Specific Claims Tribunal Act

An Act to establish the Specific Claims Tribunal and to make consequential amendments to other Acts

This bill was last introduced in the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in September 2008.


Chuck Strahl  Conservative


This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.


This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment establishes the Specific Claims Tribunal, the mandate of which is to decide issues of validity and compensation relating to specific claims of First Nations, after their submission to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. The enactment also makes consequential amendments to other Acts and repeals the Specific Claims Resolution Act.


All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

March 3rd, 2011 / 8:55 a.m.
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Mr. Justice Harry Slade Chairperson, Specific Claims Tribunal Canada

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

I did prepare a paper, and I think the honourable members will perhaps be relieved that I don't propose to take you line by line through it, but I thought that in light of the question around the study on the Specific Claims Tribunal process, and on issues relating to a process where claims have a value exceeding $150 million, it might assist the honourable members to have a more fulsome statement of the tribunal's mandate and the process than time permits in an oral presentation.

I'd say first that the members of the tribunal recognize the importance of the government initiative in the advancement of Bill C-30, the Specific Claims Tribunal Act, and that this is in furtherance of an agreement with the Assembly of First Nations that also provides for the residential school apology, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and a new dialogue on larger questions around aboriginal rights and interests. It also acknowledges the support for the enactment of Bill C-30 by all parties. This is plainly a significant step toward the reconciliation called for by section 35 of the Constitution Act of 1982.

As a member of the tribunal, as chair of the tribunal, and as a judge, of course, I'm bound by principles of independence and the related duty of impartiality, so I must take great care not to comment on any matter that could come before the tribunal or before any court. The traditions of the judiciary and our constitutional relationship with the legislature and the executive branch say that I must avoid any comment on anything that might have a political aspect.

So with all that said, I'll start by observing that the act provides for court-like processes in the adjudication of claims, but it's notable that the preamble to the act speaks to an objective that some may see at odds with a court-like process, which by its nature is adversarial. I will present a couple of paragraphs from the preamble. In it, we have a statement that “resolving specific claims will promote a reconciliation between First nations and the Crown” and also a recognition of “the right of First Nations to choose and have access to a...tribunal to create conditions that are appropriate for resolving valid claims through negotiations”.

It's with this in mind that the rules of practice and procedure that the tribunal has established in consultation with an advisory committee made up of first nations organizations and representatives, members of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, including the specific claims branch, and members of the Department of Justice, place a heavy emphasis on active case management of claims brought before the tribunal.

We've built in a rule that integrates mediation into our process. The idea here for the operation of the tribunal in the process is to identify, in the first instance, the core issues that go to the validity of a claim where validity is in issue.

Members of this committee will appreciate that some claims are likely to come to us not as a consequence of the rejection of the claim, but as a consequence of the claim having been in negotiation for three years without resolution. We're anticipating that some claims will require determination of validity and compensation, while others will require determination of compensation alone.

In case management, as with the courts these days, the tribunal will seek to identify the core issues around validity--the core issues going to the determination of compensation--in an initial effort to assist the parties in zeroing in on what really separates them, in the hope that it might better facilitate the negotiated resolution toward reconciliation that's contemplated by the preamble to the act.

This approach also promises a meaningful engagement of first nations peoples in the process, as negotiation and mediation is a process rather different from the adversarial-oriented processes before the court. It's important that some of the court-like processes be available. The act establishes finality where a claim is adjudicated on and is the subject of a ruling. Therefore, procedural fairness and substantive fairness require that full disclosure be made by both parties in the interest of leveling the playing field and ensuring that both parties--in particular, the claimants--can be satisfied that they're proceeding in a process that is fair and transparent.

We're hoping to open the doors in April this year. There are a few things left to be completed before we can do that. We have developed our rules of practice and procedure, but we're required by the Statutory Instruments Act to go through their process to conform our rules to federal drafting standards.

Our rules are examined by officers of the Department of Justice in this process to ensure their conformity with the provisions of our act. That's proving to be a somewhat longer process than I'd anticipated; it has the potential to delay the opening. But I'm confident that the folks in control of that process at the Department of Justice are applying themselves diligently to the task. Since arriving in Ottawa, I've learned a great deal about the pace at which things move through various offices. It's a little different from practising law or being a judge, that's for sure.

Our jurisdiction primarily relates to the taking of reserve lands, either under lawful authority where compensation has not been adequate, or without lawful authority. Part of our jurisdiction extends to matters where it's alleged that there are unfulfilled treaty promises, fraud by persons in positions of trust and authority, and misuse of Indian moneys, as that term is defined under the Indian Act.

Broadly stated, those are the matters that would come before the tribunal after being reviewed in the INAC specific claims branch process. Where the claim is rejected by the minister, it can come to us. After three years of negotiation without settlement, it can come to us.

At this point, it's difficult to say what resources, in terms of tribunal members, support staff, and funding, we'll require once fully operational. The geographic distribution of claims is to some extent reflected in the fact that amendments to the Judges Act that accompanied Bill C-30 gave British Columbia three more Superior Court judges, Ontario, two, and Quebec, one.

Our act provides for six full-time equivalents--a term I was not familiar with until I got to Ottawa--made up of up to 18 judges contributing no more than one-third of their time. I will say that this idea has presented some unique challenges that will need to be worked through in time, as part-time judges of course would have to have their tribunal work integrated with their rota in handling matters before the courts.

As you know--and of course it's central to the matter before you-- the cap on compensation that can be awarded by the tribunal is $150 million. In the specific claims process, this raises some questions that at least I consider interesting.

For matters that come before the tribunal, of course, or through the specific claims branch, as I understand their process, the initial question is whether the claim is valid. If it's determined not to be valid, it's my understanding of the process that they really wouldn't get down to the question of the amount of compensation. Why would they? In many of these claims, to advance the compensation case would be extremely costly. There may be estimates of compensation indicated, but I very much doubt that those estimates would be authoritative in the sense of being supported perhaps by expert evidence on valuation. So in that process, if a claim is rejected, I'm at a bit of a loss to understand how it could be known that its value exceeds $150 million.

Now, turning to the process before the tribunal, I think the starting point for the documentation that the tribunal would have before it is the material that comprises the minimal standard, or meets the minimal standard, that the Specific Claims Tribunal Act provides for in section 16. That section requires claimants who are entering the Specific Claims Branch process to provide documentation that complies with the terms of a minimal standard document established by the minister--and the minister has done that--which of course is a public document.

That minimal standard document does not call on claimants to state the quantum of compensation sought, and in the process before the tribunal, the claimants, at the validity stage, would in my estimation be unlikely to have developed their case on compensation. It seems quite possible to me that a claim might be presented to the tribunal where the first issue is validity, without much of a handle on whether or not the claim is valued in excess of $150 million.

I can envision a scenario where we'd be in the process before the tribunal addressing validity and having it turn out, if validity is established, as hearing evidence that could establish a theory of compensation at a figure exceeding $150 million. Of course, at that point, the claimants would be facing our statute's limit of $150 million, and one might consider the question whether at that juncture the claimants would be pressed to continue in the process before the tribunal, knowing the statutory limit on compensation that can be awarded, or pursue other avenues toward the ultimate resolution of a claim validated by the tribunal.

That concludes my opening remarks. I hope I haven't gone too far over time. I welcome any questions the honourable members may have for me.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you for your attention.

