An Act to amend the Cree-Naskapi (of Quebec) Act

This bill was last introduced in the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in December 2009.

Sponsor

Chuck Strahl  Conservative

Status

This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.

Summary

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

This enactment amends the Cree-Naskapi (of Quebec) Act, in respect of Cree bands and Category IA land,

(a) to provide the Cree Regional Authority with additional responsibilities and powers, including by-law making powers; and

(b) to recognize the Crees of Oujé-Bougoumou as a separate band and a local government under that Act.

Elsewhere

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.

Cree-Naskapi (of Quebec) ActGovernment Orders

May 26th, 2009 / 1:30 p.m.
See context

Vancouver Island North B.C.

Conservative

John Duncan ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Mr. Speaker, I believe we are all on the same page. It is a pleasure to speak to the third reading of Bill C-28. Certainly, it is no mystery by now why I support this bill, nor why the hon. members of the House have united to ensure that this bill passes.

Bill C-28 begins a new chapter in one of the country's great aboriginal success stories: the story of the Cree of Eeyou Istchee. For hundreds of years, the Cree peoples of the eastern James Bay and southern Hudson Bay region of northern Quebec have effectively protected their environment, managed their natural resources, and preserved the cultural legacy of their communities. For decades, the Cree of Eeyou Istchee have used the provisions in the James Bay and Northern Quebec agreement to start their own airline, establish a thriving construction company, and open many flourishing small businesses.

Most recently, the Cree of Eeyou Istchee have engaged in ongoing consultations with Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, embraced genuine partnership with the Government of Canada, and co-signed the 2008 new relationship agreement document. These are the achievements I would like to focus on today.

For those not familiar with the new relationship agreement, allow me to explain a few important facts about this document. The new relationship agreement is a landmark agreement between the Government of Canada and the Cree of Eeyou Istchee. It is a historic consensus that gets at the heart of what it takes to build strong communities. It resolves past grievances. It fosters social and economic development. It empowers people to determine their own destinies.

More specifically, the new relationship agreement ends litigation initiated by the Cree of Eeyou Istchee against the federal government, devolves specific federal responsibilities to the nine Cree communities of the eastern James Bay and southern Hudson Bay region, and provides for amendments to the Cree-Naskapi (of Quebec) Act to enable the Cree regional authority to enact bylaws that will apply throughout the region.

Significantly, the new relationship agreement does all of this with the full support of the Cree of Eeyou Istchee. Voicing their opinions in referendum, more than 90% of the beneficiaries who voted in the nine affected communities endorsed the agreement. They voted to end years of contention and uncertainty, and to embrace a sincere partnership with the Government of Canada.

Bill C-28 fulfills two key aspects of the agreement. First, it will equip the Cree regional authority with additional responsibilities and powers, including bylaw-making powers, so that the Cree regional authority will be better able to carry out certain specified responsibilities that were assumed from the federal government under the James Bay and Northern Quebec agreement.

Bill C-28 also sets the stage for the negotiation of a Cree nation governance agreement that will establish a new Cree nation government. As the Cree of Eeyou Istchee noted in their presentation to the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, this bill constitutes “another step in the evolution of Cree governance structures and responsibilities”.

Second, it will incorporate the Cree of Oujé-Bougoumou as the ninth Cree band. This is a fulfillment of the 1992 Ouje-Bougoumou/Canada Agreement, under which the Government of Canada agreed to recognize the Cree of Oujé-Bougoumou as the ninth Cree band and to contribute financially toward the creation of a new village at Lake Opemiska.

In the words of Mr. Richard Saunders, who represented the Cree-Naskapi Commission before the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, this is both “a symbolic and housekeeping amendment”. It is one that acknowledges the local government and administration of a distinct people not named in the James Bay and Northern Quebec agreement.

In short, Bill C-28 fulfills two key aspects of the new relationship agreement that would enable all of us, the Cree of Eeyou Istchee and the Government of Canada, to place our focus squarely on the future. It is a bill that dwells not on recriminations of the past but on opportunities in the present and future. It is a bill that honours the spirit of partnership and collaboration inherent in the new relationship agreement.

Throughout the bill's development, from the initial outline to the version before us today, the Cree of Eeyou Istchee have been extensively consulted. They have helped ensure the bill meets the real needs of the Cree communities of northern Quebec. They have advised the government on necessary changes and they have contributed at key stages of the legislative process.

Due in no small part to the Cree's involvement, members of the House now have the opportunity to truly serve the Cree people who live in the James Bay and southern Hudson Bay region to give them the authority to: enforce strict water quality standards; to maintain meticulous accounting practices and guarantee that people in positions of power are held accountable for their use of community funds; and to ensure more responsive police and firefighting services and make certain that all residents in crises get the emergency help they need.

This is an opportunity to encourage continued dialogue between the Government of Canada and the Cree of Eeyou Istchee and to ensure that our nation's laws benefit the people most affected by them.

This is our time to seize these opportunities. Let us help honour the commitments the Government of Canada made to the Cree people of northern Quebec in the new relationship agreement.

We are ready to heed the words of Richard Saunders, Philip Awashish and Robert Kanatewat who travelled to Ottawa on behalf of the Cree of Eeyou Istchee to outline their support for the bill when they appeared before the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development just a short time ago.

Passage of the bill would enable the Cree of Eeyou Istchee to pave the way to a brighter and more prosperous future for their communities.

As we heard earlier in the House and again at committee, all parties in the House support the bill. There is no one who does not wish to establish a new relationship based on trust, fairness and mutual respect. There is no one who does not wish to welcome the nine Cree communities in northern Quebec into the political, social and economic conversations that will shape the future of Canada.

I know that is why my colleagues will welcome the opportunity, as I do, to vote in favour of this important legislation, to vote in favour of helping thousands of proud, resourceful, ambitious people in nine remote communities in northern Quebec to embark on a prosperous future and on a path to a new tomorrow for us all.

Cree-Naskapi (of Quebec) ActGovernment Orders

May 26th, 2009 / 1:40 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Todd Russell Liberal Labrador, NL

Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the Liberal Party of Canada, I am glad to stand in the House and support Bill C-28, and act to amend the Cree-Naskapi Act of 1984.

The numerous benefits of this legislation have already been read into the record. The bill is now at third reading and hopefully it will get royal assent in the not too distant future, after some 33 years of intense negotiation and, at many times, litigation, and not always an amicable relationship between the Crown, whether provincial or federal, and the aboriginal people involved.

