Mr. Speaker, the Foundation for Individual Rights was established in B.C. by Greg Hollingsworth, the staff representative of the member from Okanagan who left his job on the Hill to go to British Columbia to set up this racist organization. It is well known to have links with the Heritage Front. It can be seen from FIRE's website that it has a direct link to the Heritage Front which no one can argue is the racist, white supremacist neo-Nazi organization in this country.There are direct links, so I am not making any comment on the Canadian Alliance party directly or the member of Parliament who used to employ Greg Hollingsworth. I am simply pointing out that there is a connection that one cannot deny.
More specifically, we can look to comments from previous critics on aboriginal affairs from the Reform Party. I do remember the famous quote by a former member of Parliament, the Reform Party critic for aboriginal affairs, who said that living on an Indian reserve was like living on a south sea island and being supported by one's rich uncle. That is a statement from the Hansard of this place. I only point it out to say what a contrast it is for me to hear the current critic for aboriginal affairs trying to sell the Canadian Alliance as being committed to the best interests of the aboriginal people when the track record of that party is so shameful on this subject.
The current member for Athabasca made the comment that just because we did not have the defeat of aboriginal people in Indian wars in this country like they did in the United States does not mean that they are not vanquished people. Otherwise, as he mentioned, why would they be living on those God forsaken reserves if they were not vanquished to those reserves.
It is that Eurocentric mindset that has become associated with the Canadian Alliance. When we dig a little deeper into the speech that we just heard from the current aboriginal affairs critic, the member from Portage--La Prairie, we can see that he really is opposed to the idea of self-governance. He really is opposed to moving forward with the true moves that might lead to the self-determination. He is more committed to the assimilation model that we saw either in the 1969 white paper, which really spawned a generation of activism among aboriginal people, or this current suite of legislation.
I think that they will really be able to embrace what we believe is the underlying tone of this current suite of legislation, which is to see through to its final end the initiative that was in the 1969 white paper. The current minister seems so committed to ramming it through, even though he is meeting stiff opposition at every turn with the legitimately elected leadership of the Assembly of First Nations right across the country.
The standing committee on aboriginal affairs is currently listening to witnesses coming before it on Bill C-7, the first nations governance act. We cannot talk about Bill C-19 in isolation because it certainly constitutes a key and integral part of the suite of bills that constitutes a package which, as I say, is meeting strong resistance across the country.
One of the problems, other than the top down imposition of this legislation that is being cited by the leadership of the assembly and one of the underlying apprehensions that the leadership has is that it leads to the municipalization of first nations. It contemplates a third level of government that is comparable to the incorporation of a municipality.
There was a witness before the standing committee yesterday who is an authority on this subject and has researched examples in the United States where this led to great difficulties. A first nations community incorporated essentially as a municipality would then of course have the power to borrow money on the open market because it would then be identified as a legal entity.
That sounds all very well and good except for, let us say, if a community borrowed $10 million to build a sewage and water treatment plant and somehow defaulted on the loan. The equity it used for that loan may have been its own land base. The fear is the gradual erosion and deterioration of the historic land base of the aboriginal communities and the inherent risk in that measure.
This is one of the things that has been cited as a major concern regarding not just Bill C-19, the institutions we are dealing with today, but again the entire package.
Two days ago we also heard Matthew Coon Come, the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, comment on Bill C-7 but he did not limit his remarks to Bill C-7. He spoke very broadly again of the inherent risks of this general package. He pointed out a number of the concerns regarding specifically the first nations fiscal and statistical management act. In the form of questions and answers, I would like to deal with some of the questions that have been dealt with at the national assemblies of the Assembly of First Nations when this subject has come up.
There are some misconceptions that they would like addressed and made clear in the House. I am glad the minister is here to hear them.
Some people would ask whether the proposed fiscal institutions act already has been approved by the chiefs of the Assembly of First Nations. To listen to some people speak, one would think that were true, but the answer is no.
What the chiefs originally approved and what they are interested in talking about is the development of new fiscal arrangements with Canada, nation to nation negotiations between first nations and the Government of Canada. Unfortunately we are further away from that than we ever have been before. The heavy-handed tactics of the current minister of aboriginal affairs have so alienated, so offended and so upset the leadership that I would say that relations have been set back 50 years in terms of true negotiations on a nation to nation basis that they contemplate.
