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 claims.

Topics

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Vic Toews Provencher, MB

Yes, Mr. Speaker.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

The Speaker

I do not think we need to hear more on it. The minister said he would look at the matter and get back to the House, if necessary.

I can say that from having heard the argument raised by the hon. member for Athabasca that it did say in the notice that contact with other government officials was something that was not permitted. I stress that hon. members are not government officials.

I am sure the minister will get back with a fuller explanation on this and maybe some clarification in the wording will be necessary. Members of Parliament are parliamentary officials. We are not government officials.

I know the hon. member for Athabasca realizes that and would think this is certainly a distinction that, while not definitive of the matter, we will hear more about it when we hear from the minister in due course.

The Chair has notice of another question of privilege. I do not think I need to hear more on this point until possibly we have heard back from the minister.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

Derek Lee Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today on a matter of privilege. The background and the facts of this matter are set out in the ninth report of the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates, which was introduced into the House this morning, and also in the fifth report of the same committee, which was tabled in the House in the month of June.

I am speaking today not simply as an individual member of the House, but in some way representing the members of the entire Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates and also the subcommittee of that committee which reviewed this matter. I speak on behalf of those members in reporting this matter today and proposing what I will propose.

I want to remind you, Mr. Speaker, that the report of the committee was adopted unanimously by the committee before it was presented to the House. I say that to indicate that in the event there is some allegation or sense of partisanship inappropriate to a procedure of this nature, I can say, as one member, and hopefully the unanimous adoption of the report will show it and manifest it, that there has been no partisanship. It is an exercise in fulfillment and in support of the institutions of this House. It is a matter which we believe we were obliged to report to the House and which we are now obliged to deal with it.

I want to indicate the substance of the matter, it is an alleged contempt. The alleged contempt is outlined in the report.

First, I direct the chair's attention to paragraph 1.15 of the ninth report, tabled this morning. It is important for me to read the three paragraphs of this and then three other paragraphs, if I may have the time of the House to do that. It reads:

Several key conclusions emerging from this testimony, and presented in detail in the Committee's fifth report, were contradicted by individual witnesses. The conclusions were:

  1. (a) A letter, originally sent by the previous Privacy Commissioner [Mr. Radwanksi] to the Deputy Minister of Justice on August 2, 2002, was reprinted with one of the original paragraphs removed, and then date stamped with the August 2, 2002 date of the original. This was done in response to a direction from Mr. Radwanski, then-Privacy Commissioner.

(b) The falsified letter was included in a package of materials provided to the Committee covered by a letter signed by the Executive Director, Mr. Julien Delisle, and dated March 21, 2003

(c) The cover letter did not indicate that the falsified letter had been altered, but described it simply as “Copy of a letter of August 2, 2002 (Radwanski-Rosenberg) concerning the report of the Access to Information Review Task Force.”

The committee itself has reached a conclusion that the facts were otherwise than that put forward by the then privacy commissioner. I want to read three paragraphs from the report of this morning which itemize reasonably succinctly the nature of the alleged contempt. It states:

2.3 The version of events provided to the Committee by Mr. Radwanski in June of this year departs in several important ways from what actually happened, as summarized in the “Background” section of this report.

2.4 First, Mr. Radwanski denied that he had provided, or caused to be provided, the falsified letter contained in the March 21 information package. He described this as the result of a misunderstanding between Mr. Radwanski and his Chief of Staff, during telephone conversations necessitated by the fact that Mr. Radwanski was in Vancouver on March 21, 2003, when the package was being finalized. Mr. Radwanski claimed that his intention was that the paragraphs of the letter, excluding one paragraph omitted because it was confusing, were to have been used in the preparation of a briefing note.

The committee believes that is not an accurate representation of the facts.

Second, paragraph 2.5, states:

2.5 Second, Mr. Radwanski has argued that, on the copies of expense claims forms provided to the Committee, names were blacked out in order to safeguard the privacy of individuals. However, he denied any knowledge of the whiting out of information

The committee has concluded that information on documents provided to the committee was whited out, in particulars, as cited in the report.