A lot of work has been undertaken over those 33 years since 1975 when we had the James Bay and northern Quebec agreement, the northeastern Quebec agreement in 1979 and then the Cree-Naskapi Act in 1984, which is what the bill we are talking about today would amend.

Since 1984, the Cree people have been in a tangle with the federal government about the true implementation of the Cree-Naskapi Act of 1984. They have tried diligently to ensure that land claims were implemented, not only in terms of the details of that particular land claim but in terms of the spirit and intent of it. A new relationship agreement was signed in 2008, which is the basis of what we are dealing with here today.

The agreement itself was spoken of in endearing terms by Bill Namagoose at committee, who was one of the chief negotiators of that particular deal. We also heard from the minister and the department about how the relationship between the Department of Justice, the federal Crown and the Crees of Eeyou Istchee was much improved.

One of the lawyers at the time said that he had been practising for 43 years and that it was the first time in those 43 years that he could actually commend the people from the Department of Justice for the way they had behaved, for their manners and for their professionalism, and he hoped that particular relationship would continue into the future.

I want to read into the record a couple of quotes about land claims and speak in terms of going forward.

The Supreme Court of Canada, in Haida Nation v. British Columbia, Minister of Forests, wrote:

The historical roots of the principle of the honour of the Crown suggest that it must be understood generously in order to reflect the underlying realities from which it stems. In all its dealings with Aboriginal peoples, from the assertion of sovereignty to the resolution of claims and the implementation of treaties, the Crown must act honourably. Nothing less is required if we are to achieve “the reconciliation of the pre-existence of Aboriginal societies with the sovereignty of the Crown.

On the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms, the report on Canada in 2004 around the settling of comprehensive land claims, the United Nations special rapporteur said:

The settling of comprehensive land claims and self-government agreements (such as those of Nunavut or James Bay) are important milestones in the solution of outstanding human rights concerns of Aboriginal people. They do not, in themselves, resolve many of the human rights grievances afflicting Aboriginal communities and do require more political will regarding implementation, responsive institutional mechanisms, effective dispute resolution mechanisms, and stricter monitoring procedures at all levels.

What is being said here is that the Crown must act honourably when signing treaties and must implement not only the letter of the treaties but the spirit and intent of them.

Some of the most formidable work being done today around the implementation of land claims is coming from the Land Claims Agreements Coalition, which is made up of basically all of the modern treaty-holders from Labrador to B.C. and from Yukon to Nunavut.

Members of this coalition underlined four undertakings that the Government of Canada should put in place regarding treaty implementation. They are calling upon the Government of Canada to adopt a new policy on the full implementation of modern treaties between aboriginal peoples and the Crown. They also ask that the Government of Canada draft and promptly introduce legislation to establish a land claims agreements implementation commission, that the Government of Canada establish a cabinet committee on aboriginal affairs to oversee and coordinate the full involvement of federal agencies and ongoing treaty implementation activities, and that the periodic negotiation of implementation funding for Canada's obligations under modern land claims agreements be led by a chief federal negotiator appointed jointly by the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and the Land Claims Agreement Coalition.

Those are very practical solutions and they arise out of the context of the James Bay and northern Quebec agreement of 1975. They arise out of the historical context that has led, after 33 years, to the Cree-Naskapi 1984 amendments that we are talking about today. The coalition members cite this as movement in the right direction, which we in our party agree with as well. they also understand that across the country there are outstanding grievances within first nations, Inuit and some Métis communities around the implementation of land claims. They call for this way forward.

I will not prolong the debate on third reading except to say that my party supports this because it is a way forward. We also support it because it was a collaborative approach. We cannot say that strongly enough. It was a collaborative approach between the Government of Canada and aboriginal peoples who sat at the table. They will not call it co-drafting because they say that legally we cannot co-draft but that is a purview of the federal government itself. In essence, they basically dotted the i's and crossed the t's and said that this was a nice way to go forward and the government says that it is its legislation.

I will say this in another context because we have another bill before the House called Bill C-8, which was not co-drafted, was not done in co-operation or consultation with first nations people and is not receiving the kind of unanimity within the House that we see on Bill C-28. The difference in approach has an impact on the content and the agreement that various parties can reach.

We are supporting Bill C-28 because of the process and the content. I wish the Cree of Eeyou Istchee good luck with this. We wish them the best and the Liberal Party will certainly be a partner in the future as this agreement and other agreements are implemented under the new relationship.

Cree-Naskapi (of Quebec) ActGovernment Orders

May 26th, 2009 / 1:45 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise here today at third reading of this bill, one that is extremely important for the Cree community and other closely related communities, particularly, the Naskapi. We are talking about a region in Quebec. The last time I addressed the House concerning this bill, I paid a tribute, and I would like to do so again.

I also emphasized the geographic importance of the James Bay Cree. There are nine Cree communities. For those watching us, we are talking about the nine communities near James Bay, and the people who have always lived in those communities. The Government of Quebec is currently beginning, or rather it began a few years ago, major works projects there to build hydroelectric dams.

I would therefore like to pay tribute to Matthew Mukash, Grand Chief and President of the Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee), that is, the Cree government. He worked very hard to put this very lengthy agreement in place. This Bill C-28 is minor compared to the agreement that was reached, one that will have extremely important repercussions for the Cree community and those who live in the areas around those communities.

Matthew Mukash was and still is the grand chief; Ashley Iserhoff is the deputy grand chief and vice-chairman; Roderick Pachano is the authorized representative of the Cree Nation of Chisasibi; Losty Mamianskum is the authorized representative of the Whapmagoostui First Nation; Rodney Mark is the representative of the Cree Nation of Wemindji; Lloyd Mayappo is from the Eastmain Band; Steve Diamond is the authorized representative of the Crees of the Waskaganish First Nation; Josie Jimiken is from the Cree Nation of Nemaska; John Kitchen is from the Waswanipi Band; John Longchap is from the Cree Nation of Mistissini; Louise Wapachee is from the Oujé-Bougoumou Eenuch Association.

These people represent all of the communities that have signed this extremely important agreement, which, while not necessarily making the Crees independent in the fullest sense of the word, will enable them to benefit from a degree of self-determination and distance from the federal government with respect to the management of their everyday affairs. Under this agreement, they will be able to ensure that their communities receive appropriate services, such as health and sanitation services. They will decide where to build their communities' hospitals. We know that many of these communities, which are located on the shores of James Bay, ranging almost as far as the Inuit communities of Quebec's far north, are isolated from one another and often have trouble working together.