The chiefs' committee that was formed, the Implementation Committee on the Protection of Treaty and Inherent Rights, and which concentrated on this issue, made it very clear that they needed to deal with this in a detailed way and with the fullness of time, so it was not approved. In fact the contents of the bill were not known by them until August 2002. When dealing with sweeping reform to a complex act like the Indian Act, that is not a great deal of time.
I attended the Halifax assembly of the Assembly of First Nations in 2001 where there was a misconception that there was broad interest and acceptance of this fiscal institutions bill. The support for the bill was not established at that convention. It was put off until the Ottawa assembly on November 20, 2002. I have the resolution from that assembly here and I will enter it into the record at a later moment.
Here is one of the key concerns, one of the common themes, throughout the three pieces of legislation that constitute this suite of bills. Does the proposed bill guarantee first nations that it will not diminish or change treaties, aboriginal rights or the federal government's fiduciary responsibilities? That is a key and paramount question. The fact is no, there is no guarantee in this package because there is no non-derogation clause.
Those of us who have been dealing with legislation as it pertains to aboriginal people in recent years know that every piece of legislation dealing with aboriginal people must contain, and there was agreement on both sides that there would be present, a non-derogation clause to assure the parties that nothing in the bill would diminish or derogate existing rights. The very absence of a non-derogation clause in this bill, in Bill C-7 and in Bill C-6 leads us to believe that there is a strategy here, a systematic effort to diminish and erode established current treaty rights or the federal government's fiduciary responsibility.
Adding to and fueling that fear of the absence of a non-derogation clause was the fact that the First Nations Land Management Act that passed in the last Parliament was the first time we noticed this trend. There was an attempt on the part of government to alter the wording in the non-derogation clause. It was not bold enough to eliminate it altogether because that would be seen as a flash point and people would notice what was going on. However it did attempt to alter it. We raised it in the debate at that time. After years of consistent, common language in a non-derogation clause, why was the government seeking to alter the language? We choose our language very carefully in legislation. There had to be some motivation or reason why the government would seek to alter it. That was the first hint.
We now learn that the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs in the Senate is dealing with an omnibus bill that will delete completely the non-derogation clause from all pieces of legislation as it pertains to aboriginal people and instead assume that such a non-derogation intent is deemed to be a part of every bill.
Why would we take that positive, proactive step to diminish the very clause that gives comfort to those people on whose behalf we are passing legislation?
I have proposed language here that would not only satisfy those who are concerned about a non-derogation clause. It actually enhances the existing non-derogation clause. I would be happy to read that into the record at a later time.
How can we blame people for being apprehensive or suspicious of the motivation of government when it takes the active step to delete the non-derogation clause?
This is a question that I have addressed. Some people assume that the fiscal institutions act stands separate and alone from the minister's governance act. I have made it clear that none of these bills can be dealt with in isolation. They are integrally linked as a package and they are not the package with which aboriginal people want to be dealt.
I should perhaps back up for a moment and make it abundantly clear that I do not think there is a political party in the House of Commons that believes the status quo is acceptable and believes the Indian Act should not be substantially amended with the goal of ultimately eliminating it. We have heard the minister himself indicate that the ultimate goal is the elimination of the Indian Act because it is an evil document. It is a document that has been responsible for 130 years of social tragedy. It is incumbent on all of us to do everything we can to find an alternative way of relating to first nations people and allowing them their self-determination and self-governance.
None of the issues dealt with in the first nations governance suite of legislation deals with the fundamental problems, the urgent, pressing social problems facing aboriginal people today. When there was a round of consultation to supposedly get input from aboriginal people, those people who showed up at those meetings did not show up to talk about accounting practices or whether their audits were directed to this person or that person. They showed up to talk about health care, housing, clean water on their reserves and education. They wanted to talk about basic needs, which are so lacking in these communities. Instead, the minister in his wisdom, decided to address administrative details and tinkering with a flawed Indian Act instead of going at issues of substance that would have meaningful impact on the lives of aboriginal people.
I link it to the Canadian Alliance. I link the whole package with which we are dealing and its skewed priorities to the fact that for two years straight the Canadian Alliance launched a campaign to try to link together isolated incidents of financial problems on certain aboriginal reserves into a common theme that aboriginal communities were corrupt, or incompetent or both, and it tried to sell this package. I had to sit as a member in the House of Commons and listen day after day as Alliance members scoured the countryside until they found some misuse of funds or some band council that failed to submit its audit on time. They would stand up as if this was outrageous, that all aboriginal communities were corrupt, that we had to do something to clean up this terrible thing and that we were flushing billions of dollars down the drain and wasting it on aboriginal people who were squandering it and misspending their money. It was not based on fact.
