House of Commons Hansard #96 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was first.

Topics

Questions Passed as Orders for Return
Routine Proceedings

May 15th, 2008 / 1:10 p.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, if Question No. 234 could be made an order for return, this return would be tabled immediately.

Questions Passed as Orders for Return
Routine Proceedings

1:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer

Is that agreed?

Questions Passed as Orders for Return
Routine Proceedings

1:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Question No. 234
Questions Passed as Orders for Return
Routine Proceedings

1:10 p.m.

Liberal

Roy Cullen Etobicoke North, ON

With regard to the $300 million commitment Canada made in 2003, in conjunction with the international community, as an effort to assist Iraq in its reconstruction: (a) to date, how much of the $300 million has been allocated for Iraqi reconstruction assistance; (b) what percentage of the money allocated thus far has been directed to areas largely occupied by minorities in Iraq; (c) what percentage has been directed to the ChaldoAssyrian population in the Nineveh Plains; (d) what action is the Minister taking to assist in the development of an effective security infrastructure in the Nineveh Plains; (e) since 2003, what amount of development assistance has been directed by the government to 'grassroots' non-governmental organizations in the Nineveh Plains; (f) what amount was directed to the Assyrian Aid Society and the Babylon Charitable Society towards assistance to the minorities in the Nineveh Plains; (g) since 2003, what action has the government taken to promote regional democratic development and local administration in the Nineveh Plains; and (h) what action will the government consider to stop any ethno-religious discrimination and abuses of the indigenous ChaldoAssyrian minority?

(Return tabled)

Questions Passed as Orders for Return
Routine Proceedings

1:10 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 Return
Routine Proceedings

1:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer

Is that agreed?

Questions Passed as Orders for Return
Routine Proceedings

1:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Gasoline Prices
Request for Emergency Debate
Routine Proceedings

1:10 p.m.

Bloc

Paule Brunelle Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, I request that an emergency debate be held on the sharp increase in the price of petroleum products.

Gasoline prices have increased by 30% since the beginning of the year and are still rising steadily. In the Montreal area, the average price has gone from $1.08 in January to over $1.40 today. The price of crude oil is also exploding. In the week of May 2, the price per barrel was between $113 U.S. and $119 U.S. As of May 14, it is over $120 U.S. This is a serious situation that warrants a debate.

We are approaching a long weekend, and we know that for the past five years, gasoline prices have always gone up on these long weekends.

Mr. Speaker, I would also like to draw your attention to the fact that there is currently no other procedural way I can use to request a debate on this important issue.

We want as many members as possible to be able to take part in this important debate. Consequently, we will reiterate our request for an emergency debate on May 26.

Gasoline Prices
Request for Emergency Debate
Routine Proceedings

1:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer

I want to thank the hon. member for Trois-Rivières for speaking and for reiterating her request during the week following the break.

The House resumed from May 14 consideration of the motion that Bill C-47, An Act respecting family homes situated on First Nation reserves and matrimonial interests or rights in or to structures and lands situated on those reserves, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate on Bill C-47. In the debate on this bill yesterday, there were a number of very good points raised by the member for Nunavut.

This bill is an act respecting family homes situated on first nation reserves and matrimonial interests or rights in or to structures and lands situated on those reserves.

The debate has brought a lot of very important dimensions to the crisis that exists on first nations reserves. This legislation is necessary because there is no legislation now to which people can turn. These are the representations of the member for Nunavut, who has been one of the most stellar champions of aboriginal affairs, of first nations peoples, Métis and the Inuit. During her speech, she referred to a couple of stakeholder representations, which I want to review simply to provide a context as to why I have risen to speak.

The Native Women's Association of Canada expressed its views in a press release criticizing this legislation. It expressed its frustration with what it refers to as the government's unilateral action on the bill. The discussion has to do with legislative initiatives and unlegislated initiatives. It is the unlegislated initiatives part that is the source of some of the concern expressed by the Native Women's Association of Canada.

Bev Jacobs, the president of the NWAC, stated in her press release of March 4, 2008:

There is nothing in the legislation that addresses the systemic issues of violence many women face that lead to the dissolution of marriages nor is there any money available for implementation. In the end, we end up with a more worthless piece of paper.

That is a very strong statement.

