House of Commons Hansard #38 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was nisga'a.

Topics

Division No. 534
Private Members' Business

12:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

Agreed and so ordered. We will need to record the people who were here. The clerk will record those members standing.

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December 13th, 1999 / 12:05 p.m.

Kenora—Rainy River
Ontario

Liberal

Bob Nault Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

moved that Bill C-9, an act to give effect to the Nisga'a final agreement, be read the third time and passed.

Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to speak to Bill C-9, legislation giving effect to the Nisga'a final agreement.

We are nearing the end of a lengthy process, not only the legislative process in the House and the B.C. legislature, but the journey embarked on by the Nisga'a people more than 100 years ago. I am hopeful that when debate in the House concludes, members will see fit to pass Bill C-9 for its consideration in the other place.

I have followed the debate and the committee proceedings with great interest. I thank the members of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development for the excellent work they have done.

It is interesting to note that throughout the debate a number of common themes have emerged from those in favour of the Nisga'a final agreement as well as from those opposed. The agreement meets the tests that have been set out. It will provide certainty. It will remove the restrictions of the Indian Act so the Nisga'a people will have greater opportunities to prosper in the future. It will protect the rights of Nisga'a women. It will ensure that the rights of non-Nisga'a people living within Nisga'a lands have been addressed. It will respect and maintain Canada's existing legal and constitutional framework.

The Nisga'a final agreement achieves all of these goals and many, many more. It will provide certainty. By clearly setting out all of the Nisga'a aboriginal rights, the agreement gives the Nisga'a and their neighbours a chance to build a future together knowing that issues of the past have been dealt with in an honourable manner.

The Nisga'a final agreement will settle the ownership of land, not just the land included in the treaty, but the huge expansive territory over which the Nisga'a had originally laid claim. This means certainty for investors which in turn means increased economic activity and employment in British Columbia. Roslyn Kunin, chief economist for the Laurier Institute testified before the standing committee that current uncertainty is costing British Columbians a minimum of $1 billion worth of investment. One billion dollars is the minimum annual cost of not moving ahead.

Let me quote David McLean, chairman of the board of Canadian National, when he addressed the committee. He said: “What appeals to me as a business leader is the certainty it creates”. Of course for the final word on certainty, let me quote the agreement itself: “This agreement constitutes a full and final settlement in respect of the aboriginal rights, including aboriginal title, in Canada of the Nisga'a nation”.

Throughout this debate there has been a great deal of criticism of the Indian Act. Numerous provisions of the Indian Act are not conducive to building successful communities in a modern context. This is especially true as it pertains to land management and economic development.

The Nisga'a final agreement offers a new approach. For all time it will remove the Nisga'a people out from under the Indian Act. With fee simple ownership of land, the Nisga'a will be able to more fully develop their economy.

The achievement of self-government means the Nisga'a will no longer have to seek permission of the federal government to conduct their day to day affairs. The Nisga'a people have chosen to take this step forward. They have agreed to a model of government that provides them with greater authority and with it greater responsibility.

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12:10 p.m.

Bloc

Yvan Loubier Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I call for a quorum count.

And the count having been taken:

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12:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

The hon. member for Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot has requested a quorum call. We have a quorum.

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12:10 p.m.

Liberal

Bob Nault Kenora—Rainy River, ON

They have chosen a path that makes them answerable to themselves and to future generations for the choices they make.

In short, the Nisga'a people have achieved what most of us take for granted. To reject this agreement would take this achievement away. It would force the Nisga'a to remain under the Indian Act, an act which rather ironically has been most persistently denounced by those speaking against this legislation.

Ending the application of the Indian Act to the Nisga'a also represents a significant gain for Nisga'a women. As I have stated in the House, the Indian Act is silent on the rights of women. Its last major revision was in 1951, long before either the bill of rights or the charter of rights and freedoms.

Ending the Indian reserve system and the Indian Act for the Nisga'a will put Nisga'a women on an equal footing with other women in British Columbia with respect to the division of matrimonial property in cases of marital breakdown. The reason for this is that all provincial laws, including the B.C. Family Relations Act, will apply to Nisga'a lands, something that is not currently case for Indian reserve lands.

Once again I will quote the agreement: “The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms applies to the Nisga'a government in respect of all matters within its authority”. Nisga'a women will enjoy the full equality guaranteed by sections 15, 28 and 35 of the charter.

