Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this government motion concerning the proposed amendments to Bill C-6.
First, I want to say that this is a sad day indeed for Parliament. This will be remembered as the day the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and most of the Liberal members voted on a time allocation motion in relation to Bill C-6 on specific claims, a very important piece of legislation.
It is a betrayal of our history, a willful and offensive repudiation of everything our ancestors agreed to with the first nations. It is a betrayal, because when we signed these long-standing treaties, we thought we would then be negotiating equal to equal, nation to nation.
With this morning's time allocation motion, the government is telling us that the spirit in which the Indian Act was implemented over the last 130 years will continue to prevail. We will continue with our paternalistic approach to impose our wishes on first nations.
Furthermore, despite the Erasmus-Dussault report tabled a few years ago, which gave the first nations and aboriginal children hope for their future, this future is once again becoming a dead-end, as it has been for 130 years with the infamous Indian Act. This betrays not only the spirit, but also the letter of what we had agreed upon for decades.
For several years now, this government has preferred confrontation over conciliation and healing in its relations with the first nations. Oddly enough, when the Prime Minister rose just now in the House, I felt ashamed. When the other ministers did likewise, I was doubly ashamed. When I saw most of the Liberal members vote in favour of time allocation, I was even more ashamed to see people deny history and misrepresent it like that.
For the past two days, the Samson Cree community has performed the drum ceremony in front of Parliament. The drums represent the voice and heart of Mother Earth. She is trying to help parliamentarians understand the significance of this bill.
Unfortunately, Mother Earth and the beating of the Cree drums in front of Parliament did not work their magic on the government. It has shut its eyes and ears to the unanimous calls of first nations and the opposition of all the parties to this bill, with the exception of the ruling party.
The minister claimed this morning that he had the support of the first nations. That is not true. I just came from the Assembly of First Nations meeting in Vancouver, which was unanimous in its opinion. All the chiefs are opposed this bill. Why? Because it betrays what is represented by wampum.
Wampum is a symbol of ancient treaties under which the parties negotiated as equals, nation to nation, where no nation was superior to another, but each side had rights. These rights, including the inherent right to self-government and rights under these ancestral treaties, should be respected.
Despite the fact that the first nations have appealed to the United Nations, and we here have been condemning Canada's treatment of the first nations for many years, our pleas fall on deaf ears in this government. We are dealing with a minister who, after a fifteen year career—I hope this is his last year, because he has wreaked enough havoc—is being hypocritical in presenting this bill and saying he has the first nations' support. This is despicable.
It is especially despicable to see the Prime Minister stand up and vote in favour of the time allocation motion. Yet, in 1993, he said, and this can be found in the red book, that given how slowly the first nations' specific claims are being addressed, an independent commission should be set up, not a commission that is entirely controlled by the government and is both judge and party. He talked about an independent commission with independent judges, who could assess the damages, specific claims and compensation with all the independence required for appropriate legal treatment.
This rings hollow because members of the two main institutions in Bill C-6, the first nations specific claims commission and tribunal, will be appointed by the governor in council, in other words cabinet, on the recommendation of the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, without input or suggestions from the first nations. It is the minister who will make recommendations to cabinet and who, in keeping with the paternalistic approach of the past, will continue to impose rules through people who are both judge and party.
We are far from the recommendations and numerous reports prepared since 1982 that called for an independent commission. We are also far from the 1993 red book promise of an independent commission, with people appointed by both parties, not just one that is both judge and party, but both the first nations and the government.
So we end up with a structure that is totally at the discretion of the minister. He is the one who will appoint people, so of course there will no biting of the hand that feeds. Obviously, then, the minister and the governor in council will have control over these two major institutions. They is being described as impartial, whereas they are totally partial. If people are appointed, it cannot be assumed that they will be torn between the interests of the first nations or the interests of the government, when it is the government that has appointed them. The first nations have nothing at all to say about these appointments.
It can take several years before specific claims are even made, because once again the decision on when to entertain them is the minister's. He is the one to decide whether they are acceptable or not. This is a mechanism put in place to slow things down, and God knows how slow the processing of specific claims is at present. There are still more than a thousand under consideration. Since the process was inaugurated 30 years ago, 230 specific claims have been settled. At that rate, it will take 150 years to get to the end of the process.
That is just the existing specific claims, not the ones that will be added later. As the first nations begin to inform themselves about their rights, carry out research and call upon the services of experts to find ancestral treaties, we are starting to discover treaties that give more and more rights to the first nations. What the government does not get, and what the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Deveopment does not get, because of his usual arrogance and cynicism, is that the first nations are not looking for charity; they are looking for respect of their rights.
They are seek redress for the numerous wrongs of the past, as well as for loss of part of their land, land that belongs to them. As long as the paternalistic and colonial mindset remains, one that appears to be shared by the minister, the parliamentary secretary and all his colleagues, nothing will be accomplished. The first step must be to recognize that there are rights, that there are treaties that confirm those rights, and that justice must be done.
The minister says that the process will be speeded up. How? No additional resources have been allocated to speed up the processing of these specific claims. There are no new resources. How can he say that the process will be speeded up? How can he say that there will finally be harmony between the parties, when he is ignoring the second party, when he is putting in place a system where he will decide, at his discretion, whether a specific claim is acceptable or not?
He will use his discretionary power to appoint the members of the commission and on the tribunals, but not in cooperation with the first nations.
How can he talk about harmony? I think we have to talk about confrontation instead. This minister is the minister of confrontation. All we can hope for is for this man to leave political life as fast as possible, so that someone else can take his place, someone with more competence, understanding and openness of mind. It takes an open mind to recognize that first nations have rights and that these rights must be respected.
