House of Commons Hansard #153 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was first.

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(Bill C-71. On the Order: Government Orders)

November 2, 2005--The Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development--Second reading and reference to the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development of Bill C-71, an act respecting the regulation of commercial and industrial undertakings on reserve lands.

First Nations Commercial and Industrial Development Act
Government Orders

November 18th, 2005 / 10 a.m.

Ottawa—Vanier
Ontario

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger for the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians

moved:

That Bill C-71, an act respecting the regulation of commercial and industrial undertakings on reserve lands, be referred forthwith to the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development.

First Nations Commercial and Industrial Development Act
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10 a.m.

London West
Ontario

Liberal

Sue Barnes Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians

Mr. Speaker, a primary goal of the Prime Minister and the government is to close the gap in socio-economic conditions between first nations peoples and other Canadians.

The bill, the first nations commercial and industrial development act, FNCIDA, would allow first nations to participate more actively in the Canadian economy and to access engines of economic development.

In working toward fulfilling this goal, the government signed an accord with the Assembly of First Nations at the May 31, 2005 policy retreat, which underlined a shared commitment to helping first nations exercise greater control over their social and economic aspirations.

The government is committed to working with first nations to build stronger indigenous economies leading to greater economic independence.

The legislation represents a bold step forward in the partnership between the federal government and first nations. It builds on the success of previous legislation in this area, the First Nations Land Management Act and the proposed first nations oil and gas and moneys management act, Bill C-54, which is currently before the House.

This bill, like these two legislative initiatives, will give first nations who opt into the legislation the confidence that comes from accessing and developing the resources on their own lands. As such, it represents a very powerful tool to build economic opportunity and improve the quality of life on reserves.

First nations across Canada are considering development opportunities that will improve economic and social conditions on their own reserves. For example, Fort McKay First Nation in northern Alberta is pursuing over a billion dollar oil sands development to be developed by and with Shell Canada Limited. The oil sands in general represent enormous economic opportunity for all Canadians, including first nations like For McKay. Billions of dollars of investment will be flowing into the oil sands in the next few years. We know this and first nations want to be players and participants.

The investment in Fort McKay would create unprecedented job and revenue growth, along with vast opportunities and quality of life and social and cultural development on reserve and employment opportunities in the region. We are very pleased to move forward on this.

For these types of projects to proceed on reserves, first nations need effective regulatory regimes and existing federal legislation currently does not provide the authority to establish them, creating a regulatory barrier or gap.

The Constitution Act, 1867, gives Parliament exclusive authority in respect of “land reserve for the Indians”. Also, the Indian Act, the Canadian Environment Assessment Act, the Canadian Environment Protection Act and other federal legislation were never intended to provide a complete federal land regime on reserve. In her 2003 report, the Auditor General found that regulatory barriers like this are one of the main impediments to first nations economic development.

Therefore the government has responded to these concerns and is making legislative and regulatory renewal a priority. FNCIDA is an important part of this legislative and regulatory renewal and is designed to remove barriers to first nations economic development. This legislation is also consistent with the government's smart regulation initiative.

In its 2004 report, the external advisory committee on smart regulation recommended that the federal government “accelerate its agenda to modernize the regulatory regime in first nations communities and address regulatory gaps that inhibit the development of commercial and industrial projects on reserve land”.

For companies that were considering locating major commercial and industrial projects on reserve, like the multi-billion dollar oil sands development at Fort McKay, the bill would provide the authority to establish regulatory frameworks to address regulatory gaps, offering certainty and transparency for industry proponents and tearing down this barrier to economic growth.

First nations themselves have asked the federal government to help them attract and facilitate economic development on their lands by providing a framework like FNCIDA, which would enable the federal government to regulate large scale complex commercial and industrial projects. I can attest to the fact that the leaders on these reserves, who are the proponents of the bill, are capable, willing, able and anxious to get on with this legislation.