Paragraph 2.6, states:

2.6 Third, Mr. Radwanski has denied that he made remarks of a threatening nature to employees, relating to the future career of anyone who had been disclosing information about practices at the OPC.

The committee has concluded that this position of the former privacy commissioner is also not based in fact.

I point out that the committee has concluded unanimously in its report that there was a contempt of the House at the committee. However, as all members know, only the House can find a contempt, not a committee. That is why the matter is being brought to the House at this time.

I invite you, Mr. Speaker, to conclude, based on the report, that there is a prima facie basis for a contempt allegation and to conclude this so the House may proceed to dispose of this matter in a fair and expeditious manner. I believe you will find prima facie contempt, given that the committee has unanimously concluded there was a contempt. The particulars, we believe, are adequately outlined. We regret this procedure was necessary. We felt it necessary to do so.

If you find, Mr. Speaker, that there is a prima facie case today, I am prepared to move the appropriate motion to dispose of this. I recognize that the House has not proceeded in this fashion for some 90 years, almost a century, and we should choose our way carefully, again in a way that is expeditious and fair.

I put that today, Mr. Speaker, hoping you will conclude that and allow the House to proceed to consideration of the motion.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Paul Forseth New Westminster—Coquitlam—Burnaby, BC

Mr. Speaker, I refer to the ninth report tabled earlier this day entitled, “Matters Related to the Review of the Office of the Privacy Commissioner”. I am looking on page 17 at the conclusions, and I must say that I have reasonable and probable grounds to believe that Mr. George Radwanski is indeed in contempt of Parliament, and that is my reasonable conclusion.

I cite the conclusion on that page which states that Mr. George Radwanski should be therefore found in contempt of the House of Commons.

I also highlight conclusion number four of the report which says:

Sanctions applied in response to the conduct described in this report, should it be found to constitute a contempt of Parliament, need to fully reflect the gravity of the offence.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:15 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Joe Clark Calgary Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, my colleague, the member for South Shore, represented my party during the hearings into Mr. Radwanski. I have been serving on the committee since that time and have familiarized myself with a great deal of the evidence.

The issue here is simple. We have rules and we have remedies. When the rules are broken, as they have been in this case, there should be a remedy to that breach of the rules.

It is without question, in my view, that Mr. Radwanski has acted in a way that could be justly considered a contempt of the House, and I believe that the consequence must follow and the remedies, even though unusual, even though not invoked, as my colleague from British Columbia said, in nearly a century, should be applied in this case. If they are not applied in a clear case like this, the risk will arise that they will never be applied.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:20 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, very briefly, as the NDP representative on the government operations committee, I would like to briefly say that we too believe that Mr. Radwanski deliberately misled our committee, provided false and misleading information, falsified documents, and in short, we believe violated the public trust.

I believe strongly in the recommendations of the report. We also commend the work of the committee and the generosity of spirit that dominated the committee in the actions that led to this thorough investigation and this unanimous recommendation that you have today, Mr. Speaker.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:20 p.m.

The Speaker

The Chair thanks the hon. members who have participated in this question of privilege: the hon. member for Scarborough—Rouge River, who raised the issue, and for their interventions, the hon. member for New Westminster—Coquitlam—Burnaby, the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre, and the right hon. member for Calgary Centre. I will take the matter under advisement and get back to the House in due course.

The House resumed consideration of the motion in relation to the 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

November 4th, 2003 / 3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Paddy Torsney Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in support of Bill C-6. I am in support of this proposal specifically because the effectiveness of this new act will take us a step closer to resolving historic grievances involving land claim disputes between first nations and the Government of Canada.

The application of Canada's specific claims policy has had a significant measure of success, but despite these successes, the current system, while resolving claims, cannot cope in the expeditious manner that both the Government of Canada and first nations need to see. We have to do better.

