all Canadian—

Points Of Order
Oral Question Period

3:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

That is not a point of order. We are getting into debate.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-9, an Act to give effect to the Nisga'a Final Agreement, be read the second time and referred to a committee, and of the amendment.

Nisga'A Final Agreement Act
Government Orders

3:15 p.m.

Reform

Mike Scott Skeena, BC

Madam Speaker, I rise today to speak to the Nisga'a treaty, which is arguably, in my opinion and in the opinion of many of my colleagues, one of the most important bills the House will ever deal with, certainly the most important bill that I will likely deal with as a parliamentarian in my time in office and in my time in Ottawa.

I have spoken to the Nisga'a treaty in previous debates in the House at length. I have talked about many different aspects of it. I could go on today to talk about such issues as the costs of the treaty. The government originally tried to persuade us that the cost of the treaty would be $200 million. It now admits that it will be $500 million. However, an independent study indicates that in fact it is probably more like $1.3 billion and counting.

I could talk about such issues as resource allocation and forestry concerns in British Columbia. People in the forest industry have reviewed this agreement and they say, contrary to what the government says, that this agreement does not provide certainty, does not provide a level of comfort for the forest industry and in fact creates greater uncertainty than existed before.

I could talk about fisheries issues, such as the creation of a new Nisga'a only commercial right to fish, which will be exclusive. We have said to the government in the past that we have no objection to increasing Nisga'a participation in the fishery, but do it the right way, do it by buying existing boats and licences and conveying those so that everybody is participating on a level playing field, rather than creating a Nisga'a only right, based on blood lines, which will give the Nisga'a exclusive access to a resource which other Canadians will be denied.

The government continues to refuse to listen. It will not listen to advice from the official opposition. It will not listen to British Columbians. It does not care what British Columbians think. In an interview two days ago the minister said that this is not an issue about British Columbia, it is an issue that goes beyond British Columbia. We do agree with him on that, but the immediate impact is going to be felt in that province, which happens to be my province.

The minister said that he frankly does not care what British Columbians think, he is going to ensure that this treaty passes anyway. That is the height of arrogance. How does this government expect to win public support for this kind of initiative when the minister of the crown who is responsible for the treaty displays that kind of attitude?

I could talk about other issues, such as the fact that the agreement grants the Nisga'a central government legislative supremacy in at least 14 areas that go beyond the reach of this parliament or the provincial legislatures. Consider that for a minute. It goes beyond the reach of this parliament. That means that for all times Nisga'a laws will prevail over federal or provincial laws in the event of a conflict.

Our friends in the Bloc Quebecois have certainly picked up on this. In an interview yesterday the member who is the aboriginal affairs critic for the Bloc Quebecois said they are supporting the treaty largely because they see very interesting similarities between the Nisga'a treaty and what they see as their vision of sovereignty association for Quebec with the rest of Canada.

The government will rightly deny the Bloc and the PQ that kind of relationship, that kind of accommodation, but it will provide it to the Nisga'a people in northern B.C.

If the government truly believes it is a good idea, is it prepared to offer the same accommodation to Lucien Bouchard as it has offered to the Nisga'a people and the Nisga'a government in northern B.C.? Is the government prepared to offer that exact same accommodation?

I suggest there is no way that the government would offer that same accommodation. If it is good enough for B.C., why is it not good enough for Quebec? I will tell the House that the government will never go down that road when it comes to Lucien Bouchard and the sovereignists in Quebec, but it certainly is going down that road in British Columbia. The implications are enormous.

I could go on to talk at length about that. I could talk about the unconstitutional nature of the treaty. There are two separate legal challenges in British Columbia right now, with more coming. At the heart of this agreement is the constitutionality of it. The federal government, by agreeing to convey and cede legislative authority in 14 areas, is doing something that it has no constitutional right to do.

