House of Commons Hansard #150 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was first.

Topics

Specific Claims Resolution Act
Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Reed Elley Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, in 1993 the Liberal red book promised an independent claims commission jointly appointed by first nations and the Government of Canada.

Bill C-6 clearly breaks that promise by concentrating the power to make appointments in the Prime Minister's Office. In that regard this will then be very much controlled by the government.

Indian bands have repeatedly faced obstruction, rejection and delay in their attempts to have the government consider their claim. I would like to ask the minister why native people across this country should trust the government to act in good faith in the face of yet another 1993 Liberal red book broken promise and in the face of what Bill C-6 offers them.

Specific Claims Resolution Act
Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Bob Nault Kenora—Rainy River, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member knows very well that as the minister I have written to the national chief, both the present one and the past one, making it clear that we have every intention of consulting the first nation leadership on the makeup of the commission and the tribunal.

If he carefully reads the amendments put forward by the Senate, we confirm that it is our intention to participate with first nations to make this commission and tribunal a success. Therefore we are looking to make it independent and successful. Why would we want to have it any other way?

The fact remains that under the present system the first nations, even after the commission and tribunal passes into law, still can accept the other process of going to court if they believe this process does not work. If they do not think they want to go to the commission to use the modern tools of negotiation to bring forward claims much quicker, they still can go a different route.

This is one of many tools. It is not a box that is closed. It is a box that is open to allow opportunities for people to develop the kind of relationships through negotiation in a modern context. That is why I firmly believe it will work.

I want to make one final point. The member continues to suggest that there is a need to build trust. Let me use one example. Not too long ago we passed in the House the First Nations Land Management Act. The same process took place with the opposition as is happening today. In fact, the minister of the day had to move to get agreement with 14 bands because first nations across the country did not trust the government.

Today there are over 100 first nations clamouring to get into the First Nations Land Management Act because it is successful. The only way we will build respect and trust is to put legislation in place that does the job and improves the lives of first nations citizens.

Specific Claims Resolution Act
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Maurice Vellacott Saskatoon—Wanuskewin, SK

Mr. Speaker, the minister knows very well that those amendments from the Senate are pretty wimpy, pretty much token and nothing of an adjustment in a significant way at all.

The Canadian Alliance blue book states support for speedy resolution of specific first nations claims. Specific claims include alleged improper administration of lands and other assets under the Indian Act or other formal agreements.

In other words, in some cases the Indian agents took and sold off Indian reserve lands and lined their own pockets with the money. That is the kind of injustice that we are talking about here today.

Bill C-6 would not speed up the resolution of specific claims. No timelines are mandated in this process. In fact, there are numerous opportunities for the government to delay and stonewall with impunity.

I would like to ask the minister why there are no timelines of any kind in this particular bill to get some resolution and some justice to native people since justice delayed is justice denied.

Specific Claims Resolution Act
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Bob Nault Kenora—Rainy River, ON

Mr. Speaker, first, that is factually incorrect and the member knows so. If he does not he should read the bill. The bill does require the minister to report on a regular basis the delays that occur through justice in deciding whether a particular claim will be accepted by the government for negotiation.

The argument that is being put by the member that somehow this will not improve the system is absolutely false. The fact remains that every commission that we have created in the country have independent members. Let me put it this way. We appointed the present national chief to the commission that exists today. The national chief himself was appointed by the government. Now of course the chief will have a role in helping us to appoint commissioners and individuals to the tribunal.

I cannot say, but I assume everyone will want to agree with this point, that was a bad appointment. I think it was a good appointment. I can assure members that the reports by the Indian Claims Commission, even though they were just recommendations, which the government did not have to follow, were done independently by that commission and it was not attached to any particular political persuasion. It was independent. It made the decisions and we have to live with those results. I suspect the same thing will happen here and I think we will see a lot more progress than we have seen in the past.

Specific Claims Resolution Act
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Bloc

Yvan Loubier Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Mr. Speaker, I heard the minister say he was establishing an open system. It is not; it is a completely closed system. For example, it is closed, as far as the ceilings on claims is concerned. With the Senate amendment, the ceiling will be increased to $10 million. And yet, the average individual claim settlement in the past 30 years was over $18 million.

He says it is an open system. But it is closed, as far as accepting the first nations' individual claims is concerned. The minister will be the sole judge of whether or not such first nations claims will be accepted. He says it is an open system, because it allows court challenges if the commission does not work properly. Well, yes. Once again, he will decide on whether individual claims that are referred to the Department of Justice are acceptable.

We know very well what will happen with the Department of Justice. Technical evidence will be introduced. Things can be drawn out for 15 or 20 years. There are still 1,000 individual claims that have not been settled by the existing process. Things will not improve with the process proposed by Bill C-6. No additional resources are being allocated to settle the hundreds of individual claims that already exist.