As a member of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs, Northern Development and Natural Resources we get the facts. We know that 96% of all first nations communities, of which there are 633 first nations, submit their audits on time, keep their bookkeeping in accordance with the Indian Act, post those audits so that all band members can see them and have no problem whatsoever at managing their funds.
This is the first time we have opened the Indian Act for 50 years. Why are we dealing with issues of financial accountability and how people elect their officers when those are not the priorities with which aboriginal people want dealt? Because we have been sold a bill of goods and the public has been pulled around and led by the nose by this campaign on the part of the Canadian Alliance to try to convince people that aboriginal people are unaccountable or not transparent in their financial dealings. ay, It simply is not true and is not based on fact.
We are disappointed to be standing here. When the minister presented this to the standing committee on Monday, I made it clear to the him that as the member of Parliament for Winnipeg Centre, with the highest aboriginal off reserve population in the country, many of them concentrated in my core area riding, that there was nothing that would make me more pleased, in what short time I have as a member of Parliament, than to deal with meaningful amendments to this fundamental evil that we knew as the Indian Act. I would love to enthusiastically support amendments to the Indian Act. It would be very satisfying for me on a personal level and on a professional level because I owe it to the people that I represent.
Unfortunately, we are not being given the opportunity to address meaningful amendments. We will be tinkering with a flawed document. This is not a step toward social justice. This is administrative tinkering and administrative details that are not based on fact.
When people went to the consultations across the country, they did not show up to complain about how they elected their band council. They did not show up to complain about their accounting practices or their auditing practices. They came out to express the desperation and the desperate, abject poverty under which they lived and they wanted a meaningful change to their lives. I am disappointed to have to use this speech to address bills that I do not think are of great consequence.
There are misunderstandings about this bill, the financial institutions act. Some people think that the fiscal institutions act will be optional. In fact, the proposed bill does not state that it will be optional, that first nations communities can opt in or out. Neither is there any protection for a first nation against being forced into the act.
The other bills that are a part of this suite have these default positions. People can choose to change the way officers are elected and the way bookkeeping records are kept. If people do not choose to do so in compliance with the standards that are set out, these standards will be foisted upon people, imposed upon their communities. It is not much of a choice. We can say it is optional but if they do not opt to do it in two years, it is imposed upon them anyway. I do not know who would understand that as being truly optional.
The fiscal institutions act could, for example, be made a condition of a funding arrangement that a deduction would be made if a first nation did not acquire its own source of revenues through taxation under the proposed bill. In other words, if a band has the ability and the opportunity to impose its own taxation regime within its community and it chooses not to for whatever reason or fails to implement it, there could be deductions dollar for dollar in the revenue streams in the current fiscal relationship from the federal government to the community. This is certainly one of the reservations that has been raised.
I should also point out, and the previous speaker did mention quite rightly, that many first nations communities are 100 or 150 people. They are already over-audited and over-bureaucratized. This will be a further level of bureaucracy, a further level of financial expertise that, without a lot of training and resources allocated to them, a lot of first nations communities would find it really difficult to avail themselves of these new fiscal institutions. When the Auditor General came before our standing committee just the other day, she made the point quite rightly that, if anything, first nations communities are over-audited.
A first nations community has to file approximately 168 forms per year to keep the revenue stream coming from the four or five different federal agencies that provide funding to a community. The Auditor General recommended streamlining these things so as not to put such an onerous task on first nations communities. There is so much room for error in there. No wonder the Canadian Alliance could find cases where papers were not filed on time or people were in arrears filing their documentation. Over three official documents have to be filled out correctly and submitted every week to add up to 168 per year. With the new provisions of Bill C-7, the first nations governance act, there will be more accounting and it will become more onerous.
The Auditor General of Canada commented that first nations communities were over-audited as it was. The real problem lied with the lack of accountability of those who accumulated the data and did nothing meaningful with it. They were supposed to jump through hoops every week and submit these forms into this vortex that was the bureaucracy of INAC and DIAND. Those were her observations and her criticism, and we share that view.
