House of Commons Hansard #30 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was nations.

Topics

Specific Claims Tribunal Act
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Liberal

Brent St. Denis Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Speaker, the comments of the hon. member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca remind me of a comment a friend of mine made. He was a former chief at Sagamok Anishnawbek First Nation near Massey, Ontario. He is very educated, like many of our first nations leadership. He said that what Canadians had to understand was they did not want to go back to living the way they lived 200 years ago. They wanted to become modern too, but they wanted to retain their land roots, cultural roots and language roots, which is what all cultures want to do. All cultures typically want to modernize, improve the quality of life, have better health outcomes, have better education and have better local economies. We all want that.

I appreciate the hon. member's question. The federal government needs to see its role with first nations as a partnership.

When the first contact was made, it appeared that we took over all the land, at least it looks like that when we step back. It was done in a way that was supposed to have been negotiated each step along the way.

As reserves were being negotiated and European settlement took place outside the reserves, there was a quid pro quo. The Crown offered education, because the leaders of the first nations demanded that in trade, the land for education. They demanded access to health care. They demanded to be part of the country. It was a trade. It was not the Huns arriving and taking over the country. Arrangements were negotiated each step along the way.

It was must be our part now to honour those negotiations, to do the right thing and in partnership. If they have the land base, and each community has a land base to which they are entitled, or the cash in lieu of that land base, they would be more capable of local economic development, having schools in their communities in their own language, should they choose to do so, to have better health outcomes.

First nations people are naturally spiritual people, naturally connected to the earth. We have to recognize that and honour that as an example of going forward.

Our aboriginal population is growing. They are a wonderful resource for our economy as it grows. We need young aboriginal people to be strong participants in the labour force and in our education system to the extent that first nations can meld their cultural language within this big country in a way that allows them to preserve those roots. There is nothing worse than losing one's culture because somebody else made it happen. When we lose those roots, we have lost something forever.

We owe an obligation to look at our first nations, our aboriginal people, as partners in the future of the country, not as adversaries, which has so often been the case.

Specific Claims Tribunal Act
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I have one comment and then a question.

The last point, which I have brought up a number of times in Parliament, is excellent. There is a huge labour shortage not only in western Canada, but across the country. Demographically, the biggest unemployed resource that could fill those available jobs is young aboriginal people. I would certainly appreciate more investment in and concentration on getting those people to fill the jobs for which industry is constantly after us.

This is good news, dealing with the specific claims, which are potential breaches by Canada of existing old treaties. As I mentioned in my speech earlier, does the member also think we should enhance our efforts on comprehensive land claims, which are the big claims and they are backlogged, and self-government initiatives? A lot of first nations and aboriginal people are on the waiting list?

Then there is the implementation of those claims. As members know, the Auditor General has brought some concerns forward. In the north, in particular, we need investment. We need to ensure they are implemented correctly as to exactly what we signed quickly and efficiently and in good faith.

Specific Claims Tribunal Act
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Liberal

Brent St. Denis Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the point of view of my colleague from Yukon. His question reminded me of how often I have met elderly aboriginal men and women who have come home to their communities to retire and who have spent much of their lives working in Toronto, or in construction in Chicago. I think members will find that many first nation aboriginal people have gone away to work in other areas of prosperity in times past.

Somehow there has been a big time gap in that process, for whatever number of reasons we might imagine. My colleague is absolutely right. We not only want our aboriginal youth to get the training they deserve to become complete members of the workforce. We need them to get that education and to become members of the workforce.

I and my colleagues have seen numbers in the forecasts, which indicate that in an array of economic sectors, the shortfall in the labour pool, the number of people able to fill those positions, is vast, in some cases tens of thousands of positions. We not only want our aboriginal people to participate, we need them to participate.

As to the comprehensive claims, just as we need to face head-on the specific claims challenge, it is likewise for comprehensive claims. The better we do this, the more completely we do this, following a timeline that is not only appropriate to us but appropriate to the aboriginal people, the better we will be as a country.

Specific Claims Tribunal Act
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Liberal

Roger Valley Kenora, ON

Mr. Speaker, my colleague's speech was excellent. He commented on how treaties changed from the day they were signed until they were transported over and historically recorded.

I will bring up one point, and that is in many of the instances for the remote sites, the people travelling in did not notify the communities that they were settling the sizes on the boundaries and everything else. There would be 18 families in one spot and only six families were located. Therefore, a community that at one time housed 300 to 400 people, now houses 2,700 people. A lot of these claims have come from that, so things have changed.