June 18th, 2008 / 3:25 p.m.
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The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Extension of Sitting HoursRoutine Proceedings

June 9th, 2008 / 3:10 p.m.
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York—Simcoe Ontario


Peter Van Loan ConservativeLeader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, I would like at this time to move the standard motion that can be made only today. I move:

That, pursuant to Standing Order 27(1), commencing on Monday, June 9, 2008, and concluding on Thursday, June 19, 2008, the House shall continue to sit until 11:00 p.m.

Mr. Speaker, as I indicated last week in answer to the Thursday statement, this is we have work to do week. To kick off the week, we are introducing the customary motion to extend the daily sitting hours of the House for the final two weeks of the spring session. This is a motion which is so significant there is actually a specific Standing Order contemplating it, because it is the normal practice of this House, come this point in the parliamentary cycle, that we work additional hours and sit late to conduct business.

In fact, since 1982, when the House adopted a fixed calendar, such a motion has never been defeated. I underline that since a fixed calendar was adopted, such a motion has never been defeated. As a consequence, we know that today when we deal with this motion, we will discover whether the opposition parties are interested in doing the work that they have been sent here to do, or whether they are simply here to collect paycheques, take it easy and head off on a three month vacation.

On 11 of those occasions, sitting hours were extended using this motion. On six other occasions, the House used a different motion to extend the sitting hours in June. This includes the last three years of minority government.

This is not surprising. Canadians expect their members of Parliament to work hard to advance their priorities. They would not look kindly on any party that was too lazy to work a few extra hours to get as much done as possible before the three month summer break. There is a lot to get done.

In the October 2007 Speech from the Throne, we laid out our legislative agenda. It set out an agenda of clear goals focusing on five priorities to: rigorously defend Canada's sovereignty and place in the world; strengthen the federation and modernize our democratic institutions; provide effective, competitive economic leadership to maintain a competitive economy; tackle crime and strengthen the security of Canadians; and improve the environment and the health of Canadians. In the subsequent months, we made substantial progress on these priorities.

We passed the Speech from the Throne which laid out our legislative agenda including our environmental policy. Parliament passed Bill C-2, the Tackling Violent Crime Act, to make our streets and communities safer by tackling violent crime. Parliament passed Bill C-28, which implemented the 2007 economic statement. That bill reduced taxes for all Canadians, including reductions in personal income and business taxes, and the reduction of the GST to 5%.

I would like to point out that since coming into office, this government has reduced the overall tax burden for Canadians and businesses by about $190 billion, bringing taxes to their lowest level in 50 years.

We have moved forward on our food and consumer safety action plan by introducing a new Canada consumer product safety act and amendments to the Food and Drugs Act.

We have taken important steps to improve the living conditions of first nations. For example, first nations will hopefully soon have long overdue protection under the Canadian Human Rights Act, and Bill C-30 has been passed by the House to accelerate the resolution of specific land claims.

Parliament also passed the 2008 budget. This was a balanced, focused and prudent budget to strengthen Canada amid global economic uncertainty. Budget 2008 continues to reduce debt, focuses government spending and provides additional support for sectors of the economy that are struggling in this period of uncertainty.

As well, the House adopted a motion to endorse the extension of Canada's mission in Afghanistan, with a renewed focus on reconstruction and development to help the people of Afghanistan rebuild their country.

These are significant achievements and they illustrate a record of real results. All parliamentarians should be proud of the work we have accomplished so far in this session. However, there is a lot of work that still needs to be done.

As I have stated in previous weekly statements, our top priority is to secure passage of Bill C-50, the 2008 budget implementation bill.

This bill proposes a balanced budget, controlled spending, investments in priority areas and lower taxes, all without forcing Canadian families to pay a tax on carbon, gas and heating. Furthermore, the budget implementation bill proposes much-needed changes to the immigration system.

These measures will help keep our economy competitive.

Through the budget implementation bill, we are investing in the priorities of Canadians.

These priorities include: $500 million to help improve public transit, $400 million to help recruit front line police officers, nearly $250 million for carbon capture and storage projects in Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia, and $100 million for the Mental Health Commission of Canada to help Canadians facing mental health and homelessness challenges.

These investments, however, could be threatened if the bill does not pass before the summer. That is why I am hopeful that the bill will be passed by the House later today.

The budget bill is not our only priority. Today the House completed debate at report stage on Bill C-29, which would create a modern, transparent, accountable process for the reporting of political loans. We will vote on this bill tomorrow and debate at third reading will begin shortly thereafter.

We also wish to pass Bill C-55, which implements our free trade agreement with the European Free Trade Association.

This free trade agreement, the first in six years, reflects our desire to find new markets for Canadian products and services.

Given that the international trade committee endorsed the agreement earlier this year, I am optimistic that the House will be able to pass this bill before we adjourn.

On Friday we introduced Bill C-60, which responds to recent decisions relating to courts martial. That is an important bill that must be passed on a time line. Quick passage is necessary to ensure the effectiveness of our military justice system.

Last week the aboriginal affairs committee reported Bill C-34, which implements the Tsawwassen First Nation final agreement. This bill has all-party support in the House. Passage of the bill this week would complement our other achievements for first nations, including the apology on Wednesday to the survivors of residential schools.

These are important bills that we think should be given an opportunity to pass. That is why we need to continue to work hard, as our rules contemplate.

The government would also like to take advantage of extended hours to advance important crime and security measures. Important justice measures are still before the House, such as: Bill S-3, the anti-terrorism act; Bill C-53, the auto theft bill; Bill C-45 to modernize the military justice system; and Bill C-60, which responds to recent court martial decisions.

There are a number of other bills that we would like to see advanced in order to improve the management of the economy. There are other economic bills we would like to advance.

These include Bill C-7, to modernize our aeronautics sector, Bill C-5, dealing with nuclear liability, Bill C-43, to modernize our customs rules, Bill C-39, to modernize the Canada Grain Act for farmers, Bill C-46, to give farmers more choice in marketing grain, Bill C-57, to modernize the election process for the Canadian Wheat Board, Bill C-14, to allow enterprises choice for communicating with customers, and Bill C-32, to modernize our fisheries sector.

If time permits, there are numerous other bills that we would like to advance.

These include Bill C-51, to ensure that food and products available in Canada are safe for consumers, Bill C-54, to ensure safety and security with respect to pathogens and toxins, Bill C-56, to ensure public protection with respect to the transportation of dangerous goods, Bill C-19, to limit the terms of senators to 8 years from a current maximum of 45, and Bill C-22, to provide fairness in representation in the House of Commons.

It is clear a lot of work remains before the House. Unfortunately, a number of bills have been delayed by the opposition through hoist amendments. Given these delays, it is only fair that the House extend its sitting hours to complete the bills on the order paper. As I have indicated, we still have to deal with a lot of bills.

We have seen a pattern in this Parliament where the opposition parties have decided to tie up committees to prevent the work of the people being done. They have done delay and obstruction as they did most dramatically on our crime agenda. They do not bother to come and vote one-third of time in the House of Commons. Their voting records has shown that. All of this is part of a pattern of people who are reluctant to work hard.

The government is prepared to work hard and the rules contemplate that it work hard. In fact, on every occasion, when permission has been sought at this point in the parliamentary calendar to sit extended hours, the House has granted permission, including in minority Parliaments.

If that does not happen, it will be clear to Canadians that the opposition parties do not want to work hard and are not interested in debating the important policy issues facing our country. Is it any wonder that we have had a question period dominated not by public policy questions, but dominated entirely by trivia and issues that do not matter to ordinary Canadians.

The government has been working hard to advance its agenda, to advance the agenda that we talked about with Canadians in the last election, to work on the priorities that matter to ordinary Canadians, and we are seeking the consent of the House to do this.

