Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to join in the debate on the subamendment put forward by the member for Davenport. I am pleased that he moved it because he took the words right out of my mouth. This issue should be re-debated and a new round of genuine consultations should take place if we are to move forward with the so-called new fiscal relationship with first nations and aboriginal people.
The subamendment to the motion specifically speaks to full consultation with first nations leaders. I disagree with the parliamentary secretary who cited some examples. That consultation has not taken place.
The parliamentary secretary said that drafts of what the government was going to do had been sent out to all kinds of first nations leadership. Consultation, in its strictest definition, does not mean telling people what we are going to do to them. The word consultation in Webster's includes some accommodation of what we have heard. It requires an exchange. It would not meet the legal definition. To simply announce to people that this is what we are going to do to them as of April 1 or as of the new fiscal year and then ask them what they think about it would not meet the test of consultation. To be considered genuine consultation, there has to be accommodation of the other party's concerns.
My hon. colleague from Lac-Saint-Louis cited Sparrow, a recent Supreme Court ruling along those lines, that speaks about what full and reasonable consultation is. He also mentioned Delgamuukw, which was another recent precedent setting authority from the Supreme Court of Canada. I for one was very pleased to see the reference to full consultation in the subamendment from the member for Davenport.
To perhaps clarify what the chronology was in the lead up to the introduction of the bill, there seems to be some misunderstanding and I would go as far as to say some misinformation put out by the parliamentary secretary and those promoting the bill. Let us back up a bit and review the chronology. Then people can judge for themselves whether they really consider that true consultation has taken place.
The concept of enshrining these four fiscal and statistical institutions into federal legislation was first considered at the Assembly of First Nations annual assembly in Halifax in the summer of 2001. I was there as was the then leader of the New Democratic Party, the member for Halifax. The draft resolution supporting the concept was voted down at the convention. The idea was floated around and voted down at that assembly. It did not garner 60% of the vote at the time.
The small group of first nations who were in favour of the concept made various procedural threats, and I was there to witness this. They included the removal or the impeachment of the assembly chairperson. They were challenging the chair because they were disappointed that their initiative failed on the floor.
In the interests of good relations, some chiefs generously agreed to let the concept on the institutions carry on, but with a very strict proviso that consent was given subject to the explicit condition that any draft bill had to go back to the Assembly of First Nations assembly for acceptance, rejection or modification.
The idea was voted down. A small group of chiefs felt so strongly about it that other chiefs said that they would take the concept further on the condition that nothing would be put in place and no legislation would be approved until it came before the assembly again and was ratified and approved.
That is an accurate chronology of how it was introduced and how it came about at the Halifax assembly, and I was a personal eye witness to that. Sadly, there has been a marked reluctance to honour that commitment to bring the draft back to the assembly for an up or down vote.
Various procedural moves have been made since the summer of 2002 to prevent first nations from having their say on the bill. The supporters of the bill, who apparently have been financed very well by INAC to promote the bill, have embarked on a cross-country campaign to push the merits of the bill and to make it look like there is broad national support.
I am critical of that. I am critical of the fact that funding has been taken out of the core aid budget of INAC to create these four new financial institutions without the enabling legislation ever being passed. I am further critical of the fact that the employees of those four new fiscal institutions are being paid to travel the country to lobby MPs to support the bill. Talk about the cart in front of the horse in this case.
The enabling legislation was never passed to create these institutions. The Minister of Indian Affairs went ahead and created them anyway. Then he let the new staff of these institutions travel the country promoting the creation of the various institutions. It really is an insult to any kind of due process that one might expect.
Let me talk again about the level of support across the country. We have heard all kinds of statistics and figures about what percentage is in favour and what percentage is opposed. Let us be clear that the hard-core support for this bill is probably in the range of 30 first nations, virtually all from British Columbia.
I was at the Squamish assembly to which the parliamentary secretary made reference. The member for Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, the Bloc Québécois critic for aboriginal affairs, mon frère autochtone, as we call each other, and I went to Squamish and attended the assembly with the express request to the assembly to give us some direction. We told the chiefs assembled there to please give us some direction, yes or no, did they or did they not support Bill C-19, as it was called then, Bill C-23 as it is called now.
