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.

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Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Question No. 224
Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

NDP

Alexa McDonough Halifax, NS

With respect to the Victoria-class submarine In-Service Support Contract awarded to Canadian Submarine Management Group for the refit of Victoria-class submarines: (a) what criteria were used by the government to compare the estimated costs to the government from competing bids; (b) were the transit costs of moving the submarines from Halifax to Victoria included in this cost comparison between competing bids; (c) does the government’s cost comparison include any costs required to ensure naval facilities are capable of conducting the submarine refit in both Victoria and Halifax; and (d) did the government’s awarding of the contract compare the relative economic benefits to the communities involved?

(Return tabled)

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all remaining questions be allowed to stand.

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Is that agreed?

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-30, An Act to establish the Specific Claims Tribunal and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, be read the third time and passed.

Specific Claims Tribunal Act
Government Orders

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Before question period the hon. member for Churchill had the floor and there are four minutes remaining in the time allotted for her remarks.

I therefore call upon the hon. member for Churchill.

Specific Claims Tribunal Act
Government Orders

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Tina Keeper Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, when I left off, I was speaking about the principle of equity and how this process and mechanism should fall within that principle of equity, which was referred to and made very clear in the Guerin case, and this is toward resolving a claim.

At the committee stage of this bill we heard recurring comments, including the lack of land as a settlement or even the recommendation of land quantum in the proposed process. The $150 million cap was a serious concern and the appointment process of judges and the denial of non-pecuniary and punitive damages. We heard these concerns over and over again from witnesses.

Another statement was the call for the government to respect its duty to consult. When appearing before the committee on April 16, the Assembly of First Nations National Chief, Phil Fontaine, stated:

It is unfortunate and regrettable that as of yet we have not been able to forge an open, ongoing, reliable, stable relationship with the current government that meaningfully reflects and respects the government-to-government relationship between first nations and the government. We see this as a missed opportunity.

The domestic front has been exposed on the international stage as well. In fact, the government tarnished Canada's reputation as a human rights champion with its staunch opposition to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Our domestic lack has been squarely framed by this international declaration.

At committee countless witnesses expressed concerns that this was extinguishment legislation. Grand Chief Morris Swan Shannacappo of the Southern Chiefs' Organization articulated his concern. He said:

As a group, our people are poor. We suffer from unemployment, poor education, and poor health. We are owed much, but we have not been allowed to partake in the bounty of this country, as originally intended by our treaties. We agreed to share; we did not agree to impoverish ourselves.

In a word, we are hungry. We are starving from the lack of justice. We suffer from a poverty of options, and our children are committing suicide or partaking in other activities that are not normal within our culture and our people.

My fear, as a leader, for my people is that we'll sell our right to the proper share of the bounty due to us in exchange for some food to limit starvation—any food today, in fact.

The grand chief's comments were in response to the government's extinguishment provisions in subclause 21(1) of the bill. MKO has maintained that this is outside the powers of Parliament, to unilaterally extinguish any of the constitutional and protected rights and lands of first nations without the consent of the rights holders, the first nations community, and that this is consistent with Canada's constitutional doctrine and practice. A membership vote may be required to ratify certain specific claims settlements, particularly if the rights of first nations are affected by the proposed settlement.

Relationships are about consistent trust and cooperative partnerships. It is real in the Churchill riding that first nations, all of which are signatories to the numbered treaties, have been alienated and marginalized from the opportunity to participate in the wealth and benefits of the land.

The lack of a non-derogation clause and the premise that this is a voluntary process and therefore requires no duty to consult on behalf of the government and the lack of its fiduciary obligation provides little encouragement that the bill and the government will honour the political accord and the proclaimed reconciliation function of the process.

Specific Claims Tribunal Act
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, could the member talk about the amounts, the limits and the amount per individual year, which seems to be insufficient?

