Mr. Speaker, I would like to explain that my riding includes the region of Nunavik, not Nunavut. There is a difference between the two territories, and I would not like to take the place of my Liberal colleague who represents Nunavut.
If I read correctly, this bill applies only to specific claims, but what are specific claims, in lay terms?
We do not need to look very far to learn that they originated in old grievances made by the first nations. These grievances have to do with negotiations Canada is required to conduct under historic treaties or the way the country has managed the money or other property belonging to the first nations, including reserve lands.
It is true that, since 1973, the government has had a policy and a process whereby it settles these claims through negotiation rather than in court.
However, there have been calls for measures to settle these disputes not just since 1973, but since July 1947, when a joint committee of the Senate and the House of Commons made this recommendation:
That a Commission, in the nature of the Claims Commission, be set up with the least possible delay to inquire into the terms of the Indian treaties...and to appraise and settle in a just and equitable manner any claims or grievances arising thereunder.
It was not until 1961 that another joint committee of the Senate and the House of Commons again recommended that a claims commission be set up and Prime Minister Diefenbaker's cabinet approved draft legislation to create a claims commission. However, as luck would have it, this draft legislation was never introduced, because of an election call.
Nevertheless, Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson introduced Bill C-130, entitled the Indian Claims Act, in the House of Commons on December 14, 1963. He was determined to keep up with the true Conservatives. However, even back then, the government neglected to consult with the first nations, and the bill was withdrawn to allow time for consultation.
Another bill with the same title was introduced on June 21, 1965. June 21: what a lovely date. I can hardly wait for it to arrive. All kidding aside, guess what happened: yes, the bill died on the order paper when an election was called.
It was not until 1973 that further action was taken, with the establishment of the specific claims policy I mentioned at the very beginning of my remarks, which has been in effect to this day.
In the meantime, a government report on the administrative process for resolving specific claims was indeed published in 1979, citing conflicting duties and recommending the creation of an independent body which would in all respects be a specialized tribunal.
During the same period of time, the Penner report, published in 1983, called for a quasi-judicial process for managing failed negotiations and the neutral facilitation of negotiated settlements.
In 1990, in a report entitled “Unfinished Business: An Agenda for All Canadians in the 1990's”, a standing committee of the House of Commons reiterated the need for an independent claims body. At the same time, a joint working group bringing together representatives of Canada and the first nations—things are getting better—was looking at creating a permanent, legislative entity with tribunal-like powers, and finally in January 1991, the government created the Indian Specific Claims Commission under the federal Inquiries Act .
This commission was only intended as an interim measure, until a permanent independent body with adjudicative powers could be created. The commission remains in existence today, but continues to have only non-binding powers to make recommendations.
By 1996, the need was ever more pressing. The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, whose report is commonly known as the Erasmus-Dussault report, conducted extensive consultations with first nations people across the country and recommended an independent tribunal to replace the ISCC and concentrate on land and treaty issues.
In 1998, the efforts of a joint Canada-first nations working group eventually led to Bill C-6, specific claims legislation which, this time, received royal assent, in November 2003. That legislation would have provided binding decision-making powers, including on those compensation amounts, estimated at $10 million, which first nations deemed insufficient. They rejected that. This is yet another fine example of consultation.
Here we are now, in 2007, with Bill C-30, at a time when the political landscape has evolved somewhat, at least I hope so. To my knowledge, there are already particular conditions in Quebec, such as a specific first nations association with their own culture and needs. However, this government seems, deliberately or not, to have forgotten to consult those first nations. If we look at the timing of this bill, it is almost certain that we will have an election before it reaches third reading stage. In the end, this bill will only have served electoral purposes, as was the case with Kelowna, in 2005, with Bill C-130, in 1965, or with the Diefenbaker draft bill, in 1962.
In the explanatory notes that accompany this bill—and that were given to us by the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development—it is mentioned that the new approach is based on a wealth of reports, studies and recommendations made by first nations in the past. I emphasize the expression “in the past”. I am prepared to believe that federal officials did consult a few first nations leaders, as they did in 1963 with Bill C-130, for which they had to go back again for another consultation, or in 2003 with Bill C-6, for which they consulted a few first nations leaders. I sense that we will have to hear many more dissatisfied witnesses, as was the case with Bills C-44 and C-21, which is now before us and regarding which the government merely changed the cover page, even though it is well aware of the fact that the various first nations associations are unhappy about it.
I feel a little sheepish for overestimating the Prime Minister's vision and desire for transparency, a transparency that is less relevant than that of Quebec's dark ages under Duplessis, whom he reminds me of, if only because he is so blindly obstinate.
Like my Bloc Québécois colleagues, I will nevertheless support this bill, which will speed up the resolution of specific claims of first nations, a process that has been criticized since the 1940s, as I just described. It would still have to receive royal assent before an election, and all the first nations must agree to it.
