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. 535
Routine Proceedings

4:55 p.m.

Reform

Randy White Langley—Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I would like to ask you if it is in order to acknowledge that the Reform Party is finally winning votes in the House.

Division No. 535
Routine Proceedings

4:55 p.m.

The Speaker

No comment.

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 third time and passed.

Nisga'A Final Agreement Act
Government Orders

December 13th, 1999 / 5 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Madam Speaker, I am very proud to rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-9, the Nisga'a final agreement, at third reading. I am proud to say that all members of the federal NDP caucus have supported Bill C-9, and have been very supportive of the process and the debate that has taken place. We have stood firmly in support of the Nisga'a final agreement.

I would like to recognize the work of our aboriginal affairs spokesperson, the member for Yukon. She has played a very positive role at committee with her thoughtful comments, her experience and her deep understanding of aboriginal affairs. I would like to pay special thanks to her for her very dedicated work and participation in the process.

Being from British Columbia, I would like to put on the record that the work of our provincial government on the Nisga'a agreement and on the negotiations which took place also needs to be acknowledged. Two former premiers, Michael Harcourt and Glen Clark, really made this a centrepiece of their agendas. They were personally very committed to seeing a redress of the wrongs that had been done in the past and seeking social and economic justice for the Nisga'a people. Mike Harcourt, Glen Clark, Ian Waddell, the MLA who chaired the B.C. legislative committee that went around the province, as well as Dale Lovick, the current minister of aboriginal affairs for B.C., did a very good job.

It has to be recognized that they took on this job and were faced with a lot of political opportunism, which was seen to be more politically expedient than achieving justice, by the B.C. Liberal Party and the federal Reform Party.

I toyed with the idea of also thanking another former premier of British Columbia, Mr. Vander Zalm, who actually brought the provincial government to the negotiating table in 1991. However, after seeing what he did in the last few years I do not think I could thank him. He basically trashed aboriginal people and the Nisga'a agreement. When the committee was in Vancouver he played a role in the games that were played with his little demonstration. Mr. Vander Zalm brought in the people who hurled obscenities, while he sat there apparently in agreement. He has not played a positive role. He too has sunk to the level of his federal colleagues in the Reform Party in seeing this issue as political opportunism.

Most of all, I would like to thank the Nisga'a people for their patience, not just today with the entire process that has unfolded in the House, but for their patience over the last 20 years and that of the generations before them. If we look back and reflect on the oppression that aboriginal and Nisga'a people suffered and the fact that they had the faith to negotiate an agreement, we know that this is something that is very historic and needs to be acknowledged, particularly in light of what has been a very difficult debate. Horrific statements have been made and thrown at them.

I particularly want to thank Joe Gosnell, the leader of the Nisga'a people, as well as the teams of negotiators. As we were doing our business in the House they kept faith in the process. I am sure there were ups and downs. I am sure there were days when they thought that maybe this would not work and people had to compromise. The fact is that the federal, provincial and Nisga'a negotiators arrived at the agreement which is before us today.

Earlier we heard from Reform members that they believe part of the negotiation process which unfolded was somehow a stacked deal, that it was all done behind closed doors. We have said this many times on the record, and let it be said again: no piece of legislation has had as much scrutiny, examination, debate and public hearing as the Nisga'a agreement in principle as well as the final agreement. We know that for the 20 years that negotiations took place, especially the last few years, advisory committees were involved and public hearings were held by various organizations. For example, the labour movement in British Columbia was involved in the advisory committees. It held consultations with its membership on the treaty to get feedback. We have heard the same thing from the business community, as well as the aboriginal community.

The member for Skeena earlier today said that this was a stacked process which was carried out behind closed doors. I cannot think of anything further from the truth in terms of what really took place. Committee hearings were held in B.C. and in Ottawa.

We have to ask ourselves what this agreement is about. There are many ways to sum it up. I believe this agreement is important and significant. It provides the opportunity for the Nisga'a people to assert themselves as a people, to realize their rights, to undertake their own affairs in economic terms, in social terms, in cultural terms and in terms of equality.

The agreement allows the Nisga'a people to redress the wrongs of the past. It allows the Nisga'a people to develop a stewardship of the land and it allows them to develop resource based management from which all Canadians will learn.