FNCIDA would allow the federal government to replicate provincial laws and regulations to apply to these projects on reserve. This would ensure that as first nations and investors or industry at large move ahead with these major projects, they are regulated in a fashion similar to similar projects off reserve. It would give the added benefit of stability for investors and developers as they deal with the same provincial regulatory regime that they already know and understand. It makes sense.

How does FNCIDA work? Consideration of regulation under FNCIDA for a specific project would be triggered when a first nation itself passes a band council resolution requesting regulations related to a specific project on the reserve, not a generalized project but a very specific major development project. Next, the federal government would conduct an analysis prior to making a final decision on whether to proceed with the development of regulations for the project.

If the regulations are to proceed for the project, the Government of Canada would in most cases seek an agreement regarding the administration and enforcement of the regulations with the province and the first nation. An indication of support from first nation members for the project and the use of regulations under FNCIDA would also be required. Typically, this support would be shown through a community vote.

First nations are leading this initiative. Five partnering first nations have passed band council resolutions in support of this legislation and have been eloquently advocating the initiative in other first nations communities. They have done so because, as we know, they are the best advocates for their proposals.

The five partnering first nations are Squamish Nation in British Columbia, Carry the Kettle First Nation in Saskatchewan, Fort William First Nation in Ontario, and Tsuu T'ina Nation and Fort McKay First Nation in Alberta. They have been assisted, with other partnering first nations, in getting the message across the country. I know that they have written at least twice to all the chiefs across the nation to carry the message to every province and every first nation. I have seen letters showing this.

A resolution of support for the legislation has been received from the Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nations. As well, there have been letters of support from the Uchucklesaht Tribe and the Skeetchestn Indian Band of British Columbia.

In addition, the government has been actively engaged in discussions with several provinces, particularly Alberta and Ontario, where first nations are actively advancing specific projects. In committee, we heard from an Alberta official that Alberta is particularly responsive to this particular proposal, as others would be.

There are active engagements with officials in other provinces, particularly in Alberta and Ontario, as I have mentioned, where first nations currently are advancing specific projects. Officials in both of these provinces have expressed support for a federal approach that would create as much regulatory compatibility as possible for on and off reserve commercial and industrial projects. They are very willing to discuss provincial involvement in monitoring and enforcing regulations for specific projects.

More recently, Saskatchewan and British Columbia officials have also expressed interest in this legislation. It is very much expected that other provinces will develop greater interest in the proposed legislation as first nations and industry partners begin to advance projects in their jurisdiction. Representatives of the oil and gas industry have also indicated strong support for this bill.

By moving forward this important piece of legislation, the government is demonstrating its commitment to work in partnership with first nations communities toward the goal of improved social and economic conditions. I must underscore how necessary this is for economic and social development on reserves. One is a partner with the other. We cannot get the increased viability of a community, the wealth of its culture and the enhancement of services to the people on reserves if there is not a land base to give the economic base. Then they can be a full partner and take it from the initial exploration or exploitation to the delivery.

Across this country, there are very fine leadership examples of first nations that are ready. This is what we are enabling. We all know that there are other first nations, places and communities across this country that have their challenges. They have different needs at this time, but some will be ready at a later stage and some first nations are ready now. As a government, we have to work with all levels of readiness and we have to facilitate. That is what the first ministers meeting next week will do, on some levels, but right now we also cannot forget and leave behind all of this important legislation that we need to move forward for the advancement of economic opportunity.

I encourage all members of this House to move this piece of legislation forward by the end of the day. I think that would be extremely positive.

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10:15 a.m.

Miramichi
New Brunswick

Liberal

Charles Hubbard Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, certainly I want to compliment the parliamentary secretary and the department and the minister for the leadership that he is offering in this initiative.

We know that there are over 600 first nations across this country. From our point of view, and probably from their point of view, it is unfortunate that much of the legislation under which they work and live was developed back in the 19th century. Today we live in the 21st century and across this country first nations leaders and people are attempting to improve their economic activity. I know that for too long they have had to try to promote this in this House, but the new legislation that is being introduced today will enable them to make the best efforts in terms of their own initiatives to develop an economy for their people.

