House of Commons Hansard #148 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was provinces.

Topics

Specific Claims Resolution Act
Government Orders

10:05 a.m.

Vaughan—King—Aurora
Ontario

Liberal

Maurizio Bevilacqua for the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

moved the second reading of, and concurrence in, amendments made by the Senate to Bill C-6, an act to establish the Canadian Centre for the Independent Resolution of First Nations Specific Claims to provide for the filing, negotiation and resolution of specific claims and to make related amendments to other acts.

Specific Claims Resolution Act
Government Orders

10:05 a.m.

Miramichi
New Brunswick

Liberal

Charles Hubbard Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-6, the specific claims resolution act. It is one of the initiatives the government is bringing forward aimed at putting the tools of self-sufficiency into the hands of first nations enabling them to play a fuller part in the life of this country.

The specific claims resolution act proposed is a cornerstone of the government's overall strategy to have a new system to resolve specific claims that will be more efficient and effective than the process we now have.

As this proposed legislation made its way through the parliamentary process we heard from various first nations and first nations organizations express their concerns and perspectives. The Senate, in hearing these concerns, has put forward a number of important amendments to Bill C-6 that would directly address the concerns of first nations and render a better piece of legislation. This should give first nations the confidence to use the new claims resolution centre as outlined in the legislation.

It is comforting to see that the parliamentary process has worked and is responsive to the concerns of first nations and that better legislation is derived from the cooperative efforts of all stakeholders and parliamentarians in the House and Senate.

With respect to the proposal now before us, we have heard that the current specific claims process could be improved to make it more efficient and effective, and to avoid costly and slow litigation in the courts. Every dollar wasted in court is a dollar less for investment in economic development, governance, and real bread and butter issues facing aboriginal people.

With the current claims process, we are only able to settle a few claims each year. At this rate, we would have to leave it to our children to clear away the existing number of claims that are on inventory, and that inventory is growing each day.

The new centre that Bill C-6 would put in place under this proposal would be called the claims resolution centre. It would consist of a chief executive officer who would be responsible for the day to day administrative affairs, a commission to facilitate negotiations, and a tribunal with the authority to make binding decisions. This would greatly speed up the process in a much more cooperative atmosphere than in a courtroom. In an atmosphere of cooperation, I am sure the centre would play a very important role in helping us bring this new system forward.

It is important to be clear about what kind of claims the new centre would deal with. Its authority would cover a variety of claims that relate to Canada's management of first nations land and other assets. It would not deal with comprehensive land claims, which are based on the concept of continuing aboriginal rights and title, and which have not been dealt with by treaty or other legal means. There is a separate policy and negotiation process designed to find resolution to those types of claims.

To refresh our memories, this new legislation was arrived at through extensive input from first nations. That led to the recommendations from a joint task force concerning the need for an independent claims commission. The fact that we are here today looking at this legislation demonstrates that the work of the joint task force was for the most part successful.

The Senate committee heard from numerous witnesses concerning the bill. One of the concerns that was repeatedly put forward was the jurisdictional authority placed on the tribunal.

As originally proposed, the legislation set the jurisdictional limit on the tribunal at $7 million on awards for claims resolved under the new system. Following extensive consultations and presentations before the Senate committee, an amendment was proposed, and is now before this House, to increase the tribunal authority to a maximum limit of $10 million.

We are confident that this new ceiling is a realistic one and meets the needs of first nations. As we have heard, most of the claims currently before the Government of Canada would be dispensed with under this new increased amount. In fact, as of March 31, 2002, the average specific claim settlement was some $5.6 million.

We have heard from those who say that there should be no ceiling at all. We wish there could be an unlimited budget. But again, in the interests of our country, our spending priorities and all, there must be a maximum amount set.

Another important element from first nations that we heard in the Senate hearings were concerns regarding the appointment process for the chief executive officer, the commissioners and adjudicators of the proposed new body. We listened to these concerns and have proposed an amendment that would give first nations a greater opportunity to make representations with respect to appointments and to be more actively involved in the review process. We also proposed to confirm post-employment conflict of interest rules.

Another important change that the Senate has recommended to the current proposal would deal with increased subpoena powers of the tribunal, thus giving greater credence to the independence and fairness of this quasi-judicial body.

Much work has been done in the drafting of this bill and it would appear that we are getting some improved legislation back from our Senate colleagues. As I said, this is very important because a key aspect of how it will work is a built-in regime of reporting requirements and mechanisms to allow us to fine-tune the practical applications of the new system. For that reason, I will sketch out a few of these important developments.

Accounts and financial transactions of the centre would be audited annually by the Auditor General. A report on the work of the centre, including the Auditor General's audit, would be submitted to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development after each fiscal year. This report would be tabled in the House of Commons and the Senate, and made available to first nations and public scrutiny.

Quarterly reports to the minister concerning compensation paid respecting resolved specific claims would be required under the act and a requirement for review of the entire process is built in and would take place between three and five years after the legislation came into effect.