Before concluding, I point out, once again, that extending the daily sitting hours for the last two weeks of June is a common practice. Marleau and Montpetit, at page 346, state this is:

—a long-standing practice whereby, prior to the prorogation of the Parliament or the start of the summer recess, the House would arrange for longer hours of sitting in order to complete or advance its business.

As I stated earlier, it was first formalized in the Standing Orders in 1982 when the House adopted a fixed calendar. Before then, the House often met on the weekend or continued its sittings into July to complete its work. Since 1982, the House has agreed on 11 occasions to extend the hours of sitting in the last two weeks of June.

Therefore, the motion is a routine motion designed to facilitate the business of the House and I expect it will be supported by all members. We are sent here to engage in very important business for the people of Canada. Frankly, the members in the House are paid very generously to do that work. Canadians expect them to do that work and expect them to put in the time that the rules contemplate.

All member of the House, if they seek that privilege from Canadian voters, should be prepared to do the work the rules contemplate. They should be prepared to come here to vote, to come here to debate the issues, to come here for the hours that the rules contemplate. If they are not prepared to do that work, they should step aside and turnover their obligations to people who are willing to do that work.

There is important work to be done on the commitments we made in the Speech from the Throne. I am therefore seeking the support of all members to extend our sitting hours, so we can complete work on our priorities before we adjourn for the summer. This will allow members to demonstrate results to Canadians when we return to our constituencies in two weeks.

Not very many Canadians have the privilege of the time that we have at home in our ridings, away from our work. People do not begrudge us those privileges. They think it is important for us to connect with them. However, what they expect in return is for us to work hard. They expect us to put in the hours. They expect us to carry on business in a professional fashion. The motion is all about that. It is about doing what the rules have contemplated, what has always been authorized by the House any time it has been asked, since the rule was instituted in 1982. That is why I would ask the House to support the motion to extend the hours.

Climate Change Accountability ActPrivate Members' Business

May 29th, 2008 / 6:10 p.m.
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Denise Savoie NDP Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-377, which ensures that Canada assumes its responsibilities in preventing climate change. This bill is even more important because it does not put a partisan spin on this issue, an issue that is probably the greatest challenge of the 21st century. Canadians expect us to be above partisan games.

Mr. Speaker, I want to say that I was very honoured that you asked me to replace you for a few minutes. I had the opportunity, while sitting in the green chair, to look at things from a different perspective. I spent a few minutes thinking about how important it would be for the government to show true leadership on this issue that is so important for the future.

I recently attended a conference in Victoria.

The conference, called “Gaining Ground”, was held in Victoria during the break week. There were people gathered from all over B.C. and indeed from all over Canada and even from the United States. There were students, scientists, economists, and business people.

The students, the young people, said, “Do not mortgage our future”. The economists were saying, “Do not treat environmental impacts as externalities, as we have been doing and as we continue to do”.

Business leaders are far ahead of where we are at the moment. There were builders there who talked about the incredible impact that we could have by simply having some leadership at the level of changing the rules around construction in Canada and beginning to build green buildings, green homes, the kinds of green economy jobs that we could be creating, but that has not happened yet.

This bill would allow us to work together to build consensus. This bill is really science-based and I would like to go back to that. However, I want to talk a little about the consensus that I think the New Democrats have tried to build on during this Parliament, given how strongly we feel about this issue and how important we believe it is.

There was the Liberal Bill C-288, the Kyoto bill, and we agreed to work with the Liberals to bring that bill through committee to the House and to pass it. It was the same thing with Bill C-30, the Conservatives' climate change bill, which in its initial stages would have done very little to mitigate climate changes, but we proposed that all parties bring their best ideas and work together in consensus at committee.

We did that and there were some great ideas that came from all parties and this bill remains at third reading. The government has refused to bring it to the House for a vote and that simply goes against what Canadians expect of us. They want real change.

As everyone tries to understand the shifts that are required to achieve a more sustainable future, they are discouraged by the lack of action by successive governments. We know that biophysical and social changes can reach a tipping point, beyond which there is potentially irreparable change.

My colleague from Western Arctic spoke about his visit recently to Greenland and observed with scientists the way glaciers are receding. I had the fortunate experience to do the same thing on the other coast. I had the opportunity to visit Prince William Sound and the glacier called Nellie Juan. The people who were with us, who had been living in that area for some 30 years, showed us the way the ice was receding. There were beginnings of growth of vegetation where the ice had stood for centuries.

That is our children's future and our grandchildren's future that we are looking at. This is why I take this issue so seriously, as I think do all Canadians. The reason this bill is so exciting is it sets firmly into law the responsibility Canada must assume to prevent the tipping point that I mentioned.

Setting targets into law is key. Before I ran for election I remember having a conversation with the former minister of the environment. He was discouraged by the lack of action and the lack of commitment of his own government to move forward on climate change after accepting the Kyoto agreement.

I got the impression that the reason he felt there was a lack of commitment was that the discussions always occurred behind closed does in cabinet and there was no formal legislation requiring government to take action. It was always discussions behind closed doors and power plays that prevented any real decisions to take action. This piece of legislation would change that process.

Scientists tell us there is a consensus that an increase of 2° in the world's surface temperature from pre-industrial levels would constitute dangerous climate change and trigger global scale impacts and feedback loops from which it is difficult to imagine coming back.

Dr. Andrew Weaver, a leading scientist, Nobel prize winner, a professor at the University of Victoria, and a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, spoke to the committee. Here is what he said:

What I can say is that any stabilization of greenhouse gases at any level requires global emissions to go to zero.

I had to reread that because it is difficult to imagine how we can get there. Dr. Weaver is one of the leading world experts and certainly is a well-respected Canadian scientist. He said:

There is no other option. To stabilize the level of greenhouses gases in the atmosphere at any concentration that is relevant to human existence on the planet, we must go to zero emissions.

Hence the importance of this bill, because it will set into law the targets and the timelines that science tells us we must meet if we want to stop irreversible damage: medium targets of 25% below 1990 levels and long term targets of 80% below 1990 levels by 2050.

The Conservatives have set a new starting date and we know from all the comments we have heard that their targets simply do not get the job done as they would like to tell us they do. Science tells us that if we follow the government's plan we are going to--

Aboriginal AffairsOral Questions

May 28th, 2008 / 3 p.m.
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Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon B.C.


Chuck Strahl ConservativeMinister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians

Mr. Speaker, we are making good progress on many pieces of legislation, but I particularly like to highlight the progress on Bill C-30, a historic bill on specific claims. The bill is now in the Senate. It will have hearings again tonight on that. It is going through because the government and the Assembly of First Nations are working closely together on that bill. We co-drafted the bill. It addresses wrongs that go back decades and decades.

We are extremely proud to have all party support to once again look after the needs of first nations. It is time to get the job done for first nations in our country.

Price of Petroleum ProductsEmergency Debate

May 26th, 2008 / 9:20 p.m.
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Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, it is not my pleasure to debate such a terrible issue for Canadians. I will be splitting my time with the member for Windsor West.

In my time in Parliament, I have spent a lot of time talking about energy issues, ways we can reduce costs for Canadians and ways we can move from our reliance on fossil fuels to renewable energy, many of the good things that are possible in this world.

However, I have yet to see this Parliament take hold of the energy issues in any meaningful way. In some respects, it goes back to the Liberal government of the past, since 2000, that worked very hard to establish a continental energy plan with the United States under the aegis of George Bush and Dick Cheney, and then it carried on with the Conservatives afterwards who were pleased to continue the work of a continental energy plan for Canada. We are now so linked into that in their minds that we cannot make the kind of moves in Canada that could ultimately lead us to much lower energy costs and a better situation for Canadians as a whole.