In the gallery today we have some of those people who have led this issue. I have met with them before as the parliamentary secretary. We know that they are very much interested in having this legislation move forward.

We have a great number of very important items before this House, this being one of them, and we know, of course, that there are those who want this House to end. I would hope that in terms of the people who are gathered here today and see this as important that we as a group of legislators can attempt to bring this to a vote and that we can see it through committee, and hopefully not only for the five that were mentioned by the parliamentary secretary, because in my own area of Atlantic Canada we have initiatives there and we have leaders who are doing great work in terms of developing the economy for their people.

As a member of Parliament from Atlantic Canada, I want to join with those in the other parts of this great nation to see that opportunities are created for the first nations people who are the original people, the indigenous people of Canada. It is great to support Bill C-71. Hopefully it will be fast tracked through this House and we can see the results of legislation which we have approved.

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10:15 a.m.

Liberal

Sue Barnes London West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I think the vast part of the credit for this legislation goes to first nations themselves. We have worked with them inside government, and we and I believe all parties in the House are working to move this legislation forward. I hope that by the end of today not only will people be voting to get this to a committee, but they will be considering getting this through the House later today. We are looking for all party consent to do that. That is in the hands of my colleagues in the House. If we hear that information, I will do all those things that are necessary with my other colleagues.

I want to say for the benefit of Canadians that we need to appreciate the sophistication of what is possible on the reserves and we need to appreciate the leadership on reserves. We know we can go forward with very specific projects rights now. We need this legislation to move forward. We will need it for other first nations so that they will be able to follow in those footsteps, to follow that path in the future.

We look forward to working with first nations. We have had great initiatives, not only by the five proponents but also by actively partnering first nations that are going out to other first nations and have tried at the regionals to have the conversations that are necessary. At some point, even though this will be legislation that will quickly enable one, or two, or five first nations to move forward, it will be the path for others. There will be a uniqueness available, though, because the regulatory framework will have to be developed for each specific project. This is not widely templated, per se; it is just enabling.

It is a very powerful tool. It fills a gap that exists right now. These first nations have gone forward with their vision for their communities to fill that gap and get onto the path that puts a level playing field in the places where they live so that there can be economies of large scale. This is possible today in some first nations. Let us make it happen.

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10:20 a.m.

Conservative

Jim Prentice Calgary North Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise today with great pleasure to indicate our party's support for the proposed first nations commercial and industrial development act. I echo the comments of my colleague that the legislation clears the House of Commons immediately, hopefully today. We will be working on that and discussing it over the course of the day.

As I rise to speak to the legislation, I wish to begin by pointing out that the legislation originates less with the Government of Canada, or this hon. House, than it does with the first nations communities themselves. It is extremely important legislation, and I will talk to the details in a few moments.

The legislation originates with the leadership of the Squamish First Nation in British Columbia, the Fort McKay First Nation in Alberta, the Tsuu T'ina First Nation, which is part of the Calgary community in Alberta, Carry the Kettle First Nation in Saskatchewan and the Fort William First Nation at Thunder Bay.

These communities have taken the leadership to move toward sectoral self-government, to create opportunities in their own communities and to advance the social and economic well-being of the people who live in those communities and who are members of those first nations. Their efforts are to be applauded. They have fought vigorously over the last five years to develop the legislation. On behalf of our party in particular, we acknowledge the efforts they have undertaken and the success that they will experience.

If I might be forgiven, with respect to one of the first nations, the Fort McKay First Nation, as the critic of our party, it is of particular satisfaction to me to see this matter move forward. I was involved, in a prior life before coming to the House, in the resolution of the land claim settlement of the Fort McKay First Nation. I think Canadians need to understand just how far we have moved in a very short period of time in our country with respect to the progress of some first nations. Much more needs to be done, but if we look at the situation in Fort McKay, it is very telling and useful for all Canadians.