This bill, this agreement, will enable them to work together. The Cree Regional Authority will have the opportunity to develop programs and ensure that it has everything it needs to achieve the independence of Cree first nations. Under this agreement, they will be responsible for protecting the environment and preventing pollution. We know what is going on with the Cree nation and the development of hydroelectric dams on James Bay. Over the next few years, mining exploration and exploitation will increase dramatically. Companies are looking northward more than ever before for mining exploration and exploitation opportunities. The Cree people will have to implement policies to protect their environment. That is what they wanted, that is what they asked for in committee, and that is what they will get with this bill, which will be passed just minutes from now.

In terms of administration, they will also be responsible for justice. That is extremely important. The administration of justice has always posed a problem in the north. For many years, the itinerant court has travelled to Cree communities to dispense justice. There were no court houses and often community centres were used.

Under this agreement, moneys will be allocated. When we refer to an agreement, we are also referring to the moneys that will be allocated and transferred to the Cree for the administration of justice, social development, and above all, economic development. One of the difficulties is that the Cree are isolated. There is little work. The birth rate is 3.5% per year, a veritable population explosion. Therefore appropriate measures are needed, including the creation of towns and the construction of houses suitable for the conditions of the community.

Indian and Northern Affairs Canada has often sent houses that developed mould or were destroyed because they did not provide what the Cree needed to survive in a difficult environment, one that all too often is a hostile environment.

It has been noted that this agreement will benefit the Cree. After royal assent has been given, the amount of $100 million will be paid to the Cree. The $100 million has already been committed. That is why we, the Bloc Québécois, pushed for and will support this very important bill. Moneys have been committed, work has begun, and very important infrastructure—community centres, CLSCs and hospitals—must be built. The time to do that is now—May, June, July, August and September. We have five months to do some very important work. The amounts to be disbursed will pay for work that has already started and is very important to the community.

This bill will also—I realize that this is somewhat complex for those listening—settle the matter of land categories for which the communities had the authority to establish bylaws, municipal regulations to set limits as to time of day and year for hunting, trapping and fishing.

There are three categories of land: categories I, II and lll. From now on, category III will cover 911,000 square kilometres where communities will participate in the administration and development of the land. It will be very important for the Cree to start right now on working to identify controlled harvesting zones. There might also be—and we hope there will be—a little more respect for the flora and fauna than at present. That is our hope for these category III lands.

The act also makes modifications to category IA lands, where federal laws and regulations apply.

The Cree will therefore be the ones responsible for administration of these lands and they will ensure that they come under their jurisdiction and that the bylaws they enact to protect the flora and fauna can be respected.

Clause 9 of the bill sets out new provisions which will enable the Cree Regional Authority to enact bylaws and resolutions within the territorial limits of category IA and III lands. This is extremely complex, I know, but this is such an important bill for the nine Cree communities which will at last be able to take over their space.

I sense, Mr. Speaker, that you are wanting to interrupt me for question period or something else but I have so much still to say that I will, unfortunately for you, be back after question period.

Cree-Naskapi (of Quebec) ActGovernment Orders

May 26th, 2009 / 3:10 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is a relief when calm returns to this place. It is too bad that people sometimes get carried away in question period.

Now, back to the work at hand, which I find much more interesting than question period. I refer to Bill C-28 concerning Cree and native communities in northern Quebec.

As I have eight minutes left, and now one less, I would like to point out that the bill is in negotiation. The agreement has been in negotiation since 1984. Following the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, it took nine years for discussions to begin to reach the agreement signed by representatives of the nine Cree communities and the Government of Canada.

The agreement will give greater autonomy to the Cree and the Naskapi, in fact, more to the Cree than to the Naskapi because there is still room for an agreement with the Naskapi. The lands of these two communities overlap and so an agreement with the Naskapi is required as well.

The land mentioned in the agreement overlaps part of the land of the Inuit in Quebec, but, overall, the James Bay Cree should end up with full autonomy with regard to the Canadian government through the agreement. Accordingly, the Cree Regional Authority will be able to take over the federal government's responsibilities under the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement.

It was in fact essential for the Cree to come to an agreement with the federal government and with the Quebec government pursuant to the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement. It appears that these agreements are now complete and finalized. We can very soon allow the Cree to move to full autonomy over their ancestral land. This is the intent of Bill C-28.

We will support this bill because we consider it important to support autonomy and the native peoples. The Bloc has always recognized that native peoples are distinct and have a right to their culture, language, customs and traditions and to choose the way their identity will be developed. That is what is happening with this bill.

I do not have a lot of time left, but I want to emphasize before the House that when the government can and wants to, it is possible to reach agreements with native peoples. I believe that this agreement with the Cree paves the way for further agreements. What we would most like to see are further agreements with the Innu, Algonquin, Attikamek and Naskapi so that aboriginal communities not only have rights and responsibilities but are also allowed to develop in accordance with their ancestral customs on their ancestral lands. That is what this bill will achieve.

We should remember that there was a Cree-Naskapi Commission, which made a number of recommendations.

There were 20 of them, and I would like to highlight a few: full and explicit recognition of the inherent right of Eeyou self-government—that is what this bill provides; recognition of the existence and application of Eeyou traditional law, customs and practices in the exercise and practice of Eeyou self-government; and elimination of provisions that conflict with Eeyou traditional law, customs and practices.

All that will be achieved, therefore, on their lands. I read only three of the 20 recommendations. The important thing is that henceforth they will be self-governing and will have jurisdiction over their ancestral lands, which will enable the Cree to develop. The Eeyou community will also be able to develop in accordance with its customs.

We think, therefore, that this is an excellent bill. When the government wants to, it can sit down at the table. It should do the same in regard to Bill C-8 on matrimonial rights in aboriginal communities. This bill has been severely criticized by all feminist organizations and aboriginal associations and communities. We think the government should go back to the drawing board and introduce a new Bill C-8.

We hope, in conclusion, that Bill C-28 passes quickly so that Cree community self-government can be established. We hope this government develops in accordance with the ancestral customs of the Cree. I can only hope one more thing: that this entente cordiale between the Cree and the federal government proves sustainable and leads to the development of these communities, which are located in a part of the country where life is not easy.