The Nisga'a agreement is within the Canadian constitution. It burns me to hear Reform members spreading information again and again that somehow the agreement is illegal.

Earlier today we again heard the member for Skeena say that the Nisga'a final agreement is legislated segregation. In fact the member went on to equate legislated segregation with apartheid. This is really disgusting. I feel that it displays an astounding arrogance.

The member is suggesting to the Nisga'a people that they have accepted a system of apartheid. He has a lot of arrogance to say that after 20 years of negotiation. This agreement is about equality and social justice. This agreement is within the Canadian constitution. I do not know the response to these comments, but to use these terms, to use the word apartheid, to use the term legislated segregation, is a denial of what has really taken place.

We have to ask ourselves why there has been such a vitriolic response. Even today I was still receiving e-mails full of hatred, viciousness, meanness and racial overtones. I ask myself where this information is coming from. We have to admit, unfortunately, that some of the information comes from the media, which has bought into certain arguments of the Reform Party and its cohort in British Columbia, the B.C. Liberal Party. These messages have been repeated over and over until the people have begun to believe them.

Within the media there has also been some very reasoned, thoughtful and reflective debate which has tried to present the agreement as something that can be examined. Yes, there are some criticisms and there are some issues. This is not a perfect document. We should acknowledge that in the sea of misinformation and a campaign full of misrepresentation and divisiveness some members of the media have tried to ensure that there was a balanced debate.

Today we heard the member for Skeena say that the Reform Party was trying to shed light on the Nisga'a final agreement. What does that mean? I came to the conclusion that Reform members have not shed any light on the Nisga'a final agreement; they have only shed darkness. That is what has been very upsetting about the process which we have gone through. Misinformation has been peddled to the media and the message has gone out again and again that somehow women's rights will not be upheld, that this is a constitutional amendment through the back door, that it will be taxation without representation, that it will be legislated separation, that it will be apartheid, and on and on it goes. That is not shedding light; that is conducting a campaign of fear.

When are Reform members going to stop putting out information that is incorrect, information that is designed to divide people and exploit people's fears about change and about what is taking place? From that point of view, it has been a process that has in some ways brought out the best in terms of public debate and certainly has been a model of what negotiation should be about. However, it has also been a public process, regrettably, that has brought out the worst in some people and the worst in some members of the House.

I have supported this agreement from the beginning. I have to say that the Nass Valley is many hundreds of miles from my riding of Vancouver East. I do not have a direct physical connection with that part of British Columbia. However, I feel that there is a very significant link between what happens in the Nass Valley to the Nisga'a people and what happens in my riding of Vancouver East. My riding also contains a very large population of urban aboriginal people. As we know, something like 60% of aboriginal people live off reserve because they have been oppressed by the system, by the way we have conducted affairs through the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development.

This agreement provides a way to open up a new door. It is a way for government to sit down in equal partnership with aboriginal people and say that it is going to change the way it does business, that it will be on the basis of equality and that it will be on the basis of justice.

I support the Nisga'a final agreement. To me it is a step forward. However, it is not the end of the road. In some ways it is only the beginning. I am not saying that the agreement is a “one size fits all” for all of B.C. or all of Canada. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The process is important. The process that was conducted needs to be repeated in terms of arriving at negotiated settlements; not conflict and litigation through the courts, such as we have seen on our east coast.

Taking that step forward is a sign of hope. It is a sign that federal representatives, provincial representatives and aboriginal representatives can sit down, work out very complex issues and arrive at something with which we can all live. I hope that we continue along that path. I hope too that we recognize that urban aboriginal people are also in great distress and that their issues need to be addressed.

I ask the government to consider that. We had the royal commission on aboriginal affairs. I do not know how much dust the report is collecting, but it is a job that we need to get on with. There are people in my riding who are literally dying on the street. There are people who are suffering from addiction. There are people who are living in substandard housing. There are people who are living far below the poverty line and are struggling to survive each and every day. It takes a lot of courage and survival skills to do that.

It is important that we see this agreement as a step in a process, a step along the road in dealing as well with those other issues that are very important.

When the member for Skeena concluded his remarks he said that the Nisga'a final agreement was not a good deal for the Nisga'a people. I thought about that. I assume that the member believed what he said, that it is not a good deal for the Nisga'a people. We have to be very careful about the kinds of conclusions we come to.