How many times in the past have we heard the elected members of this government announce the support of provincial premiers or ministers, organizations or union leaders, when it was completely untrue? As some people would say, credibility goes hand in hand with accountability, which the government seems to be seriously lacking.
I would like to take this opportunity to offer my condolences to the Whapmagoostui community and the family and friends of David Masty, a prominent Cree man who went missing in the waters of Hudson's Bay over the weekend. He was seen as an elder throughout northern Quebec. He was a longtime friend of mine for whom I had a lot of respect.
It goes without saying that we have some concerns about this bill, for example, the fact that a single judge will render a binding decision about a third party's responsibility for paying without that party even being involved in the judgment. Quebec assumes a great deal of responsibility towards first nations, so the other provinces and this government could be more vulnerable to this type of judgment. Could the judge unilaterally require a third party to pay 30% of a first nations claim? Once again, what about the government's fiduciary responsibility?
The Bloc Québécois recognizes that certain specific claims are a strictly federal responsibility. Various House committees have been recommending the establishment of this tribunal for more than 60 years, in order to resolve specific first nations claims, as mentioned at the beginning of my speech, with the expression of concern and regret over the fact that this government is, once again, ignoring Quebec's distinctiveness.
Given the current structure of the judicial appointment process, a contested process if ever there was one, it is worrisome to think that a decision by this tribunal could not be appealed, and this goes for Quebec as well as for first nations, even though the decision is subject to judicial oversight.
This approach will have consequences that first nations really need to consider carefully. No further legal action will be possible. The surrender of land rights will give a clear title to third parties who own the land, and the decisions of the tribunal will resolve, once and for all, all specific claims.
Given that a province, which does not attend a land claim ruling, has no obligation to compensate the first nation, it is possible that the first nation will use the federal decision to demand compensation from that province. What happens, then, to the federal fiduciary responsibility?
The Bloc Québécois has always supported aboriginal peoples in their quest for justice and recognition of their rights. We recognize that the 11 first nations of Quebec are nations in their own right. We recognize that they are distinct peoples with the right to their own culture, language, customs and traditions as well as the right to direct the development of their own identity.
For this reason, aboriginal peoples must have the tools to develop their own identity, namely the right to self-government and the recognition of their rights. The right to self-determination was recognized by the Bloc Québécois in 1993 in its manifeste du Forum paritaire Québécois-Autochtones, in the future country of Quebec where we will also be masters of our own culture and vision for the future.
Like my Bloc Québécois colleagues, I reiterate my support for this bill, which will speed up resolution of the specific claims of the first nations that have been ongoing for 70 years. However, this is contingent upon my not discovering along the way, as is the case with many other declarations, that the declaration is as false as the consultation of first nations.
Naturally we will have the opportunity to examine the bill in the standing committee. I have the privilege of being a member of that committee where we can observe the childish antics of the members of this government, who have demonstrated a chronic inability to accept other people's ideas.
That is perhaps why they continue to call themselves the new government. There are too many issues that have failed to advance. It is like a plumber who has not understood that something other than water may pass through a pipe. Or an electrician who believes that his job is to make wires pass through this same pipe. This leads to confrontations, such as those the government will have on the international stage, which unfortunately would have reflected on the whole country had it not been for the generosity of the Bloc Québécois members who helped their colleagues go to defend Quebec's integrity in Bali.
What a bunch of half-wits we would have looked like without those few sensible persons who, democratically, have an undeniable right, especially because in terms of simple distribution, this government only represents some 30% of the Canadian population! Unfortunately, we have not yet avoided this reputation, which we must acknowledge is not a source of pride.
We have not forgotten this government's stand with respect to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It is enough to leave anyone involved with this bill perplexed.
We in northern Quebec certainly have our own concerns about the last James Bay agreement, which gave the Cree their share, although they are still awaiting the final agreement.
This is somewhat like Santa's sack, which he is holding in front of the beneficiaries, even though he has no intention of loosening the strings and handing out any presents. This is another point that reminds us of the dirty tricks of the Duplessis years.
It is like the hon. member for Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean, who was elected based on his campaign promise to resolve the forestry crisis. He was elected at the beginning of September. The throne speech was presented at the end of October, but there was no mention of the forestry crisis. Nevertheless, he stood up and voted for that speech. This is not a problem; there are others just like him. In fact, one mayor in my riding stood up to protect this little sinking ship in a sea of Canadians—especially in the shadow of a big Albertan—who would include this topic in the next minibudget. Once again, they did not deliver.
Yet, his big Albertan, as a consolation prize, allows him to blather on, making a few silly remarks on occasion, getting a laugh out of the visitors' gallery, more often than not at his own expense. After all, there are still a few good little French Canadians in Quebec who have not yet managed to separate.
For all these reasons, the Bloc Québécois must remain ever vigilant and uncompromising on behalf of all Quebeckers, aboriginal and non-aboriginal. This always leads us to demand that Quebec officials be consulted in the same way as Canadian officials.
We will therefore vote in favour of this bill, so we may study it and propose amendments, as needed.