That is why the government, on behalf of all Canadians, must move forward to bring closure to the climate of adversarial, litigious debate that has marked negotiation of land claims for far too long. As a nation, we must settle the backlog of outstanding claims and have in place a new system that will effectively resolve claims.

Through Bill C-6, the government proposes to establish a process that is more independent, a process that is fair and impartial, and a process that is transparent.

For far too long, first nations peoples have held that the existing process lacks fairness and transparency in the areas of research and assessment. They maintain that it does not provide a level playing field for negotiations and that it lacks independence, impartiality and accountability. Those are all things that people in this House and in our country expect.

The lack of confidence in the fairness of the process expressed by first nations peoples means that first nations are reluctant to accept negative decisions about the validity of their claims. Costly court actions causing further delays are the result. In this atmosphere, enhanced partnership and economic development can hardly be expected to flourish.

Under the proposed legislation before the House, the centre would establish in law neutral and at arm's length claim facilitation and adjudication bodies. Transparency would be enhanced. Funding to first nations peoples to participate in the specific claims process would be removed from the minister's jurisdiction. The existing structure would be simplified and there would be a greater rigour brought to the process.

In other words, there would be, for the first time, an effective alternative to litigating specific claims in the courts through active promotion of negotiated settlements and authority to render binding decisions as a last resort.

I think it is important to note that hand in hand with fairness goes accountability. As a government, the Government of Canada must be accountable to first nations and to other Canadians to ensure that they have in place a land claims settlement system that is fair, effective and efficient. This proposal that is before the House contains extensive accountability provisions to help achieve those ends.

What are those provisions? They include: annual audits by the Auditor General; annual reports tabled in Parliament and made available to first nations and public scrutiny; quarterly reports on compensation; and a requirement for a full review between three and five years of the coming into force of the bill.

These are important measures that will really make a difference in enhancing accountability, but how did we arrive at this point? We did not arrive at this point in isolation from first nations' opinions. In fact, in 1996, the federal government and the Assembly of First Nations established the joint first nations-Canada task force on specific claims. This event in 1996 marked the beginning of consultations on the creation of an independent claims body. The legislation we see before us in this House is based on the work of the joint task force.

As this proposal now before us made its way through the parliamentary process, the government heard a number of concerns about the legislation from first nations. Most recently, the Senate committee repeatedly heard the concern about the jurisdictional authority placed on the tribunal. As the minister had originally proposed, this legislation set the jurisdictional limit of 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 to increase the tribunal authority's limit to $10 million.

The minister assures me that he is confident this new ceiling is a realistic one and is one that meets the needs of the first nations peoples and their concerns as raised in the process. As we have heard, most of the claims currently before the Government of Canada could be dispensed with under this new increased amount.

Another important element from first nations witnesses concerned the appointment process for this new centre. I am pleased to say that the government has listened to these concerns and has 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. The minister also proposes to confirm post-employment conflict of interest rules, something that I know is very important to members of the House.

A key aspect of this proposed legislation that has provided comfort across the consultation board is the provision for alternate dispute resolution processes to keep the parties at the table. Under the proposed act, the new commission's overarching role would be to facilitate the resolution of negotiated settlements with authority to apply a full range of alternative dispute resolution processes: facilitation, mediation, non-binding arbitration, and binding arbitration with the consent of the parties. All claims, regardless of size, complexity or value, would have access to these processes through the commission.

In conclusion, a lot of effort has been directed toward the bill by committees of the House and the other place, by first nations witnesses, by bureaucrats in the department of the minister, and by the minister's office and the parliamentary secretary, to ensure that we have in place a process that would help to resolve first nations claims in a way that is accountable, transparent and impartial. The intent behind this proposal is to level the playing field for negotiation and, frankly, to resolve claims more effectively and efficiently. Surely that is in everyone's interest.

This new process will allow aboriginal people in Canada to take advantage of economic opportunities and I think it will lead to a more prosperous life for all of us as full participants in this great nation of ours.