A report on the review, to include any recommendations for changes to the legislation or functions, powers or duties of the chief executive officer, and the commissioners and adjudicators would also be submitted to Parliament.

These are extensive mechanisms that can help us make the new system work better. If not perfect, it certainly is a major step in the right direction. But until the system is running, we will not know what needs to be fixed.

It has been a long road to get here. The bill came before this House last year. It has gone to the Senate and is back now for its final approval. As a government, we pledged to have a system in place to resolve first nations claims in a way that would be accountable, transparent and impartial. We want to have a system that would level the playing field for negotiation and would resolve claims more quickly and efficiently. This will allow aboriginal people to get on with their lives with enhanced opportunities for economic development in a climate of certainty.

With this act in place, we would finally be able to leave behind a process that has frustrated many first nations communities and other stakeholders. We will begin a new direction that will give first nations a more fair and efficient means to settle their long outstanding grievances and begin dealing with their affairs in a more prosperous way as full participants in this great nation of ours.

Specific Claims Resolution Act
Government Orders

10:15 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Maurice Vellacott Saskatoon—Wanuskewin, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am rising to speak to Bill C-6, an act to establish the Canadian Centre for the Independent Resolution of First Nations Specific Claims to provide for the filing, negotiation and resolution of specific claims and to make related amendments to other acts.

This means that the bill before us today is designed to set up a permanent centre to evaluate specific claims brought against the federal government by first nations across our country. An Indian claims commission already exists, as most of us are aware, but it was put in place some 12 years ago, back in 1991, as a temporary measure, just like our taxation and many other things. It has lasted this long and now there is an attempt to put something together in a different fashion. This proposed centre for resolving first nations specific claims is supposed to replace that temporary commission of some 12 years ago.

For the most part, as my colleague across the way mentioned, specific claims deal with outstanding grievances that first nations have regarding Canada's fulfillment of its obligations under historic treaties or its administration of first nations lands or other assets under the Indian Act. That of course is in contrast to more comprehensive claims, substantial land claim treaties such as Nisga'a and Delgamuukw, which have been debated at length in the House over the last number of years. There is a difference with these claims in the fact that they are outstanding grievances in terms of their reserve lands not being handled by or being sold off by an Indian agent with funds being pocketed by that individual, or other things of that nature.

The House has already considered the bill, but now the Senate has sent it back to us and is reporting suggested amendments. The Senate examined Bill C-6 and found it to be unsatisfactory as it was written. Most of us on the aboriginal affairs committee had some sense that there were some major concerns around some things and probably some flaws in the bill. It comes as no surprise to those of us who served on that committee that the bill has come back from the Senate with some suggested amendments, but we do not think they go far enough.

In what was often a very passionate debate in the other place, both Liberal and Progressive Conservative senators condemned the legislation. They even tried to kill it with a hoist amendment. These senators observed all of the most serious flaws in the bill, which had already been noted by members within the committee, by myself and, in the House, by the Canadian Alliance before the bill went to the Senate.

As a result, after its scrutiny and examination, the Senate has proposed several amendments to try to improve the bill, as was mentioned by my colleague across the way. We think there is some partial merit to them. That would be faint praise, I suppose, in support of these amendments, because they go only a small way in an attempt to mitigate or improve the worst aspects of the bill. Unfortunately they do not go far enough, so we continue to oppose the bill itself.

In the Senate, a hoist amendment was introduced during third reading debate after the amendments had been tabled by the Senate's aboriginal peoples committee. We can see, then, from the public record that even with these amendments, this particular bill still generated strong opposition. In fact, the bill generated much more debate than the government expected, so the Liberals resorted to the use of a time allocation motion to terminate debate.

We have become quite familiar with that anti-democratic tool in this place. It has become a very popular weapon in the hands of governments and of this government in terms of using closure an unprecedented number of times, but for the record and for the viewing audience, it is rarely used in the other place. It is rather uncharacteristic to use closure in the Senate.

The disgust expressed against the government for stooping to such tactics in that place came not just from the opposition members in the Senate but also from Liberal senators. That is another experience that we in this House are unfamiliar with, as often protest or outrage is not expressed by members on the government side when closure is being used in the House of Commons.

My point in recounting some of these events that happened in the other place is to demonstrate that the Canadian Alliance is joined by many others of different political and cultural persuasions in our opposition to this government bill. That opposition to Bill C-6 is across party lines, across cultural lines and from aboriginals and non-aboriginals.

To show how obstinate the government is, it bulldozes forward with this agenda in the face of widespread, reasoned opposition. I believe it is another example of how the government has not been listening as it should. Maybe the majority it has in the House is far too large. Maybe there is too big a gap and it needs to have its feet held to the fire a little more.