I wish them, therefore, the best of luck. I hope that the wishes and desires of the Cree communities which signed the agreement leading to Bill C-28 will all be realized. It is the Bloc’s greatest hope that the Cree communities joined together in the Grand Council of the Crees achieve their independence, live finally in accordance with their traditional customs on their own lands, develop themselves and administer what is lawfully theirs, that is to say, their ancestral territory.

Cree-Naskapi (of Quebec) ActGovernment Orders

May 26th, 2009 / 3:15 p.m.
See context

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I too am rising in support of Bill C-28, An Act to amend the Cree-Naskapi (of Quebec) Act. New Democrats very strongly support this important legislation.

I want to provide a bit of background because the amendment has been in the works for a number of years. There is a long history around the Cree Naskapi in Quebec. The James Bay and Northern Québec Agreement was signed in 1975 and was Canada's first modern land claims settlement. However, this settlement was an outstanding Cree and Inuit claim to aboriginal rights and titles dating back to the 1800s. The agreement should have been signed a century or more before, but it took from some time in the 1800s until 1975 to have an agreement put in place.

I am from British Columbia and although some land claims agreements have been signed, many nations there are still without those kinds of agreements. Something has been put in place in British Columbia called the common table and roughly 60 nations have signed on to the unity protocol. If we can have the kind of movement on treaties and land claims that we have seen around the amendments to the Cree-Naskapi Act, that would be a welcome opportunity in B.C.

As to the history around this agreement, in 1975, when the province of Quebec announced its intention to develop the hydroelectric potential in the James Bay region, the commitment to recognize Cree and Inuit rights had not yet been fulfilled by the federal and provincial governments. Court injunctions were put in place in order to push back on the fact that the Cree and Inuit had not been consulted. Ultimately, it culminated in the James Bay and Northern Québec Agreement, but that agreement was negotiated without any implementation plan. It continued for many more years.

I want to read from the testimony that was provided to the committee by the Grand Council of the Crees. In its testimony it highlighted some of the events that took place. It said:

The Cree-Naskapi (of Quebec) Act was passed by Parliament in 1984 after several years of discussion between the parties and consultations with the Cree communities and the Naskapi Band. With great difficulty, a new funding regime was eventually put in place by Canada that was compatible with the assumption by the Cree communities of new responsibilities in respect to the planning priorities for their development and administration.

After adoption of the act, and to the present day, the Grand Council of the Crees of Quebec/Cree Regional Authority has acted as a forum for the concerted implementation of the act. It also continues to be the guarantor and protector of Cree rights. While the act opened the door for the assumption by the Cree communities of certain responsibilities concerning their development, there were still many aspects of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement that had not been properly implemented by Quebec and Canada.

It was the announcement by Quebec of its intention to build further hydroelectric development projects in the territory—and particularly the Great Whale hydroelectric project—that sparked the Crees in 1989 to take out a comprehensive court action that sought to stop the proposed developments and also sought the implementation of those numerous aspects of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement that had not been implemented by Canada and Quebec.

We can see there was a very lengthy, convoluted, litigious process put in place.

It goes on to say:

When Canada and the Crees entered into out-of-court discussions from 2005 to 2008, this model of devolving to the Crees the planning and setting of priorities for the certain of the obligations that were in dispute was found to be adaptable to the issues between the parties.

I want to backtrack a little. In February 2002, the province of Quebec and the Crees signed the agreement respecting a new relationship between the Government of Quebec and the Cree of Quebec, known as the Paix des Braves. The Cree agreed to discontinue most of their court cases against Quebec and suspend others with respect to matters shared with the government.

This agreement eventually led to this new relationships agreement. Although it is not part of this legislation, it was a new relationship between the Government of Canada and the Cree of Eeyou Istchee. This was an important document because chapter 3 of this new relationship agreement outlined a two-stage process that would look at the implementation of some of the previous agreement that was signed.

This new relationship agreement includes a mutually agreed upon James Bay and northern Quebec implementation plan for the next 20 years, resolution of pre-litigation and other grievances, in addition to a phased approach toward Cree governance modernization.

At the heart of this what we have in the bill before us is only part of what needs to happen. Bill C-28 is only stage one. The commitment in the new relationship agreement said that within 18 months roughly this amendment to the Cree-Naskapi (of Quebec) Act would be brought forward as part one.

Bill C-28 would carry out two main objectives. One would be to equip the Cree Regional Authority with additional responsibilities and powers, including bylaw making powers, so that the authority would be better able to receive and carry out certain specified responsibilities which are assumed by the federal government under the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement and recognize the Crees of Oujé-Bougoumou as a separate band and local government under the Cree-Naskapi (of Quebec) Act.

We have heard across the board that the nations involved in this and the other nations that are on the other aspects of this agreement are all in agreement that this has to happen. There is full support for the Cree-Naskapi (of Quebec) Act amendments.

The next stage, on which all parties have agreed there is a process in place, is that within three to five years another set of amendments would be brought forward to look at the autonomous governance structure that the Crees are fully entitled to have put in place.

Prior to colonization, the Cree nations were an autonomous nation. They had full control over their social, economic and, I would argue, environmental issues, because they were the stewards of the land. They were a fully functioning government structure. Part of this agreement examines the changes that need to be put in place for part two.

We have had assurances from the government and some comfort from the Cree nations that they feel confident that this process will be in place to see these part two amendments come forward within three to five years. I am sure all members of this House would welcome that. Sadly, it took 19 years to get this first set of amendments in place, but they are before us now and we are fully supportive of them.

Part of what was successful was the consultation process.

I want to backtrack for a moment and mention the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Although Canada has not signed on to this aspirational document, I think it does include a framework that is important for us to reflect upon when we are talking about indigenous peoples, first nations peoples, first peoples of this country. There are many articles, but I want to refer to article 18, which states:

Indigenous peoples have the right to participate in decision-making in matters which would affect their rights, through representatives chosen by themselves in accordance with their own procedures, as well as to maintain and develop their own indigenous decision-making institutions.

With respect to the consultation process, the briefing document that was provided to members talks about the kind of consultation that happened. We have consensus on all sides on Bill C-28, An Act to amend the Cree-Naskapi (of Quebec) Act.

At committee we heard that the Department of Justice was involved with Indian and Northern Affairs right from the outset. The Auditor General, when reviewing other land claims agreements, has said that often the Department of Justice comes in at the tail end. What happens is that a process may have been ongoing for a number of years and when it is down to the final details, all of a sudden the Department of Justices will say, “Wait a minute. Hold on. We have a problem with this”.