I would refer members of the House to a Supreme Court of Canada decision which was rendered in 1950 in the Lord Elgin Hotel case in which the supreme court said that the constitution of Canada does not belong to parliament, it does not belong to the provincial legislatures, it belongs to the people of this country and the parliament of Canada has no right to cede legislative authority in any area.

Sections 91 and 92 of our constitution exhaustively set out legislative jurisdiction and authority in this country between the federal government and the provinces. The Liberal government is trying to use extra constitutional means to get around that to provide supreme legislative authority to the Nisga'a central government in at least 14 areas.

We say that is a mistake. It flies in the face of what the Supreme Court of Canada said in 1950 in the Lord Elgin Hotel case. It flies in the face of what Canadians said in 1992 when they said no to the Charlottetown accord.

The government does not really care about what Canadians think and what Canadians say. That is obvious. Ever since the Charlottetown accord was defeated the government has been constructing backdoor ways of doing all the things in the Charlottetown accord that Canadians said no to. That is what this Liberal government is about. As a Canadian I am very offended that the government would act in that manner. I know that people in British Columbia are extremely offended.

I can tell members that in the debate on the Charlottetown accord in my province of British Columbia, leading up to the vote on the referendum, the major consideration for many British Columbians in deciding whether to accept or reject the Charlottetown accord was the aboriginal self-government provisions that were contained in that accord. If that clause was not contained in the Charlottetown accord it is very likely that support for the entire concept would have been much higher, certainly in British Columbia and maybe in many other areas of Canada.

The government is intent on constructing, brick by brick, the Charlottetown accord in the face of Canadians who said no to it. I do not understand how the government could be so arrogant as to do that, but that is what it is about.

I want to talk about how this is going to affect individual people. I heard the minister of Indian affairs say two or three times that the Nisga'a treaty is a way of bringing the Nisga'a people into Canada. I have to ask myself the question: Where were they before the treaty? Were they outside Canada? I do not think so.

On Friday evening I happened to have an opportunity to have coffee at the Vancouver airport with a lady by the name of Mazie Baker, who is a member of the Squamish band. She had the same questions for me. She heard the minister of Indian affairs saying that this was a way of bringing the Nisga'a people into Canada. She asked: “Does that mean I am not a Canadian? Does it mean that until the Squamish band signs a treaty with the federal government I am not a Canadian?” She was always under the impression that she was a Canadian and she wanted me to ask the minister on her behalf whether she was.

I do not understand how the minister could make a statement like that without thinking about how it would impact and how it would get people like Mazie Baker thinking. Mazie also asked me, as many other native women have in British Columbia, why the government is prepared to concentrate power in the hands of the Nisga'a central government or any government to the extent that it has.

This is a problem that does not exist with native people alone. We have the problem nationally. We always have to implement checks and balances whenever we have governments to ensure that power is not too closely held. As a matter of fact, that is one of the main planks of the Reform Party's policy. We think that power is too concentrated in Ottawa. We have some constructive ideas about how to decentralize and spread that power base out over a wider area, rather than having it concentrated in the PMO's office like it is right now.

Grassroots people ask us why the federal government is prepared to ignore our rights as individuals in favour of collective rights only. They have no problem with the concept of collective rights, but they want their individual rights to be recognized. They ask what they will get out of the treaty process as an individual, whether they will be able to own a piece of land and make personal decisions about what to do with that land with their family.

They want to know if they will get some kind of cash benefit that will be real and meaningful which they can use as a means of getting a head start and maybe starting a small business. They say that they will not get that. What they will get is a government above them which will have a tremendous amount of power and control over resources, land, cash and so on. They are not happy with that prospect.

We talked to native women from across Canada, but particularly in British Columbia. I met in the spring with Marilyn Buffalo, who is the head of the Native Women's Association of Canada. Marilyn expresses the view very well that aboriginal women in Canada, particularly those who live on reserve, do not enjoy very much in the way of rights. They certainly do not have the same rights as non-aboriginal women living off reserve.