It takes a open mind and also intelligence to know that justice must be done fully and not partially. It also takes intelligence to be sensitive to one's environment and to see that all first nations in Canada, without exception, from sea to sea to sea, as the Prime Minister likes to say, are against Bill C-6, as well as against Bill C-7 on governance. All first nations also had the opportunity to express their views on Bill C-19 a month ago. The great majority voted against Bill C-19.
What justification does the minister have, except to advance his personal agenda? This personal agenda is not the future of first nations, or the future of first nations children faced with educational and multiple addiction problems. What matters is not the future of the minister. We could not care less about his future. What matters to us is the future of first nations, and that of first nations children. The future of these children is not very bright. But the minister does not care.
What saddens me this morning it to see that, following the Erasmus-Dussault report, there was great hope. Since the negotiations on self-governance have gathered some speed a few years ago, there has been great hope. But this kind of bulldozer attitude, using time allocation to have a bill that on one wants passed, dashes hopes. That is wrong.
This bill contains not only this extraordinary discretionary power given to the minister but also a totally despicable principle that must be rejected. Since when, in a case that has yet to go before a court, are we already in a position to tell in advance that there is a ceiling on the claims and compensation, on the value of settlements for specific claims?
If that happened to us, if we were in court and a government tried to have legislation passed, whereby any non-aboriginal citizen going to court will be told that, unfortunately, even if he has a $25 million claim, the maximum value is set at $10 million, as provided by the Senate's amendment, I think that we would say that there is has been a miscarriage of justice somewhere. We would not have it.
Before a case is heard, claims are made, and the injury and the value of the granted lands or resources has been assessed, no ceiling can be imposed. Before even hearing a case, one cannot say what it is worth. Unless, of course, the case is settled in advance. I think that, in the mind of the minister and his government, all aboriginal cases are settled in advance. That is not improving their well-being, nor is it doing them justice; this is just controlling the expenditures of the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development.
I have some suggestions for the minister. If he wants to limit the expenditures of the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, there is a good way to do that. Every year, for some years now, the present Auditor General and her predecessor said there was shameless waste in this department. The billions of dollars they claim they are spending on first nations go into the pockets of bureaucrats and go to wasteful projects. They go for travel abroad to see how other governments deal with their aboriginal peoples. That is where the money goes. There is a system in this department that operates something like the mafia, where public servants call the shots and do as they please.
You can try to get a breakdown of expenditures in contracts given by the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development Canada to communications agencies, for example, or management firms. You can try to find out who profits the most from the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, besides the first nations. You will see it is not easy. In fact, it is impossible.
I tried to obtain the list of financial management firms who had co-management contracts with a number of reserves across Canada. It was impossible to get it. Why? Because things in this department are hidden. Someone is afraid, and rightly so, that the situation will be revealed, and we will see that it is not the first nations, nor their children, who benefit the most from the billions of dollars in the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, but this is the system, the cronyism of this government.
So far, no one has convinced me that this is not true. I have made repeated calls requesting a breakdown of this department's expenditures and a breakdown of people who have contracts with this corrupt department—let us not mince words. Every time I made such a request, it was turned down.
I mentioned the ceiling that the minister had set at $9 million. The Senate, no more intelligently, set it at $10 million. Great work, great principle, Senate. The problem is the same; not a thing has changed. A ceiling should not be imposed before the case is heard.
If we look at the past 30 years and the 230 specific claims that have been settled, mostly in Saskatchewan, we see that the average is $18 million. And that is not direct compensation, what with all the time this takes at the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development with the current process, which is not going to change, because there are no supplementary resources. It takes several years before a case like that is settled. The $18 million also includes interest and legal fees, it is not the net amount given to first nations.
Consequently, justice is only partially done. Based on our legal system, this is a constitutional state. Either justice is done or it is not, it cannot be done partially.
Earlier, the minister said that we are the only country in the world to have this type of tribunal for specific claims. I can see why. There is not a civilized or industrialized country in the world, in 2003, that would want to implement a system where rights are denied to the first nations and where justice is done partially instead of fully. I can see why there are no such examples.
For the past several years, the United Nations have singled out Canada for its treatment of the first nations. UN envoys have toured the first nations communities in Canada for several years now, to verify the pitiful state of facilities and things like mildew in houses.
People are ill because the federal government is not doing its job. People are ill because the federal government is not investing sufficient resources to resolve problems related to unhealthy living conditions and unsafe drinking water. We are not talking about Africa, but Canada. Many communities have a problem with their drinking water.
Is it not strange to be dealing with a government in name only? The minister, who is a mere figurehead too, is saying that things will be fixed. At this rate, it will take 150 years to resolve currently pending specific claims. What kind of system is this? What will the outcome be? Hopefully, the minister will not be running in the next election, and we will do our best to see that he does not.
This morning, the minister made statements that were quite unintelligent, to avoid using other words that might cause the Chair to force me to withdraw my remarks, since I sincerely and honestly believe it. The minister said that if the first nations are not satisfied, they can go through the regular courts. Well. There is the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, the minister's discretionary power, the discretionary power of the Minister of Justice, and a whole bunch of lawyers who will fight the first nations to ensure they are cannot resolve their specific claims.
For all these reasons, I am ashamed today to be here in Parliament with my colleagues opposite who voted to impose time allocation on this bill. This bill was unanimously rejected by the first nations, since it will lock us, over the next few decades, into legislation that is strangely reminiscent of the Indian Act. This is legislation harks back to colonial times, which does not make sense. This is 2003, not 1810.