I would suggest that the government look at this particular case, Bill C-28, as a model of how it might want to consider other negotiations, whether it is land claims, treaties, or self-governance, and include the relevant departments at the beginning so that we do not run into roadblocks.

The Auditor General was before the committee regarding additions to reserves and treaty land entitlement, and what we discovered of course is that there is not that concerted effort in looking at these agreements.

With respect to the consultation process, the briefing documents acknowledge that under the new relationship agreement, the Government of Canada is obliged to consult with the Grand Council of the Crees. That in itself is progress. The government is acknowledging the need to consult.

The briefing documents talk about what the consultation process looks like with the Cree. Meetings were held with the Cree, including the Crees of Oujé-Bougoumou, with their legal representatives throughout the drafting of the legislation which began in 2007. There were formal meetings, conference calls and many exchanges of letters and emails. Both the English and the French texts of the legislation were reviewed by the Cree. The Government of Canada considered all suggestions proposed by the Cree, and the input received was reflected in the proposed legislation.

That seems to be a very reasonable approach. We have legislation that has a direct impact on the lives of the people in the Cree communities. The Cree was an autonomous self-governing nation prior to colonial times. The Cree have the capability, the infrastructure, and the leadership in place to directly address the issues facing their communities. It would seem reasonable that when the government is drafting legislation that is going to have a direct impact on their communities that they would be included from the outset.

We have seen success with this approach. Bill C-28, because of that very reasonable approach, has had rapid passage through the House and through the committee. The committee certainly heard from witnesses. We did our due diligence. We heard from witnesses who were being impacted by the legislation. We heard consistently that because of this reasonable process, people could sign on to it.

The Cree nations had an opportunity to take this back to their communities, because it was drafted in conjunction with them, get feedback and input, and suggest changes. Here we have a bill before the House that has had smooth sailing because of that process.

Sadly, we have not seen that with respect to other pieces of legislation. A member from the Bloc mentioned the matrimonial real property bill, but I want to raise it as well because that bill has not had a smooth ride.

What the government deems has been consultation, the nations are saying was not consultation because they did not develop that process in conjunction with the nations that were going to be affected.

The ministerial representative's report that the government commissioned made a number of recommendations with regard to consultation.

Some of the elements in the consultation process that was used on Bill C-28 were the very elements the ministerial representative touched on. She said that the department should develop as soon as possible specific policies and procedures related to consultation in order to ensure that future consultation activities can identify and discharge any legal duty to consult while also fulfilling the objectives of good governance and public policy.

She went on to outline a number of factors:

Ensuring First Nations have relevant information to the issues for decision in a timely manner.

With respect to Bill C-28, it appears that the Cree nations had the information they required to make the decisions. There was an ongoing exchange of information. Some of the suggestions they made were incorporated into the bill. There was goodwill in terms of the next stage of the process, so there was success.

She mentioned:

Providing an opportunity for First Nations to express their concerns and views on potential impacts of the legislative proposal and issues relating to the existence of a duty to consult.

I have already outlined that they had that opportunity for input. She also stated:

Listening to, analyzing and seriously considering the representations and concerns of First Nations in the context of relevant legal and policy principles including their relationship to other constitutional and human rights principles.

In this particular case, the Cree and Oujé-Bougoumou had an opportunity to do that analysis, provide their input and have it incorporated. She states:

Ensuring proper analyses by the Department of Justice of section 35 issues relating to any proposed legislative initiative are thoroughly canvassed before, during and after consultations.

Although this may not have been a section 35 issue, the Department of Justice was at the table throughout the process and therefore, the department did not become a roadblock further on down the road. Under the old specific claims process, specific claims could languish in the Department of Justice for years without any decision being made. Again, it is a model I would urge the government to consider, to include the Department of Justice, and other departments, right up front. In some cases the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the Department of the Environment have a stake in whatever is under negotiation. It would be important to have them at the table right at the outset.

The ministerial representative recommended:

Seriously considering proposals for mitigating potentially negative impacts on aboriginal and treaty rights or other rights and interests of First Nations and making necessary accommodations by changing the government's proposal.

In this case, the government's own briefing documents indicate that it incorporated the feedback and made some changes as it went along. Further, she recommended:

Establishing, in consultation with First Nations, a protocol for the development of legislative proposals.

Because another series of amendments will be coming up, we fully expect that the framework used in the Bill C-28 amendments will be used in the next series of amendments. The ministerial representative has clearly outlined the process, which appears largely to have been used in the current process.

For example, we know that the government has a process under way around aboriginal consultation and accommodation. It is called, “Interim Guidelines for Federal Officials to Fulfill the Legal Duty to Consult”. The department might want to consider some of these other recommendations that were made, because it appears that first nations have not been included in drafting these interim guidelines.

This looks like an internal risk management exercise for the federal government rather than looking at the broad context of what it means to consult. At one point the document talks about making sure that the government essentially covered its aspect of it without considering whether first nations have been given an appropriate opportunity and the resources. We also know that many first nations communities simply do not have the money to do the kind of work that would provide the feedback and input into a fulsome consultative process.

There is evidence of success with Bill C-28. This evidence of success and this piece of legislation that seems to meet the needs of the government and the Cree nations involved would be a good model on which to move forward.

It is very important that we support Bill C-28 and that it is passed so that the other place can do its due diligence with this legislation. It is a success for the Cree nations and a positive step forward in terms of their assuming their rightful position in self-governance, in assuming the full responsibilities and duties that come with the Cree peoples taking on their bylaws and governance structure.

I am celebrating the NDP's support of this important piece of legislation. I look forward to the amendments coming forward in the next three to five years that will also honour that same process. Hopefully, the lessons learned from Bill C-28 can be applied to other agreements throughout this country.

Cree-Naskapi (of Quebec) ActGovernment Orders

May 26th, 2009 / 3:35 p.m.
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NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for Sault Ste. Marie for his tireless work on raising the issues around poverty in this country and talking about potential solutions. He literally has been coast to coast to coast to talk to people, gather their input and their feedback and propose solutions. I want to honour him for the work he has done.

With regard to Bill C-28, previously when I rose in the House and spoke on the bill, the minister was surprised that I was saying something nice about the Conservative government. In this particular case the government did come to the table in good faith, and it worked with the Cree nations to come up with this piece of legislation.