In committee, we had some very reasonable amendments that were dismissed and summarily swept aside. That does not sit well with members of a committee who carefully thought through these things, had discussions and listened to the testimony and so on only to have it just simply batted aside as being of no account, with the bureaucrats and the department saying that they knew what was best and they were just going to ram this thing through come hell or high water, that it did not matter what we on the committee said.

A government that gets to the point where it figures it has all the answers and is arrogant and unresponsive to the needs and circumstances of real people is a government that will not be bringing forward the kind of legislation we need. Its legislation will be badly flawed and marred. To say that it will be imperfect is an understatement.

As a result, a lot of the House's time is wasted on badly drafted legislation that does not suit the purposes, has a cosmetic and very superficial effect and is not for the good of the individuals directly affected by the bill.

Initially I was prepared to say I was pleased that some amendments have been made to the bill and that the minister has condescended to accept them, but I am not even sure that I am pleased with this situation. A couple of the amendments might have some consequential impact, one might say, on the specifics claims process. I will come to that in a moment.

We believe that others, like increasing the tribunal cap from $7 million to $10 million, are little more than tokenism in terms of the real substance of the issues involved in this particular bill. That increase from $7 million to $10 million came by way of the Senate report to the House, by the way.

It has been some time since this bill has been before us, seven months to be exact, so I want to remind the House of what Bill C-6 proposes to do in establishing a specific claims process. Then I want to go on to discuss some of those Senate amendments and how they relate to the concerns we and others in the committee process have raised about Bill C-6.

Bill C-6 would set up a claims resolution centre made up of a commission and a tribunal. A first nation could file a claim with the commission. If it were to meet the terms of an “admissible claim” for the purposes of the commission, the claim would then be submitted to the Minister of Indian Affairs for his consideration. The commission would then convene preparatory meetings to help the claimant present its case to the minister. Upon completion of this phase of the process, the commission must suspend proceedings until it receives a written response from the minister as to whether or not he will even consider to negotiate the claim.

One of the major flaws in this is the fact that the minister is not given a deadline of any kind with respect to making his decision. I think there might even be an admission from the government in its heart of hearts that this is a problem; in a quieter moment, off to the side, not in this more contentious atmosphere, this more partisan place, I think there might be an admission. It is a major problem. It is a recipe for stonewalling, for obfuscation and for never getting back. It is really very unfair.

In a court of law process or in any other kind of procedure across the country one would assume that at some point there must be deadlines. They might be protracted and extracted and long, but there must be some kind of deadlines. None of that is here for the minister and we think there is very major problem with that. It is not justice. It is not even the norm in respect to other contexts in our country.

If the minister were to decide not to negotiate the claim, the commission would sit down with both parties in an attempt to help them resolve the question of the validity of the claim, using alternative dispute resolution mechanisms. If that process did not work, then the claimant could request that the case be sent to the tribunal, but only if the amount of the claim did not exceed $7 million, or $10 million if the House accepts the Senate amendment to that effect.

If the tribunal were to decide that a claim was valid or, if at the earlier stage in the process the minister were to decide that he would negotiate the claim, the commission would then have to try to help those two parties arrive at an agreeable amount of compensation.

Again, if the compensation question could not be resolved by the commission, the claimant could then make an appeal for the tribunal to hear the case, but only if the compensation being demanded by the claimant--and this is the kicker--did not exceed, in the case of the Senate amendment, $10 million. The tribunal then has the power to make a binding decision after it has heard the case. The government, however, can request a judicial review of the tribunal's decision.

The goal behind this bill, or at least what we are told is the goal behind this bill, is to expedite the process of resolving specific claims. Between 1970 and March of last year, Indian bands across the country had filed 1,146 claims. Only 232 had been settled. That backlog is terrible and it is only getting worse. It is not diminishing, with both the government and first nations, I would have to say, becoming increasingly frustrated with the current system.

Unfortunately, as I made mention of earlier, Bill C-6 is not the legislation that we need to solve the problem. In fact, the mechanisms proposed are likely to make matters worse. Liberal senators were very forthright, more forthright than government members in the House, when it came to acknowledging the imperfections in this particular bill, but those commissioned to push this bill forward essentially said that it is better to pass a bad law than no law at all.

I do not think I have ever known people as passionately committed to mediocrity as those in the current government, which says that it is better to get bad bills through than no bills at all. I do not buy that and I do not think a lot of the public does, because it then creates messes that have to be cleaned up thereafter.

Liberal Senator Anne Cools put it very well during debate in the Senate when she stated:

Honourable senators, I want you to know that we sit here again and again and feel compelled and driven by governments to pass bad bills or insufficient bills or inadequate bills.

I want to repeat that because I think it bears repeating. Senator Anne Cools, who is a Liberal senator, stated:

Honourable senators, I want you to know that we sit here again and again and feel compelled and driven by governments to pass bad bills or insufficient bills or inadequate bills.