We just dealt with a report from the Standing Committee on the Status of Women relating to some of the issues, particularly with regard to the violence against many women and also some of the other areas, such as housing, poverty, governance, access to justice and general violence. It is very important to ensure that Canadians understand and our first nations also understand that we are sensitive to this. I have not seen that in regard to the representations of the government. As I listen to the questions asked by government members on Bill C-47, the government seems to be fairly dismissive. The attitude of the government is that we should just pass the bill, that it is a good bill and the government does not have to do anything else.

The government must listen to the stakeholders, those who are seeking some relief in dealing with a serious crisis within the first nations communities.

Also, there is a very significant letter dated April 8, 2008 from the office of the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Phil Fontaine. When I read it, I was somewhat concerned about the allegations that were made in the letter. The position generally is that this bill is flawed in both process and substance and that while its assessment of the bill is not finalized, the Assembly of First Nations will want to make further representations. This letter is extremely important. It was very helpful to me in understanding the view of the stakeholders, and it does include the preliminary analysis of the Assembly of First Nations.

Even in the text of the letter, with regard to Bill C-47, Mr. Fontaine said:

While it was a positive and practical step forward to engage in dialogue with the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) and the Native Women's Association of Canada in the development of this legislation, the approach falls far short of First Nations' direction that the Crown should fully engage with First Nations in developing policy and legislation that affects First Nations.

The substantive foundation of the concerns that they have has to do with the consultation process. I recall that in her speech to the House, the member for Nunavut commented on that aspect. She said:

--if we want to see real solutions in our aboriginal communities, there has to be real partnership and collaboration, and that they not be token gestures.

The concern is if there is a perception of tokenism, of consultations which are going through the motions but which are not really sincere, it is a recipe for disagreement and maybe discontent. Parliament has a serious responsibility to consult with stakeholders regardless of which piece of legislation with which we are dealing. When we make laws, we are affecting people in one way or another and those people need to be heard.

According to the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, it appears that has been a problem not only with regard to Bill C-47, but generally with regard to many of the issues that have come before Parliament.

Mr. Fontaine went on to say:

Furthermore, the fact that direction provided through this dialogue does not appear reflected in the tabled Bill, leaves us to conclude that the dialogue was of limited value in promoting and implementing a reconciliation approach regarding First Nations aboriginal and treaty rights and Crown sovereignty.

I take this as a very serious alert for parliamentarians and for the government with regard to Bill C-47. We have to step up and take this a lot more seriously and determine whether or not there are appropriate steps to address these legitimate concerns that have been raised by Chief Fontaine.

He went on to say:

In regards to the process of engagement, the AFN has clearly stated, on numerous occasions, and in formal correspondence, the position of First Nations in this regard. In addition, the AFN and First Nations through the dialogue process, detailed alternative approaches and measures to address the issues arising in relation to matrimonial real property on reserve. Indeed, the federal government had many, many opportunities to address these matters properly and effectively.

He went on to say:

Unfortunately, the advice and direction of AFN and First Nations has not been heeded and I must point out that the First Nations assessment of the proposed legislation will likely be that it is unconstitutional in law and of no value to First Nations individuals or governments in practice.

When I read that it made me want to know more. I want to hear more. Should the bill go to committee for review, the questions that were raised in the consultation process and which apparently were not heeded by the government in proposing the legislation, need to be considered. We need to remediate that situation. We need to make sure that the stakeholders, regardless of their basis, are heard and that the issues raised are frontally and effectively addressed so that all understand. Regardless of which side one is on on a particular issue, there is always room for due respect for the opinions of others, but that does not seem to have been the case in this regard.

The bill contemplates an approach that will not provide any effective remedies for individuals seeking redress. That was the intent of the bill and is the intent of the bill. It is why the member for Nunavut, when she spoke before the House yesterday, made this argument over and over again. Yet when the parliamentary secretary rose on questions, he was dismissive of her question and made the assertion that the bill should be passed, that we should move forward because there were other things to do.

We have things to do. We have to get Bill C-47 right. The objectives of this place are to have full debate and to properly identify those issues which should be addressed.

The first nations wanted to articulate, as laid out in Chief Fontaine's letter, the principles that should guide the search for solutions and the standard upon which proposed solutions should be evaluated. He went on the list about a dozen. He lists strengthening first nations, families and communities, fairness, respect for traditional values, protection of aboriginal and treaty rights, no abrogation or derogation of first nations' collective rights, protection and preservation of first nations' land for future generations, recognition and implementation of first nations' jurisdiction and community based solutions.