Having said that and having laid that out as part of the problem that we have in Canada, I would like to move on to more of a national perspective, which is the energy problem. We are talking about the cost of petroleum products. I would first like to say that in the situation we are in, with the Conservatives standing and talking over and over again about the reduction in the GST, we are talking about very little. It is only 2¢ off the enormous cost increases that we have seen in the price of oil and gasoline. Those things will not be impacted by that 2¢ reduction in the GST.

Problems with natural gas have been around since 2003 when Natural Resources Canada indicated that we were in a position of running short of natural gas. The November 2007 outlook shows that we will have a serious problem by 2015 and that by 2020 we will have nothing left to export. We will be importing natural gas to heat our homes. This problem, however, seems to be of little concern to both the Liberals and the Conservatives in their times in office. We have yet to see the Department of Natural Resources, under either of those parties' direction, actually put some effort into understanding what is required for Canadians.

Probably what is required for Canadians is to go back to the old days where we insisted on maintaining large reserves of gas for Canadian use.

One of the great solutions that the Conservatives have thrown up, which we have debated in Parliament extensively, is biofuels. Biofuels, ethanol, will not reduce the cost of gasoline in our system. In fact, what we have seen over the last months in the ethanol business is that many plants that were setting up shop, because of the high cost of food, have realized that there is no profit left, even with the subsidies that are being applied to ethanol, to go into the business. We are seeing more and more ethanol plants across North America shutting down. The cost of feed is too high and the huge subsidy that is being offered up by the Americans is not enough to make up the difference. Therefore, biofuels will not solve the cost of energy in Canada.

Cellulosic ethanol, that kind of dream that we have, the dream of the future, of turning waste into ethanol and driving our vehicles around, is actually even more costly. Study after study has shown that we will not see a lowering of our energy bills through the use of cellulosic ethanol.

Where are we talking this country right now with energy? Are we just aimlessly stumbling along in a free market haze, in a free market ideological funk toward what most of the other countries in the world have given up on? Most countries have established national oil companies and have driven their energy policies by themselves, for themselves, while Canada has this ideological haze surrounding it. We are simply buying into the free market idea and moving ahead with it.

When we talk about oil, oil is a product in Canada. As the minister said, oil is a product of the world and 86 million barrels a day are used. It cannot last forever. However, and members can check with Natural Resources Canada, the government has never done an assessment of the world oil supply for Canadian policy making. It has never looked at the situation of peak oil. Has the United States done it? Yes, it has. The U.S. military and Congress did it in the United States. What happens in Canada? There is no analysis.

I held a forum on Parliament Hill in February on the peak oil situation. What can we say about peak oil in the world? We can definitely say that peak oil production is very near. We should remember that. There is a lot of oil in this world but it is getting harder to find and harder to deliver. It takes larger amounts of capital, manpower and equipment to bring it forward. We are replacing oil as if we only had to stick a straw in the ground and oil would shoot out. Now we need to hunt for it and then put an enormous amount of effort into getting it out of the ground. We cannot replace the conventional oil in the world with unconventional oil fast enough anymore. Therefore, we are at a point of peak oil production.

Do members know what Exxon's biggest investment was in the last couple of years? It invested $30 billion into buying its own shares back off the public market because it realized that cheap oil that had already been found was probably the best way to make a profit. Shell did the same thing.

The recognition of the state of the world oil industy is something we must take very seriously. Yes, the speculative nature of the free market system has driven up the price of oil very rapidly in the last year and we are all gagging on it, but in reality we will be out of cheap oil and we will be stuck with very expensive oil products in the future.

For the people I represent in northern Canada, in the Northwest Territories, this year we will see for our consumer and government expenditures a 10% increase put toward oil and petroleum products. That means that out of our whole economy we will lose 10% next year; 10% of the expenditures for governments, businesses, employees. Everyone will suffer. The burden that northern Canada bears because we have not made the progress on changing is enormous.

As well, my government in the Northwest Territories is trying to change. It is investing in solid bioenergy. It is converting buildings to biofuels and that is working. It is talking about large hydroelectric projects. It is talking about things that it can do.

This country needs to develop a very strong program that will talk about energy and provide people across the country with the answers. That is what this party is after.

We worked very hard on Bill C-30. There is a wonderful opportunity in Bill C-30 to develop a national retrofit program using the cap and trade system that was designed and supported by the Liberals and the Bloc. This is the type of thing we need in Canada: good sensible work and good sensible policies supported by all of us that we can move ahead with. We tried to do that with Bill C-30 and we were fairly successful. Why can the government not understand that we need those things in this country?

I know my time is running short, but this debate is very important to Canadians and I hope that we all take this very seriously.

Motions in AmendmentCanadian Human Rights ActGovernment Orders

May 16th, 2008 / 1:05 p.m.
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Nancy Karetak-Lindell Liberal Nunavut, NU

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-21. This has been very contentious legislation, as short as it is.

We have said many times that the Liberal Party supports the repeal of section 67. It is how the bill was drafted, how it was put forward without including the amendments that were proposed by the many witnesses who came before our committee. We have a great deal of trouble with that.

We have made many attempts in the years that I have been here to try to repeal section 67 of the Human Rights Act. Maybe part of the difficulty was that it was put in with other items, for example, in Bill C-6, with which the communities had great trouble. I want it to be on record that we were never against the repeal of section 67, as some of the press coverage has made us out to be.

The two pieces of legislation we are dealing with in the House today brings to light again the very statements of many aboriginal members. We tend to forget there are basic rights that we take for granted in our country, to which people in aboriginal communities do not have access. However, our party will support the two motions that have been put forth.

The point I want to make is there should have been a non-derogation clause in the legislation in the first place. If the Conservative government had put forth this legislation in the same way it did with the specific claims, with cooperation from the Assembly of First Nations, the bill would have been passed in the House by now and would have been put into practice already.

When the minister introduced Bill C-30, he talked about the great cooperation between the Assembly of First Nations and the government to put forth that bill. Again, if the Conservatives had that same kind of consultation and reaching out, the bill probably would have been in better form. As I said, our party will support both Motion No. 1 and Motion No. 2.

Judging by the questions I heard in our committee from some of the government members, they seemed to have great difficulty with understanding collective rights versus individual rights. We asked opposition members that there be some consideration of collective rights. Some people have interpreted that to mean we are giving the bands and, in some cases, the chiefs an out from what repealing section 67 would do.

I beg to differ. As I said in committee and in an earlier speech today, we are quick at looking at the negative of these initiatives, instead of looking at the positives. There could be different considerations that would actually be more beneficial and more appropriate to the people whom this legislation will serve.

One example I used was how we treated our elders. Because I come from a different community, I am not first nations but one of the Inuit from the first peoples of our country, we have very stated understandings in our culture. We respect the elders and we do certain things that cater to elders, which might not be considered in other cultures.

I remember giving one example at committee. When we check in at the airport we see all these different aisles for business class, for people with no baggage and for the regular lineup. I could see in one of our communities that we would have a lineup specifically for elders so they do not have to wait for 20 people ahead of them when they are trying to check in at the airport.

I give that example to show that when we look at different cultures and different ways of doing things it does not always have to be in a negative light. We do have some practices that I think would bring about better communities across this country if they were practised.

