Madam Speaker, it is a true honour for me to join the debate on Bill C-56 and to represent the views of the New Democratic Party caucus.
I would like to begin by saying I rise to enthusiastically support Bill C-56, known as the Labrador Inuit land claims and self-government act . I am deeply honoured to be able to participate in the consideration of the bill. I applaud the spirit of cooperation that exists in the House of Commons today and the goodwill expressed by all my colleagues from all parties. It serves as a testimony to the level of interest that we see and take in this issue and the genuine goodwill that we express to the Inuit people of Labrador today.
It is my belief that with today's debate, the House is taking a significant step toward our ultimate objective, and I honestly believe that is making self-government a reality for the Labrador Inuit.
Self-government for the Labrador Inuit is embedded in the provisions of a historic accord, the Labrador Inuit land claims agreement which is, I point out with great pride, the first modern day treaty in Atlantic Canada, a pact that truly marks the beginning of a new era in partnership between the Labrador Inuit and Newfoundland and Labrador and Canada.
The agreement is a product of extensive consultation, deliberation and negotiation. In that spirit the agreement represents the successful conclusion of 28 years of patient work by the Labrador Inuit and the Governments of Canada and Newfoundland and Labrador. I can imagine the degree of commitment that has to be demonstrated by all of the parties to navigate and negotiate a complex agreement on a subject matter as critical as the inherent right to self-governance and to maintain that stream of thought for 28 years to a successful conclusion.
This is a lifetime worth of work for the principals engaged in this undertaking. It is the fulfillment of a dream, not only of the people but of the leadership who have dedicated their lives to this diligent study, collaboration and effort that began as long ago as 1977 with the filing of a statement of claim by the Labrador Inuit Association.
Negotiations may have been lengthy, but since the agreement was finalized on August 29, 2003, I am pleased to say that progress has really been swift as it moved toward official ratification on May 26, 2004, with 76% of Inuit electors voting in favour of the agreement. On December 6, 2004, the Newfoundland and Labrador house of assembly adopted the enabling legislation, the Labrador Inuit land claims agreement act.
On January 21, representatives of the Labrador Inuit, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador and the Government of Canada affixed their signatures to the agreement, the final step toward ratification. The passage of Bill C-56 is for the House now to undertake. Again, it is my great honour to be a part of that historic agreement.
The pace may have seemed glacial in those early years, but in actual fact the timeframe since August 29, 2003, by the standards of legislation, is really quite speedy and it demonstrates the genuine goodwill of the people of Canada toward the interests of the Labrador Inuit.
A number of devoted men and women are responsible for this agreement and for bringing us to this threshold of such a remarkable accomplishment. I would like to recognize and pay tribute to all those who played a part in the development of the agreement: the negotiators for all sides, the Labrador Inuit and their wise leader, William Anderson III, the citizens of Newfoundland and Labrador and representatives of the provincial and federal governments. In particular, it is only fair to take note of and to recognize the efforts of the current Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and his provincial counterpart, the hon. Tom Rideout. Genuine cooperation, painstaking work and unflagging patience have been the hallmarks of their efforts on all sides.
It is not an overstatement that the result of their work, Bill C-56, is truly historic. The legislation sanctions the landmark agreement signed between the Labrador Inuit and the Governments of Canada and Newfoundland and Labrador, an accord that defines and provides certainty about the rights of the Labrador Inuit as they relate to their lands, resources and self-government.
An examination of the agreement reveals the care and the thoroughness with which negotiators had to go about their work. It is a testimony to their diligence that the complexities of this agreement did not cause the whole effort to collapse under its own weight. I have nothing but admiration for the people who had the fortitude, the intelligence and the enduring, endless patience to plough their way through the minute details necessary in such an historic nation to nation agreement.
The agreement creates two categories of land, the Labrador Inuit settlement area; and Labrador Inuit lands. The settlement area consists of more than 72,000 square kilometres of land and some 49,000 square kilometres of ocean, extending to the limits of Canada's territorial sea. The settlement area includes Labrador Inuit lands and five Inuit communities: Nain, Hopedale, Makkovik, Postville and Rigolet.
In the northern part of the settlement area, approximately 9,600 square kilometres of land will be set aside for the establishment of the Torngat Mountains National Parks Reserve.