It came up for debate on the assembly floor. We sat in the observer section and watched a very passionate and fulsome debate. I wish we had that standard of debate in the House of Commons sometimes because there was a legitimate exchange of strongly held views. In the final analysis, for the third time the Assembly of First Nations voted down Bill C-19, which is now Bill C-23. We had our direction.
In October 2003 the Assembly of First Nations met and dealt specifically with this issue and once again rejected it on the basis as cited by my colleague from Lac-Saint-Louis. I have the resolutions here. They are complex and I would be happy to table them to be entered into the record after the fact.
Basically the “whereas” clauses point out that the proposed bill is flawed and cannot be corrected by mere amendments. It is inconsistent with the previous mandates of the Assembly of First Nations resolutions 596 and 4998. These are making reference to previous years when there were efforts to revisit the fiscal relationship with the federal government. These resolutions were still in full force and effect. The bill does not recognize first nations' inherent right to self-government. If anything, it interferes with the unilateral right to self-government and imposes the will of the state on first nations in contrast, we believe, to the inherent right concept of section 35 of the Constitution. The provisions contained in the bill violate and infringe upon aboriginal and treaty rights and will worsen the status quo, in the opinion of the Assembly of First Nations. The proposed bill violates historic nation to nation, and Crown and first nation treaty relationships. Furthermore, it violates the core essence of this relationship, et cetera.
It is abundantly clear that the parliamentary secretary is either mistaken or misinformed about the level of support for this bill and the actual historical fact about how the bill was introduced, debated and rejected summarily, not once but three times, at legally constituted gatherings of the Assembly of First Nations.
Having said that, I can only speak to the subamendment in the context of this speech. Let me make it abundantly clear that there is such misinformation abounding about this bill that it is incumbent on us to send it back for further review and consultation.
There are very serious implications regarding the constitutionality of the bill. What would be the point in our moving forward with the bill if we thought it was going to be challenged and ultimately struck down on the basis of constitutionality?
One of the aspects of the bill that most offends first nations is the alleged optionality of the bill. My colleague from Churchill moved I believe it was no fewer than 72 amendments to the bill when it was Bill C-19. All but two of them were rejected by the House. There were efforts made to remedy and correct the bill by amendment at the committee stage and at third reading stage until the session ended and the bill had to be reintroduced in the new session.
The federal government, or INAC, the government side, made some amendments. One of them introduced a schedule at the back of the bill saying that those first nations who choose to avail themselves of the aspects of the bill may sign on to the schedule. The government thereby tried to imply that this was optional and it would only apply to those who signed on to the back of the bill.
The alleged optionality of these three institutions is completely misleading. In fact, they are statutory national bodies that will affect the rights and interests of all first nations in Canada whether or not they are added to the schedule. If anything, the schedule model makes things worse. It is important that we have a chance to revisit this because the schedule model perversely guarantees that these important national institutions will be perpetually controlled by the small number of first nations who are strongly in support of Bill C-23 and who sign on. It affects all first nations.
Let us not ignore the budgetary aspect of it. The financing of these institutions will come from the A-base budget of INAC. I believe it is $25 million a year to start with. This would come right from money that could have been spent meeting the basic needs of other first nations that are not signatories. Whether or not they are signatories, it is money that would have otherwise been spent, hopefully, improving the quality of life of first nations on these institutions.
Let us look at the tax commission. This federally appointed body would become the czar of all future on reserve property taxation bylaws or laws. In the future, if this bill is passed, all first nations in Canada that want to develop on reserve property taxation laws and systems will have to seek the approval of the federally appointed commissioner.
How can it be said that they are not affected by it? Even if they are not signatories to this bill, any move they make in terms of property taxation will have to be approved by the federally appointed commission. It is a myth to say that it is optional. Whether they choose to stipulate themselves to this specifically by signing the schedule or not, they are certainly affected by this new institution. All such first nations will have to submit their annual property tax budgets to the commission for approval, et cetera. There is no optionality at all. It affects the rights and interests of all first nations.
I hope we are making that clear. I hope the parliamentary secretary is listening and furthermore, that he understands. There seems to be a wilful blindness on the part of the government members to listen and to hear what they are being told not just by me, and I almost expect them to not listen to me, but they are not listening to what they are being told by the very people whose lives will be affected by this bill.