In addition, there are important protections for women in our constitution. Section 35(4) of the Constitution Act, 1982 makes it clear that treaty rights are guaranteed equally to male and female persons. Bill C-9 states in its preamble “The constitution is the supreme law of Canada”. This treaty will operate within the existing Canadian constitutional framework, something which all three parties agree to.

It is clear that not only does the Nisga'a final agreement protect the rights of women, it offers a significant improvement over the status quo.

The relationship between the Nisga'a and their neighbours has probably been the subject of more myths and misinformation than any other aspect of the agreement. Throughout the negotiations leading up to the Nisga'a final agreement great efforts were made to accommodate the needs of neighbouring communities and non-Nisga'a individuals who reside on Nisga'a lands. Almost every chapter in the agreement reflects input that was received in nearly 500 consultation and information sessions.

The agreement does not, as some would have us believe, provide the Nisga'a government with any taxation authority over non-Nisga'a residents. The only taxation authority for the Nisga'a government is found in chapter 16, section 1 of the final agreement, and it only extends to Nisga'a citizens living on Nisga'a lands.

Nisga'a lawmaking authority is limited to matters internal to the Nisga'a people, such as their language and their culture. All Nisga'a laws will be subject to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Nisga'a government will be obliged to consult with non-Nisga'a residents on any proposed measure that substantially affects those individuals who will also, and this is one to remember, have full access to the court system for redress.

Where institutions are established that affect all residents of the Nass Valley, such as school boards or health boards, non-Nisga'a residents will be able to seek election and vote for the candidate of their choice.

Who better to speak to this issue than the people directly involved? Here is what Bill Young, a businessman, Nass Valley Residents' Association member and the largest non-Nisga'a landowner in the Nass Valley had to say about the Nisga'a final agreement when he testified before the standing committee:

Any fears that we have had are alleviated and clearly defined in the treaty documents.

Nisga'a self-government will not have any jurisdiction over land currently owned by non-Nisga'a within the Nass Valley.

I believe that the Nisga'a treaty is a fair and honourable solution that will protect and be fair to all parties.

I ask the honourable members of parliament to ratify this treaty.

Terrace is the city lying closest to the Nisga'a. Here is what the mayor, Jack Talstra, had to say to the committee:

We wish the treaty signed sooner, rather than later, so we might focus our energy and creativity on implementation, rather than past discussion and previous arguments.

Let us move forward with this new treaty.

As hon. members can see, this government is listening to the people most directly affected by the Nisga'a final agreement. Those people are comfortable with the agreement. They have received the assurances and protection they sought. They recognize the benefits that everyone will derive from the treaty. They want us to get on with the job.

Finally, I would like to touch on the relationship between the Nisga'a final agreement and the Canadian legal and constitutional framework. There are those who continue to state that the agreement changes the constitution. As I have before, I would refer them to the agreement itself, which states quite clearly “This agreement does not alter the constitution of Canada”.

The committee held a great deal of testimony from constitutional and legal scholars and experts. There was a general consensus that the agreement does not change the constitution, and the self-government provisions of the agreement serve to define an already existing constitutional right.

As Professor Patrick Monahan of Osgoode Hall Law School stated:

We are not creating a third order of government because on this argument the courts have implicitly already recognized that aboriginal peoples and rights of self-government of aboriginal peoples have constitutional status.

Clarifying the Nisga'a right to self-government sends a positive signal. It demonstrates that this government is serious about the relationship we are trying to build with aboriginal people and it shows what we can accomplish within the existing framework.

I have just quoted the agreement to the extent that it does not alter the constitution. It is also quite clear that the treaty will be subject to the constitution and the charter of rights and freedoms.

Despite the often unfortunate history of our relationship with the Nisga'a people, I have heard Nisga'a tribal council president Joe Gosnell speak about his pride in Canada and in being a Canadian. The Nisga'a people never wanted an agreement that would make them less Canadian. By framing the final agreement within the Canadian constitution they have demonstrated in a tangible way their desire to remain an active part of the Canadian family.

Not only is the agreement clear on the application of the constitution and the charter, it is clear on the application of federal and provincial laws. The self-government provisions of the agreement do not provide the Nisga'a government with any exclusive lawmaking jurisdiction. The Nisga'a government's authorities are clearly defined and the Nisga'a government will only have authority over the matter specifically outlined in the agreement.

The Nisga'a government will have the principal authority to make laws, and I quote the agreement again, “in respect of Nisga'a government, Nisga'a citizenship, Nisga'a culture, Nisga'a language, Nisga'a lands and Nisga'a assets”.