In the event of a marriage breakdown, a non-aboriginal woman has the protection of the law for access to the marital home and a guarantee that she is half owner of family assets, including the marital home. On reserve, because there are no private property rights, there is no opportunity to ensure that those rights are guaranteed for aboriginal women.

In the event of a marital breakdown, most often it is the woman and children who are out on the street. The Nisga'a treaty, which is supposed to address the problems existing today in Canada, does nothing to address that. I argue that it will make it infinitely more difficult in the future for the federal government to correct the situation, if it ever chooses to do so, because of the legislative authority that will be granted under this agreement for all time.

I hear from native people all the time concerning their rights and the lack of accountability which they encounter. Many times we get calls, letters and faxes from grassroots native people living on reserve asking for our help. We have received serious questions and in some cases serious allegations about the misuse of band funds, the misuse of assets and about nepotism.

When they write a letter to the minister of Indian affairs he writes back telling them it is a matter for the band to resolve. The government takes a hands off approach, but at the same time that same ministry is directing huge blocks of funding into that same band leadership with very little in the way of strings attached or accountability. Most often the grassroots people who we hear from have difficulty getting the money together to make a phone call because they are so broke. They do not have resources and they are not getting access to the resources on reserve. They are not getting the accountability they are looking for.

I cannot understand why the government time after time ignores the pleas and cries for help from those people. In having coffee Friday evening with two members of the Squamish Band, Mazie Baker and Wendy Lundberg, I could sense their level of frustration when they asked “Why is it that when we write to the minister it falls on deaf ears? Why is it that we cannot be heard?”

They came to Ottawa in the spring when Bill C-49 was debated to testify before the Senate committee on aboriginal peoples. They tried to encourage the Senate to make amendments to that legislation which would protect their rights. They made a very cogent presentation to the Senate and to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Indian Affairs and Northern Development. Both committees ignored them. Their rights were not protected. The amendments they proposed were not accepted. They travelled all the way here and went back empty handed.

They are still crying out for help. They want their individual rights respected and protected but they are not getting it. They have told me they have looked at the Nisga'a agreement. They see it as a further entrenching of the status quo, making it infinitely more difficult to ever see their individual rights and the individual rights of other people respected.

Increasingly we see grassroots Nisga'a people writing letters to the editor and expressing their views. When the ratification vote took place it was a mere two months after the deal was publicly unveiled. Until that time it was secret deal. Neither the grassroots Nisga'a people nor the rest of the non-aboriginal people in British Columbia had any real idea of what the deal contained.

They had a period of only eight or nine weeks after the deal was unveiled to consider an agreement that was 220 to 230 pages long, with 400-odd pages of appendices, before they were required to vote on it in a referendum.

I remind the House that the vote showed that just over 60% of the Nisga'a people supported the deal. It is very important for members of the House to be reminded that many Nisga'a people had trouble with the agreement for one reason or another and did not support it.

It is beyond me why the government wants to think of the Nisga'a people, or any aboriginal band for that matter, as some kind of homogeneous group that thinks the same way, wants the same things and agrees on the same set of principles, conditions and so on. Nothing could be further from the truth. They are every bit as much individual as we are.

That leads me to the main point I want to make. The government and previous governments have encouraged aboriginal people over a long period of time to see themselves as separate and apart from the rest of Canada, to the extent that aboriginal people, particularly aboriginal leaders, look at the principle of equality as some kind of a threat or negative thing.

This is unfortunate. Nothing could be further from the truth. True equality is not only the best way to preserve harmony in society. It is the very best way that we know of to guarantee democratic rights to individuals, to provide individuals with economic opportunity, and to ensure that native people are treated in a manner that allows them to get on with their own lives and to make personal decisions about what they want to do instead of being herded on to reserves and told that if they want to be identified as a Nisga'a, as a Tsimshian or a Tsuu T'ina they have to live on reserves with no property rights and in abysmal conditions. That is the only way they can maintain their identity.

