Mr. Speaker, I am bound to accept your ruling of course, although I note that the ruling by Mr. Speaker Macnaughton was made before the passage of the charter and before the passage of the Official Languages Act, which is binding upon this House of Commons. However you have ruled on that matter.
However I hope there will be an opportunity at some other time, including by the government House leader who has always shown his respect for the Official Languages Act, for us to ensure that the act applies to this House of Commons regardless of precedents that were established before the Official Languages Act became the law of Canada.
The other point I want to make, and which I believe is of equally great importance in this matter, relates to our fiduciary obligation to aboriginal people. We are not here debating any old bill. We are dealing with a bill that has to do with the rights of a people who exist in a fiduciary relationship with the Government of Canada, with the Parliament of Canada and with the Crown of Canada. They are in a status that is unlike the status of others whose positions we may be debating here.
There is an unusual obligation upon us in the House to ensure that there is a full opportunity for all members of Parliament who have an interest in these issues and, indeed, a full opportunity for the people to whom we owe a fiduciary responsibility, the first nations people, to know what was discussed in committee and to be sure that they are in a position to bring forward appropriate amendments to deal with matters in the House.
On Bill C-7 the first nations community had only a matter of hours, on a question that goes to the heart of their capacity to self-govern, to make recommendations after the committee reported. The reprinted bill containing the committee amendments was available for less than 24 hours before the government's arbitrary deadline for the submission of report stage amendments.
Mr. Speaker, at the heart of your office is the duty to protect minorities and minority rights. You will be familiar with the great words of the distinguished clerk of the House, Sir John Bourinot. I quote from Marleau and Montpetit at page 210 which says:
The great principles that lie at the basis of English parliamentary law have...been always kept steadily in view by the Canadian legislatures; these are: To protect the minority and restrain the improvidence and tyranny of the majority, to secure the transaction of public business in a decent and orderly manner, to enable every member to express his opinions within those limits necessary to preserve decorum and prevent an unnecessary waste of time, to give full opportunity for the consideration of every measure, and to prevent any legislative action being taken heedlessly and upon sudden impulse.
This is a matter that goes fundamentally to the interests of a minority in the country but a minority that enjoys special protections under our history and under our practice in the House. Regarding no other group have steps been taken by this Parliament to allow them to sit as members of parliamentary committees when matters affecting their future were considered. For no other group was the process of federal-provincial consultation open to include representatives of those peoples during constitutional discussions, as I have cause to know happened during the preparation of the proposals for the Charlottetown accord.
There is no question that first nations people have an unusual status in the country. There is no question that the subject matters here are of great concern to them. We have seen that before committee and in demonstrations across the country. They have not had the time to consider what was being discussed in committee. They have not had the time to make representations to us in the House as to changes or amendments that might improve the bill. First nations people have had about 24 hours to deal with hundreds, perhaps thousands of years of history that could be changed by a quick decision of this House of Commons.
We have an obligation to protect the rights of minorities generally, but certainly to ensure that the people here, to whom we have a fiduciary responsibility and who are most vulnerable to changes that might be undertaken, have the time themselves to bring forward recommendations for amendments that could be considered by the House.
I respectfully hope, Sir, that you will consider the fundamental importance of this issue and not allow the government to proceed with a bill which, as a practical matter, denies the opportunity for first nations people to consider discussions in committee and to make their own representations as to changes that should be made in legislation that would fundamentally affect their lives.