I first became involved with the Fort McKay First Nation when I was a treaty commissioner of the Indian Claims Commission. We travelled to Fort McKay in the early to mid-1990s. We conducted a treaty land entitlement inquiry and ascertained that the Fort McKay First Nation had never been given the land it had been promised when it signed treaty. I do not have time at this juncture to go into all the details of that. However, in the days that followed, the Indian Specific Claims Commission released a report, which I co-authored. That report resulted in a treaty land entitlement settlement. As a result of that, the Fort McKay First Nation is in a position to proceed with oil sands development on their first nation.

It is with pleasure that we now are moving toward legislation that would allow the Fort McKay First Nation, the Tsuu T'ina, Carry the Kettle, the Squamish First Nation and the Fort William First Nation to proceed with comprehensive economic development in their communities. The stumbling block to this development has been the Indian Act. The Indian Act was a compilation of pre-confederation statutes. It is at this point close to 150 years old. There is no way the Indian Act provides a sound basis for industrial development of this complexity and the Conservative Party has been very clear. I will just quote from our policy framework. It states:

The Indian Act (and related legislation) should be replaced by a modern legislative framework which provides for the devolution of full legal and democratic responsibility to First Nations...within the overall constitutional framework of our federal state.

This is precisely the type of legislation that our party has been supporting on a philosophical basis. The legislation provides full control of their own legal and democratic decision making authority to those first nations that determine they wish to opt into the legislation, and the legislation is optional, in a manner which indicates considerable prudence and wisdom, once again using the situation of Fort McKay.

It is clearly incomprehensible that we would attempt to develop federal legislation and regulations dealing with environmental and reclamation issues, air and water quality, all the panoply of issues that involve the development of oils sands, when that framework already exists. It exists in law in the province of Alberta. Very comprehensive legislation has been developed to permit oil sands development. In the case of Squamish, we are dealing with port development, as well as in the case of Fort William. In the case of the Tsuu T'ina First Nation, we are dealing with very comprehensive commercial real estate development, et cetera.

The legislation allows Canadians to opt in to the existing well developed provincial legislative framework to regulate that industrial activity. Presumably, it is possible to opt out as well. It will require, under the legislation, the consent of the first nation itself. It has to originate with the first nation and it is its decision. It requires consent of the province and of the minister as well.

I think one can see how this will permit economic development to proceed immediately and it will eliminate the need to develop an entire duplicative regulatory regime for much of this development.

Congratulations to the first nations. The legislation is well thought out and developed. It has been carefully crafted. It is certainly in a position where it can clear the House very quickly.

The legislation enjoys wide support. It was made clear at our committee that both the governments of Saskatchewan and Alberta are supportive of the legislation. The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers has reviewed it and considers it to be very advantageous as well. The legislation arrives in the House, having been followed very closely and having been supported by first nations. The Assembly of First Nations, as I understand it, has indicated its general support as well.

The regulations that would be developed under the legislation would be site specific. They would follow upon the framework of the legislation. One question that needs to be addressed is the whole issue of federal liability in this context. The legislation deals with that. The federal crown is not responsible once the provincial regulatory regime comes into place. The decisions made under that regulatory regime do not increase any federal legal responsibility.

In a general sense, I would point out that this is excellent legislation. It will permit first nations that opt in to it to move ahead very quickly with commercial and economic development. There are those who are critical of it. To be sure, it does not solve all of the issues that we face in this nation relating to self-government. There are many first nation communities for which this legislation will not be advantageous. We have to continue to move forward developing economic and social opportunities and social justice for those first nations as well. This is a start.

For those first nations to which this applies, it is very important legislation and warrants the support of the House. It will contribute to regulatory certainty, economic development and most important, it will encourage significant investment on these first nations.

The legislation has been developed in close consultation with first nations. That is a first precondition insofar as the Conservative Party is concerned. Self-government legislation, whether it is sectoral or otherwise, cannot be developed in isolation by the federal government. Consultation is required. Second, this legislation will have an immediate positive economic impact on the first nations that wish to see it developed. Third, philosophically, the legislation is extremely important to where we are headed in the country. It is important that first nations have the opportunity to assume control of their own lives and to lead the country in a positive direction.