We say that equality is about equality in law and allows plenty of room to respect and celebrate cultural differences. I do not think there is a person in this place who does not respond to the fact that we as Canadians have a very rich heritage. The unique languages, customs and traditional dress of aboriginal people are part of our Canadian culture. We see it expressed in many different ways, but celebrating one's cultural diversity should not lead to segregation in law, which is what the federal government's position has been for a very long time.

As my leader pointed out this morning in his speech, in 1968-69 the federal Liberal Party under the leadership of Pierre Trudeau seemed about to break from that kind of thinking. It seemed to be on the verge of a new way of proceeding forward but lost its courage. In losing its courage it has broken faith with grassroots aboriginal people. Many of the very serious and abysmal conditions we see on reserves today could have been avoided had the Liberal Party not done that. We urge its members to reconsider following through on 19th century thinking.

As my leader said this morning, we should think outside the box and look for another alternative that puts individual rights over collective rights and puts the opportunities that may be accorded by the federal government in the hands of individuals, not in the hands of collectivities.

Nisga'A Final Agreement Act
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Madam Speaker, having listened to the member for Skeena I find it incredible that so much misinformation continues to come forward from that member and other members of the Reform Party. There are many contradictions in the arguments they put forward in debate.

Just a few moments ago we heard the member for Skeena state that he and the Reform Party believe that aboriginal people such as the Nisga'a people should get on with their own lives and that they should be treated with respect, dignity and equality.

If the member, his leader and other members of the Reform Party really believe that, why would they deny the Nisga'a people the treaty when they finally sat at the table as equals with respect, dignity, due process and open public process to negotiate the treaty?

It seems to me that the Reform Party is absolutely hypocritical in its approach to this question. On the one hand the Reform Party claims to be upholding the rights and equality of aboriginal people, but on the other hand it is prepared to sabotage the agreement. I would like the member to comment on that.

It was quite astounding this morning to listen to the leader of the Reform Party say that he wanted to show another way for treaties in the future. He wanted the Nisga'a people to adopt what in effect was the market ideology. That is what he was calling on the Nisga'a people to do.

If the member believes in the individuality and rights of aboriginal people, surely he must admit and acknowledge that they have their own position, history, experience and arguments to determine their own future. Why would the Reform Party say that it is its way or no way, that it is the market ideology or otherwise the Reform Party will trash them? I would like the member to comment on that.

Nisga'A Final Agreement Act
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

Reform

Mike Scott Skeena, BC

Madam Speaker, I reject the suggestion that the Reform Party, myself personally or anyone connected with the party is intent on trashing anyone. That type of mischaracterization is not at all helpful to the debate.

As soon as one objects to a policy direction of the government when it comes to aboriginals or immigration, it seems the conduct of its members is to come after one's personality, character, motives and morals. They question those because they do not want to debate the substance of the issue.

I would like to correct the record for the hon. member who has spoken about public forums. There were no public forums in advance of the treaty being unveiled, none whatsoever. I happen to live in the area for which the treaty was negotiated. We begged the negotiators to bring this process out into the open. They said no. They had signed a document that secretized this process and they said they would stick to that. They would not make it public.

In terms of market ideology I know the hon. member, being a member of the NDP, is firmly committed to socialist doctrinaire, but surely she must recognize that this doctrinaire has failed everywhere it has been tried in the world.

How many times do we have to see failure before we get to the point where we say maybe it does not work? Why would the Government of Canada be encouraging an economic system that is an obvious failure everywhere it has been tried and be foisting it upon the Nisga'a people?

I suggest the hon. member should consider very carefully that what is in the long term best interest of the Nisga'a people is something that works. Surely after 132 years of policies and treaties that do not work members of the House should be interested in something that does.

I would make one further point. If treaties were so good for aboriginal people, one should be able to make the argument that those parts of Canada covered under treaty and all the aboriginal people there should be better off than in British Columbia where they are not covered by treaties.