This is not something that was put together over a few days. This is not something that was prepared by the federal government, the department or the provincial government, which then said “Take it or leave it”. This was a process in which an agreement was negotiated. It was the Nisga'a people themselves, their leadership and the members of that community, who finally at the end of the day decided that this was a good deal. Maybe it is not all they had hoped for. They made many compromises, but it is an agreement they can live with and an agreement they can build their lives with. It is an agreement they can pass on to their children and say that they did the right thing, that they are building and creating their future.

The member for Skeena is dead wrong when he says that it is not a good deal for the Nisga'a people. He needs to go into that community and talk to people. He will find out that it was approved by a very large majority. History will show us 10 or 20 years from now that this was the right way to do something, that it was far preferable to conflict in a legal sense and in a political sense.

I am very proud today that I and all of our members in the federal caucus are supporting this agreement. There has been a lot of stuff out in the media. We have all had responses from some people, but at the end of the day it is important to stand up and do the right thing. The right thing here is to support the agreement, say that it is a step forward and that it is the right step forward.

Nisga'A Final Agreement Act
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Reform

Leon Benoit Lakeland, AB

Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The member for Wentworth—Burlington and I have agreed to exchange positions on the order of precedence for my motion, Motion No. 20 and Bill C-206 effective for private members' hour tomorrow.

However, to do so I have to seek the unanimous consent of the House to waive the 48 hour notice pertaining to such exchanges and replace it with a 24 hour notice. In the spirit of non-partisanship, we would like to ask for the unanimous consent of the House to make this exchange. I would request that all parties put partisan politics aside and, since this is Private Members' Business, grant unanimous consent.

Nisga'A Final Agreement Act
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

Is there unanimous consent to proceed in such a way?

Nisga'A Final Agreement Act
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Nisga'A Final Agreement Act
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

An hon. member

No.

Nisga'A Final Agreement Act
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Reform

Mike Scott Skeena, BC

Madam Speaker, since the member in her intervention repeatedly referred to me and things I have said not only today but earlier on—actually I have been involved in this issue for five and a half years—I feel it appropriate that I respond.

I must point out to the House and to anybody who might be watching out there that the member did exactly what I predicted she would do. She slags anybody who disagrees not on the basis of the issue or not on the basis of the substance of the treaty but on the basis that we somehow have dark motives, that we are somehow people of lower moral character because we do not agree with the government's policy direction. That is the first thing I predicted would happen.

She admitted in her intervention that the agreement is flawed but did not talk at all about what the flaws are in the agreement. She totally discounted the expert advice we received from constitutional legal experts, such as Mel Smith, Professor Stephen Scott, Professor Tom Flanagan and a host of others. She glossed right over that and said that irrespective of what these people have told us as parliamentarians that she is right, that somehow she has elevated herself to be a constitutional expert and an expert on the charter of rights because she says so and that is just the way it is.

I will ask the member a legitimate question. If she is so sure that this is not an extra-constitutional document, that this document does not violate the constitution, which is the subject of two separate legal challenges in British Columbia, that the charter of rights and freedoms applies and that the charter of rights of the Nisga'a people will not be diminished under this agreement, why would she and her party not support the one amendment we wanted last week above all other amendments, the amendment to guarantee that the Constitution of Canada and the charter of rights and freedoms would apply and that the self-government provisions in chapter 11 would not be constitutionally entrenched? Why did she not support the one amendment that would have guaranteed a higher likelihood of the charter applying and a lower likelihood of this being seen as a back door amending of the constitution?

Why was she and her party not prepared to support that one amendment? Of all the other defects and flaws in the treaty, that was the one we wanted. We are not happy with many of the other defects, but that was one that we felt was important to have so that if there are any problems in the future, and we know there will be problems, they can be fixed. Why was she not prepared to do that?

Nisga'A Final Agreement Act
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Madam Speaker, I will agree with the member for Skeena on one thing: I am not a constitutional expert, just as he is not a constitutional expert. I, like other members, rely on all of the opinions that come before us, from the committee as well as information we receive.