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10:30 a.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, we have many first nations in the northwest of British Columbia. More than 30% of my constituents are first nations, proud groups with thousands of years of history. A remarkable event happened over the last two years. Through the leadership of one of our colleges, an all nations poll was created. Seven nations came together. For the first time in any of their histories, they built and designed a poll together. They put together the images that represented the strongest parts of their nation. There was a true and deep sense of compromise at one of the most basic levels possible for a nation to achieve.

I listened to the parliamentary secretary's speech. A member of her government, in a question to her, referred to the motion put forward yesterday by leader of the New Democrats, which would have us return in January to deal with important bills such as this one and consider them properly in the full light of committee. There was the suggestion that this was somehow a lack of compromise and that somehow the New Democrats were doing something otherwise.

That poll in my riding represents people working together for a common cause, establishing new relationships and working toward something positive, as has been described by this legislation. The legislation has been driven by first nations, but it needs to have proper scrutiny by parliamentarians. We should not rush through this.

Could the member comment on the implied remark from the government that the opposition parties have any interest other than allowing a proper review of the bill, by allowing for an election some time in the beginning of January? We have heard the blustering and machismo of the government in the last couple of days?

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10:30 a.m.

Conservative

Jim Prentice Calgary North Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, I acknowledge the fine work my colleague has done in advancing the cause of first nations, not only the first nations in his riding but elsewhere.

I was a little saddened to hear that comment. This legislation is being dealt with in a non-partisan way, as my learned friend points out. I wish to point out for the record that this Parliament has perhaps been unique because an enormous amount of legislation has arrived at Parliament from the doorsteps of first nations, not legislation developed by the Government of Canada but legislation developed by first nations.

I speak of Bill C-54, the oil and gas legislation that was brought to the House, developed by the first nations themselves; Bill C-71, which we are speaking to today, again developed by first nations; and Bill C-20, the fiscal and management package legislation, also developed by first nations.

All the legislation has been brought to the House and it has been moved through the House expeditiously, with a minimum of partisanship. There has been no partisanship from any of the opposition parties on any of the legislation. That needs to be pointed out because there is an attempt being made right now to suggest that somehow Parliament has blocked the advancement of aboriginal Canadians or that Parliament has not been in favour of the legislation that has been brought forward to improve their economic and social conditions.

Parliament can be very proud of the work it has done. The Indian affairs committee can be very proud of the work it has been done over the course of the last 18 months. There is, at this point, not a single piece of aboriginal legislation backlogged in the House. The opposition parties have not blocked any legislation that the Government of Canada has brought forward on aboriginal Canadians. Therefore, to somehow suggest that the opposition parties are being partisan is unfair in the extreme.

This legislation was brought to the House by the government today. The opposition parties are indicating their willingness to have it moved expeditiously through the House of Commons before any election takes place. At the end of the day, Canadians will be the judge of who is responsible for many of the difficulties and grievances that we see in aboriginal communities. It has not been the opposition parties.

I congratulate the proponents of this legislation, who are in Ottawa today, and they have our support.

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10:35 a.m.

Bloc

Marcel Gagnon Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

Mr. Speaker, we are talking today about a bill that I am extremely proud of and which seeks to recognize the rights of aboriginals and provide them with the legislative framework they need to develop. This is something we have long called for.

I was a member of the Quebec government under René Lévesque. In 1984, Quebec became the first province to recognize the rights of the first nations and also to recognize that they had the same rights as all other nations, more, in fact, since they were here before us. They helped us to settle in this country. It is thanks to them that we managed to survive, but they have long been forgotten and they are still being forgotten.

I did not appreciate what the minister said at the start of her remarks just now. She said that if an election is called, the first nations will pay the price. I would point out that it is November 2005 and that this party has been in power for quite some time now. Whenever I talk to aboriginal people in my riding and throughout Quebec, they tell me that they have long been forgotten. This is nothing new. Just because an election call is only days or weeks away does not give them the right to say that, if everything is not agreed to today, there will not be enough time to properly consider a bill affecting the first nations, thereby depriving them of legislation they need.