Rarely if ever is it appropriate, in my view, to pass a bad bill rather than no bill at all. Even aboriginal people, those whom the government claims it is helping by implementing this legislation, are telling the government that it is better to fix this bill than to pass it in its current form. That is the message the government has heard from the Assembly of First Nations as well as many individual bands. That is also the message the government heard from three of Canada's five aboriginal senators, all of whom are government members, as well as from Senator Gerry St. Germain, a Canadian Alliance senator who counts Métis as part of his ancestral heritage.

The Hon. Charlie Watt from Quebec, one of Canada's aboriginal senators, in reference to urging from the government to pass Bill C-6 as it began to turn up the heat and tighten the screws, stated this with regard to Senator Austin saying that action is needed now:

Maybe action is needed now, but is this the right instrument that we are providing to the aboriginal people? Will it advance the rights of the people? I don't think so

The Hon. Aurélien Gill, another aboriginal senator, made similar comments, stating that:

It became clear in committee that National Chief Phil Fontaine [the new head of the Assembly of First Nations] is urging the government not to pass this bill, but rather to discuss it further. Peter Hutchins, an expert, told us: “Wait, take your time; there are some major issues in this bill”.

The fact that the Senate sent Bill C-6 back to the House with amendments is actually a good thing. It gives us one last chance, one might say, to fix it properly before the government passes this particular piece of legislation. The House can accept the Senate's amendments or reject them or amend them. The government is recommending that we just simply accept those recommendations and breeze on through, but my party and I do not believe that is the right solution. Rather, this House should amend those Senate amendments, strengthening them even further and adding to them before sending the bill to the other place and before sending the bill to the Governor General for royal assent.

Let us take a few minutes to look at some of the specific amendments proposed by the Senate. One of those amendments would raise the cap for cases that can be heard by the tribunal from $7 million to $10 million. This deals with clause 56 of the bill. This cap is the maximum award that the new claims centre is permitted to authorize for any single claim.

In light of the figures we are dealing with when it comes to specific claims, increasing the cap from $7 million to $10 million is ridiculous. It is almost not worth the effort. We proposed in committee a cap of some $25 million.

If there is validity to the claim, and if they do not deal with some of the railway claims in B.C. and so on, then on average they are more than this. We think it is cosmetic, it is superficial, it is just on the surface and really not about the business of getting a better result for things here.

The Minister for Indian Affairs and Northern Development has claimed that the $7 million cap has been set high enough to conclude most specific claims. At least that was the argument made at the earlier stage in committee when we had it before the House. Yet in a footnote to its legal analysis of Bill C-6, the Assembly of First Nations notes that AFN technicians have been informed by Miss Kathleen Lickers, commission counsel for the Indian Claims Commission, that of the 120 claims the ICC has dealt with, only three have been settled for less than $7 million. The AFN analysis adds that in the past three years, from 2000 to 2003, 8 of the 14 claims paid out by the federal government were for amounts about $7 million.

The Assembly of First Nations acknowledges:

It is true that in the earlier period from 1990-91 through 1999-2000, a majority of payouts actually were for less than $7 million; but there is no reason to believe that this earlier record of relatively low settlements can be projected forward.

Some of these, as I said, reflected claims regarding railway land, and it was all small stuff. However, we could add up the numbers and say that we go through ICC a lot of claims, when in fact it is all small potatoes and there really is not a lot of stuff in dispute.

There is no reason to believe that this earlier record of relatively low settlements can be projected forward into the future. There was likely bias in the system for settling smaller claims, and without reports to an independent tribunal, first nations were in a very weak bargaining position.

Interest on the value of claims will also increase their value through time. If inflation is worked into it, then we have problems that are not taken into account by the cap, even in the amended cap that the Senate has suggested.

I have heard recommendations from first nations representatives calling, as a bare minimum, for an increase to the cap to anywhere from $14 million to $30 million, to enable the centre to hear the majority of current claims.

I introduced an amendment when this bill was being studied by the aboriginal affairs committee to increase the cap to $25 million. I thought it was a reasonable one. After all, this is about getting it out of the very expensive, drawn out court system for the government. These people do not work for nothing and lawyers bill on a pretty good rate per hour. It is costing our taxpayers a considerable amount of money.

If we can get the right mechanism and the right kind of a claims centre together, such that there is a perception of independence, then we can save taxpayers a considerable amount of money. We will actually do service to the aboriginal peoples as well.

Some people might be concerned that making the cap higher is fiscally irresponsible because it will commit the government to greater fiscal obligations than would be the case with a lower cap, but really that is not the case. The government has dealt separately with the question of how much money is available annually. It is a different issue. It has already set an amount. It has already indicated what is available annually to distribute to the claimants who have won their cases.

As well, the claim centre does not increase the number of claims before the government. It simply provides an alternative process for hearing them. Whether they were heard in the courts or resolved through this commission and tribunal, if the judges or adjudicators found in favour of a claimant, the government would be obligated to settle in either case.