Earlier I said there are none so blind as those who will not see and none so deaf as those who will not hear. There seems to be a deliberate wilful blindness by those who are so determined to ram this bill through that they will not listen to reason, logic and compelling arguments to the contrary. They will not listen to the most compelling argument of all, that first nations people are vehemently opposed to this bill. The overwhelming majority of them are vehemently opposed to this bill.
I cannot express strongly enough how disappointed I am that in this day and age in the year 2004, the House of Commons of Canada is seized of a bill that seeks to impose our will on sovereign nations, or what we view as sovereign nations, independent nations, first nations. This is not the actions of an enlightened House of Commons in 2004. This smacks more of something of the last century and in fact, the century before that.
The most disturbing strong arm component of the amended Bill C-23 is directly linked to the financial management board. This component is found in clause 8 of the bill. Communities that do not voluntarily join the Bill C-23 schedule are not permitted to pass bylaws or laws dealing with the critical area of financial administration.
Again, how is this optional? This is the analogy we used about a driver's licence. A driver's licence is optional until a person wants to drive a car and then it is not optional any more. This bill is optional unless a community wants to pass bylaws and laws dealing with the critical area of financial administration.
Non-believer communities, those that do not sing hallelujah and sign on to this will be restricted to the narrow list of bylaw topics that are currently under section 81 of the Indian Act, which list does not include financial administration.
If a first nation wants to exercise what we believe is a sovereign right as an independent first nation in matters regarding financial administration, it has to join the club. It has to sign on. It has to put its name on the schedule. Where is the optionality in that?
Local financial administration is a matter of intimate local government. We believe it has to be customized from community to community. Communities should have the right to have that local government authority. Yet the effect of clause 8 of the amended Bill C-23 is clear: only opt in or scheduled first nations can pass financial administration laws. These scheduled first nations then become perpetually subject to the federally appointed opt in institutions. First nations that do not opt in effectively forfeit a key area of local jurisdiction, that is, their financial administration. Again, where is the optionality?
One of the fears that has been brought to our attention is we have all been critical of this new burgeoning industry of third party management where Liberal friendly accounting firms get the contracts to handle the affairs of first nations that overspend by as little as 8%. We heard examples today of the gun registry that overspent by 50,000%. Yet, if a first nation overspends its budget, if it runs into financial difficulties by 8% in the deficit, the federal government can swoop in and put it under trusteeship under what we call third party management.
One of the fears now with the establishment of this management board is that the government will assign the third party management duties to the appointed board. A federal government institution appointed by the minister will now be in control of all of those communities that are under third party management. We might as well go back to the days of the Indian agent because the minister of Indian affairs will be the ultimate Indian agent as more and more communities fall into third party management because they cannot meet the basic needs of their constituents with the paltry budgets they get. They overspend. They rob Peter to pay Paul because they are tired of saying no to everyone who comes to them with a legitimate concern for new housing or to send their children to university.
Some chiefs and council do overspend their budget by 8% and boom, down comes the heavy hammer of the government to put them under third party management. Now that third party management can and may be directed to the newly constituted management board, an instrument of the minister.
How fair is that? It is a catch-22 for first nations who will swallow their pride and join the Bill C-23 schedule in order to obtain from Canada the rare privilege of being able to pass their own financial laws.
It is an extension of the Indian Act. It is an extension of the colonialism that we find so offensive to begin with. The acquired jurisdiction will be very restricted. They will still be limited as to what financial administration laws they will be permitted to institute.
All financial administration laws will be subject to the unappealable veto of the federally appointed management board. There is no appeal process. If the federally appointed management board says that it does not think a certain type of financial administration bylaw should be introduced, there is no avenue of recourse. There would be no appeal. It is fascist.
Some of the most draconian measures of Bill C-23 are designed to prop up the credit worthiness of the authority, apparently at almost any cost.
In closing, from a legal point of view, Bill C-23 has fundamental constitutional flaws. From a policy point of view, the tax and borrow obsession of the bill is unresponsive to the fiscal and program reality of all but a handful of first nations. That is why there are only a small number of first nations who wish to avail themselves of these institutions.