Specific Claims Tribunal Act
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Tina Keeper Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, this was a recurring concern. There is a commitment by the government to $250 million per year over a 10 year period, for a full commitment of $2.5 billion. The maximum a claim can be settled for is $150 million. The manner in which the government proposes to proceed is to make payments over a number of years.

There was certainly a lot of concern about the $150 million cap because there are many specific claims that are over and above that. The government laid out that it was within the political accord that this would be dealt with in a political process around the larger claims and other land claims.

However, many of the questions put to the committee were around the fact that it was not in the bill. Why is it not in the bill and why is it that this bill narrows the scope of claims that can be brought forward? It also brought in the release of rights that first nations had to make to participate in this process.

I would also like to mention that within this process the monetary compensation was of extreme concern, as I had mentioned in my speech, so that if a first nation had a specific claim and was participating in the process, the minister would actually have total control and power to decide which claims would go to negotiations, which claims would be rejected and that, within the three year period where there was no response from the minister's office, then it would be deemed rejected. The deemed rejection became another point of concern.

If a claim were to be rejected or deemed rejected, the only opportunity other than litigation would be for the first nation to participate in the tribunal process, which would then deny it compensation in terms of land or non-pecuniary damages and would also be solely in the form of monetary compensation. Those are serious concerns.

Specific Claims Tribunal Act
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

Bloc

Yvon Lévesque Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague who sits on the committee with me for her presentation and, at the same time, for her diligence in defending the interests of her constituents in this matter.

I would like to ask my colleague if, during her work on specific claims settlement, she saw any other way that first nations, band councils or aboriginal communities could go about obtaining from the territories or provinces what negotiations with this government failed to provide?

Specific Claims Tribunal Act
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Tina Keeper Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, again, one of the deep concerns about this bill was that once a claim was deemed rejected or was rejected, the only other opportunity for the first nation to take it forward was through litigation. I would like to quote what was mentioned by one of the witnesses. Alan Pratt, who is a lawyer, said:

--the Bill itself establishes a Tribunal whose mandate and procedure is described in almost purely litigious terms. The Tribunal itself is an adjudicative body and is not given any “reconciliation” function.

That is really important because, again, the parameters of the tribunal, in terms of the type of compensation that can be awarded, are not what many first nations believe is within the scope of the fiduciary relationship the Crown has with first nations. The other important aspect of that is that once a first nation moves into litigation, it puts an enormous burden on it to be able to resource that case.

Specific Claims Tribunal Act
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am interested in my colleague's view of what happened with the committee in terms of the bill because some of the first nations I have worked with have always been very concerned about the claims process.

Whether it is a comprehensive claim, a specific claim, or the issue of loan funding which can be dragged out for such a period of time in terms of loan funding, especially when we move to the larger claims issues, all kinds of third parties can then become part of the proceedings. From that moment, the clock is ticking on the first nations' own finances. At the end of the day, many have been very wary about the outcomes because whatever settlements they end up getting, phenomenal amounts have been paid out to consultants and to lawyers because the process has dragged on.

I would like to ask the member about two aspects. First, is there any recognition by the government about the need to play fairly with first nations because they are at such a disadvantage in terms of being able to set the parameters for how the process will go? Second, in regard to the issue of the financial burden that is inordinately always placed on first nations in any kind of negotiations, has there been any discussion about how to mitigate against that?

Specific Claims Tribunal Act
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Tina Keeper Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, the dynamic the hon. member speaks to is a common story among first nations in Canada. It was another common concern that we heard at committee.

The recognition to play fairly is a wonderful way of phrasing it because we have legal principles of good faith and reasonableness. It seems that within the bill the government has not set out the type of support it will give to first nations to prepare their claims and that is cause for serious concern. That was a serious concern of my constituents.

However, the bill does recognize that the costs would be part of the award in the end. It may be awarded against the claimant or for the claimant.

When we look back over the last number of years, particularly going back to the 1998 Task Force on Specific Claims and the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples and every process since, this has been a recurring concern, a priority point, that first nations need the financial resources to prepare their claims and to participate in this process in a just manner.