We have not survived as a people in some of the harshest climates in this country by not working together. We do many things that are good for the whole community. I know that is a very different understanding from that of a municipality divided into lots where everyone individually owns the lot their house is on. That is not always the case in our communities.

We have to understand that in many ways we think of ourselves as one group of people, not as individuals. Of course, we have come to appreciate the individual rights that we are learning along the way, but again I am stressing that when we look at situations that concern individual rights versus collective rights, all we are asking for is a certain understanding.

We are not saying that we should always rule in favour of collective rights. What we are trying to point out is that there should be some consideration when people come before the tribunal such that the tribunal tries to fully understand the makeup of the community, the customs of the people and the way things have been done traditionally.

I have stated before, and I will state it again, that just because we extend certain rights to people it does not mean they will all exercise them. There needs to be a transition phase that is respectful. In this case, I am very pleased that we were able to see the 36 months. The transition phase needs to educate people on what this means for them.

I live in a community where we can put cases before the tribunal, but we do not always see people taking advantage of that because we have not fully educated the people to let them know what their rights are. That is an ongoing process.

I am very supportive of people being given that opportunity in the first nations communities, just as we are trying to do with other pieces of legislation we are putting forth in the House to improve lives on reserves and in other aboriginal communities to get them to a level playing field.

In the other debate that I was talking in, I could not stress enough that in most cases we are looking for basic needs. We are looking for very basic things that other people take for granted. We want to make sure that first nations are able to participate in those same democratic processes that we have in this country.

I would very much like to see this legislation pass. I know that our party will be supporting it.

Tsawwassen First Nation Final Agreement ActGovernment Orders

May 16th, 2008 / 12:20 p.m.
See context


Nancy Karetak-Lindell Liberal Nunavut, NU

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to Bill C-34, the enactment of the Tsawwassen First Nation final agreement.

I listened with great interest to some of the debate on this legislation. I stand rather reluctantly, I guess, because this is like déjà vu for me. I am hearing the same statements and arguments being made that were made for the Nisga'a treaty. We have people asking why people should still be bound by a 132-year-old Indian Act and yet we are trying to give an opportunity for bands to get out from the Indian Act, move forward and create a more positive future for their people. Each time a Parliament has tried to get Indian bands out of the rules of the Indian Act, we see resistance everywhere, even from some of the people who are affected by the land claims agreements.

I know we will never have one land claims agreement that every member will agree with. It saddens me greatly that people are looking for only negative consequences of these agreements.

Again I go back to the days when we were trying to get the Nisga'a treaty passed in this House. We heard many arguments from the same members who are speaking against this one in the House of Commons and yet, democratically, this agreement was passed by its members. If a bill is passed or an agreement is ratified by its members democratically and the majority approve it, then people argue that it was not done fairly, that it was not done in a way that passed the scrutiny of fairness. It is difficult to convince naysayers because they will never agree that this can benefit people.

I have been to some of those communities where they have absolutely no hope of getting out from the oppression of poverty. We have heard sad stories from across this country about what is happening on reserves that we would not tolerate anywhere else in the world.

We have people fighting in Afghanistan to create opportunities for the people there to receive good education and for women and children to participate in education, opportunities that we in our own country would never consider denying anyone. People in our Canadian Forces are dying fighting for the rights of the people of Afghanistan and yet here in Canada we continue to hold people under the thumb of the Indian Act and allow them to live in poverty, with no hope for the future. They live in conditions that we would not tolerate anywhere else and yet we find ourselves in the House of Commons today debating the Tsawwassen First Nation final agreement that would give opportunity for a band to move forward, to take advantage of economic opportunities and create hope for their children.

Some people have asked what we see in this agreement that would lead to the social improvement of the people. I have said this before and I will say it again. We cannot bottle the hope that we give people. We cannot put a dollar figure on the improvement in people's well-being when it is in their heart. We cannot say that it will cost x number of dollars to see someone finish high school and become a contributor to their society instead of landing in jail and becoming a statistic or becoming a statistic in suicide.

We can count all the negatives that happen to people. We can do statistics on how much money we are spending on welfare. We can see numbers for the amount of money spent for children in care among our aboriginal people and yet we cannot put a dollar figure to the positive lives that we have been able to see from the different land claims that have been achieved in this country.

As a beneficiary to our Nunavut land claims agreement, I can tell the House what that means for me, for my parents and other people I encounter in our communities. However, I cannot give the dollar figure and the statistics of what that means for people in that they are finally able to be part of the decision making process that governs our lives.

As Chief Kim Baird said, ”every land claims agreement is a compromise”, but it must be if we are going to get all parties at the table agreeing to a settlement or an agreement. At the end of the day, we all need to be able to walk away from that table feeling that we have made some contribution and that everyone worked together to come up with the best agreement that people can ratify, support and move on with their lives.

Many people do not realize just how much the Indian Act controls people's lives, which we would never be allowed to happen anywhere else. Just because it has been around for so long and people have started to accept it as a normal way of life, does not excuse the governments of the day for not improving how we deal with aboriginal lives on reserve. We are dealing with different pieces of legislation. We have Bill C-21 , which tries to remove section 67 of the Human Rights Act. We have the legislation that is before us now. We already spoke to Bill C-30. Those are all the different pieces of legislation that try to make improvements to an Indian Act that has controlled the lives of a group of people who were one of the first peoples of this country.

I have a story here about this agreement that was written in the Canadian Geographic. One of the stories talks about how, when the provincial government broke ground for its ferry terminal in 1958, the first anyone knew about it was when a foreman knocked at the chief's door at six in the morning asking where his crew should park their trucks. This was a statement by Kim Baird, the current chief of the Tsawwassen. Because there was a long house in its path, the government contractors unceremoniously tore it down.

This might not seem that significant to people, but I ask members to visualize someone coming through our communities and tearing down a longhouse or a very important part of a community and the uproar that would happen today if any of us saw that happen in one of our communities. It is very difficult to speak of.

I have stories from my own history of people coming in and deciding that they knew better than we did how to run our lives. They just took control and took action that we would never tolerate today. Those different standards for many situations are not tolerable today but were acceptable in the past.

However, to completely break down people and expect them to rise above all of that without any assistance is asking too much of people.

We see natural disasters happening all over the world, where everything in a community is destroyed. The generosity of people in helping rebuild those communities is something that we can all strive to help with. The human part of us always wants to help those whose lives have been devastated by circumstances beyond their control.

Why we would not apply that same generosity to people who live among us in this country is beyond me. If only most of us really knew what conditions people live in. Then we would not just hear about it, have it fly over our heads and say that we have heard about this for so many years that the story is getting old. We would not be saying that we should move on to something else.

It is very sad and troubling that we have to keep advocating on behalf of people who want to control their own lives. It is very sad that we have to see obstacles all the time when people want to accept responsibility for their communities, move on, make their own decisions and create a future for their people.

The history of this country is built on people overcoming great adversity. The history of our country is that people have had to overcome great challenges to build this country up to where it is today. We aboriginal people are no different. We want to overcome our history and become contributors to society and to this country and its economic development.

We want our children to finish high school, go on to post-secondary education, provide for their own families and live in healthy, safe communities. This is no different from any person born in this country or who comes to this country as an immigrant.

If we do not provide the basic and I feel fundamental assistance to people who want to rise above the poverty and the social challenges in their communities, I do not know what more to say to convince people. We have to support people who want to move on.

I know there are many details that I am sure my colleague across the way will ask me about in trying to convince me why we should not support the legislation. However, at the end of the day it is about people who democratically voted to support an agreement that they know will create some uncertainty for their members and may give them uncertain times in the future, but it does provide certainty in the realm in which they can work.