I thank the House for its attention. I thank all members for supporting the bill.

Specific Claims Resolution Act
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

Bloc

Claude Bachand Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise to speak on Bill C-6 today.

As I said earlier, I was the critic for Indian affairs for seven years, before being assigned to national defence. I will start by greeting all my aboriginal friends across Canada and Quebec. I want them to know that these seven years were an absolutely extraordinary experience.

I greatly enjoy discovering new cultures. I think that being the critic for aboriginal affairs is the best of all because one gets to reach out to new cultures.

Earlier, several members mentioned that there are more than 600 aboriginal communities. The Erasmus-Dussault commission identified approximately 60 across Canada. The aboriginal issue is definitely one full of adventure, because we are discovering not only one new culture but several new cultures, depending on the nations or communities we visit.

My time among aboriginal people has left an enduring impression on me. I remember being invited by the Assembly of First Nations of the Yukon in 1994, when we resolved the issue of land claims and self-government. I remember that trip in particular because my daughter was with me, and we were welcomed so warmly. These people are open-minded and they take great pride in showing us their land. I remember going fishing on the Yukon River and being taken to a mountain from which we could see the midnight sun. These memories will be with me forever.

I also intervened in the whale hunting issue on the west coast, and Vancouver Island in particular. At the time, the ministry responsible for Indian affairs in British Columbia had taken action and said it would be allowing whales to be caught for use as a traditional food source.

The same is true for the Chilcotin people, whom I visited in British Columbia. They gave me a tour of claimed land. Incidentally, aboriginal claims have consistently been diluted when the deadline draws near. Back in those days, I was told that 125% of British Columbia was claimed because of something called overlaps. If we look at the settlement concerning the land of the Nisga'a, which I also visited many times, the Nisga'a settled for 7% of all their claims.

Thus, I have had many wonderful experiences, and some that were less pleasant, as well. I think you were with me, Mr. Speaker, when we went to Pikangikum in northern Ontario, where we saw some very sad scenes. The village was so isolated, so abandoned and alone. It had so little. It was so negative an environment that within one year, I believe, there had been about 20 suicides among the young people.

I recall some emotional moments when we talked with the parents. They did not have a cemetery: the burial ground was next to their house. They took us to see their children's graves. On one cross there was a hockey stick and helmet, and next to it, a little girl's rosary beads. It was absolutely devastating. One needs to have children to comprehend the enormous despair felt by the entire community of Pikangikum which, in some ways, reflects what is happening in Canada.

There are many problems in most parts of Canada. I can name some of them. I think it began with the arrival of the Europeans. We have to face the fact that these people were here before us. what happened was that they were so welcoming—just as I see today when I go to the reserves—that they said to the Europeans, “We are prepared to welcome you. We have a lot of land here, and we will share it with you.”

Little by little, the aboriginal mentality, which remained unchanged, came up against the mentality of the white people, who had a kind of predisposition to conquer and take over as much land as possible. That is when the aboriginal communities began to pull back, as I see it, not because they wanted to, but because the white people forced them to.

We can look at the numbered treaties; there are ten or so in Canada, in various provinces.

The white people never respected these treaties. These were ad hoc treaties signed by a general and an aboriginal chief. The white people quickly forgot about them. It is sad. At times, I am ashamed of what was done.

Members should read the Erasmus-Dussault report, which cost tens of millions of dollars. In chapter after chapter, the report gives historical data proving that the aboriginals were shoved aside. They were told they would be taken care of and put on reserves. Today, they have been abandoned. The reserves are experiencing numerous problems. There is also an obvious funding problem.

What happened over time? We have examples. There were residential schools, which attempted to cleanse the students of their aboriginal culture and languages, which are so beautiful and so increasingly rare today. Some twenty remain in use. These languages will soon be called dead languages. However, they are extraordinary languages that should be saved and promoted for our international heritage.