Cases take longer and cost more when dragged through the courts, having the effect of delaying the time when a final decision is brought down and also postpones the date at which the government is required to pay out a claim for a decision made in favour of the claimant. Therefore, the imposition of a cap on the tribunal looks more like a strategic stalling tactic by the government rather than as an example of fiscal prudence, and I think members have commented on that.

I would think independent objective observers would say this is a recipe for disaster, a recipe for stalling by the government. The imposition of a cap complicates things and undermines the great thing we are trying to achieve by way of an expedited process.

The cap also looks like a stalling mechanism when examined from another perspective. The minister of Indian affairs has tried to play down the significance of the cap by noting that it only applies to the tribunal and not to the commission. In other words, it will only be applicable for screening out claims that cannot be resolved by the commission and therefore might be brought before the tribunal for a binding decision.

I thought I had unlimited time, Mr. Speaker, with respect to this matter.

Specific Claims Resolution Act
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

As a matter of fact not that long ago, through the modernization committee, we made some rule changes that in fact allow during the first round of debate each member to have 20 minutes plus 10 minutes of questions or comments. I would simply remind the hon. member that he has approximately one minute remaining.

Specific Claims Resolution Act
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Maurice Vellacott Saskatoon—Wanuskewin, SK

Mr. Speaker, are you sure that applies in respect to the first opposition speaker of the day?

Specific Claims Resolution Act
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The member may remember that the former practice used to be that the first three members had 40 minutes, notwithstanding that the Prime Minister or the leader of the official opposition had unlimited time. The practice has been changed. Each member in the first round, including the government party and the four opposition parties, has 20 minutes plus 10 minutes of questions and comments. These are the new rules that have been put in place.

Specific Claims Resolution Act
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Bloc

Yvan Loubier Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Mr. Speaker, in today's Projected Order of Business I see that the mover of the motion has unlimited time for speaking—that is fine, since it is the parliamentary secretary—as does the first member replying immediately thereafter.

The first member replying is my colleague from the Alliance, and according to the Projected Order of Business, his time is unlimited.

Specific Claims Resolution Act
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Indeed, the hon. member for Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot is absolutely right. I am wrong, and I apologize.

The hon. member is correct in his assumption because this is a motion and not the normal bill process. The hon. member for Saskatoon--Wanuskewin has unlimited time. I apologize to him and to the entire House for not having been correct in my first intervention.

Specific Claims Resolution Act
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Maurice Vellacott Saskatoon—Wanuskewin, SK

Mr. Speaker, thank you for your admission and concession. I appreciate the rules of the House and your diligent application of them in fairness to all of us.

As I was saying, cases take longer when they are dragged through the courts to no end. They have the effect of delaying the time when a final decision is brought down, postponing the time at which the government is required to pay out the claim for decision made in favour of the claimant.

We believe this kind of strategic stalling by the government is not an example of fiscal prudence. I am a fiscal conservative and I think taxpayer dollars have to be watched carefully and closely. When we drag it out through the court system, which is the other route to go, it serves no one. In fact it is very negative in terms of getting disputes resolved in a very difficult area.

Surely, the minister understands that this cap gives government officials much greater leverage for claims than is to be expected in the ballpark of $10 million. Let us use an illustration to make the point.

Take a situation in which the claimants believe their claim has a value of $13 million. In this scenario the government refuses to accept the claim and negotiations collapse. The claimants therefore have to decide whether to lower their demand to only $10 million in order to proceed to the tribunal or to insist on their demands for the full amount. In this case the claimants have to start from scratch all over again in the court system, drag it out to no end and add a great length of time. That is even if the band has the funds necessary to launch a court case.

This illustration demonstrates how the existence of a cap, and such a low cap at that, can greatly benefit the government victimizing the claimants all over again. In some of these cases it is quite heart-rending to read of how Indian agents took advantage of a first nation and pocketed the money themselves. There was great injustice. The first nations in an earlier time, in a different era, did not have the means to defend themselves and they were victimized. Now they are being victimized all over again.

Does the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development really believe that this kind of policy is helpful in building a culture of trust and mutual respect between the Canadian government and first nations people?

There is another aspect to the cap, and I think it is a trap, that troubles me. It is not addressed by any Senate amendments, but it was discussed as an observation in its report to the House, and it was a topic of debate in the Senate.

The government could deal with the matter if it chose to do so by amending the Senate report that was delivered to us rather than simply accepting the Senate amendments as written. The troubling aspect of the cap revolves around the fact that Bill C-6 requires a claim to be heard twice by the commission and by the tribunal if the claim cannot be resolved through the commission.

It first has to go through a validity phase which is designed to determine the validity of the claim. After that claim is deemed valid, if the government decides to negotiate it or if the tribunal rules that the government must negotiate it, the claim then has to go through a similar process to determine compensation.

What is astonishing to me is that $7 million, or if we take the Senate recommendation to amend it to $10 million, that cap, whatever it is, applies to both stages. In other words, just to have the tribunal determine the validity of a claim prior to any consideration of the value of compensation that might be determined through compensation related negotiations, the claimant is then expected to waive the right to a payout higher than $10 million.