When I appeared before the standing committee I challenged members opposed to the agreement to demonstrate why the Nisga'a should not have primary authority over their language and culture. So far I have heard no response to that challenge. I also challenged those members to demonstrate why the Nisga'a should not have authority over land use planning that is consistent with the authority enjoyed by neighbouring municipalities. Once again I have heard no response.

In some other areas the Nisga'a may adopt their own laws, but those laws will only take precedence if they meet or exceed standards in federal or provincial law. For example, if the Nisga'a decide that they want to include the teaching of Nisga'a language or culture in their schools they may do so. Teacher certification and curriculum standards must meet or exceed provincial standards. This only makes sense.

In the great majority of lawmaking areas either federal and provincial laws will prevail or the Nisga'a will have no authority to make laws. The interests of the Nisga'a and all other Canadians are met with these arrangements. The Nisga'a did not ask for unreasonable authorities and we would not have agreed if they had.

As we enter a new millennium it is imperative for Canada to renew and define its relationship with aboriginal people. Every day we can see the results of the status quo. How we define that relationship will vary from community to community and from province to province. First nations have different circumstances, different needs, and different desires. The arrangements we make with them have to reflect that.

Let me be clear, this government's policy is that the relationship will be developed. We have a fundamental difference of opinion with those, like members of the Reform Party, who do not see the need to develop that relationship; those whose view of equality is to offer people individual cash payments if they agree to give up their constitutional rights; those who deny the balance between individual and collective rights that has made Canada such a unique and successful country; those who see society as a competition where the strongest thrive and the weakest are left to fend for themselves; and those who would perpetuate the mistakes of the past by imposing their belief system on cultures that thrived for thousands of years before the arrival of European settlers. That approach would never lead to the new relationship to which this government is committed. The Nisga'a final agreement proves that we can develop that relationship. It proves that first nations, provincial governments and the Government of Canada can reach honourable arrangements that satisfy the needs of all parties.

It is a promising first step. The adoption of the Nisga'a final agreement will send a clear signal that we as a society are ready to build new relationships based on mutual trust, respect and understanding. The adoption of Bill C-9 and the Nisga'a final agreement will bring one journey to an end, but it will also mark the beginning of another journey, one in which Canada and the Nisga'a enter the millennium together, united as we have never been before in our efforts to build a better society for future generations.

It has been an honour to have the opportunity to speak to a treaty that will go down in history as defining a new relationship with aboriginal peoples based on trust. I think that speaks much to Canada's viability in the future.

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12:25 p.m.

Reform

Mike Scott Skeena, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I would seek the unanimous consent of the House, since we have the minister here speaking at third reading on the Nisga'a treaty, to have a 10 minute question and answer period with the minister.

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12:25 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is there unanimous consent to have a 10 minute question and comment period?

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12:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

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12:25 p.m.

An hon. member

No.

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12:25 p.m.

Reform

Mike Scott Skeena, BC

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the minister speak about the myths and shameful actions of other members of the House. I cannot think of anything more shameful than to deliberately set out to misrepresent to Canadians and British Columbians what this treaty represents.

From being involved in this entire matter for five and a half years, I can say that the Government of Canada, this minister and previous ministers from that side of the House have deliberately set out to misrepresent and mislead Canadians on what the content of the Nisga'a agreement is and what it represents for the future, not only for Nisga'a people but for other aboriginal people in British Columbia and across Canada.

I want to start by talking about the process. I have spoken about it before in the House, but it bears repeating. In 1991 the Government of Canada—

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12:25 p.m.

Liberal

David Iftody Provencher, MB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The member for Skeena is using very provocative language, with suggestions that people on this side of the House deliberately misled Canadians. I would ask the member to withdraw those statements.

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12:25 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I have been listening very carefully to the hon. member for Skeena and I do not believe he has used unparliamentary language in his speech so far. He has not suggested that the government misled members of the House, which would be unparliamentary. In my view, he was careful to avoid any such suggestion.

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12:25 p.m.

Reform

Mike Scott Skeena, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to talk about the process which led to this agreement.

In 1991 the federal government, the province of British Columbia and the Nisga'a leadership signed an agreement to negotiate a land claim settlement behind closed doors, out of the public eye. I was not even aware that this agreement had been signed. Most British Columbians were not aware that the Government of British Columbia and the federal government were intent on doing this.