I can say that we have worked hard. I have worked hard in my riding as a member in Quebec City and now here, in order to give the first nations the rights to which they are entitled.

We need only visit the first nations' territories in my riding or elsewhere in Quebec to see the terrible conditions in which they live. I do not want to hear that a legislative framework was needed to help them. Political will was all that was needed.

CMHC has amassed billions of dollars, but does not spend what is necessary to provide the first nations with decent housing. It is very close to indecent, the way the first nations are living in my riding, in Quebec, and in Canada

Of course we are in favour of this bill. We would, however, like to have the time to consult the first nations. Some have been consulted in Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia, but not in Quebec. A letter has been sent to the chiefs indicating they were consulted, but this is false. I think they will probably agree. Let us stop this paternalism. These people are capable of deciding what they want.

Two weeks ago, I met with the first nations chiefs in my riding and the neighbouring ones. They asked me when we were going to realize that they are human beings with all the rights of any other human being on this planet and in this country. They asked me when we were going to stop thinking for them and deciding what is good for them, and start asking them what they want instead.

This is a good bill and had input from a number of first nations, but I would like to see the input of the first nations of Quebec and of my riding included. We are therefore consenting to adoption of the bill at second reading, because we will be able to continue to improve it when it gets to parliamentary committee, and particularly will be able to ask the first nations of Quebec what they think of it.

I do not know if some of my colleagues watched the report on the first nations of Abitibi on Radio-Canada's Le Point this week. I had phone calls this morning from some people who had not seen it but could report to me on the situation there.

There are people living off reserve and cramming in huge numbers into houses 20 feet by 24 feet. Their children are taken away from them at the beginning of the week and returned to them for the weekend. The houses do not have running water or electricity. Now, do not come and tell me that this is showing respect for the people who have been living on this land for 12,000 years, who were here before us and helped us settle in this country.

It is an attempt to hide this government's incompetence and mismanagement when it comes to the first nations to claim today that we have to rush this bill through for them. I recognize that some things need to be fixed, and we, in the Bloc Québécois, will certainly not stand in the way of that. However, I find it rather indecent to be told that, by having an election called, the opposition would be depriving the first nations of the tools they need and that we would be to blame.

I think we can never do enough to give back to the first nations all that is owed to them. In my riding, we have aboriginal people living approximately 100 kilometres from La Tuque, in the northern part of the riding. It is the nearest town to them. The Weymontachie aboriginal people, for instance, have hardly any decent roads or means of transportation. A train goes by from time to time. I am trying to ensure that they at least have a paved airstrip on which planes can land anytime. At present, if a disaster happened in the north in the spring, no plane could even land because the airstrip is gravel. It is dangerous. There is just no way.

It would have cost $200,000 to build an airstrip over the summer. I did everything in my power to get that strip, but was told no every step of the way. And now, they are telling me that, by delaying passage of this bill, we are denying aboriginal people the assistance they need. That is not true. There is a little too much hypocrisy in that.

I still support passage of the bill as quickly as possible. However, could native peoples in Canada and Quebec please be considered as adults? They are entitled to be consulted and not at the last minute or by government letter? If they do not answer the letter, they are assumed to be in agreement. The time must be taken to go and visit them and ask them what they need. Time has to be taken as well to help them out once their needs are known. Their housing, road and airport requirements are known. There is no need to consult them on these, as they have been bringing them to our attention for quite a while. In terms of health care and education and the right to retain their culture and their language, their needs are known and the right is theirs. It enriches us at the same time.

Nothing is more extraordinary than going into a native community that has next to nothing for its development and seeing that everyone in the community, 125 km from La Tuque, is bilingual. They speak their first language and either French or English, sometimes both. Despite us, they have retained their culture and share it, enriching us. That is really extraordinary and makes us proud.

Why are they so neglected? Why not give them what they need to develop their community? Why say today that this legislation is urgent, when it has been urgent for decades to respond to them and especially to consider them an integral part of Canadian and Quebec society? They have the same rights as everyone and, I would add that they perhaps even have more, since they were here before us.