The Indian bands that are operating under the Indian Act cannot even go to a bank, ask for loans and carry on with economic development opportunities in their communities. They cannot participate in any of the benefits that are happening on the very lands to which they have an attachment, because there is no obligation for many of these private companies--or even provincial governments--to come to an impact and benefit agreement with them.

It is very sad that the people who most need the economic development opportunities and who most need the jobs and the training do not benefit from the prosperous activities happening on the very lands that are in question.

That is why we went ahead with Bill C-30. That will take care of some of the specific claims, which will help bands come to some economic opportunity, or it will settle claims where they feel they have been wrongly treated, although I am having difficulty with the words for this. However, I know that in the specific claims process people will be able, hopefully, to settle the very issues that are hindering them from moving forward.

I am in support of the Tsawwassen First Nation final agreement because I see it as one way of settling some of these long outstanding issues that have plagued many first nation bands across this country. I have been a member of Parliament for almost 11 years. I have seen great strides in bringing to a close some of the longstanding issues. I have seen many land claims agreements signed and put into place in the time that I have been a member.

I am very proud that all Inuit in Canada have now settled their land claims. Of course, this is not the be-all and end-all or the only solution for improving the lives of aboriginal people in this country, but it is a fair step that we can move forward from.

I am not saying that since we have signed our Nunavut land claims agreement every problem has been solved, but it certainly has given hope and an opportunity to people who feel that they now have a role to play in helping make decisions that concern their lives.

Yes, it was a compromise, as is this very agreement that we are talking about for the people of Tsawwassen. No, it is not going to solve every problem for them, but it gives them a framework that they can work in and they will know that they have the legal opportunity to help make decisions in their area that affect the lives of their people.

I urge people to support this bill so it can be sent to committee. I look forward to hearing from witnesses there. Hopefully we will move this file forward to the Senate and see a conclusion for the long hours of work that people have done on this agreement.

May 14th, 2008 / 4:40 p.m.
See context

Deputy Minister, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Michael Wernick

It's a bit speculative. These claims are very specific--no pun intended. They deal with a breach of a lawful obligation in either the management of money or land transactions, so we should know the universe of how many times that has happened.

There is an onus on the first nation to bring a claim forward, so I can't promise you that there aren't claims lurking out there that haven't been filed. But we've been at this for many years, and you would think we had seen most of them. It's possible some new ones will come out of the woodwork. We've worked very closely with the Assembly of First Nations and regional aboriginal organizations in going to Bill C-30. We're confident that we have a pretty good fix on how many are out there, because we know where the railways were built, where the canals were built, and so on. It's unlikely that we're going to see an awful lot of new business related to land issues or Indian moneys issues. I think you're seeing a growing number of claims about consultation and economic development, which are a different animal. They're not specific claims.

May 14th, 2008 / 4:35 p.m.
See context

Deputy Minister, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Michael Wernick

I will try to get some of the specific numbers.

We had a process that had pretty much congested and ground to a stop. When claims came in they had to be assessed in terms of historical research. Then you had to get a legal opinion as to whether a breach of a lawful obligation took place. Then you entered into a negotiating process, which was essentially an out-of-court settlement model. You spent time in negotiation, with no particular clock on that. Some were being settled. There were 15 or 20 a year, maybe 10.

We came to the conclusion with the government that a tribunal would be more expeditious, not just because it would deal with a lot of claims. The existence of the tribunal as a path forward would change behaviours for both us and first nations, and make negotiated settlements more likely.

Minister Prentice at the time, responding to concern that we would drop our tools on claims while waiting for Bill C-30, pushed us to speed up the process of research and offers of settlement. We moved 54 claims through last year, in terms of settlements or clear dispositions. We will continue to try to keep up that pace this year. They vary from a claim the size of a couple of hectares, to the claim in northern Alberta, the Bigstone, which is $250 million with very large acreages, and so on.

One quick point is that accompanying Bill C-30 in the tribunal is a re-engineering process between ourselves and the Department of Justice to make sure we increase the through-put on settlements and offers. They will be reporting regularly to Parliament on progress on that. We'd be happy to give you progress reports.

May 14th, 2008 / 4:35 p.m.
See context


Chris Warkentin Conservative Peace River, AB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

To those gentlemen who are remaining with us for the second hour, we appreciate the clarity that you bring when you come.

We as the committee have been working for some time on Bill C-30, which is this committee's effort and the government's effort to reduce the specific claims backlog. Of course we know right now that there is a backlog that has continued to grow over the last number of years. I'm wondering if you could give us an update as to the situation when it comes to the backlog, how many resolved claims have developed over the last year, and what has traditionally been the case in terms of the number of claims that have been settled year after year. What is traditional or what is a norm, and how have things been progressing in the last 12 months?

May 14th, 2008 / 4:35 p.m.
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Chuck Strahl Conservative Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon, BC

I'll take my leave.

I want to thank you, Mr. Chairman, and all the committee members. Again, I thank you for your work on Bill C-30. I know we've had some differences on Bill C-21, but I'm hoping we can resolve some of those differences as well.

I continue to be impressed. Even though we're in a minority Parliament, and even though it gets cranky from moment to moment, this committee continues to get things done, which is a tribute to all of you, and I just want to thank you. In between, I'm sure, some tense moments, you're getting some good work done.

I look forward to your economic development trip up north. I plan to be there myself this summer once or twice, not in June but later on. So we'll compare notes when it's over, and I'm sure we can get together and discuss that as well.

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights ActGovernment Orders

May 14th, 2008 / 4:25 p.m.
See context


Yvon Lévesque Bloc Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Mr. Speaker, in the current context of Bill C-47, we know that laws currently exist in Quebec and the provinces and territories of Canada on matrimonial property that recognize the general principle of equality between spouses. These laws govern spousal rights during the marriage and in the case of marital breakdown. They help define the personal and real matrimonial property of the spouses. They also allow for a system of mandatory rights and protections when it comes to matrimonial property and, in the event of a marital breakdown, the establishment of legal presumption in the equal division of matrimonial property. The laws also include various protection measures for each spouse, for example, in the case of the sale of the family home, where the signature of both spouses would be required.

Nonetheless, between Quebec and the provinces and territories of Canada, there are a few differences when it comes to common law relationships, same sex relationships, rights in the event of the death of a spouse and issues involving family violence.

These laws also apply to first nations spouses off reserve, but do not apply in the same way to people living on reserves administered by the Indian Act, mainly in terms of matrimonial real property, cases of family violence and marital breakdown.

The Indian Act provides for a land management regime that includes a system for making individual allotments of reserve lands to members of the band for whom the reserve has been set aside, but it is silent on the question of matrimonial property interests. It does not provide for a law-making power on the part of first nations in regard to matrimonial property, real or personal.

Bill C-47 concerns family homes situated on first nations reserves and matrimonial interests or rights in or to structures and lands situated on those reserves. It seeks to close the existing legal gap to ensure respect for basic and matrimonial rights and to offer recourse during a conjugal relationship, when that relationship breaks down or on the death of a spouse.

Basically, the bill seeks to balance individual and collective rights, to clarify the inalienability of reserve lands, and to provide greater certainty to spouses and common-law partners on reserves with respect to family homes and other matrimonial interests or rights.

Bill C-47 would set out provisional federal rules as well as provisions for the enactment of first nation laws. The federal rules would be a provisional measure, but would account for the reality that some first nations may not develop their own laws to address matrimonial interests or rights. The bill would enable communities to develop their own laws. Each first nation would be subject to the provisional federal rules set out in the bill until they adopt their own laws, with the exception of those that already have laws about matrimonial real property.