All this to say that the residential schools were an attempt to break a generation. The great leaders of the aboriginal movement, such as Matthew Coon Come, experienced the residential schools. Today, everyone agrees that, at the very least, we must apologize for these schools. I am not convinced that the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development has apologized. He recognized that there was a problem. However, he has not yet apologized because, naturally, when an apology is made, there are legal consequences with regard to compensation. Perhaps the government is guarding against this.

What I have seen since I arrived in Parliament is no different from the conquest of aboriginal lands by the early Europeans. Since I became a member of the House of Commons, I have witnessed the continued decline of the aboriginals. As parliamentarians, we have responsibilities. We know that the federal government has almost exclusive jurisdiction in this area.

There is, however, also the other power: the judiciary. I have often said to my colleagues in caucus that, when one looks at the Supreme Court of Canada decisions, they are nearly 100 to 1 in favour of the aboriginal people. The Supreme Court has brought down decisions on all manner of topics: fisheries, hunting, forests, and aboriginal entitlement has been advanced considerably by the courts. Yet Parliament is quick to claim the Supreme Court victory as its own, in the case of the one decision that is in its favour, and to bring in legislation to ensure the Supreme Court decision is respected. But for the 100 or more decisions in favour of the aboriginal people, these are quickly put into file 13 and forgotten. This is absolutely deplorable, and is more or less what is happening here.

There are major problems on the reserves. I have already referred to the residential schools. That may be a thing of the past, but there are other problems. Would we in white society accept children being told they cannot go to on to post-secondary education next year because there is no money to send them there? Yet that happens on the reserves, and is absolutely unacceptable.

When I was Indian Affairs critic, we made representations year after year in an attempt to remedy the situation. It remains unchanged. There are still children on the reserves who have graduated from secondary school and are being told that, because one group of students has already been sent out, they will have to wait for another year for their turn at post-secondary education.

Then there is the housing problem, with three and four generations under one roof, sometimes. The federal government is incapable of coming up with the money to build houses, as it was supposed to under the social contract of the day. That was what the social contract was: we will take care of you. And look how they are being taken care of.

There are problems with drugs, alcohol, housing, education, and health. There is everything negative imaginable. In my opinion, our attitude with respect to first nations is a disgrace to Canada.

What is happening today with Bill C-6 and the new specific claims commission? As far as I am concerned, we have been working to change this for a long time. The minister listened to people who appeared before the standing committee, but he is completely ignoring what they said.

Everyone, the primary stakeholders, those who will have to live with the bad system, have said, “This cannot be done. It will not work”.

To start with, who will appoint members to the commission? The governor in council. Once again, it is the white man who has decided, “We know what you need and what will help you. We will give this to you, no matter what you say”. It is a little like saying, “We know what is good for you, we want what is good for you and we will give you what is good for you”. In the end, it is not what is good for them, but what is good for us that is the priority.

The governor in council appoints members to the commission. Do the first nations have a say in whether a given member is a good choice?

We have been denouncing partisanship in the commissions for a long time, and it is no different whether we are talking about immigration or the First Nations Specific Claims Commission. Let us talk about Elijah Harper, who lost his seat in the House of Commons when he was defeated by the member for Churchill. He left and was appointed to the commission. He is a Liberal and he was appointed to the commission.

What should we expect? More partisanship? People appointed on the recommendation of the minister will have the mandate to decide the future of the poor aboriginals who are not able to take charge of themselves? That is what Bill C-6 currently before this House is all about.

Moreover, the bill sets a $7 million limit on claims. Think of how much money was made with aboriginal land since Confederation. That is incredible.

Recently, in British Columbia, I saw the multinational paper companies scramble, because there were land claims, to take all the natural resources out before the commission completed its work. The government is complicit in the sense that it is saying, “It will take time. There are claims. A claims commission will be established in British Columbia”.

In the meantime, the multinational paper companies are having a field day, clear cutting part of British Columbia. When all is said and done, the government will say, “We have reached an agreement with the aboriginal people. Here are the beautiful resources we are giving you”. But there will be no resources left.