Negotiation, whether it is on this bill or not, will not succeed without consultation even when the tribunal is working. Unless we consult with the people who are affected on the ground, it will not work. Therefore, we need to ensure we do both.

Specific Claims Tribunal Act
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Liberal

Brent St. Denis Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Speaker, my colleague from Kenora, who represents a large number of first nations and who speaks out for them many times in this place, makes a very good point.

Our first nations need to be consulted. The Assembly of First Nations, rightfully so, has spoken as the leadership for first nations across the country. It has put forward, with the government, this proposal. I think if we asked the AFN leadership, it would totally agree that this is just the beginning of discussing this with those to be most affected.

Specific Claims Tribunal Act
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in support of Bill C-30. From the outset, let me say that the Bloc Québécois will be supporting this bill at this stage, as it will hopefully see first nations claims that have remained unresolved since the 1970s finally be resolved. In addition, we believe that implementing this bill, a collaborative effort involving the first nations among others, will help speed up a settlement.

It is important, however, to put some of our concerns across. That is why we will have every witness necessary appear before the committee, so that our fears and concerns can be addressed. In fact, the Bloc Québécois is the greatest champion of the Quebec nation and also one of the greatest champions of aboriginal nations.

What we are somewhat concerned about in this bill is the fact that a single judge will be able to reach a binding decision on the responsibilities of a third party who may not even have participated in the judgment. That is one of our concerns. Among other things, could a judge unilaterally impose on a third party a responsibility to pay a claim? What will happen to the Government of Canada’s fiduciary responsibility for the first nations, since that is its primary responsibility? We do not want this bill to permit the Government of Canada to evade its fiduciary responsibility for the first nations. Some of the specific claims of the first nations are quite simply Ottawa’s responsibility.

We are very aware of the fact that, for more than 60 years, various House committees have recommended that an independent tribunal should be established to deal with specific claims of the first nations. It is certainly time, therefore, to take a look at it. We have to make sure that this bill is the right approach. We in the Bloc Québécois also think that the accelerated negotiation of specific claims of the first nations, as proposed in the bill, is basically subject to the answers obtained to various questions. This is good news for the first nations.

I should say for the benefit of the people listening to us that the purposes of this bill are, first, to establish an independent tribunal, the specific claims tribunal, second, to bring greater fairness to the way specific claims are handled in Canada, and third, to improve and accelerate the specific claim resolution process.

We know historically that a number of joint and Senate committees have recommended since 1947 that an independent tribunal should be established. The first nations have been asking for this now for more than 60 years. Negotiations will still be the preferred method of resolving issues, but when no agreement can be reached, a tribunal is necessary to solve the problem.

Over the summer of 2007, discussions on related implementation matters took place between federal officials and first nation leaders. These talks were led by a Joint Canada—Assembly of First Nations Task Force, which was announced last July 25. The bill was developed, therefore, through this collaborative process. It should be said, however, that the first nations of Canada set up a committee to work on the bill but no member of the first nations of Quebec was on it. The Government of Canada also met with a number of provinces, including Quebec, to present the bill to them.

At whom is the bill aimed? The claims it addresses are strictly financial, up to a maximum amount of $150 million. The budget is $250 million a year for 10 years. The bill applies only to financial claims, as I said. It does not apply to claims for punitive damages or losses of a cultural or spiritual nature or non-financial compensation. No lands can be awarded under the bill. It can only provide financial compensation. In addition, the claim must be based on events that occurred within the 15 years immediately preceding the date on which the claim was filed. This is meant, of course, as a response to claims that have not been dealt with since 1947.

The land claims deal with past grievances of the first nations. They relate to Canada’s obligations under historic treaties or the way it managed first nation funds or other assets, including reserve land.

I want to reiterate, therefore, that the only purpose of the bill is to provide financial compensation.

Insofar as implementation is concerned, the bill provides for three scenarios in which a first nation could file a specific claim with the tribunal. The first is when a claim has been rejected by Canada, including a scenario in which Canada fails to meet the three-year time limit for assessing claims. The second can arise at any stage in the negotiation process if all parties agree. As I said previously, therefore, negotiations are the preferred approach. However, if the parties see that they cannot agree, all or one of them can ask the tribunal to resolve the issue. The third scenario in which the tribunal could be asked to decide is after three years of unsuccessful negotiations or three years without any results. The tribunal could then be asked to deal with the problem.