A common question that is asked of people dealing with this fiscal institutions act is whether first nations will be able to handle their own revenues as an inherent right even if they do not opt in to any of these institutions. No. By our understanding, if the proposed bill becomes law, it will mean that Parliament intends the inherent right of self-government not to include the collection and management of first nations revenue.
Is this not an infringement or a derogation of the status that aboriginal people enjoy today? Perhaps that is why the government had to eliminate the non-derogation clause. Perhaps that is why the government and its advisers felt that, in all good conscience, they would have to eliminate it or they would be subject to a challenge even if a non-derogation clause was part of the preamble of the legislation and then they made this fundamental change to take the inherent right away from them. Even if it is one minor detail of an inherent right, it is the diminishment of an inherent treaty right.
When the national implementation committee on the protection of treaty inherent rights, a standing committee of the Assembly of First Nations, dealt with this, to its credit and with its reduced staff and resources, it identified this as a serious concern.
I referred earlier to the heavy-handed punitive retribution that comes down from the minister to any organization that will not fall into line with his view of the priorities and amendments to the Indian Act. The Assembly of First Nations has suffered the worst. The minister cut its funding by 50% because it would not play ball and would not hop on the bandwagon with this legislation. At the very time it was facing the most complex and detailed amendments to the Indian Act in 50 years, the minister cut its funding by 50%. This forced the assembly to lay off 70 to 80 researchers and staff who were authorities on this subject. This is like sending a person to court and denying them legal counsel.
This one bill alone is a thick document. It is an overwhelming amount of legalese. At the very time first nations need to defend themselves or at least represent themselves adequately in the face of this bombardment of legislation, the minister has undermined its ability to do so substantially by cutting its budget and forcing it to reduce its staff by 70 people. It is to the credit of the Assembly of First Nations that it can still do its research to defend the interests of the people it represents.
Can a first nation opt into one institution and not another within the fiscal institutions act? The answer again is no. The proposed institutions are interlocking. Each one functions in conjunction with the others. For instance, the statistics institute collects data about a first nation for the use of the other institutes.
A first nation cannot borrow money from the finance authority without the consent of the tax commission and a certificate of good management from the management board. In other words, it is a whole package deal. It is all or nothing, so first nation communities could not avail themselves of one of these, set up a board and establish one and not the other because they cannot operate in an independent way.
It makes us wonder how a small first nation community could do this. We are not dealing with municipalities in the Eurocentric western sense. We are dealing with a small village of 100 people or dealing with a place, as in the case of Buffalo Point, where there are 12 residents who live on the reserve and another 100 who live off the reserve, and only have their input by virtue of the Corbiere decision to be able to participate. How does the new fiscal institutions act benefit them in any way? Where would they get the administrative capacity to establish and operate these complex legal institutions?
It is mind boggling to me and it certainly must be to the many people to whom this is happening. I say “to whom this is happening” because it is being imposed in a top down manner. It is the House of Commons of Canada that will change the way aboriginal people live, not the input of aboriginal people who are deciding how they should establish and conduct their own affairs.
It begs the question then, with all these new institutions in place, will at least a first nation be free to pass bylaws and laws of its own choice? The answer again is, no. A first nation would not be able to pass certain kinds of laws and bylaws without obtaining the approval of the proposed tax commission. Band councils would see their authority diminished and relegated to the establishment of some of these new commissions.
I should also point out that it has been a recurring theme throughout this whole suite of legislation, Bills C-6, C-7 and now C-19, that the discretionary authority of the minister, instead of being diminished, would actually be enhanced. It is a pattern, a theme, of which I have been taking note ever since I came to Ottawa five years ago. Virtually every piece of legislation we come across actually enhances the discretionary authority of the minister and diminishes the authority of the executive or of Parliament. We are critical of that.
It is not a realistic and legitimate step toward self-governance and independence. If anything, Parliament and DIND would still have an active role to play in all the real decision making. It is like the joke we used to hear in the lunchrooms of warehouses and workplaces. We might get to decide what colour to paint the lunchroom, but the boss will still decide the speed of the assembly line. That is a good analogy here.
With the new institutions in place, will the first nations be able to pass bylaws regarding licences and other locally raised revenues without getting approval? In other words, as it is hoped that we would be passing over more control over natural resources et cetera to first nations communities, would they then, in a hypothetical situation, be able to pass bylaws regarding licences without getting the approval of the new commissions?