For the hon. member's benefit, if she has not visited reserves in other parts of Canada, they are not better off. I would argue that in many cases they are worse off where they have treaties. She should not tell us that treaties are the answer. They certainly have not been the answer for 132 years.

Nisga'A Final Agreement Act
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Raymonde Folco Laval West, QC

Madam Speaker, I sense that the member for Skeena cares deeply about these issues, but I wonder whether his information is accurate.

A few minutes ago the member told us about aboriginal women and how they did not have equal rights. I would like to remind him, or perhaps even inform him because I am not at all sure he has read the treaty, that the rights of aboriginal women are fully protected under Canada's legal framework through the treaty.

We are talking about subsection 35(4) of the Constitution Act, 1982, which guarantees treaty rights equally to men and women. Let us also not forget that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms applies to all decisions of the Nisga'a government. All decisions have to be accepted in an indirect way through the charter of rights and freedoms.

I would also like to remind him that political rights are provided equally to men and women under the Nisga'a final agreement and the Nisga'a constitution.

Finally, and this is also an important part, federal and provincial human rights legislation will apply to the Nisga'a government and to the Nisga'a people.

We talked about marital breakdown. Unfortunately it happens all too often. In the case of Nisga'a men and women the British Columbia family relations act will determine the division of all matrimonial property, and not Nisga'a law. We see once again that Nisga'a women, just as Nisga'a men, are protected by the constitution of Canada, by provincial laws and by Canadians laws. I would like the member to reply.

Nisga'A Final Agreement Act
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

Reform

Mike Scott Skeena, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for her questions. I believe by the tone of her comments that she is truly interested in this subject as well. I thank her for that. I would like to respond to her questions.

On the issue of women's rights it is true the agreement says that provincial jurisdiction or provincial laws will apply. The hon. member has to understand that before there can be a division of marital assets there has to be a property right attached to them. Right now on reserves in Canada it is the band council that decides who will live in which house because those houses are not individually owned by anybody. They are owned by the band.

There is a potential for the creation of some kind of private property right in the Nisga'a agreement but there is no commitment to it. Without that commitment we cannot guarantee those matrimonial rights to Nisga'a women.

The member talked about charter rights. Yes, it does say that in the agreement, but that is something the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development in my view is using to mislead or misrepresent the agreement. The preamble to the Nisga'a agreement states that the charter of rights and freedoms will apply. That is true. We certainly concede that. It is there in black and white, but we must also understand that section 35 of our constitution recognizes and affirms aboriginal rights. Those are collective rights.

Section 25 of our constitution requires the courts to take into consideration those rights in the event of a conflict between the charter rights of individual Nisga'a people and the collective rights of the Nisga'a as a people. It is not only that the courts must take that into consideration, but they must give a higher priority to the collective right over the individual right.

I urge the member to get out her constitution and read section 25 and section 35. It is very easy to come to the conclusion that our charter rights are put in peril by the section 25 requirement of the courts to say that section 35 will trump individual rights. I urge her to take a look at this because it is very important. If we do not do that, then in five, ten, fifteen years from now we will see that the fallout from that will be some court cases that are going to be seen to be patently ridiculous by most Canadians. Nisga'a individuals will be losing challenges at the supreme court when their charter rights are violated. They will not be on the same level playing field as all other Canadians. That is really unfortunate.

Nisga'A Final Agreement Act
Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Raymonde Folco Laval West, QC

Madam Speaker, I am extremely pleased to speak to the House today in support of Bill C-9, the bill introduced by the government to implement the final Nisga'a agreement.

The Nisga'a people live in the Nass valley in northwestern British Columbia and have lived there for hundreds if not thousands of years. When the European settlers reached their land, they found a well-organized and self-governing society. That society met its own needs by harvesting the abundant resources of the land on which it lived and by trading with its neighbours. It boasted a rich culture and traditions.

When British Columbia became a province and joined Canada in 1871, aboriginal people made up the majority of its population, yet they had no recognized rights in the political decision making process.