Again, this is a model that could be used. It is a model where all the parties were at the table right from the outset. It was model where the Cree nations felt heard, their input was respected and the legislation in their view reflected the changes they wanted to see.

Hopefully, this goodwill continues and the next series of amendments, which are long overdue, will come forward in that very same spirit.

Cree-Naskapi (of Quebec) ActGovernment Orders

May 26th, 2009 / 3:40 p.m.
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Vancouver Island North B.C.

Conservative

John Duncan ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the speech of the NDP aboriginal affairs critic with interest.

During questions and comments we heard the member talk about the process that was used for Bill C-28, the Cree-Naskapi act, in terms of consultation and so on. We also heard very similar comments from the opposition parties in terms of how Bill C-5, An Act to amend the Indian Oil and Gas Act was developed. That Act received royal assent in the last two weeks.

I would like to point out that Bill C-8, which is the bill dealing with matrimonial property issues, was also developed in a very consultative approach. The drafting of the bill was done with two major national aboriginal organizations very much participating; that would be the Assembly of First Nations and the Native Women's Association of Canada. Therefore, it is not a case of black and white on consultation or no consultation. This is a very difficult area when we have 630 first nations across the country.

I would like to invite the member to comment on this.

Cree-Naskapi (of Quebec) ActGovernment Orders

May 26th, 2009 / 3:40 p.m.
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NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to ask my colleague, who has worked so hard on this file, a question. This is further to the parliamentary secretary's question about the difference between the approaches with respect to Bill C-28 and that of Bill C-8, which has caused a lot of discussion in this place and a lot of controversy.

Unfortunately, because it is our understanding that proper consultation with respect to Bill C-8 was not done and that there is this differing viewpoint between the Assembly of First Nations and the government and between the Native Women's Association and the government, and because the government tends to interpret any opposition to Bill C-8 as being anti-women or anti-equality, I think we do need some clarification on the different processes that were applied. Where did the government fell amiss in terms of Bill C-8 and why it was successful with respect to Bill C-28?

Cree-Naskapi (of Quebec) ActGovernment Orders

May 26th, 2009 / 3:45 p.m.
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NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate the member for Winnipeg North on having an initiative around flavoured cigarillos adopted by the government. That is an example of how we can work together on issues.

With regard to Bill C-28, An Act to amend the Cree-Naskapi (of Quebec) Act, the difference between that bill and Bill C-8 is stark. With Bill C-28, the parties were at the table right from the outset. They had the Cree Nations and the Ouje-Bougoumou at the table along with the Department of Justice as the legislation was being drafted.

We know that did not happen with Bill C-8. There was a very tight timeframe for the Assembly of First Nations and the Native Women's Association to start a process. We discovered in hearing back from them that the process could not get to consultation because there was so much education that needed to happen. There was an education awareness process that took place with the Native Women's Association and the Assembly of First Nations. They did not get to the consultation process.

With the ministerial representative's report, which is very thick, her recommendations were largely disregarded. I quoted from her report in my speech around the elements of consultation she thought were important to truly get the kind of legislation that reflected the needs in the community.

As the member for Winnipeg North pointed out, this is often stated as the New Democrats being against women's rights. I would argue we are advocating strongly that whatever legislation comes forward actually protects women's rights and that we do not get a flawed piece of legislation like we have from the 1985 Bill C-31, which is now seeing people lose their status. We want a piece of legislation that reflects the needs of those communities, the women and their children.

Cree-Naskapi (of Quebec) ActGovernment Orders

May 26th, 2009 / 3:45 p.m.
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Bloc

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

Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate my colleague from the NDP, who is also my neighbour on the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development. I want to congratulate her too on her French. I used to be able to say anything at all about her so long as it was in French, but I cannot do that any more. She has learned a lot from the James Bay Cree. If we look at what has been happening in Vancouver since she found out about the Cree, first nations issues have been settled much more easily. She can use Quebec’s experience with the first nations and apply it to British Columbia. The parliamentary secretary realized this and was actually quite happy about it, given the way he reacts when our colleague stands and speaks in the House.

I am very proud of the determination and pride of the Quebec Cree. I cannot speak for the Cree of Ontario or other provinces because, apart from the witnesses who appear before us in committee, I have not had much opportunity to talk to them. Generally speaking, though, the Cree rely a lot on the comprehension and understanding shown by the members of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development when they come to see us and try to make us grasp their problems and view of things, which is not necessarily our own.

For example, in regard to Bill C-28 before us today, we should not forget that the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement has been in negotiation since 1973. Negotiations started as far back as 1973, under René Lévesque, in connection with the James Bay power project. After the project was developed on their lands, the Cree decided to claim some of the benefits. We well remember how hard they had to fight, even going to New York, if I remember correctly, to assert their rights.

Bill C-28 arose pursuant to the promises Canada made in the subsequent agreements. Its purpose is to implement these promises: the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, signed in 1975; the 1992 Oujé-Bougoumou/Canada Agreement, in which Canada promised to remedy the failure to include the Cree of Oujé-Bougoumou in the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement; the Cree and Naskapi legislation; and the 2008 Agreement concerning a New Relationship between the Government of Canada and the Cree of Eeyou Istchee, which reaffirmed the promise to give the Cree Regional Authority greater governance powers over the development of the James Bay Cree. I am very happy for the chief of Oujé-Bougoumou, whom I hold in high esteem. She is a very nice lady who has now become a very great lady.

As I just said, the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement has been in negotiation since 1973. It comes from the Eeyou Istchee Cree, which translates as the land of the Cree of James Bay, Quebec. The association of Inuit of New Quebec entered into negotiations with the Government of Quebec, the federal government, Hydro-Québec and the James Bay energy corporation. At that point, they focused on the regions and the people in them, recognizing and protecting certain rights and benefits. The negotiations concluded with the signing in 1975 of the James Bay agreement, the first comprehensive land claim agreement in Canada, which today is protected under the Constitution as a modern treaty, pursuant to section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982. In this agreement, the Cree gave up, transferred and dropped all claims, rights, titles and native interests to and in the lands in the area and in Quebec in exchange for clearly defined rights and benefits.

The James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement recognized eight bands. This land regime defined three categories of land. I will not enumerate them. In the 1975 agreement, with Oujé-Bougoumou not yet a reserve or even a recognized band, it had to fight until 1992 for recognition and to obtain its own village.