The minister says that there are no systems in the world comparable to the one we are going to establish. Of course not. Apartheid ended in Africa some years ago, and he is recreating apartheid for the first nations.

Bill C-6 is goes against all the work that has been done since 1982. We are talking about a commission that is independent from the government, a government that is both judge and party. The first nations understand that. The minister must stop saying that he is speaking for the first nations and the chiefs of the first nations. Less than a month ago, in Vancouver, there was a first nations summit meeting. The chiefs present, including the grand chief, were unanimously opposed to Bills C-6 and C-7, and most of them were opposed to Bill C-19 as well.

Specific Claims Resolution Act
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

Bob Nault Kenora—Rainy River, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member shows his lack of knowledge of the bill.

Let me start by making it clear that the commission has the obligation to facilitate negotiations on claims of any size. Therefore, this straw man that has been put up that somehow we have put parameters and barriers around the abilities of the commission to negotiate claims of any size is factually incorrect.

The whole issue of the tribunal and the fact that there is a $10 million cap is a financial administration issue. There must be some understanding of how much money the commission and tribunal will be able to spend in an annual year based on our obligations as a government.

What the member is basically suggesting is that somehow the commission and tribunal will have a blank cheque that they can spend as much money as they decide in a given year based on a claim without Parliament having any say. The reason for the cap is to ensure that we have control over the financial administration.

As I said before, the reason why we have built in a three year review of the bill is to see whether in fact the member's argument is correct. If the cap does severely hamper the abilities of the tribunal to do its job, we will have this review within three years to see whether we need to change it.

It is a legitimate position of the government to make based on the fact that the Financial Administration Act, as it stands, necessitates the minister of Indian affairs to ensure central agencies, finance and Treasury Board of how much money will be spent in one given year. That is the reason for the cap, not because we do not want to have claims.

In fact, we will be able to validate all claims and negotiate all claims at the commission level.

Specific Claims Resolution Act
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

John Duncan Vancouver Island North, BC

Mr. Speaker, during their administration, the Liberals have invoked time allocation and closure a total of 84 times. The record in the previous administration, the Mulroney administration, was a total of 72 times. Therefore, we are already well past the record setting pace of the Mulroney administration.

The government, in all of its dealings with aboriginal legislation, must be known for an absence of sharp dealings and forthright expression of its constitutional fiduciary obligations to indigenous peoples.

Not only does Bill C-6 fly in the face of virtually all commentary received from aboriginal communities, but it also flies in the face of all of the opposition parties in the House.

The minister made reference to the First Nations Land Management Act. I was here when the act went through this place. We had 14 first nations that were strong proponents of that act.

I ask the minister, where are the first nations that are strong proponents of Bill C-6? They do not exist. Is the government invoking time allocation because of the legacy that this minister hopes to leave behind? In others words, the first nations governance act, Bill C-7, has gone sideways, and these are the final days of the minister's mandate.

Specific Claims Resolution Act
Government Orders

10:40 a.m.

Liberal

Bob Nault Kenora—Rainy River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I cannot predict anyone's future, mine nor the member's. We will see how he makes out when he is up for nomination in his own riding or when he is up for re-election.

However, the objective of what we are proposing today is to put forward modern institutions of governance and the ability of the Government of Canada, through an independent specific claims commission and tribunal, to work with first nations outside of the courts to fast track and bring forward outstanding grievances of the past.

I do not understand this rhetoric from across the floor that somehow this diminishes the respect of aboriginal people. If they choose not to use the tool, that is their right; however, the fact is that we do not have the mechanism now to improve the abilities to work with first nations on resolving these claims. That is why Bill C-6 is so important to the long term resolution of grievances of the past.

What we set out to do in this mandate was very simple. We wanted Parliament to enter into a debate for the first time about the important modern institutions necessary for first nations to be part of our country, not sitting on the sidelines, living in poverty, and waiting for us to find some political will to work with them.

That is what Bill C-7, Bill C-19 and Bill C-6 are all about. And I dare say, later on this week, we will see another piece of legislation that also signals the same need for first nations people.

Specific Claims Resolution Act
Government Orders

10:40 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I want to remind the House that we have approximately eight minutes remaining in this 30 minute question and answer period. With everyone's cooperation, I will facilitate as many questions and replies as I possibly can.

The hon. member for Churchill.

Specific Claims Resolution Act
Government Orders

10:40 a.m.

NDP

Bev Desjarlais Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am extremely disappointed that the minister, over the course of his time in working with first nations, has not made a serious attempt to work and partner with first nations.

Canada has proven that telling first nations what to do is not the answer to improving the situation. Listening to first nations and bringing in legislation that they support is what is important. Quite frankly, I have not heard the minister talk about even one first nation that supports this legislation. There are 633 first nations in this country. How many of them support this legislation?

Bill C-6 does nothing to change existing federal policy which has narrowly defined parameters and processes to which all claims must conform and adapt. The minister says there are no parameters. There are, and that is not acceptable.