The fact that we are here now is very much because of their help in the past. So they have the right to develop their community in a way that preserves their culture, their language and their economy.

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10:45 a.m.

Bloc

Roger Gaudet Montcalm, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have a quick question for my colleague from Champlain.

The government opposite, in power since 1993, has been concerning itself with every provincial field of jurisdiction instead of its own responsibilities, namely Indian Affairs, Veterans Affairs, the guaranteed income supplement, Kyoto, National Defence, helicopters and submarines and especially the fiscal imbalance.

Why is the government not minding its own affairs? I would like my colleague to say a few words about that.

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10:45 a.m.

Bloc

Marcel Gagnon Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for giving the floor back to me for a few minutes so that I can express how disgusted I am at how much money has been wasted just because there is an excess of it. The sponsorship scandal saga has shown us that there was no shortage of money. The government does not take care of its own affairs because it prefers to interfere in provincial jurisdictions.

The government interferes in provincial jurisdictions such as education and health by refusing to give money back to the provinces. If we do end up getting any money it is only because we have been begging for it for years.

The federal government does not take care of its own affairs. However, it is not shy about interfering in jurisdictions that do not belong to it, including aboriginal affairs. It was mentioned earlier that Alberta, like Quebec, has a legislative framework for taking care of aboriginals. However, a big part of that framework is the federal government's responsibility. The purpose of this legislation is to correct this problem that has been ignored for years.

I mentioned the landing strip. I am incensed by the economic and sanitary conditions aboriginals are living in. Some of them say, “We cannot repair our house because it does not belong to us. We cannot use our land as collateral for a loan because it does not belong to us”. They are living in hardship conditions. This problem is the responsibility of the federal government and the CMHC, which have the means to help, but refuse to do so. They are ignoring aboriginals.

With just a few weeks before an election, we urgently need to pass this legislation, even if it is already too late. Nonetheless, I hope the government will not be boasting about this, since it has no reason to brag about the work it has done for aboriginals.

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10:50 a.m.

Bloc

Robert Bouchard Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to put a question to the hon. member for Saint-Maurice—Champlain, but first I want to congratulate him on his speech.

Of course, he mentioned that a number of claims had been made by aboriginal communities, including the one in de La Vérendrye Park and the one in his riding which, I believe, is located about 100 kilometres from La Tuque. All these claims go back several years, up to 20 years or so in some cases.

Could the hon. member explain why successive governments have been procrastinating on this issue, to the point where, 20 years later, no concrete action has been taken to meet the needs of these aboriginal communities?

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10:50 a.m.

Bloc

Marcel Gagnon Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

Mr. Speaker, what the hon. member is saying is so true.

I had the opportunity to tour Quebec regarding the seniors' issue. When I visited the aboriginal community, I realized that, out of a population of 2,000, only 2 or 3 people were over 65. As we can see, life expectancy among aboriginal people is not very high, and this is because our failure to act.

The hon. member is right when he says that we have been neglecting them for the past 20 years. In fact, it has been longer than that, but over the past 20 years, we have been more aware of their plight. We have greater means now, but they are also better able to see to what extent they are being neglected. In my opinion, it is very urgent to look after these people and give them back part of what is owed to them.

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10:50 a.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join in the debate on Bill C-71.

Let me set the record straight from the get-go. If this bill gets held up or bogged down, I do not for one moment accept that it has anything to do with the opposition parties. In fact I, for one, as the aboriginal affairs critic for the NDP have been waiting for three months for this bill to come to the aboriginal affairs committee in order to deal with it properly. We cleared the slate for it to come here. So, if there are any misconceptions out there about our democratic right to call the Liberals to task in the event of an election happening, it certainly does nothing to undermine this initiative.

Having had the fullness in time, now, to deal with this bill, I am glad we are having this debate today. We would not be having this debate today because as of a week ago there was an all-party agreement to fast-track this bill. However, this bill has fallen as collateral damage to other negotiations taking place about fast-tracking other bills. Now we are told that, until we get all-party agreement on how we vote on those other fast-track bills, there will be no cooperation on this bill.

