House of Commons Hansard #93 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was first.

Topics

Motions in Amendment
Climate Change Accountability Act
Private Members' Business

Noon

Conservative

Ed Fast Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, we have just witnessed more bafflegab from the NDP. Canadians know that the NDP will never form government in Canada so it can continue to make promise after promise without ever having to deliver on those promises. It can also afford to bash Albertans and the jobs it generates for this country because it does not hold any seats there and it never will.

This climate change accountability act is a bill that is so poorly drafted that nothing less than a total rewrite could salvage it. However, a total rewrite of Bill C-377 is not what Canadians are asking for and it is not the solution to addressing the challenges of climate change.

Canadians and the international community want to see this government take action, not Liberal rhetoric, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, action that was sorely missing during 13 long years of Liberal indifference toward the environment.

Our government recognizes that the time for endless studies and argument is over, which is why our government introduced its turning the corner action plan in April 2007. That plan will see absolute greenhouse gas emission reductions of 20% by the year 2020 for the first time ever in Canada.

Our targets are among the toughest in the world, and what is remarkable is that we are the only country to tackle greenhouse gases and air pollutants together. I will explain why that is important.

Air pollution has the most immediate short term impact on the health of Canadians. My daughter suffers from asthma and around June and July of every year, when the pollens come up, she suffers from asthma. Those events in her life are sometimes quite a struggle. Millions of Canadians suffer from pollution related diseases. Our government is not only tackling greenhouse gas emissions, we are also addressing the issue of air pollution and that is why it is important to connect those two.

Under the capable leadership of our Prime Minister, we have put our money where our mouth is. Since October 2006, our government has invested almost $9 billion in programs and initiatives designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution that will not only benefit the environment but improve the health of all Canadians.

We are putting in place a regulatory framework with mandatory and enforceable targets that will ensure reductions in greenhouse emissions in the industrial sector. For the first time ever in Canada, we actually have targets that will be regulated.

This will be the first time a Canadian federal government has ever taken such action. Previous Liberal governments had the opportunity to take that action. They talked a big game but when it came to actually delivering they failed Canadians miserably.

The bill states that its purpose is to ensure that Canada contributes fully to the stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere. Without a doubt, our Conservative government agrees that Canada needs to take further action to tackle this complex challenge and we are committed to doing just that, however, this bill would not help us to achieve those objectives.

The major issue is that this bill has targets that are unachievable and unrealistic. In fact, if the Liberals were honest they would accept that because for nine years, since the Kyoto accord was signed, they had an opportunity to implement targets that were enforceable and mandatory. Did they get it done? No. It was an abject failure of leadership on the part of the previous Liberal government.

I know I will have a few more minutes to speak later on this but this is about being responsible and addressing the environment in Canada. We as a Conservative government are getting it done. Shame on the Liberals.

Motions in Amendment
Climate Change Accountability Act
Private Members' Business

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

When we return to the study of Bill C-377, there will be five minutes left for the hon. member for Abbotsford.

The House resumed consideration of Bill C-30, An Act to establish the Specific Claims Tribunal and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, as reported (with amendments) from the committee.

An Act to establish the Specific Claims Tribunal
Government Orders

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

There being no motions at report stage on this bill, the House will now proceed, without debate, to the putting of the question on the motion to concur in the bill at report stage.

An Act to establish the Specific Claims Tribunal
Government Orders

12:05 p.m.

Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon
B.C.

Conservative

Chuck Strahl Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians

moved that the bill, as amended, be concurred in.

An Act to establish the Specific Claims Tribunal
Government Orders

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

An Act to establish the Specific Claims Tribunal
Government Orders

12:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

An Act to establish the Specific Claims Tribunal
Government Orders

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

(Motion agreed to)

When shall the bill be read the third time? By leave, now?

An Act to establish the Specific Claims Tribunal
Government Orders

12:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

An Act to establish the Specific Claims Tribunal
Government Orders

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

Chuck Strahl Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon, BC

moved that the bill be read the third time and passed.

Mr. Speaker, I share the members' enthusiasm for Bill C-30, the specific claims tribunal act. The legislation represents a significant step forward in the relationship between Canada and first nations.

A specific claim is a grievance related to Canada's obligations under historic treaties, or the way it managed first nation land and other assets. Resolving these claims benefits not only first nations, but all Canadians. Resolved claims bring certainty regarding land and resource ownership, allowing first nations and all potential investors to go forward with confidence.

Settled claims help to create strong, prosperous first nation communities that generate social and economic benefits that spill over into neighbouring communities, creating even greater prosperity for all Canadians.

Settled claims help to create strong, prosperous first nation communities that generate social and economic benefits that spill over into neighbouring communities, creating even greater prosperity for all Canadians.