The current agreement comes under the heading of local administration. The Cree-Naskapi (of Quebec) Act establishes the eight bands as corporations recognized by the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement and establishes their powers in the following areas—making bylaws with respect to category IA lands under section 45; regulation of buildings for the protection of public safety; health and hygiene; public order and safety; the protection of the environment; the prevention of pollution; the taxation for local purposes of a broad range of local services; roads, traffic and transportation; the operation of businesses and the carrying on of trades; and parks and recreation.

Other sections concern band financial administration, residence, access and other rights on category IA lands, the disposition of interests in these lands, and policing.

Bill C-28 provides amendments for each of these parties, thus giving considerable autonomy. Unfortunately, it is not yet complete, but it is the most progressive in Canada at the moment. I offer the example of an agreement signed not so long ago with a first nations band from my colleague's area, which was also granted autonomy. It was obtained through negotiation, consultation and agreements.

I was listening to the parliamentary secretary reminding us of Bill C-8. The government consulted some people, including women and the Assembly of First Nations. When this bill was introduced, we understood that the Assembly of First Nations acknowledged being consulted. The Native Women's Association of Canada, the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador and Quebec Native Women also acknowledged being consulted. However, that is where the existing agreement between the department and these associations representing first nations stops. Consulting and taking nothing from the consultation contributes nothing.

This is why the first nations of Canada and of Quebec have spoken out against Bill C-8, as they did against C-44 and C-21, and as they will continue to do just as long as we do not recognize the philosophy and way of life, the culture and the needs of all first nations. When they ask for something in consultations, it is not enough just to listen but do nothing. Their needs must be taken into consideration. They are persons just as we are persons. Many more agreements can be reached, and I am proud of this for the James Bay Cree.

In committee, after our discussions, unanimity was reached on this bill with the exception of one minor change proposed by the government, which was to adapt the English version to the French in a certain clause, because the French definition was more accurate than the English.

The bill received unanimous support and I sincerely hope that the House will also support it when it comes time to vote. For its part, the Bloc Québécois supports the first nations, as it always has, for that matter.

The Bloc Québécois has made it our duty to support the first nations across Canada, not just in Quebec. We know that the first nations of Canada in general have experienced more or less the same difficulties, and the Bloc Québécois recognizes the aboriginal peoples as distinct peoples with the right to their culture, their language, their customs and traditions, as well as the right to direct the development of that unique identity themselves.

In so doing, it is respecting the direction taken by René Lévesque, a staunch defender of aboriginal peoples, who made Quebec the first government in America to recognize the aboriginal nations in its midst.

Bill C-28 is in fact the extension of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement and of the Paix des Braves, which was signed under Bernard Landry and the Parti Québécois. Bill C-28 enables the federal government to fulfill its obligations to the Cree-Naskapi.

In 2004, the leader of the Bloc Québécois said the following:

The Paix des Braves ratified by the Government of Quebec and representatives of the Cree Nation has paved the way for these kinds of negotiations and demonstrated that major development projects have to be negotiated with mutual interests in mind. The Bloc Québécois supports the first nations in their fight for emancipation. That is why we are asking Ottawa to follow this example to negotiate a similar agreement with Cree Nation representatives.

In its 2008 report, the Cree-Naskapi Commission identified the negative outcome of the federal government's failure to respect the James Bay and Northern Quebec agreement:

Consequently, the full potential of local self-government, with its dynamic and evolving nature, has not yet been realized nor achieved by the Cree and Naskapi First Nations because, as one principal constraint, the Cree-Naskapi (of Quebec) Act, after twenty-four (24) years, remains an inflexible, rigid instrument which has not yet been reviewed by Canada, the Cree and Naskapi for the purposes of determining appropriate amendments to enhance and improve Cree and Naskapi local government.

The commission issued a series of recommendations that I will not get into now because most of their demands have been acknowledged in this bill. That is the big difference between this bill and Bill C-8, which we will soon be debating.

I was listening to the member for Saint Boniface earlier, and she was saying that the government had held extensive consultations. That is true, but the extent of the negotiations has little to do with whether the government understood the demands put forward during the consultations. I would like the government to understand that. We could avoid all kinds of futile, useless discussions and debates if only we really listened to the people we were talking to.

I will end on that note. I really hope that all parties in the House will support this bill so that it can make its way to the Senate quickly.

Cree-Naskapi (of Quebec) ActGovernment Orders

May 26th, 2009 / 4 p.m.
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NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to speak today to this bill that recognizes the rights of the James Bay Cree of Quebec and would set in place a framework to move forward. It is one of those few occasions where we see all members of Parliament working together for a result that is needed and that can actually set a standard to move forward.

I would like to begin this afternoon by placing this agreement in terms of the context so we have a real understanding of what it is we are talking about. As much as we support the bill and recognize the importance of the bill, we need to put it in terms of the overall failure of the federal government to put in place similar agreements elsewhere. We go back to the 1970s, the time when the James Bay projects were first being enacted in the province of Quebec. I think my colleagues from Quebec will agree that at that time the understanding of first nation relations was very different.

When I worked in the region of Abitibi, I remember people talking about how the first nations were for many years considered squatters on their land. The idea of developing projects, whether it was hydroelectric projects, forestry projects or mining projects, they were never done in consultation with the first nation communities affected. In fact, this has been a situation that has gone on right across Canada. Even last year we saw the McGuinty government in Ontario jailing leaders of a first nation community who were trying to lay down some basic ground rules about consultations in their community.

The James Bay agreement stemmed out of what started as the James Bay Cree fighting to be recognized on their own territory and to say that if there were to be development, they would be at the table. If there were to be benefits, they wanted their people to see some of those benefits because they would be the ones living with the long term effects of the massive hydro developments being proposed at that time by the Bourassa government.

The James Bay agreement originally came into place because the province of Quebec recognized at a certain point that it would not be able to go ahead with development without a framework agreement in place with the James Bay Cree. There was too much international pressure. The Cree, Billy Diamond, Matthew Coon Comb, the whole leadership of that period, mounted such an amazing international fight that Quebec came to the table and, because Quebec came to the table, they said that the federal government had to come to the table as well.

We do not see the federal government going out and settling land issues. It is not in the business of doing that. Time and time again, it dodges its obligations. It has refused to meet with first nations communities on the most basic issues. In terms of the initial James Bay agreement, it was because Quebec recognized that if it were to get hydroelectric development off the ground it would need to have an agreement and to have an agreement there needed to be a provincial and federal détente.