I had the opportunity to be a member of the Standing Committee on Health when we dealt with aboriginal health issues. The committee travelled to a number of reserves to consult with stakeholders and to determine some of the non-legislative areas of which we should also be cognizant.

It was clear to me that there were substantive differences between reserves. Some are in much better shape than others. One thing I noticed was some of the fundamentals, like clean water and a sewage system, were not present.

There were a number of health issues in program areas. I remember I went into a modest community centre on one reserve. In the basement was a large lineup of people and I wanted to know why. I found out that people were lining up to buy cases of cigarettes for resale. However, next to that was the jail. It is hard for Canadians to understand the realities of the lives of first nations and the challenges they face.

As a consequence of that review, we found that the problems which existed on first nations reserves, which exist throughout Canadian society, were multiple times more in terms of severity as well as the occurrence levels, whether it be substance abuse, or domestic violence, or problems with children or social problems, et cetera. These are areas which Canadians demand that Parliament address in an appropriate fashion.

I thank Chief Fontaine for his letter of April 8 and the preliminary analysis. I will not go through this, but it is available and if members do not have a copy, I would be happy to provide it for them.

I want to comment generally on the bill. The Liberal Party supports the bill to go to committee. Like many bills where second reading occurs, we are often approached by stakeholders and constituents who suggest the bill should simply be defeated at second reading. This happened with regard to animal cruelty legislation. It is happening with regard to Bill C-51, which has to do with natural health products.

Canadians and all interested parties should understand that when a bill comes before the House at second reading, we have representations in an informal way from those who are interested parties. We have our own knowledge, some of our own research and some historic research.

What we do not have at second reading is the present assessment and the current input of the experts. We do not have the formal position of the stakeholders on both sides or all sides of the argument. What we do at second reading is debate, in principle, the aspects of the bill and whether there are any major problems.

Members know that when we pass a bill at second reading, we pass it in principle and get it to committee where there can be, as necessary, full consultation and public hearings to allow the stakeholders to come before the committee to articulate very clearly the positions and concerns they have to proposed amendments, et cetera. Some of the best work in Parliament happens at committee, where it is not just a handful or 12 members of Parliament who make the decisions. They are there participating in a consultation process with the necessary expertise, not only from the government and the officials of the department, who will answer the questions of the members and explain the bill in great detail, but also with those stakeholders, which is extremely important.

I am quite sure the bill will pass at second reading. However, I am also quite sure throughout this place there will be a strong representation that we should have very comprehensive public hearings and hear from the stakeholders to identify how we can deal with those matters which may not have been reflected in the bill, even though they may have been raised under preliminary consultation with the principal stakeholders.

There are many stakeholders in regard to the bill. We can never forget that this is a matter of human rights for women and children living on reserves. The whole objective of the bill is so they can have safer and healthier lives and therefore happier lives. Those are fundamental objectives. Who is against that?

How we deliver that will be the issue. Legislating certain things will help for those matters which require a legislative solution because we need a law to guide it. We cannot achieve the full impact and the benefit of the law without having the non-legislative component and the initiatives, the support and the funding necessary to provide an environment in which those laws can operate in a fair manner.

While we support the intent of the bill, we do not support the unilateral process the government has taken in introducing the legislation. We were instrumental in making critical changes to Bill C-21 to ensure that aboriginal Canadians would have the time and the capacity they needed to deal with changes. We continue to push the government to address issues such as the human rights needs of aboriginal Canadians, education, jobs, poverty, water and health, which are much the same kinds of conclusions that we reached in the health committee I back in 1994, which was when the new Parliament started.

It was an education for me, as an urban Canadian with very little exposure prior to coming to Parliament, about the challenges faced by our first nations and their people, the Métis and the Inuit.

The bill itself establishes a federal matrimonial real property regime, combined with the mechanisms for first nations to develop their own matrimonial real property laws.

By way of background, in 1986 the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that when a conjugal relationship broke down on reserve, courts could not apply provincial or territorial family law because reserve lands fell under federal jurisdiction. We can see the need to address that condition.