As my hon. colleagues know all too well, the processes now in place to negotiate and resolve specific claims are unacceptably slow. Bill C-30 is the first element in the government's plan to overhaul the specific claims process and to restore confidence in the integrity and effectiveness of the process.

Bill C-30 proposes to establish the specific claims tribunal, an independent tribunal empowered to settle specific claims. The tribunal can make binding decisions on specific claims that have been rejected for negotiation, or when negotiations fail or after three years of unsuccessful negotiations.

Bill C-30 proposes to establish specific deadlines and mechanisms to ensure that claims are settled in a fair, open and timely fashion. The tribunal will make final decisions on the legitimacy of claims and on appropriate levels of financial compensation. It can award settlements of up to $150 million per claim and decisions will be binding and not subject to appeal, although they will be subject to judicial review. This will all be overseen by federally appointed superior court judges, who will serve on the tribunal.

To hold the specific claims tribunal accountable to Canadians, the proposed legislation requires the tribunal chairperson to prepare annual reports to Parliament, complete with financial statements. In addition, the minister of Indian affairs and northern development must conduct a review of the legislation within five years and table the results in Parliament. This review will address everything from the tribunal's mandate and structure to its operations and achievements. Because this is all borne out of a partnership, first nations will be involved in the review, as amended by the standing committee in the House of Commons.

Bill C-30 includes several provisions to protect the interests of all Canadians. The tribunal cannot award land, for instance. It can only award cash settlements, even when land is the principal subject of the specific claim. First nations are free, however, to use moneys awarded by the tribunal to purchase land from willing sellers. When the tribunal decides a claim related to land, the first nation interest in that land would be released so that title would be cleared.

I emphasize that in no way does the proposed legislation diminish the government's commitment to negotiate specific claims. Negotiated settlements are always preferable because they are the product of collaboration, mutual respect and informed conciliation. Bill C-30 would support negotiations by articulating a clear, direct path toward settlement.

Bill C-30 is the product of a lengthy consultative and collaborative process that involved key stakeholders. The bill itself was developed jointly with the Assembly of First Nations. There is no doubt that these exchanges added considerable value to the proposed legislation. In fact, many of the witnesses who testified during the review of Bill C-30 by the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development remarked on the positive elements of this joint Canada-AFN collaborative effort.

The following is a quote from the testimony from Chief Lawrence Joseph of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations. He stated:

I...have served in the government for 30 years and also as a chief for 10 years, and I have never seen this high-level type of commitment from government to actually do something jointly with first nations in a very strategic and structured way. I applaud that.

Others applaud it as well. The national chief of the Assembly of First Nations shares this view. During his testimony, National Chief Fontaine made these remarks. He stated:

Bill C-30 represents a tremendous collaborative effort between first nations and the federal government at achieving agreement on the design, composition, and mandate of an independent specific claims tribunal.

The standing committee heard from many witnesses supporting Bill C-30 and the process that led to its creation. It is important to recognize, though, that representations from stakeholders over the years were important not only to the development of the proposed legislation, but also the implementation of the larger action plan on specific claims.

The plan includes several components such as dedicated funding for settlements, increased access to mediation and improved negotiation processes. In fact, government and first nations officials have worked tirelessly to refine and implement the plan ever since the Prime Minister and the national chief of the AFN announced it 11 months ago.

A joint task force helped develop the legislation now before us, in an agreement between the national chief and myself to collaborate on issues not explicitly addressed in the legislation, such as additions to reserve and claims valued in excess of $150 million. In other words, we continue to work on other things at the same time. Each of these components takes into account years of feedback from first nations groups.

This comprehensive action plan is designed to deliver meaningful, measurable results. The time it takes to process new claims will be cut in half. While it will take some years to eliminate the current backlog, the total number of claims in the system will decrease steadily. Given that unresolved claims often impede social and economic development, I fully expect that the increase in settled claims will usher in a new era of prosperity for many first nations communities. Our Conservative government knows that this will benefit all Canadians, aboriginal and non-aboriginal alike.

I will cite one more excerpt from National Chief Fontaine's testimony to the standing committee. In this quote Mr. Fontaine talks about why he was so keen to help develop the legislation. He said:

We thought we would finally be able to bring about a fair and just resolution to the many outstanding claims....We were talking about an opportunity not just to settle these claims but to revitalize first nations economies in many parts of the country....So we're talking about bringing about some major changes that will benefit and improve the lives of our people...

Bill C-30 paves the way for a new era, one that features greater collaboration between first nations and the Government of Canada. The proposed legislation will help create the legal certainty that first nations need to strengthen their communities and bring Canadians together in common purpose.

Bill C-30 paves the way for a new era, one that features greater collaboration between first nations and the Government of Canada. The proposed legislation will help create the legal certainty that first nations need to strengthen their communities and bring Canadians together in common purpose.