So, let us be clear on what is really driving the lack of progress on Bill C-71.

Speaking to the merits of the bill, let me begin by saying that we have had feedback from some first nations around the country who are concerned about the bill. I agree with my colleague from the Bloc that there is justification to have this bill go to committee and hear some of these concerns. Even the government's own briefing note starts by saying there is some opposition to this bill. I can tell members the Indian Resource Council of Canada is thoroughly opposed to this bill.

Looking at the bill, the summary begins:

As Parliament has exclusive jurisdiction to make laws in relation to Indian lands,--

We know that is simply not true in either tone or in content. Parliament's jurisdiction may make provincial jurisdiction ultra vires, but now that we have subsection 35(1), there is a first nation jurisdiction the government wants to squelch. It could be said that provincial regulatory laws do not apply on reserve, so why this preamble? I believe it reveals the true thinking of the authors. This is one of the points that is being made in competition here.

The preamble states:

WHEREAS existing Acts of Parliament do not provide sufficient authority for Canada or first nations to establish such regimes;

There are two concerns I have with that statement. I should point out as a historical note that we would not have subsection 35(1) of the Constitution Act, 1982, were it not for the specific efforts, in fact the stubborn obstinance, of the NDP of that time. I am sitting here with my colleague from Ottawa Centre who as the leader of the NDP at the time made two personal visits to Prime Minister Trudeau imploring and urging the government, emphasizing that we must acknowledge existing and inherent aboriginal and treaty rights in the Constitution Act, 1982, or it would be incomplete and we would have lost this opportunity.

So, we would not have subsection 35(1) were it not for the efforts of people like the member for Ottawa Centre, the member for Elmwood—Transcona, who was fully engaged in that negotiation and debate, the member for Skeena at that time, Jim Fulton, the aboriginal affairs critic, and Jim Manly from Vancouver Island, the NDP critic also at the time. All these members urged and dragged the Liberal government of the day, kicking and screaming, into recognizing the inherent existing aboriginal and treaty rights.

It is in that same context that I am here to defend subsection 35(1)of the Constitution Act, 1982, to ensure that nothing is passed and certainly not fast-tracked in such a way that would undermine or diminish the tone and content of this piece of legislation.

That is the concern that I raise here today. When the bill states that Parliament has exclusive jurisdiction to make laws in relation to Indian lands, how is that recognizing the inherent existing rights of aboriginal people to self-determination? We are off to a bad start before we even get to the substance of the bill.

That tone is worrisome because there is a fear in Indian country that we are fast-tracking pieces of legislation through that incrementally diminish the inherent right to self-determination. When such time as self-government does come about for first nations, there will be nothing left to regulate because it will all have been incrementally chipped away and handed over to other pieces of legislation.

The preamble in the legislation states:

WHEREAS existing Acts of Parliament do not provide sufficient authority for Canada or first nations to establish such regimes;

An act of Parliament is not needed to provide this sufficient authority for a self-governing first nation to regulate its own internal affairs such as establishing a regulatory regime. First nations can do that now under self-determination.

There already is an act of Parliament, the Indian Act, which could have been used in this case where there are no secondary motives at play. A first nation could simply establish a bylaw which would incorporate provincial law as its own law. That would have been a simple way under an existing act of Parliament to harmonize the regulatory regime on a reserve to the regulatory regime of a province without undermining or chipping away the right of self-determination or putting another law in effect which could erode that first nations jurisdiction.

It is good that we are having this debate today because I have another concern to raise. These ideas have developed since--

First Nations Commercial and Industrial Development Act
Government Orders

11 a.m.

The Speaker

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. member. The hon. member for Winnipeg Centre has run us to 11 o'clock and I have to interrupt proceedings at this point to deal with statements by members, but the hon. member will have three minutes left when this debate resumes, plus the five minutes questions and comments at the conclusion of his speech.