This is what I have been witnessing during the past ten years. This bill is similar. While half the province is being clear cut in spite of a land claim that the government is unable to settle, anyone who goes to the commission will be told, “If your claim exceeds $10 million, we cannot help you. Have it settled by regular courts. See you again in 20 years, when a decision is made”.

Aboriginal people know that claims often end up before the Supreme Court before the government settles. Once the Supreme Court has made a decision—as I said earlier, decisions are nearly 100 to 1 in favour of the aboriginal people—there is nothing left for them.

It is totally demoralizing to see a bill like the one before the House today, which basically follows this pattern. Any claim over $10 million is excluded. Then, the commission makes recommendations to the minister on whether the claims should be dealt with. And if they are not happy, the aboriginal people can always go before the courts.

All these people are appointed by the governor in council, on the recommendation of the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. There are no aboriginal people in cabinet, yet they are the ones who will suffer the consequences of the decision made today. If find this frankly revolting.

And yet I once thought I had some aboriginal blood. At one time in my career as Indian Affairs critic I asked myself why I felt so strongly about this cause. So I had my family tree done and I finally discovered that I do have aboriginal ancestors, but it goes back ten generations. So, I cannot really say I have any aboriginal blood.

However, I have always been a person who defends justice. I have a problem accepting that the people who were here before us, people whose rights have been recognized by the courts, are being told today just what they have always been told, “We will take care of you”.

We have a Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development who is today's updated equivalent of the Indian agent who used to be on every reserve. In the past, on every reserve, when someone wanted to change a pole, permission had to be obtained from the Indian agent.

It is still somewhat like that today. There is no longer an Indian agent on every reserve, but there is one, here in Ottawa, sitting in the seat of the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development.

Today, these people have to beg. When there are cuts or freezes in the budget of the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, it is the children of Kanesatake or the children of the Chilcotin who will be told, “You will not be going to school this year because there is no money for you. You will live together with four generations under the same roof in Pikangikum and you will stay like that, because there is no money to build houses for you”.

There is no money, and yet these amazing surpluses keep appearing in Ottawa, and there are even some they are trying to hide.

In fact, we saw the statement of the Minister of Finance yesterday. The surplus will not be as significant as we thought, but at year end, it will likely be two or three times greater than he estimated. In the meantime, he will have ignored the real needs of aboriginals, which come under federal jurisdiction. The federal government must stop interfering in areas under provincial jurisdiction, demonstrate competency in its own areas and give the aboriginals what they need.

Do they need money? Probably. However, they have a greater need for respect; the money will follow. If the federal government respected the aboriginals, it would sign treaties with them and, for once, it would respect them. It has not done this for the past 200 years.

Today, the Indians' representative, meaning the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, has introduced a bill that is inconsistent with the needs of the aboriginals in general, with the needs of communities in general and the needs of everyone who appeared. This morning I asked the question, because I am not on the committee and the witnesses told me that it was true. Many people appeared before the committee to voice their opposition to this bill.

However, the government is ignoring them and is creating its own structure and its own commission. The government is saying, “I know what is good for you; I am going to give it to you, and if it is not consistent with what is good for me, I am going to give you a bit less because what matters is what is good for me”.

The aboriginals will be caught in the same dynamic they have been in for the past 200 years. It is not just each reserve; there are also the courts. The Assembly of First Nations met in Vancouver and all the chiefs said that this bill makes no sense.

What is the government doing? First, it is gagging us so it can ram this bill through. Who will be stuck then? It certainly will not be the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. From on high, he will appoint the commission members, set the rules and decide what is in order and what is not. Then he will consult the governor in council and impose his regulations on the aboriginals, who always lose out.

I am sorry if I am being a bit hard on the government, but from my seven years of close contact with these people, I have learned a lot. I know that the first nations opened up their lands to others because they consider that the earth belongs to everyone. It is not their way to go to a notary and draw up a deed for a piece of land 50 by 60 feet, for instance. They are prepared to offer open-hearted hospitality to newcomers and have always done so.