There is absolutely no good reason why the potential value of a claim should have any bearing on the right of the tribunal to consider it for the purpose of determining its validity. That is another question. The validity and compensation amount are so interwoven, so inseparable that I think it does hurt the process.

Requiring a cap at the validity stage of the process greatly weakens the potential usefulness of the proposed claim centre. Since the bill clearly separates these two parts of the process, it should be relatively easy, we would think, to eliminate the cap requirement for the validity stage. Is it valid or is it not? Let us not get into the issue of the compensation at that point, but is it a valid claim?

In committee the Canadian Alliance introduced an amendment that would have done that but, unfortunately, there was no intelligent discussion of the amendment nor any give and take. There might have even been some adjustment on our part to hear some wisdom in respect to that, but it was just summarily swept aside.

In the Senate, the hon. Nick Sibbeston, an aboriginal senator who was supporting the bill, indicated that this matter was raised with the government by the Senate committee examining the bill. According to Senator Sibbeston, the response the committee received was to this effect. He said:

--the government sees the situation as putting a system in place. No one is perfectly sure how it all will work--

I admit that because that is the way it is with most bills. He goes on to state:

--and it wants to see how the system works before it makes more improvements.

The last part is the telling part. The government will use this as a guinea pig, a trial and error kind of system, not having any sense of the degree to which it will be effective and how it will work before it makes more improvements.

What kind of answer is that for the government to say that it is the government and therefore it will give it a shot. It will simply see what kind of mistakes there are, what kinds of messes are left and then it might take a look at it later. I do not know if this is too strong a word but I think it is a bit of arrogance when that attitude is taken and it oozes from the remarks in that statement.

What is wrong with the government in this respect? Has it lost its ability to think clearly and seriously consider reasoned amendments from others around the House? All wisdom does not reside in any one party. It does not reside on the government side or any party on this side. I would be the first to admit that but why does the government have to assume that it is all on its benches?

Has it lost any interest in developing effective, responsible, workable legislation? That is the role of members in this place. The role of the opposition is to constructively and positively go after these things and try to get a better piece of legislation and a better result.

If the government cannot defend an aspect of its legislation, but only say that it will try it out and see what kinds of messes and problems we have, what on earth is it doing here? If it does not have a reasonably good sense or projection that it will work, and that is the only response when questioned in respect to the perceived flaws in the bill, then what is going on in this place?

I want to read into the record the brief statement that the Senate made on this aspect of the bill because its observations following committee hearings are very instructive. It states:

The Committee frequently heard, both from First Nations and neutral observers, that the requirement for claimants to waive their rights to compensation above the specified cap (as set out in Section 32) in order to obtain a Tribunal ruling on the validity of their claim was the single most significant flaw with the Bill. The government expressed concern that removing this requirement would pose undue and unpredictable financial risk and might imbalance the overall operations of the Commission and Tribunal. Given the safeguards built into the legislation (Section 71), this seems to reflect an excessive concern with risk aversion.

That comes right out of the brief statement that the Senate made on this particular aspect of the bill. Those are not my words. Those are not the words of a possibly perceived partisan individual. Those words come from the Senate's report on this aspect of the bill. It says that it is the single most significant flaw in the bill. Those were not the words of the Assembly of First Nations, a member from the opposition side, some other native group nor somebody with a bigger axe to grind. The senators are telling the government that imposing the cap at both stages of the claims resolution process seems to reflect an excessive concern with risk aversion.

Let me continue from the Senate report. It states:

We are concerned that the financial cap on validity will create two categories of claims within the system and could create a significant impediment to the settlement of larger claims.

The committee then explains its views by saying that an incremental approach in this area may be better, which is why it recommends including it in the three to five year review of the bill rather than making it an amendment at this time.

I do not see any reason to wait to amend this section of the bill. If all kinds of groups saw it as the single most significant flaw in the bill, the Senate included, then if it remains in the legislation how will it encourage an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect surrounding the specific claims resolution process?

I want to stress that the first nations have indicated that without the potential for a tribunal to issue a binding decision on a claim, the government lacks the incentive to process the claim in an expeditious manner. We can see clearly their lack of confidence in this new system.

The claims centre proposed in Bill C-6 is seen as useless in terms of dealing with claims that are valued higher than the very minimal cap that is being proposed in the bill. If the cap is going to remain in the legislation it should be increased, as we suggested in committee, to at least $25 million and should be removed altogether from the validity stage of the claims process. That is another issue: determining the validity, looking at the evidence, looking at the historical facts and so on to determine the validity of the claim itself.

The Senate also made a couple of amendments that would allow for some input from first nations in the appointment of the commissioners and the adjudicators for the centre, as well as for the agency's chair and for the vice-chair. This amendment affects clause 5, clause 20 and clause 41 of Bill C-6. Specifically, first nations would be able to “make representations in respect of appointments to the office or offices in question”.