Passage of the Indian Act resulted in the introduction of a band-based administrative regime being imposed upon the first nations, which were henceforth required to submit to close supervision by federal representatives. Potlatches were also outlawed by the government, despite being a tradition at the core of the political and social system of the first nations. As well, children were separated from their families and sent far away to Church residential schools.

Despite these dramatic changes, the Nisga'a and other first nations of British Columbia have survived as a culture and as a people. They cherished their traditional values and their identity and held on to their profound belief that they still held the rights of ownership over their traditional lands.

As early as 1880, the leaders of the first nations demanded treaties that would establish a fair relationship between their people and governments. The Nisga'a were at the forefront among the first nations of British Columbia in exerting pressure on the governments to negotiate treaties. I would remind the members of this House that the Nisga'a have always used diplomacy and peaceful means to achieve this end, even though governments continued to reject their requests.

In 1927, parliament amended the Indian Act to make it illegal for Indians to spend or collect money in order to advance their claims. Thus, native people were denied a right enjoyed by all other Canadians.

When these provisions of the Indian Act were repealed in 1951, the first nations began again to organize themselves in order to pursue their claims for recognition and the ability to negotiate treaties.

In 1968, the Nisga'a, under the leadership of the chief at the time, Frank Calder, initiated proceedings in the courts that led in 1973 to a decision by the Supreme Court of Canada. In this decision, which was extremely important, the court found that the Nisga'a could have had ancestral titles at the time before settlement. However, the justices were divided equally on the matter of the continued existence of these titles.

Further to this decision, the federal government adopted a policy on global land claims, and in 1976 began negotiating a treaty with the Nisga'a.

In 1982, when the Canadian constitution was patriated, the rights of the native peoples of Canada were finally recognized. Section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, recognized and confirmed the existing ancestral rights and the treaty rights of the native peoples of Canada.

However, section 35 does not contain a definition of the rights included in “existing ancestral rights” that remain to be determined through negotiation or recourse to the courts.

The purpose of these treaties is to reconcile the historic rights of native peoples with a contemporary context, recognizing that they were living here and governing themselves before the arrival of the Europeans.

Yes, Canada's native peoples have unique rights, which are protected by section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982. These unique rights have to do with their earlier occupation of this land.

Those who claim that the Nisga'a treaty establishes a government that creates inequality should take a closer look at what it has really accomplished. This treaty spells out clearly the rights the Nisga'a will have in the future.

It was pointed out that Canada's first nations were among the most disadvantaged groups in our society. In all areas, especially literacy, employment, health and development, conditions in their communities were far below Canadian standards. It is inexcusable that a group of persons should be at such a disadvantage in a country like Canada.

The Nisga'a treaty will help ensure that the Nisga'a truly have access to the benefits and privileges to which they are entitled as Canadians, while retaining their identity as aboriginals.

This is what the Nisga'a treaty accomplishes. This treaty recognizes that the history of the Nisga'a precedes the establishment of Canadian sovereignty and it does so in a manner fully consistent with the equality provisions of the charter.

It confirms the unique rights of the Nisga'a, while respecting the rulings of the highest courts of the land. In so doing, it establishes a fair balance between these rights and the interests of other Canadians and makes these rights an integral part of Canada's constitutional and legal framework.

In my view, Canada is not a country where native peoples must stop being native peoples in order to be Canadians. By means of this treaty, we will show that it is possible to be Canadian, while continuing to live in the Nisga'a culture. That is my vision of Canada.

This treaty establishes the rights of the Nisga'a in a number of areas, particularly those having to do with land and resources. It also sets out a practical set of legislative rights to which the three parties to the negotiations, the federal and provincial governments and the Nisga'a, have agreed. The Nisga'a government will be subject to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the Criminal Code of Canada will continue to apply on Nisga'a territory, as will federal and provincial legislation.