I would be very surprised if there was any legal issue in Canada where we could find a whole bunch of lawyers all agreeing on the same thing. Of course there were other opinions, but we have to look at the overall body of evidence. Surely that is what we do as parliamentarians. We look at the history of our country and come to a rational, reasonable conclusion as to whether or not something is right in terms of the constitution. A vast majority of the members in the House, in fact four of the political parties present, came to that conclusion because it was logical and reasonable.

The Reform Party can of course find someone who will disagree with that, but the overwhelming evidence and opinion in the country is that the Nisga'a agreement is perfectly within the Canadian constitution.

I do not think I ever said that the agreement was flawed. I said it was not perfect. Is anything perfect? Is anything in the House perfect? I do not think so, but it is a pretty good document. When we go through it and think of what it took to get to that point, it is as near to perfect as anything can get when there is that kind of process. It is not a flawed document. I wish the member would not misrepresent what I said.

In terms of the amendments that came forward, we went through that charade for many hours? There has been a lot of debate in the House. It is clear that we make up our own minds about what we think is right or whether or not something is constitutional. I can inform the member that the members of the NDP believe very strongly and firmly that the agreement is within the constitution. We therefore did not see the need for any further amendments. It is abundantly clear as it stands now. I wish the member could understand that.

Nisga'A Final Agreement Act
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Liberal

Sue Barnes London West, ON

Madam Speaker, because of all the shenanigans that have gone on in the House over the last number of days, it is likely that as chair of the committee I will not get an opportunity to speak.

I will take this opportunity, having listened to the comments from the member opposite, to say how much I agree with them in most parts. I also thank not only the member's party and her personally for her work on this file, but members from the Bloc, members from the Conservative Party, members from our own party and all the people who worked very patiently and hard. I also second the fact that because negotiations took place over many, many years, a historical context surrounds this agreement that will long outlive noise and confusion.

I am very happy to be part of a real process that will change history in the country. I thank the hon. member for giving voice to some of the sentiments that many of us hold.

Nisga'A Final Agreement Act
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Madam Speaker, I thank the hon. member for her kind comments. We do not always agree with the Liberal members but I think on this issue we see eye to eye. The member chaired the committee in some very difficult hearings. I was only present at some of them, but in other hearings it was very difficult to keep a sense of order and balance with the opposition that came forward. The member did an excellent job in chairing those meetings.

In the committee meetings I attended, I thought the discussions, questions and debates were of an excellent nature. It was the best of what we can expect in terms of parliamentarians doing their work. They listened to the criticisms. There were criticisms as there is on everything. The thoughtful responses and the questions that were provided were very important. Unfortunately, I do not think that was true of the Reform Party which played a very different kind of game. It was executing a political agenda. Fortunately, at the end of the day, it did not managed to get that through and this agreement will be approved and the work of the committee and the members in the House will see that is done. That is a good thing.

Points Of Order
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

Reform

John Williams St. Albert, AB

Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order with regard to the appropriation bill that will be considered later this day in the House. I will first refer you to subclause 3(2) of the act which states that “the provision of each item in schedules 1 and 2 are deemed to have been enacted by parliament on April 1, 1999”.

However on page 3 of the bill at subclause 6(2) it states:

Notwithstanding any other provision of this Act, amounts appropriated by this Act and set out in terms of Schedule 2 may be paid and applied at any time on or before March 31, 2001, so long as every payment is charged first against the relevant amount appropriated under any Act that is earliest in time until that amount is exhausted, next against the relevant amount appropriated under any other Act, including this Act, that is next in time until that amount is exhausted and so on, and the balance of amounts so appropriated by this Act that have not been charged, subject to the adjustments referred to in section 37 of the Financial Administration Act, lapse at the end of the fiscal year following the fiscal year ending March 31, 2000.

Madam Speaker, as you can see, subclause 6(2)—

Points Of Order
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

I have to advise the hon. member that maybe it would be more opportune for him to bring this point of order later on today when the question is before the House. At this point I do not think it is a good time to do it.

Points Of Order
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

Reform

John Williams St. Albert, AB

Madam Speaker, there are many times when it is not appropriate to bring a point of order from the Chair's point of view, but it is a point of order that has to be raised. It may require some research, at which time the Speaker may require some additional time prior to the ruling. The voting will be later on tonight and once the bells start to ring there will be no opportunity to rise on a point of order and give the Speaker time to research. Therefore, I think it is appropriate that you hear it and hear it now.