Bill C-6 is not established to help settle claims but rather to control and limit the government's liabilities. Why does he not be up front and honest? This is not to better things for first nations; it is to make it easier for him.

Specific Claims Resolution Act
Government Orders

10:40 a.m.

Liberal

Bob Nault Kenora—Rainy River, ON

Mr. Speaker, if the member believes that, then it is a sad day in the House of Commons. I can tell members that since day one, one of the objectives of this minister has been to improve the lives of first nations people, to develop policies and legislation, and modern tools that will make a difference in their lives.

If the member is correct in her statements, this commission and tribunal, after the bill is passed, will be an abject failure over the next year. I can assure members, as I stand here, that I will stand in Parliament somewhere down the line and make that member eat her words because she is so far wrong in what she is saying.

I do not mind the rhetoric in this place, but when the Tories brought in the Indian Claims Commission, we had the same debate. It was said that the commission had no tools, no teeth; however, today it is considered by first nations to be one of the effective tools in working on relationships.

I do not need to be lectured by that member about what first nations think. This is a good piece of legislation and we will prove it as time goes on.

Specific Claims Resolution Act
Government Orders

10:40 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Maurice Vellacott Saskatoon—Wanuskewin, SK

Mr. Speaker, this independent claims body that is being set up under the government's bill is anything but independent and the minister knows that. There is token involvement from first nations after the fact, after the appointments are already made. The minister is quite aware of that.

It will not do anything to help breed trust among the parties involved. As well, who is standing up for the taxpayer in the process? The bill before us discourages the use of the less costly alternative dispute mechanisms. We are going the route of more costly court cases time and again, wasting taxpayers' money and those resources that could be applied to first nations.

We have been urging the Liberal government to go back and seriously look at the 1998 joint task force report which had some reasonable recommendations that would address what we perceive to be the major flaws and defects of this bill. His own Liberal senators have acknowledged that. Why does he not seriously consider and adopt into Bill C-6 the reasonable recommendations of the 1998 joint task force report?

Specific Claims Resolution Act
Government Orders

November 4th, 2003 / 10:45 a.m.

Liberal

Bob Nault Kenora—Rainy River, ON

Mr. Speaker, the joint task force made recommendations; however, it did not make recommendations vis-à-vis the Financial Administration Act nor the machinery of government issues which we must look at when we create legislation.

When I look at the recommendations of the joint task force and the bill itself, the vast majority of the principles of that joint task force are intact. Yes, there are some differences and because of that we have built in the three year review. If, in fact, over a period of time, first nations raise concerns regarding the diminishing ability of the commission and tribunal to do their job, then, a review will be undertaken with first nations and the government in partnership, and their recommendations will be reviewed by the standing committees of both Houses.

I am sure that we have put in place the checks and balances to assure ourselves that if we have made errors in this legislation, which is always possible, we will have a way to go back and take a look. I think that is a fair way to proceed with legislation. It shows respect for first nations and it assures the government that it has a functional tribunal and commission.

Specific Claims Resolution Act
Government Orders

10:45 a.m.

Bloc

Yvan Loubier Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Mr. Speaker, the minister just told us that he has been a parliamentarian for 15 years. It has been too long. He is now putting in place a process that will create systematic confrontation with first nations; this is exactly what he is doing. This process is not about conciliation, nor is it about understanding. He says that it will improve the situation.

Since when is justice done only partially? Either justice is done by assessing damages and determining adequate compensation without setting a limit beforehand, or justice is not done at all. Either we are in a constitutional state, or we are in a banana republic.

That is what is being done right now. Is it usual for damages to be assessed and a case settled even before it is heard? Do you know when that it supposed to happen? It is supposed to happen after the case has been heard. What we see here has nothing to do with justice. The government is just being paternalistic again, as it has been for 130 years with the infamous Indian Act.

Can the minister answer this question : is there anywhere in the world where limits are set on damages before a case is heard?

Specific Claims Resolution Act
Government Orders

10:45 a.m.

Liberal

Bob Nault Kenora—Rainy River, ON

Mr. Speaker, this is an optional process for first nations; they have choices to make.

One of the concerns, and the reason we had the joint task force in the first place, was that over the last number of years it was suggested many times by the leadership that both the government, through the Department of Justice and the ministers of Indian affairs, through the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, were too slow in accommodating the needs of first nations in their grievances and their legitimate concerns of the issues that transpired in places like Saskatchewan where we have the most specific claims waiting in the wings.

The objective of this tribunal and commission--and I want to emphasize that the tribunal is supposed to be a place of last resort--is to have the modern mediation tools that all negotiators need to work in partnership on joint research. This will save us money and time, and allow for independence by the commission itself on funding a first nation in its claim and research. All those matters have been longstanding and this particular bill will resolve them.