The legislative jurisdictions set out in the treaty are designed to enable the Nisga'a to protect their culture, their language and their property.

Equal rights for women, for example, will be protected by both the Charter and the treaty itself, regardless of what the hon. member has just said in his speech. Provincial divorce legislation will also continue to apply.

The Nisga'a Final Agreement protects the rights of the Nisga'a while recognizing the rights of the non-Nisga'a. The legislative powers of the Nisga'a will be restricted by the provisions of the final agreement, which will also guarantee that special mechanisms are in place to protect the rights of the non-Nisga'a living on Nisga'a land.

Criticism that this treaty gives the Nisga'a the power to take away the rights of other Canadian citizens is simply absurd. For example, the final agreement calls for the Nisga'a to be entitled to a water reserve. This water supply represents only 1% of the average flow of the Nass River. In order to use this water, the Nisga'a must apply for a permit from the British Columbia government as any person must. Anyone can apply to use the other 99% of the flow.

As regards fisheries, the Nisga'a's treaty guarantees the sharing of this resource between the Nisga'a and Canadians. In fact, under the provisions on fisheries in the Nisga'a treaty, the Nisga'a's right to fish is itself subject to preservation measures.

If, for example, conservation measures required a moratorium on fishing, the Nisga'a would not fish, even for domestic purposes, because the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans has the final say on managing fisheries in the Nass region. The Fisheries Act will continue to apply to both the Nisga'a and other fishers. In each of its provisions, the Nisga'a treaty protects the rights and interests of all those who work and live in the Nass region or visit it.

The government knows very well that ratification of the Nisga'a treaty is the step that must be taken in order to look to the future rather than remain prisoners of the past.

Nisga'A Final Agreement Act
Government Orders

3:55 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, QC

Madam Speaker, I congratulate my colleague on her speech.

As all members are aware, we are joining with the government majority in supporting the Nisga'a treaty, because we believe that it is only fair to do so. We certainly believe that the treaty is fair. It will offer the protection of a number of important pieces of legislation, including the Criminal Code, to which my colleague referred. The treaty interests me because I have already had an opportunity to discuss it when I was a member of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, of which I have very fond memories. Unfortunately, I must inform the member that I will no longer be serving on this committee. I can see her disappointment already.

My question for her is this: The Nisga'a treaty recognizes the right to a form of citizenship for Nisga'a residents. I myself introduced an amendment to the Citizenship Act in the previous parliament asking that citizenship in Quebec be recognized. As members know, there is such a thing as Quebec citizenship. We wanted this amendment so that we could present explanatory material about it during swearing-in ceremonies.

Setting aside her somewhat indecent haste, I ask my colleague whether she would agree to support such an amendment, since the Nisga'a are being allowed a form of citizenship. I think it would be only right to recognize citizenship in Quebec as well.

Nisga'A Final Agreement Act
Government Orders

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Raymonde Folco Laval West, QC

Madam Speaker, the only response I can give to the hon. member is that when we were both on the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, we disagreed on various issues.

Today, what I am here for is to answer questions on the bill before the House, and that is the only answer I can give.

I believe that the hon. member's question is not relevant to the debate we are having in this House today, but I will be pleased to meet with him in private to discuss citizenship and immigration issues.

Nisga'A Final Agreement Act
Government Orders

3:55 p.m.

Reform

Philip Mayfield Cariboo—Chilcotin, BC

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for her intervention and her analysis of the treaty.

There is one thing that concerns me. This is the first modern day land agreement where self-government rights are actually contained within the land claim agreement. As a result of this, section 35, as it has been interpreted by the supreme court, means that the rights contained in the land claim agreement can never be unilaterally reclaimed in the future by the government that gave these rights.

From these rights flows the ability to create legislation. Up until this point, legislation has been the prerogative of the federal and provincial governments only.

How can the hon. member square this with the government's claim that there is no constitutional amendment through the back door when through this means the constitution will be irreversibly affected without the consent of the province, according to the amending formula?