As a result, aboriginal women living on reserves have not enjoyed the same rights as women living off reserves. That is an important matter to be resolved. They are not entitled to an equal share of matrimonial property at the time of the marriage break down. Matrimonial real property refers to the house and the land that the couple lives on while they are married or in a common law relationship.

The government began preliminary consultations on this matter, but it focused on recommendations made by committees. The next step was to move to the legislation solution. As I had indicated, this is not simply a matter to be addressed by legislative proscriptions. It also requires a non-legislative approach.

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act
Government Orders

1:35 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to the member as he articulated his view of what happened with respect to the bill. He used the term “unilateral process”. I remind him and all members of the House that 109 different consultation sessions were held with aboriginal groups, a total of 135 consultation days in 64 different locations across Canada.

He went on to say that 12 members of committee should not be making the decision as we engage in this consultation process. I have three questions for the member.

First, is he aware that his party's critic for Indian affairs stated unequivocally that the Liberals did not consider the committee process part of the consultation process?

Second, would he envision another 109 or more sessions of consultation before committee?

Third, how long is he willing to have this important initiative held up? First nations people have been waiting for this for years. It is my opinion and the opinion of members on this side of the House that we cannot afford to unduly hold up this bill.

I would like an answer to those three questions please.

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act
Government Orders

1:35 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is now clear for all to see that depending on how one wishes to present the facts, another version can be given.

I was not giving my opinion on the consultation process. I was giving the position as articulated by the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations in his letter of April 8. It is his opinion, on behalf of first nations, that the consultation process was hollow. It was not respected.

The member went on to suggest that the critic said that the committee process was not part of the consultation. It is not. That was the representation by the member. The consultation process on legislation to be tabled does not happen at committee. The member may have misspoken. Maybe he is referring to the ongoing dialogue and discussion that happens at committee. We have 12 members of Parliament at committee who will be able to have dialogue with the officials to fully understand the nuances of the legislation, the pitfalls and all the other matters and to hear witnesses and stakeholders.

Even as of April 8, when Chief Fontaine wrote his letter, the committee had only concluded a preliminary analysis. The member said that there were 109 consultation sessions. It is good to have a lot of people involved in a consultation process, but if they have not been given the time to do a full and proper assessment of important proposed legislation, then the consultation is hollow. We had the same thing with regard to the government's clean air bill, Bill 30, in which a copy of the bill, a secret cabinet document, was given to the public stakeholders on which to comment.

The member should know that these are the opinions of the Assembly of First Nations.

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I have a brief comment and a question for my colleague from Mississauga South.

I think he would be the first one to agree with me that the social condition of Canada's first nations is Canada's greatest shame and that is why many people view the time we are spending on this fairly narrow issue of matrimonial real property as somewhat of a red herring if the real problem lies with the Indian Act, a document unworthy of any western democracy.

The Indian Act has been responsible for 130 years of social tragedy, which is the only way to phrase it, and yet we are dealing with a fairly narrow Eurocentric, simplistic notion of matrimonial real property. When there are circumstances of abject poverty, it becomes less relevant and less important for Parliament to be seized with this one issue.

Does the member agree with me that something about this bill shows a lack of sensitivity to the traditional culture and heritage of aboriginal people? I will give him one example to illustrate this.

I took part in the constitutional discussions around the Charlottetown accord, the aboriginal round. We met with a group of aboriginal women elders who did not want us to pass the provisions of the Charlottetown accord as it pertained to aboriginal people, partly because of this Eurocentric lack of recognition. They told us that their culture was a lot older than ours and that they had ways of dealing with things.

One aboriginal woman elder told me that in her community, women were not allowed to run for chief. Many of us at the discussions shook our head and said that was terrible. She went on to say that the men were not allowed to vote. It was clear that in their community, they had, over thousands of years, developed a fairly egalitarian way of ensuring that men were not dominating the culture and tradition of that community. Yes, the women could not run for office but the men were not allowed to vote for the chief.

If we were to take that issue before the Human Rights Commission, some tribunal would be wrestling with that and would probably rule that the thousands of years of culture, tradition and heritage in that community would be invalid, not in keeping with Canadian values and would be interfered with. That is the type of nuance that probably would have come out were there genuine consultation taking place in the crafting of this bill.

I would agree with my colleague that consultation has legal meaning and part of true consultation means accommodating the legitimate concerns that are raised by those being consulted. Consultation is not just telling people what is going to be done to them. Would he agree with that?