For all these reasons, Bill C-30 richly deserves the support of all members of the House. I encourage my hon. colleagues to vote in favour of this important legislation now before us.

An Act to establish the Specific Claims Tribunal
Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

Lloyd St. Amand Brant, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to the speech of the Minister of Indian Affairs. By his own admission, although not verbalized today, the easier claims to resolve would be covered within the legislation, “the picking off of the proverbial low hanging fruit”, to adopt the minister's phrase.

With respect to the difficult claims that have been filed or registered by Six Nations of the Grand River territory in my riding and in the riding of the member for Cambridge, claims that are well in excess of the $150 million, it is my understanding that no such claim of that ilk would be covered in the legislation.

What does the minister propose to do with respect to the difficult claims, particularly those filed by Six Nations of the Grand River territory?

An Act to establish the Specific Claims Tribunal
Government Orders

12:15 p.m.

Conservative

Chuck Strahl Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon, BC

Mr. Speaker, I referred earlier the “low hanging fruit”, the claims that had been hanging around far too long in my opinion and in the opinion of our government, claims that should have been settled ages ago. We make no apologies for settling a record number of specific claims in the last year, by negotiation, because it was the right thing to do. Why they languished for so long is a mystery to me. By being aggressive and by targeting those, so the irritants were off the table, was the right thing to do. I make no apologies for that.

It is true that the bill addresses claims of under $150 million. There are some bigger claims. For example, last year I signed an agreement in principle with the Big Stone Cree in northern Alberta. It was a $300 million deal and involved 140,000 acres of land. It involved transfers of schools and all kinds of things. Big settlements like those affect the fiscal capacity of the country and must have a mandate from cabinet.

Whether claims are in Six Nations territory or others, they need a mandate from cabinet if they are in excess of $150 million. We have made some significant progress. For the first time, we have a couple of offers on the table in Six Nations territory to address both the Welland Canal issue and another greater one. It is about $125 million claim.

We are intent on settling claims where Canada has a legal exposure. We want to get them done because it is the right thing to do. It is justice at last, but it also takes that irritant off the table to allow us all to get on with our lives with some certainty.

An Act to establish the Specific Claims Tribunal
Government Orders

12:15 p.m.

Bloc

Marc Lemay Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to part of the minister's speech. My apologies, but I was on the road, returning from my riding. I did not think that we were going to be talking about Bill C-30 today, but I will be ready to debate it later. I went through Maniwaki. My riding abuts Pontiac, which is the riding represented by the minister's colleague, the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities. I have a question.

As the Bloc critic for aboriginal affairs and northern development, I am a member of the committee that will be studying this bill. This is a very interesting and important bill. It may enable the government to process a backlog of over 800 files—I stopped counting at about 750.

I do have a very important question. Will the government, which the minister represents, commit to implementing this bill as soon as it is passed? I would like the minister to comment on that. If the bill were to be passed this week—which is likely—how long does the minister think it would take to implement it so that first nations can work with the specific claims tribunal?

An Act to establish the Specific Claims Tribunal
Government Orders

12:15 p.m.

Conservative

Chuck Strahl Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for his question. The government has made it clear that it is committed to implementing this bill immediately. The money is already in the budget plan. The Prime Minister and the chief of the Assembly of First Nations have already made the announcement. The commitment is there, and we are ready to get to work right away. The plan is detailed. The money is there. I know that the Prime Minister, the Conservative government and—I believe—all members of the House are ready for a completely different kind of tribunal for specific claims.

An Act to establish the Specific Claims Tribunal
Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

Todd Russell Labrador, NL

Mr. Speaker, the committee went through extensive consultations with various first nations organizations around this piece of legislation. There were concerns raised. Given the nature of the bill which requires a royal recommendation, we were very limited in terms of the types of amendments we could make. It is also my understanding that the government was not very open to any substantive amendments. There were a couple of issues raised that were substantive in nature.

One is that there is only monetary compensation being provided to the claimant organizations. There is no provision on behalf of the tribunal to award lands. I am wondering why that particular provision is in there. Why could the government not be open to a more comprehensive approach to settle these specific claims that includes lands as well as moneys?

The second issue deals with the release provisions in this bill. One can only raise a specific claim on a certain basis, such as the loss of lands, the expropriation of lands and things of that nature. One cannot raise a claim based on aboriginal rights, the loss of language or the loss of cultural activity so to speak. When one releases the government from any future claims, one releases it for all of those things for which one cannot claim against the government in the first place, according to this piece of legislation. It reminds of the Indian residential schools agreement. The government was demanding that one could only be compensated for physical and sexual abuse but had to release the government from any legal liabilities for culture and language.

I am just wondering on those two particular questions why the government chose to move in that direction.