The proposed bill would be subject to the Charter. It would also be subject to the Canadian Human Rights Act insofar as its provisions fall within the scope of that act.

Not all off-reserve matrimonial real property remedies can be replicated on reserves. Given the collective nature of the reserve land regime, land on reserves cannot be owned outright, and the rights to possession differ between band members and non-members. For greater accuracy, the proposed act therefore refers to “interests or rights regarding family homes on reserves and other matrimonial interests or rights,” rather than “matrimonial real property” which, off reserves, refers to both land and structures.

The bill also proposes some provisions related to separation due to family violence.

I think all my colleagues here will agree that despite all the work that went into this bill, the government has still displayed a vindictive and know-it-all attitude when it once again failed to consult women or the Native Women's Association. Yet again, it managed to forget to resolve major flaws.

This week's visit from the president of the Quebec Native Women's Association, Ms. Gabriel, made this very clear.

The proposed act respecting family homes situated on first nations reserves and matrimonial interests or rights in or to structures and lands situated on those reserves would fix a major shortcoming in the current legislation.

Although the Bloc acknowledges this, and knows that we must act quickly, for the good of women and first nations communities, we think that the government has failed in its duties in some areas.

I would like to show my colleagues, here in this House, how the government did not fulfill its commitments. I would also like to explain what the Bloc Québécois proposes to fix the major shortcomings not only in this bill, but also in the entire process surrounding the bill.

To back up my comments about how the current government has not fulfilled its commitments in developing this bill, I would like to go back in time to discuss a political accord that was signed in 2005. As we all know, in order to get into power, the Conservatives ran a campaign based on demonstrating transparency and respecting commitments.

The past few months have shown us that this party does not seem to be any better than its predecessors. Allow me to quote some of its members: “It is our duty as elected members to ensure that the public can continue to have confidence in us. We must demonstrate integrity and consistency in our decisions.”

The process leading up to Bill C-47 runs counter to an important agreement signed between the Assembly of First Nations and the Government of Canada in 2005. I will read an excerpt from this political accord of May 31, 2005, an accord we have been referring to since Bill C-44 was introduced in 2006:

No longer will [the government] develop policies first and discuss them with [the members of the first nations] later. This principle of collaboration will be the cornerstone of our new relationship.

It also says:

The minister and the Assembly of First Nations commit to undertake discussions:

on processes to enhance the involvement of the Assembly of First Nations, mandated by the Chiefs in Assembly, in the development of federal policies which focus on, or have a significant specific impact on the First Nations—

The purpose of the accord was to enhance cooperation between the Assembly of First Nations and this government on the development of federal policies on first nations. Can someone please explain to me why that very Assembly of First Nations, the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador, Quebec Native Women Inc. and the Native Women's Association of Canada are against this bill?

In the process of drafting this bill, it seems clear that an important aspect of communication was forgotten. We can all agree that in a discussion, two parties meet to share ideas. Consultations were indeed held with a whole host of groups representing first nations and with first nations women's groups, since this bill primarily concerns women.

However, it seems that if Indian and Northern Affairs Canada did indeed listen to the first nations representatives, it did not take into account or did not put enough stock in what they said. I do not think the government representatives acted in bad faith, but the spirit of the 2005 accord, where the cooperation and involvement of the first nations should have prevailed in the drafting of this bill, was not respected.

It would therefore make no sense to go ahead with second reading of this bill. That is why the Bloc is asking the House to refer Bill C-47 to the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development so that the committee can amend the bill to make it acceptable to first nations communities.

The Bloc Québécois firmly believes that the first nations have an inherent right to self-government, and it will ensure that that right is not undermined by the implementation of this bill. However, we also believe that such a bill can fill gaps in the current regulations while communities develop their own law on family homes.

Bill C-47 could be passed once it has been studied and amended by the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, this time in collaboration with designated first nations representatives.

At this point, I would like to give some more concrete examples of the reasons why the Bloc Québécois is asking that this bill be referred to committee.

Many of my colleagues are aware that the first nations are an integral part of the human landscape of my riding. I would therefore like to speak from my own experience with various nations.

One of the concerns that aboriginal women's groups have pertains to the lack of housing on reserves, because one of the provisions of this bill deals with obtaining accommodation after a conjugal relationship breaks down.

Having visited a number of aboriginal communities repeatedly, I can state that this concern is certainly justified. How many times have I seen whole families squeezed into cramped quarters? How many times has the message been hammered home to me, during meetings with chiefs, that the biggest challenge in communities is the lack of housing? I have lost count. In addition, in communities such as Eastmain, on James Bay, some families are living in buildings despite mould problems so severe that the buildings need to be reconstructed. When there is not enough housing, it becomes difficult to relocate families for any reason.

From my experience, I also wonder about another aspect of this bill. It establishes procedures, including referral to legal procedures that do not always take into account the cultural reality and the access that these communities—often isolated or impoverished—have to certain information and certain services. There is nothing in the bill regarding how the communities will be able to access information and legal services.

For the Bloc Québécois, it is crucial that these realities can be considered and these questions addressed. That is why we would like to know how the government plans to implement this, and how it intends to allocate funding to ensure that the people in question can benefit from the bill. I would also like to ask the government how much funding is earmarked for the communities in order to prepare for implementing the legislation. Finally, we would like the government to submit to the committee the studies concerning the impact of Bill C-47 on the communities as well as the measures that will be put in place to encourage communities to develop their own laws concerning matrimonial homes.

In closing, given the importance of the issue and the insecurity it causes for people living on reserves, the government must take action immediately. It must allow aboriginal people on reserves to exercise their matrimonial rights to and interests in structures and lands situated on reserves. It must ensure that all its actions and decisions comply with the recommendations of the main aboriginal organizations and those of the standing committees, while still honouring the political accord reached with the first nations in 2005.

I believe it would be possible to amend this bill and address the dissatisfaction expressed by aboriginal groups, for example, issues pertaining to the implementation of the action plan, available resources and access by women to legal processes. We undertake to work closely with the first nations and the government, whose actions will respect the 2005 agreement, in order to amend Bill C-30 and ensure that it is satisfactory. We will do the same for Bill C-47.

However, I must point out that the Bloc Québécois has questions about the government's plans for implementation of this bill. We also wonder about the funding that will be provided to the communities and about the introduction of measures to make the procedures accessible to the population, bearing in mind the information that must be provided to the population and the poverty and the geographic isolation, which could restrict the practical application of this bill.

To summarize, the Bloc Québécois is in favour of Bill C-47 being sent to the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development to study the ins and outs and, above all, to hear the testimony of stakeholders.

But first, we wish to know the intentions of the government concerning the possible amendments to Bill C-47 that it would be willing to accept.

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights ActGovernment Orders

May 14th, 2008 / 4:20 p.m.
See context


Yvon Lévesque Bloc Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my Liberal Party colleague for her presentation on Bill C-47. She is obviously well versed on this subject given that she has sat on the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development for a number of years.

I would also like to point out that she was part of the previous government when an agreement was made with first nations stating that each time legislation concerned them and could change their way of life, the government had to consult them.

In this regard, be it with Bills C-44, C-21, C-30 or C-47, is the current government consulting and respecting this agreement?

May 14th, 2008 / 3:35 p.m.
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Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon B.C.


Chuck Strahl ConservativeMinister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

It is a pleasure to be back before the committee, and I appreciate the work you've done since we last met. It's nice to see this committee working through its agenda.