On the operational level, the tribunal will examine only questions of fact and law to determine whether Canada has a lawful obligation to a first nation. If a claim is deemed valid, the tribunal—

Specific Claims Tribunal Act
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. member. He will have 14 minutes left to finish his speech when we resume debate on this bill.

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer

It being 5:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion at second reading stage of Bill C-28.

Call in the members.

(The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)

Vote #19

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007
Government Orders

5:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I declare the motion carried. Accordingly, the bill stands referred to the Standing Committee on Finance.

(Bill read the second time and referred to a committee)

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007
Government Orders

5:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

It being 6:00 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

The House resumed from October 30 consideration of the motion.

Charter of Rights and Freedoms
Private Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

When this motion was last before the House the hon. member for Yorkton--Melville had the floor. There are seven minutes remaining in the time allotted for his remarks. I therefore call upon the hon. member for Yorkton--Melville.

Charter of Rights and Freedoms
Private Members' Business

6 p.m.

Conservative

Garry Breitkreuz Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to resume my support for enshrining property rights in the Constitution.

Property rights are essential for our well-being, our economy and our way of life. Why then do we afford them so little protection? Our most important rights and freedoms belong in our Constitution.

The common law statutes and the Bill of Rights are second best. Only a constitutional amendment can put property rights where they belong, in the supreme law of Canada.

Canada is the only modern industrialized country that does not protect property rights adequately. The right to own land and other materials is not included in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and this is a glaring omission. Property rights have been at the centre of the human rights movement from the beginning.

Since 1912 and Magna Carta people have understood that the right to own and use property is necessary for political freedom.

After the English Civil Wars, John Locke famously argued that the right to life, liberty and property were natural inalienable rights and if the state was to have legitimacy in the eyes of its people it had to secure these rights. We are making the same argument today in this House.

Small wonder that many people are disillusioned by big government tactics that trample on the rights of the individual. It is astounding that property rights were not written into the charter when it was tabled to much fanfare 25 years ago.

As recently as last December our Prime Minister supported putting property rights into the charter, but he will wait until the provinces and public are ready to agree on the amendments.

Private members' bills and motions to enshrine property rights have been debated in the House of Commons 10 times since 1983 and 5 of those debates were bills or motions that I introduced. Members can see that it is very important to me as it should be to the House and it is to most Canadians.

Property rights are included in the Bill of Rights, but they need to be written into the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to have the protection of the courts. The right to own property, enjoy one's property, and not risk being unfairly deprived of one's property is a cornerstone of a free and democratic society.

It should have been unlawful for the government to ban and devalue legally registered firearms with Bill C-68 in 1995 without compensation. The law-abiding firearms owners did nothing wrong, yet big government simply waved its hand and rendered their property worthless overnight. Many of the firearms collections that suddenly became taboo were family legacies passed from generation to generation as heirlooms.

There is also the case of the mentally challenged veterans who were denied payment of millions of dollars of interest on their pension benefits by the federal government when they lost their case before the Supreme Court in July 2003. Big government should not be allowed to take away what is rightfully ours.

Many farmers across the land are not allowed to sell some of their own crops when and where they want because the government continues to control the flow of certain agricultural products.

Canada is being left behind. Today we find property rights protected in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, the American Convention on Human Rights, the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights and in the constitutions of several nations.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights for example states:

(1) Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others.

(2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.

Who would deny this? Who would deny that these rights are fundamental in a free and democratic society? It is clearly a basic right to own property and not to be unfairly deprived of one's property. Basic rights belong in the Constitution.

Against this background the charter appears to be an anomaly and as a document that guarantees rights and freedoms in a free and democratic society, its silence about property rights is clearly an omission that must be corrected.

Canadians expect to see property rights in their supreme law. They want to know that they will be treated with fairness and respect. In fact, an SES Research national survey showed that a strong majority of Canadians support adding property rights to the charter.

A recent Globe and Mail-CTV poll found that 73% of respondents support the notion of having the right to own and protect property enshrined in the charter. Let us listen to those Canadians and support this motion. For all these reasons, I support this motion today.

I would appeal to all members in the House to look carefully at the issue. Many have simply dismissed it as not important. It is one of the important fundamental rights that we should be debating fully in the House and will, hopefully, approve. I look forward to this debate and a positive outcome to this motion.