Within the settlement area, Inuit will own 15,800 square kilometres of land known as the Labrador Inuit lands. It is in this area where the Labrador Inuit will exercise the most rights and enjoy the most benefits. These rights and benefits cover a wide range of essential matters such as surface and subsurface resources, water use and management, ocean management, economic development, national parks and protected areas, land use planning, environmental assessment, wildlife, plants and fisheries, harvesting, archeology and place names. These are meaningful significant areas of jurisdiction that the Labrador Inuit will have the right to self-determination and control of these aspects of their lives and their livelihoods.
I again recognize and pay tribute to how difficult it must have been for the negotiators to convince an unwilling Government of Canada and an unwilling provincial government, at times, to acknowledge the inherent right to self-determination of a people and the inherent right to self-governance and the inherent right to their land, their resources, surface and subsurface, in minute detail. It is an astronomical feat. I do not know if the people at home watching this can appreciate the hurdles. This makes putting a man on the moon seem like a small achievement. I know how difficult our bureaucracies can be.
In addition to this comprehensive resolution over land claims and resource rights, the Government of Canada also agrees, by this legislation, to pay the Labrador Inuit $140 million over a period of 15 years. Unfortunately, the flip side of that coin is the Inuit will have to repay their negotiation loans of some $50 million during that same 15 year period. With every ray of sun, there is a cloud, I suppose.
Although the agreement is detailed and far-reaching in a number of respects on lands and resources, on capital transfers, on environmental protection, I am most enthusiastic about the agreement's provisions concerning self-government.
As a forward thinking community, the Labrador Inuit created a constitution several years ago. This constitution, which comes into effect with the agreement, establishes two levels of government, the regional Nunatsiavut government and five Inuit community governments.
All governments will be democratically elected and accountable to Inuit electors. The Nunatsiavut government may make laws to govern Inuit residents of Labrador Inuit lands and the five Inuit communities on such matters as education, health, income support, child and family services, meaningful aspects of the day to day life of the people who will now be the proud beneficiaries as the agreement unfolds.
The regional government will also have jurisdiction over its internal affairs, including traditional language and culture and the management of Inuit rights and benefits under the agreement. The Nunatsiavut government may also choose to establish a justice system for the administration of local laws. This is not simply smoke and mirrors. This is significant, meaningful, self-administration, self-determination and self-governance.
In all the research that we have seen, all the empirical evidence shows that the economic development and financial success of first nations and Inuit communities around the world is directly proportional to the degree of self-determination afforded to those individuals and those communities. In other words, it is a necessary prerequisite for a healthy, successful and sustainable economic community to have control of their own self-determination and their own destiny.
Five Inuit community governments will replace current municipal governments. The community governments may enact bylaws respecting local or municipal matters within their local jurisdictions. It is interesting to note, and I think this is an example of a modern day agreement, that both Inuit and non-Inuit residents alike in these communities will be able to vote and serve as councillors. That is in the best spirit of reality, generosity and a willingness to make this new community work.
I believe it is important to point out to anyone listening that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms will continue to apply to all Inuit governments and to matters under their jurisdiction and control, and federal and provincial laws will continue to apply to all Inuit.
Just to be abundantly clear for anyone who may be uncertain about what aboriginal or Inuit self-government looks like, they do not need to have any fears about this. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms has primacy, equity and equality exist and the federal and provincial laws will continue to apply. The Labrador Inuit will have the jurisdiction and control for those specific areas of their lives that are so important in the interests of self-determination and self-control.
The Labrador Inuit will also remain eligible for federal and provincial programs and services, like all Canadians. They are still Canadian citizens. The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Government of Canada and the Nunatsiavut government will negotiate a fiscal financing agreement every five years to provide funding to the Nunatsiavut government, enabling this regional government to provide agreed upon programs and services to Inuit and, where appropriate, to other residents.
Meanwhile, the Labrador Inuit will contribute to the costs of their own governance, programs and services. The first fiscal financing agreement has been negotiated and will take effect when the agreement comes into force. We hope that is within the very immediate future.
These self-government provisions will make a genuine difference in the daily lives of the Labrador Inuit by helping them to build a solid foundation for future economic growth and prosperity. Indeed, the profound benefits of self-government for aboriginal peoples are no longer in question. The link connecting aboriginal self-government and economic self-determination is far too obvious for anyone to doubt.