I welcome this opportunity to discuss the Main Estimates of the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development.

There are a couple of things I want to do in my time before you this afternoon. I want to discuss the main estimates, of course, but I also want to expand on some of our recent progress on issues of real importance to aboriginal people, and emphasize for committee members how vital it is that we continue to pursue our collaborative and results-based approach.

These main estimates reflect this government's determination to make tangible progress on aboriginal and northern issues through genuine collaboration and resolute action. We're working to address the fundamental obstacles that stand in the way of greater prosperity for aboriginal peoples and northerners. Our approach involves working with willing partners to design and implement fundamental solutions that reflect real results--for example, solutions for particular challenges such as unsafe drinking water and ineffective specific claims resolution processes.

This collaborative approach has already produced several important breakthroughs. Significant progress has been made in overcoming the challenges presented by the provision of safe drinking water to first nations communities, the improvement of child and family services, and improvement in the supply of housing, to name only a few.

These and other results demonstrate the advantages of working in good faith with willing partners to formulate distinct plans, establish clear priorities, and dedicate adequate resources. The main estimates now before this committee are part of this government's practical approach to planning. They propose the strategic investments needed to support further progress.

Although the total amount in this year's main estimates is smaller than that of last year, year-over-year changes must be interpreted in the context of the entire budget cycle. As the first step in the fiscal cycle, the main estimates do not include resources to be acquired through the supplementary estimates. In fact, supplementary estimates A, tabled in the House yesterday, result in an increase of approximately $483 million in my department's budget for 2008-09.

This set of main estimates does increase the funding allotted to Indian and Inuit programs and services such as education, housing, community infrastructure, and social support. This increase also includes funding for the family violence prevention program, the new first nations infrastructure fund, and a transfer from Industry Canada for Aboriginal Business Canada.

The north is also part of my mandate, so I want to touch briefly on progress made here as well. As you know, I am also responsible for leading the advancement of the government's integrated northern strategy. This strategy supports the government's vision of a new north by focusing on four integrated priorities: sovereignty, economic and social development, governance, and environmental protection, and since 2006 we've moved forward across government in all four areas.

In fact, to cite just a few examples, we've announced plans for a world-class Arctic research station. We're pursuing devolution in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories. We are advancing the northern regulatory improvement initiative. We're also acting on Budget 2008 commitments that build on these priorities with key measures to protect and secure Canada's sovereignty and create more economic opportunities for northerners. Many of my cabinet colleagues are moving forward with their own northern initiatives, and that's good to see as well.

But there is more to the story than just numbers and spending.

I firmly believe that money alone—no matter how large the amount—will not enable us to achieve our larger goals.

Similarly, no single player acting alone can effect the changes needed. To make meaningful, sustainable improvements in the lives of aboriginal people requires broad collaboration, careful planning, and effective action. All three feature prominently in this government's strategy on aboriginal issues.

We formed productive partnerships to make headway on issues that matter to aboriginal people. We have worked with first nations leaders from across the country on water, education, child and family services, and settling claims. To cite a recent example, a few weeks ago I signed an MOU with the Province of New Brunswick and New Brunswick first nations to improve the quality of education for first nation learners in that province. I'm very excited about that proposal as well.

Let me talk a bit more about what we have been able to accomplish with our partners. As I think I mentioned the last time I was before committee, we've made considerable progress since 2006 in improving drinking water systems in first nations communities. Budget 2008 committed $330 million over two years to the first nations water and waste water action plan, which I announced last month. This is the next step in ensuring that first nations have the clean, safe water they deserve.

We have also committed $300 million to the first nations market housing fund, which is now open for business. This innovative program will provide first nations people living on reserve with more housing options so that people can build home equity while at the same time respecting the tradition of communal ownership of reserve and settlement land. Initiated in partnership with Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, the program aims to make home ownership a realistic option for first nation families who live on reserves. Over the next ten years the fund is expected to add some 25,000 new housing units for first nations communities. It was a pleasure to introduce the board members and make that announcement just a week or so ago.

This government has also launched a collaborative plan to overhaul the processes used to resolve specific claims. I know you are very familiar with that. We believe that the negotiated settlements of specific claims produce a wealth of benefits for all Canadians, not just aboriginal people.

The creation of a specific claims tribunal, proposed in Bill C-30, is the centrepiece of a larger plan to overhaul specific claims processes. The plan, designed in collaboration with the Assembly of First Nations, commits Canada to resolving specific claims in a fair, timely, and open manner. l'm convinced that improvements to specific claims processes will benefit all Canadians, aboriginal and non-aboriginal alike. I appreciate the committee's work on Bill C-30, and I'm looking forward to its swift passage through the Senate. I know that discussions with senators have already started to take place.

l'm also delighted that Bill C-47, the legislation to safeguard the matrimonial real property rights of first nations women and children living on reserve, has begun second reading in the House. I hope this committee will soon have the opportunity to consider this important piece of legislation.

We also remain committed to legislation to ensure that first nations on reserve are finally fully protected by the Canadian Human Rights Act. I look forward to that bill coming back here as well.

Bill C-34 is also before the House. This legislation proposes to enact the Tsawwassen First Nation final agreement. I hope that it, too, will be here before committee for its consideration before long. That landmark agreement is the result of another remarkable collaboration between first nations, Canada, and British Columbia, and negotiations that stretched over 100 consultative sessions with regional governments, community groups, and other interested parties. It was a real collaborative effort to put forward an excellent agreement, which I hope will go quickly through the parliamentary process.

Under the terms of the final agreement, the Tsawwassen First Nation acquires not only land and a financial component, but also a seat on the metro Vancouver regional board. This arrangement means that the first nation, municipality, and board will work together to create and execute plans that serve the interests of all residents. I trust that members of this committee will appreciate the significance of this collaboration once they begin their review of Bill C-34.

I would like to take a quick moment to provide an update on the implementation of the historic Indian residential schools settlement agreement. The Government of Canada has received over 91,000 applications for the common experience payment, and it has processed more than 81,000, totalling $1.23 billion. At the same time, the important work of the independent assessment process has begun, and that's well under way as well.

As you are aware, on April 28 I had the great pleasure of announcing the appointment of Justice Harry LaForme as chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The work of Justice LaForme and the historic Truth and Reconciliation Commission will be instrumental in building a renewed relationship with aboriginal communities. It was a pleasure this week to announce the final two commissioners, Claudette Dumont-Smith and Jane Brewin Morley, who will complete that commission so they can begin their work on June 1.

The next step in the process of healing and reconciliation is an apology to former students of Indian residential schools. Preparations are progressing on that, on what I'm convinced will be a very fine moment, a very respectful, meaningful apology that will be great for our government, our country, and for aboriginal people across Canada.

I will depart from my text here for just a minute to express my appreciation to Peter Harrison, who has spearheaded the Indian residential schools settlement and the work that has been done to date in making sure we came to what I think is a very good moment. He's going to be moving on to other things. I think Queen's University may be in the mix. I'm not sure. This may be his last committee appearance.

I'm not just saying this so you'll have mercy on him. I'm actually saying this because I think the entire country owes a big debt of gratitude to Mr. Harrison. He has done his work in a way that's garnered the respect of successive ministers, but more importantly, or just as importantly, of the entire aboriginal community. I just want to say, if I can here, that I respect all these people here with me today, but I say a special thank you to Mr. Harrison for the fine work he's done, and I hope you'll ask him the right kinds of questions to reflect that as we move forward.