I was elected as member of parliament for Skeena, which encompasses the Nisga'a traditional lands, as it does the Gitksan, the Gitanyow, the Tahltan, the Tsimpsean, the Haisla, the Haida and the Taku River Tlingit. I became aware in 1994 that this agreement had been signed and that there were negotiations taking place behind closed doors. I became rather concerned, because any time government wants to negotiate agreements behind closed doors which have the potential to impact the area that I represent, I feel that I have a duty, an obligation and a right to know what is being discussed. I believe the people in the area that I represent have the same right. They have the right to know what is going on.

I wrote to the minister of the day asking to be included in some form in order to keep abreast and be aware of what was being discussed behind closed doors so I could report back to my constituents.

I received a very curt response telling me that there was a secrecy agreement that the parties were bound to, and that I was not privy to the information, as an elected representative of Skeena encompassing the Nisga'a traditional lands, nor was I about to be given any information with respect to the negotiations.

I felt it was my duty at that point to inform my constituents of what was going on. We held a series of townhall meetings throughout Skeena and then throughout British Columbia during the course of 1994 and 1995 trying to make British Columbians aware of the precedent setting set of negotiations taking place. We recognize, as do most thinking people, that this was a precedent setting set of negotiations. It was the first land claim treaty to be negotiated in British Columbia in modern times. It obviously will set the floor and not the ceiling for other land claim agreements in British Columbia, and across Canada for that matter.

The minister and the Government of British Columbia try to tell us that this is not a template, although Premier Clark, in his more lucid moments, did admit that it was indeed a template.

I ask anybody watching the debate on television how anybody could possibly believe that a native negotiator somewhere in British Columbia negotiating a treaty would not look at what the Nisga'a have received and say that they have at least an extremely strong morale argument, if not a legal argument, to say “we are entitled to the same thing”. How can the Government of Canada deny that?

I and many of my colleagues in the Reform Party from British Columbia attempted, to the best of our abilities, to shed some light on what was taking place. The government steadfastly refused to provide any information, not only to me but to any members of the public.

In 1996, with a great deal of fanfare, the government released jointly with the Nisga'a leadership what is known as the AIP or agreement in principle. From that, we started to get a much clearer picture of what was intended in terms of a final agreement because the framework for the final agreement was before us.

It was at that point that the provincial government put together a parliamentary committee, the committee for aboriginal affairs for British Columbia, and went around the province in what I call a dog and pony show, ostensibly to hear the views of concerned citizens in British Columbia and to take into account what the concerns or views might be in relation to the AIP so that the final agreement could reflect those.

I attended some of those hearings held by the committee. I can tell the House what happened. There was a long list of people who were put in place by the government, who were set up ahead of time, and who showed up and lauded the treaty's benefits and all of its supposedly wonderful clauses and so on. Anybody who showed up and expressed concern or opposition to any of the elements of the agreement in principle were routinely dismissed and often dismissed with the most degrading kind of attacks on their character and their motives because they disagreed with the direction in which the government policy was going.

It is shameful that British Columbians and Canadians cannot go to a meeting and express their views and opposition to the principles incorporated in the AIP without being treated in that manner. That is the way the government and the Government of British Columbia treated citizens not only in my constituency but right across the province. I was there for it. It is a matter of record because it is in the British Columbia proceedings. All the meetings that committee held were recorded and it is a matter of public record. I invite anybody who has any questions whatsoever to access it through the Internet because it is all there.

In August 1998, the federal government, the provincial government and the Nisga'a leadership unveiled the final agreement. We were very anxious to see it. We looked through it and noted right away that as a result of the committee's work in British Columbia and all the public concern, criticism and so on of various components of the Nisga'a treaty, not one major change was made from the AIP to the final agreement. It was essentially the same. It was just the framework fleshed out with the same principles, the same policy, the same direction.

The rank and file Nisga'a people, who this agreement will affect the most, were given a few weeks to consider this agreement before they had to vote on it in the ratification process. They were given a few weeks to consider a final agreement that is 250-some pages long and 450 pages of appendices. They were supposed to evaluate a new Nisga'a constitution, a taxation agreement and other related documents. They were supposed to review all of this and make a decision within a few weeks as to whether or not this was the right thing for them and their families to go.

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12:35 p.m.

Bloc

Claude Bachand Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. This is an extremely important debate and there are not many members in the House. I call for a quorum count.

And the count having been taken:

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12:35 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

I thank the hon. member for Saint-Jean. There is quorum.