In other words, after the Minister of Indian Affairs has made his appointments, first nations representatives can provide input as to their thoughts about the people who have already been appointed. That is about as backward as it can get. It is a process that happens in our country maybe far too often when the PMO appoints individuals and then we have our chance to fire away, but what good does it do after the fact? We would like that in a whole range of things, in respect to judges and some of the other appointments where they are vetted through the appropriate standing committee, before not after.

What good does it do if the appointment is made and then after the fact we get to write letters and e-mails that go in the wrong files? We get to badger away and play it up in the media if they have an interest at that point because it is a done deal.

This is very disrespectful and not at all helpful when we just simply allow them after the fact. It is already a fait accompli and at that point then the first nations representatives can provide input as to their thoughts about the people who have already been appointed. What a useless, senseless thing to do in the bill. What good would it do when the person is appointed and already in place?

This is certainly a far cry from what was proposed in the 1998 joint task force report produced by the government and first nations following several years of discussions. I want to spend some time later reading large sections of that report. The government spent three years negotiating with first nations, the back and forth, the give and take, around the table together. Some rapport, some mutualities and some respect I assume was built up over that time. They spent some three years coming up with a plan for dealing with specific claims.

The report from the joint First Nations-Canada task force on specific claims policy reform reiterated the longstanding recommendation for an independent claims centre, this being a fair bit of writing to which we can look at and refer to in respect to the independence of this bigger claim centre.

The primary mechanism by which it was going to be made independent was by a joint government first nations process for appointing the commissioners and adjudicators. That was in the report. Both parties were to arrive at a list of jointly approved candidates and the government would pick the commissioners and adjudicators from that list. It seems like a fair process. It seems like common sense.

The government, however, has completely abandoned that proposal. In Bill C-6 the government has the exclusive prerogative of appointing the officials and then reappointing them. Others in the peanut gallery can make comments and decry or deride these particular appointments but the government has the exclusive prerogative to increase or reduce the number of commissioners or adjudicators within, of course, the parameters provided by the bill. The Senate amendment does not change that process. Its amendment is nothing more than window dressing.

In response to demands for more first nations participation in the appointment process, government spokesmen object that there is no precedent for the government sharing the responsibility of making appointments, whether we are talking about judges or officials who serve on quasi-judicial tribunals or government boards. They say the government must preserve the final authority over such appointments, including to the specific claims agency.

While it might be true, whether we are talking about judges or other appointments, that there is no kind of precedent in our country, that is unfortunate. There is a precedent in other modern democracies around the world. Our neighbour to the south of us, just beyond the 49th parallel, has a very good process where there is that greater scrutiny, that greater look at individuals coming forth, because their background, their biases, their world view, their perceptions and so on are all pretty significant in terms of how they will handle that job and the degree of objectivity or lack thereof that might be the case. Just because we have never done it that way is not to say that might not be a considerable improvement. As we look at other places around the world where it is already in place, we think it actually allows the public to have a greater say and greater access to the process.

The government is confusing the issue with such an assertion that it has never done it that way before. I do not dispute the government's prerogative to have, and we will even concede, maybe the final say in making appointments, but the proposal recommended in the joint task force report does not take away that prerogative from the government. I still do not understand why the government has refused to implement that very reasonable proposal in Bill C-6.

The joint task force proposal gives the government the final decision on appointments to the specific claims resolution centre but it also gives first nations direct participation in the appointment process. That is a far cry from the paternalistic tokenism reflected in the Senate amendment, not to mention the complete shutting out of aboriginal input that was established in the unamended bill.

When we read the Senate debates on Bill C-6 we will hear critics of Bill C-6 repeatedly raising the question of the independence of the specific claims resolution centre. Defenders of the bill repeatedly assert that the centre was as independent as one could make it in our political system, which is not saying a lot, and in respect of the fiduciary responsibilities the federal government has toward the first nations across the country.

Critics, however, remain unsatisfied with the government's assertions, warning that the centre could not and will not win the trust and the confidence of first nations people.

I do not dispute the point that making this centre independent, not to mention giving it the appearance of independence, is a challenge, admittedly so, but what is clear to me is that the government is not up to that challenge, not at all. It is not even coming close. It is not even attempting to give it the perception of any kind of independence here. The government is not up to the challenge, as would appear in the report from the Senate back to us and the intent of the government as it bulldozes ahead on this particular piece of legislation.

Proposals to help give the centre independence and the important appearance of independence are staring the government in the face from the pages of the joint task force report and the amendments proposed earlier by the Canadian Alliance, yet the government is completely ignoring them.

I will have to wrap it up as time runs out, but I assume that I begin to speak at the point where we resume with Bill C-6 in the future. I have much to say and I am just getting warmed up and getting into this crucial topic.

Confederation Centre of the Arts
Statements By Members

10:55 a.m.