Today, they are looking for compensation because we can see the situation they have been put in over the past 200 years. Their position is a totally hopeless one, completely dependent on the federal government and the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. Yet, their original societies were highly sophisticated and highly developed. When the Europeans arrived, they decided that this was not how things were going to be done here, and they imposed their model, the European way of doing things, saying, “We will impose our model, will draw up contracts—treaties as they were called at the time—and because these people have no way of defending themselves, we will just get around those contacts and continue our inexorable move toward total domination of the aboriginal people”. That is what is happening here.

Fortunately, in my opinion, the approach used in Quebec is a different one. Cree Grand Chief Ted Moses has said so as well. He is pretty well fed up with the federal government. In his opinion, the Government of Quebec is doing its job, and this is true. The James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement has been a model for negotiating agreements. The Nisga'a used it as a model. All of the main aboriginal nations have watched what was going on with the James Bay Cree, yet the government seems to be indicating that it wants nothing to do with all that.

This is a very unusual situation. The Government of Quebec has even indicated its intention to bring the James Bay agreement up to date, even if it is already the best in Canada. So when I see the minister turning up here with a bill that no one on the aboriginal side wants, when I see the government cutting off debate on the issue because it wants to adjourn Parliament, when I see it wanting to force its wishes on the aboriginal people, I find this totally unacceptable and I am happy that my party's position is to vote against Bill C-6. I want my aboriginal friends to know we will not let them down.

Specific Claims Resolution Act
Government Orders

3:50 p.m.

Miramichi
New Brunswick

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, I listened with some degree of interest to the hon. member. As all members know, the purpose of the bill is to bring quicker resolution to the many comprehensive and other claims that are before our nation.

The member speaks for la belle province, the province of Quebec. I know it is rather a big concern to many first nations in Quebec. There have been various dams built, various changes of land and territories. In many places in northern Quebec, first nations are living in very small communities.

Perhaps the hon. member could briefly outline the position he would suggest should be taken with these first nations. They sit among some of the great riches of our nation, the natural resources of mining and the great forests. Often they complain that they simply sit back and watch as the trucks go by taking the lumber from their traditional territories off to the mills and they get very little from that.

Perhaps the hon. member could tell the House what his party would suggest as solutions to these problems that first nations complain about in his own province.

Specific Claims Resolution Act
Government Orders

3:50 p.m.

Bloc

Claude Bachand Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, I do not think we have anything to learn from the rest of Canada with respect to the first nations in Quebec. I think that the Cree have the highest quality of life of all the first nations in Canada. It was in this manner that we decided to proceed.

The hon. member said we should move quickly. Yes, we want that too, but he cannot tell me that the bill before us today will help resolve disputes more quickly. That is not the case. As long as there is no respect, as long we pay more attention to multinationals or, for example, the member for LaSalle—Émard, who is also with the multinationals, as long as the big lobby groups continue to contribute to the Liberal Party, they will not be sensitive to the poor and the first nations.

We, as a society, have done things differently. We have said, “We recognize that you inhabited this land”. We have made mistakes. We too have been corrected by the court. However, we listened to the court. We have shared all of our natural resources there with the first nations. We have said that the Cree would receive some of the royalties. We reached an agreement with them. In fact, we have just signed other agreements with the Peace of the Braves.

Our society, the Quebec nation, is ahead of the rest of Canada. Canada should follow Quebec's lead. I think that is the right solution, not implementing a phony commission where the minister makes recommendations to the Governor in Council, to cabinet, to appoint friends to the commission to resolve the problems and the first nations are given absolutely nothing with which to defend themselves.

I think that is the solution that should be considered. First there needs to be respect and then sharing. We acknowledge that the first nations were here before us and we have found a middle ground for sharing royalties with them that come from the natural resources.

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3:50 p.m.

Bloc

Yvan Loubier Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask a question of my hon. colleague, who for a long time handled the first nations file and followed its evolution.