Self-government promotes open, transparent and accountable community decision making for aboriginal peoples. Responsible local governments lead to certainty about land ownership and management. It creates a stable environment for development and for investors. This certainty helps to attract investors and business partners and it fosters economic growth.
Investors seek stability and certainty. This agreement would give the certainty that people can invest in confidence. Outsiders can invest in confidence, in cooperation and with permission of the Labrador Inuit. Rising prosperity and optimism encourages self-reliance and leads to improvements in housing, employment and quality of life. It enables aboriginal communities to break down barriers and participate more fully in our nation's economy.
Clarifying jurisdictions, establishing elected, effective, accountable governments and creating a climate for economic growth and self-reliance, Bill C-56 would set the stage for all of these goals, helping the Labrador Inuit to continue their vital integration into Canadian economic life, hopefully, while still protecting their unique, cultural traditions.
In this fundamental respect, Bill C-56 represents a sensible response to the changing and challenging conditions of modern life and I hope enables a proud and ancient people to flourish.
In fact, through three key Inuit economic, political and health organizations, the Labrador Inuit have been hard at work for a number of years addressing the pressing social needs, forging partnerships with local governments and organizations, and striving to develop the physical infrastructure required to generate and sustain that economic growth.
The Labrador Inuit Development Corporation, an agency that strives to improve local living conditions by creating employment opportunities and promoting training and skills development, has successfully established several joint ventures. The corporation owns and operates two anorthite quarries near Nain and a stone processing plant near Hopedale.
In addition to these natural resources projects, the development corporation has reached an impact and benefits agreement with the Voisey's Bay Nickel Company. Through the agreement, Inuit are recruited and trained for work on the Voisey's Bay project and businesses with significant Inuit content are given special consideration as potential suppliers.
What is more, the Nunatsiavut government receives 5% of the provincial revenues generated by the subsurface resources in the Voisey's Bay area. These revenues, as it should be, go directly into a post-secondary support program that enables approximately 100 Labrador Inuit to pursue advanced studies, surely an idea we should celebrate.
The Labrador Inuit Association, the political arm of the local Inuit population, provides a wide range of training, investment and purchasing programs designed to increase aboriginal participation in the Canadian economy. This agency also participates in a number of environmental initiatives, such as fish population studies and forest preservation activities.
The Labrador Inuit Health Commission delivers programs targeted to community health needs and addresses concerns, such as drug and alcohol addiction and mental illness. The Labrador Inuit Association meanwhile supports an alcohol free social club, conferences on fetal alcohol disorder and the local chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
Given those activities and those accomplishments, the Labrador Inuit are clearly prepared to take the next fundamental step toward true independence and self-governance to safeguard their lands and culture and to wield the levers of economic power.
I believe the legislation before us today will enable them to accomplish that. I am urging my colleagues to fulfill their role in this historic achievement by lending their prompt and unqualified support to Bill C-56.
Let me conclude my remarks by quoting some of the comments at the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development on June 9 when the Labrador Inuit Association made presentations to us, particularly comments from Mr. William Andersen III, the president of the Labrador Inuit Association.
I will be brief but I thought it was powerful testimony, and for those Canadians who may be watching this historic event, they should hear the voice of Mr. Andersen who said:
I'm also someone whose life was changed by factors I could not control at an early age. In 1956 when I was eight, my family was relocated from our home in Nutuk without our consent. So I've seen a lot of change and I understand why this bill is so important to our people.
The Inuit of Labrador continue to live a traditional lifestyle. We camp, live on the land, hunt and gather food and most importantly, maintain an active connection with our Inuit heritage and language. At the same time, we're building on our traditions to create economic development and social programs for the future. The approval of the Labrador Inuit Land Claims Agreement will address concerns that are vital to us now and in the long term.
Nunasiavut is the Labrador Inuit name for our homeland and in English it means “our beautiful land”.
I was moved by the presentation of the president of the Labrador Inuit Association, as were my colleagues in all parties. As a representative from the province of Manitoba and as a representative of the New Democratic Party caucus, I want to throw our enthusiastic support and best wishes to the Labrador Inuit for the successful passage of Bill C-56 and the historic agreement that would give them the right to self-determination and self-governance.