Liberal

Shawn Murphy Hillsborough, PE

Mr. Speaker, earlier this week the Charlottetown Festival was awarded the prestigious title of Event of the Year by the Tourist Industry Association of Canada.

The Charlottetown Festival, sponsored by the Confederation Centre of the Arts, is a staple of Prince Edward Island's tourism industry. Each year it draws visitors from around the world who come to enjoy professional musical theatre and comedy, including the beloved and original production of

Anne of Green Gables.

In addition to this award, earlier this year the Confederation Centre was designated a national historic site, was named top event in Canada by the American Bus Association and received the Premier's Award for Tourism.

The Confederation Centre was founded in 1964 as a memorial to the Fathers of Confederation. Covering an entire city block, the centre showcases the best in Canadian visual and performing arts.

I am sure all members will join me in congratulating David MacKenzie and all the staff of the Confederation Centre for these impressive accomplishments.

Apprenticeship Competition
Statements By Members

11 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Darrel Stinson Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

Mr. Speaker, hats off to two Okanagan University College apprentices. Fourth year automotive service technician apprentice Sterling Logan and third year auto body collision repair apprentice Petr Ivandic, earned gold medals at the provincial competition and went on to receive silver medals at the national skills Canada competition held in Ontario earlier this year.

This is the eighth year in a row that an Okanagan University College trained apprentice has captured top spot in the automotive service technician competition at the provincial level. It is the fourth time in the last four years that a collision repair student has captured the gold medal. The automotive service technician competition was a two day, seven station test of knowledge, skills and aptitude.

Congratulations to Sterling and Petr on a job well done.

Canadian Forces
Statements By Members

October 31st, 2003 / 11 a.m.

Liberal

Sarkis Assadourian Brampton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, the Invisible Ribbon Campaign is a public grassroots demonstration of support for the families of military personnel.

This campaign helps reaffirm pride in the military and lets our men and women in uniform and those closest to them know that Canadians recognize and support their vital contribution to Canada.

The invisible ribbons also underscore that families of military members are as committed to the military way of life as are the personnel who wear the uniform. This is especially true today as we have almost 3,800 Canadian Forces members deployed around the world on peacekeeping missions.

I hope all members of the House and indeed all Canadians will join me in wearing an invisible ribbon to demonstrate that we very much appreciate military personnel and their families for a job well done.

Youth at Risk
Statements By Members

11 a.m.

Liberal

Charles Caccia Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, according to Statistics Canada, youth recidivism, namely the extent to which offenders reoffend, is alarmingly high. Youth represented 60% of convicted offenders. The majority of recidivists had prior convictions in youth court. Sixteen is the most common age of first conviction. Nearly two-thirds of recidivists sentenced to custody have been incarcerated before.

These statistics show that we are not doing enough for youth at risk, not enough to prevent youth at risk from becoming young offenders and not enough to prevent offenders from reoffending.

This is a big social problem which requires attention. I urge the government to improve and strengthen existing programs aimed at youth and at reducing recidivism among young offenders.

Martha Curgin Tevlin
Statements By Members

11 a.m.

Liberal

Pat O'Brien London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, this week the community of London, Ontario lost one of our outstanding citizens with the death of Martha Curgin Tevlin. I have known Martha for 40 years as a very friendly, generous and talented woman who served our community with great dedication and distinction.

A graduate of Catholic Central High School and the University of Western Ontario, Martha taught elementary school before moving to the non-profit sector in 1984.

Martha was the assistant executive director of the Canadian Diabetes Association, Ontario division. She later served as the director of volunteer services at Victoria Hospital before becoming the very successful executive director of the London Health Sciences Foundation which she helped establish. She also served with great enthusiasm as the chairperson of the London Public Library Board, as well as serving on several other boards and agencies.

On behalf of all Londoners, I offer our sincere sympathies to Martha's family. London is a better place for all of Martha's efforts. May she rest in peace.

Marijuana
Statements By Members

11 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Maurice Vellacott Saskatoon—Wanuskewin, SK

Mr. Speaker, bad news about marijuana, violence and gang warfare is far too common. This week a gang-style double murder in Toronto was linked by police to the growing problem of marijuana and gang warfare in that city. This week a new poll shows that marijuana use is higher than tobacco use among teenagers.

The Liberal government discourages youth from using tobacco, but its proposed changes to marijuana legislation sends the opposite message. Canada's frontline police officers remain distressed over the Liberals' soft on pot, premature and seriously flawed Bill C-38.

The Liberals must first set up a national drug strategy that works at the street level. They must establish a progressive schedule of penalties. Minimum sentences are required to reinforce the seriousness of the crime of marijuana grow operations. Drug driving laws and roadside assessment must also be in place. The police need legislation to enhance enforcement powers in situations where drug impairment is suspected.

It is not clear what constituency the Liberal government is trying to attract with this new approach to drug legislation, but it certainly is not the law-abiding citizens in my constituency--