He was there when the royal commission on aboriginal peoples tabled its report. With his knowledge of the file, and in order to illustrate our point of view to those listening, I would appreciate it if he could draw a comparison of sorts between what was proposed by the royal commission on aboriginal peoples, that is the Erasmus-Dussault commission, the spirit with which a self-government process was to be put in motion, and what is proposed now with Bill C-6 on specific claims, the infamous Bill C-7 on governance and Bill C-19. Does he see any differences and, if so, where?

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3:55 p.m.

Bloc

Claude Bachand Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his question, asking whether I see any differences. The difference between a bill like Bill C-6 and the report of the Erasmus-Dussault commission is that they are worlds apart. It is the exact opposite of what the Erasmus-Dussault commission wanted.

Moreover, that is why, when the commission's report was made public, the minister of the day hurried to shelve it. It has been gathering dust ever since. Nevertheless, it cost I do not know how many tens of millions of dollars. It was a royal commission that worked for a number of years.

But they decided to continue with the same type of bills as the one before us today, Bill C-6, and the one we will see soon, Bill C-19. They do not trust the aboriginal peoples. They know what is best for the first nations; they will keep them in their place, and make decisions for them. Nothing has changed.

This bill is the direct descendant of everything that has happened in the last 200 years. The issue will never be settled until the government has respect for the first nations, until the government sits down to negotiate, nation to nation, with clear terms of reference. Commissions and committees are not going to settle the fundamental issue.

The bill before us, as it now stands, is incompatible with the Erasmus-Dussault report.

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3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Gérard Binet Frontenac—Mégantic, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to take part in this debate on Bill C-6, the Specific Claims Resolution Act. This bill is one of the ways the government proposes to provide the first nations with the necessary tools for self-governance, so they can fully participate in life in Canada.

The Specific Claims Resolution Act is part of the government's overall strategy to institute a new specific claims resolution process that is more effective than the current process.

Our colleagues on the other side of the House have submitted a series of significant amendments to Bill C-6, in direct response to the concerns of first nations and in order to improve this bill. These amendments should, in turn, help the first nations have confidence in the new Canadian Centre for the Independent Resolution of First Nations Specific Claims, to be established under this bill.

With regard to the proposal currently under consideration, it has been said that the current specific claims resolution process could be more effective and, as a result, long costly court cases could be avoided. We must invest in the essential issues affecting aboriginals instead of in costly court cases.

Under the current claims resolution process, only a few claims could be resolved each year. The current list of claims is growing daily, in excess of those resolved.

This bill had the full participation of the first nations. There was a joint task force, which presented recommendations on the need to establish an independent entity responsible for claims resolution. As the minister indicated this morning, the fact that this bill is being considered today proves that the initiatives of this joint task force have been largely successful.

Originally, the bill limited the tribunal to settlements under $7 million for claims resolved in the proposed system. After numerous consultations and presentations before the Senate committee, an amendment was moved to increase this ceiling to $10 million.

This new ceiling is realistic. This amendment responds to the concerns of first nations. As we said, this increased amount would apply to most of the claims currently before the Government of Canada.

We know that some say there should be no limits at all. Again, there are many spending priorities, and our budget is not unlimited. We much live within our means and according to our financial obligations.

Another important element from first nations that we heard in the Senate hearings was the concerns regarding the appointment process for the chief executive officer, the commissioners and adjudicators of the proposed new body.

We now have 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. There is also a proposal to confirm post-employment conflict of interest rules.

Much work has already gone into drafting this bill, and there have been many studies, including three separate reviews by committees of Parliament, and more than 50 hours of debate.

It has been a long road to get here. 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, that would level the playing field for negotiation and resolve claims more quickly and effectively, to provide aboriginal people with enhanced opportunities for economic development in a climate of certainty.

This bill enables us to leave behind an outdated process and take a new direction that will provide first nations with a more fair, effective and equitable tool.

Time has now come to act on this.