No, first nations laws regarding the collection and expenditure of revenue, especially where non-Indians may be involved--an American tourist who may want to fish on a lake in a community--would not be able to make that choice without the approval of the proposed tax commission whose members are not elected by the band council. The members of the tax commission would be appointed by the minister or by Indian Affairs, but essentially by the minister.
This opens the door for a whole raft of jobs. There would be a board, a commissioner and a bureaucracy set up. It is the germination of a civil servant, I suppose. It adds a whole level of bureaucracy. There are people who want more red tape, I suppose, and may see a personal benefit to being one of those commissioners or members of the board of directors, but ultimately it would choke and strangle the legitimate intentions of the first nations community and the elected band council. The commission, in a case like this, would have to have the power to ensure that the rights of non-Indians were protected.
This is established within the acts. In making its rulings, the commission would have to take into consideration the well-being of the non-Indian over whom it would have taxation rights. The commission would also ensure that first nations tax laws are in harmony with those of surrounding municipalities. In other words, what kind of independence is that if the newly established tax commission is in charge and has the authority to dictate tax policy within the first nation? It cannot exceed or go beyond what exists in the surrounding municipalities. Is that not harmonization? It is the very assimilation in practice, if not in name, to which first nations pointed and found so abhorrent in the white paper of 1969.
We keep coming back to this. It almost seems like the government, or at least the Prime Minister, left one job undone in 1969 with the catastrophic failure of the white paper on Indian affairs and it wants to finish that job now in the twilight of this career, and the current Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development has been charged with the responsibility to see that through.
I pointed out earlier that the white paper of 1969 was met with such derision and opposition that it spawned a whole generation of aboriginal people to rise up and protest. It spawned a generation of activism and that activism is still there today. The only difference is that there are a lot more people who are trained legally and who have been to university who can put up a genuine fight-back campaign now in the courts, if not in the streets by conventional activism.
It begs the question, if the newly formed tax commission has the right to generate revenue, can a first nation then do whatever it wishes with the revenue that it raises? Is it free to spend in accordance with its needs? The answer is no again.
Under the proposed legislation a first nation would be constrained by the proposed governance act, the twin sister, the other side of the coin and the proposed new institutions bill, to spend local revenues only on local infrastructure as approved by the tax commission whose members are appointed by the federal cabinet. What kind of independence is that?
First nations would be allowed to be the tax collectors, but would not be free to spend the taxation any way they want. Any other level of government would be furious. It would be taking to the streets objecting to this heavy-handed imposition, really the will, of the minister. It is a model of which I just cannot imagine anybody approving. First nations would not even be free to spend as they see fit the revenues without the approval of the tax commission, and the commission could veto any bylaw passed by a first nation. Let us remember who the commission is: 12 people hand chosen and appointed by the minister.
First nations would also be required to ask the tax commission for approval of their annual budgets and expenditures. They would be held to a higher standard than the federal government. They would be held to a higher standard than any level of government in the country because as we know, the federal government does not even operate on estimates and expenditures. It is only accountable to what it spent when the Auditor General has time to review the spending pattern of the previous year.
Some provincial governments, to their credit, operate by submitting estimates first, getting them approved and then having their expenditures reviewed. That is the standard to which the federal government would hold first nations. They would have to go before the commission to approve the budget or estimates first, and they would also have their expenditures reviewed and audited by the same tax commission who are appointed by the minister. It is a striking denial of the right of first nations to govern themselves.
It is the antithesis of self-government. It is instituting a Eurocentric colonial view of managing affairs for them because the legislation finds its origins in the premise of the argument established by the Canadian Alliance, that first nations cannot and should not be allowed to do it themselves, that they need the great white father to supervise them because they are incompetent or criminal in their activities, corrupt. That was the pattern being painted by the Canadian Alliance and unfortunately it was bought by the government.
I will close by saying that Bill C-19 cannot be dealt with in isolation. It must be viewed in the context of the whole package of first nations governance legislation that has been coming at aboriginal people like a whirlwind. It has been an overwhelming bombardment of changes to the way they live and do business, and it is all being done from here. It is not being done in cooperation and in conjunction with their needs and legitimate demands. It is being imposed on them. It is the same mistake; it is history repeating itself once again. And the government will not listen.
If the minister was sincere about garnering support, I would be willing to join him to make meaningful change if he would take one step back and start over. Let us move forward with meaningful amendments to the Indian Act, not this language we are dealing with today.