The original James Bay agreement set the framework for the Cree of James Bay of Quebec to actually begin to participate in the 20th and 21st century economy and to set a standard in place that every first nation across this country has looked to. The idea of revenue sharing agreements used to be seen as revolutionary and now it is what first nations recognize is needed to go forward.

I would like to compare the situation of the original James Bay Cree agreement, the Paix des Braves, with the bill we are looking at today, Bill C-28, in terms of the development of treaties on the ground and the success of the James Bay Cree, but compare it to the difficulties being faced by other first nation communities that are also trying to establish agreements.

I represent the James Bay region of Ontario and we could not see a starker contrast in terms of first nations development between the James Bay communities of Ontario and the James Bay communities of Quebec where both the federal government and provincial government in Ontario consistently walked away from basic obligations for infrastructure, education and health services that have left the communities in levels of poverty that most Canadians would not believe exist, but on the James Bay of Ontario it is all too often the daily occurrence.

I had the distinct pleasure in a past life to travel along the James Bay coast of Quebec where I saw proper roads, proper houses built and the people were part of the economy. This is not to underplay any of the problems that may exist on the James Bay coast of Quebec but to say that we have a very distinct situation in Ontario.

In my role as a member of Parliament, I took part in the Treaty 9 centenary that was happening across the great territory of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, which is part of the region I represent. It has been 100 years since the signing of the treaty.

Being in communities such as Martin River, Fort Albany, Kashechewan and Moose Factory, I got a very different view of what those treaties meant than the politicians who were coming in to so-called celebrate it. In many of the communities I went to, people said there was not really much to celebrate in the fact that they signed off their land in good faith, to work as partners, to develop and to give their people a chance. The white commissioners at that time saw the treaties as a way of taking the land and putting the communities onto these pitiful reservations.

There is a difference in how the people talk about the treaties. It is clear that once the federal government signed the treaty, and in fact the province of Ontario signed Treaty 9 as well, as far as it was concerned it was finished with its obligations. It walked away on these communities. In the first nations communities, they still talk about what the treaties meant.

Let us look at the historical records of Treaty 9 communities, such as the Mushkego Cree of James Bay, Ontario. One of the reasons they signed the treaty was because they recognized that with the pressures on the change of life, with the Hudson's Bay factors who had lorded over the land for many years, there was a change coming. They were worried about the future of their children.

One of the key things they talked about in agreeing to sign that treaty was that they wanted their children educated. They would make the agreement to share their land, but they wanted their children to have proper schools. We know that the federal government never lived up to that obligation. In fact, it brought in a system of residential schools, not just on the James Bay coast but all across the territory, that inflicted massive generational wounds on these communities.

Even to this day, in my region of Timmins--James Bay, we have two communities with no schools. There seems to be no plan for schools from the government. There seems to be no awareness by the government of a need to build schools. We see that the treaties that were signed were broken.

Having worked as a land negotiator with the Algonquin Nation, I learned very quickly that the word of the federal government often meant very little when it signed an agreement. It signed an agreement as long as the media lights were on and the ink was still wet on the page, but then when it left, whatever agreements a community may have had, the federal government said, “Take us to court”. Of course the communities are too poor to take it to court.

I was working in the community of Barriere Lake after it signed an agreement with the federal government in 1998 to rebuild the community. I was there five or six years later and not a single new dwelling had been built, even though we had an agreement on paper, signed by the federal government, to work with the community to bring it out of its horrific levels of poverty in Barriere Lake.

I sat in on a meeting in November 2005 with the minister of Indian affairs and all the top bureaucrats from Indian affairs to sign an agreement to build a new community for the crisis-ridden community of Kashechewan. I remember that when we were signing that agreement, it was vague, that the verbal agreements that we had been given by the minister and by the senior Indian affairs department heads were not on paper. They had made promises to work and rebuild the community, but none of the commitments we had in terms of moving to higher ground, of a timeline, of how many houses would be part of a movement to get that crisis-ridden community off a flood plain, were in the agreement.

We were told by the Indian affairs senior administration that it would be a sign of good faith and trust to just sign the agreement. Here we had a community that had been evacuated three times in one year because of a failure of infrastructure, because of the crisis that the community had been put through by the mismanagement of their land and their infrastructure by the federal government.

The community was in a desperate situation and they signed that agreement, just as so many first nation communities have signed agreements over the years, in the best of faith. They believed that when the people sitting across the table from them, who represented the Crown, who represented the federal Government of Canada, said that they would follow through, they would mean it. The fact that everything was not spelled out in the agreement was not a problem because they told the community to its face that the agreement would be respected.

The results are clear. Less than a year later we had the government standing and saying there never was an agreement and there never was money set aside for the community of Kashechewan, there was no plan and this was all somehow a figment of people's imaginations and we misinterpreted what was said at the meeting even though we were there with the senior representatives, the senior civil servants of this country in terms of Indian affairs, and the minister and the senior political staff.

We can see the frustration that exists in communities that take the federal government at its word when it comes to negotiating agreements. The failure of the government to live up to basic standards is evidenced for example going back to the community of Kashechewan.

Just a year and a half ago we had two young men, Jamie Goodwin and Ricardo Wesley, who burned to death in a shack. That shack just happened to be a police station. It was a police station because there was no adequate police service facilities in the community of Kashechewan and there were no fire services in the community of Kashechewan. The Nishnawbe-Aski Police had been warning for years that unless the agreement that existed to fund first nation police services was addressed that someone would be hurt, someone would die, perhaps a citizen in a community where there was no police service, perhaps a police officer in an isolated community who had no backup.

Unfortunately, in Kashechewan, it was the case of two young men who were not criminals. They were just young and rambunctious and they caught in a jail cell that should not have been used as a jail cell anywhere else in the western world, and they burned to death.

I was in that jail before those men died. I was there with the Ontario minister of public safety and security and we showed him this building that looked like a crackshack in a war zone. We told him that this is what police officers are having to make do with and something should done.

We spoke in the House of Commons about the need to have agreements in place. It comes back to the issue of being at the table and signing agreements. In terms of police services, it is the federal government and the provincial government that sign these agreements with, for example, the Nishnawbe-Aski Police Services or with health services. Then, both the federal government and the provincial government walk away on those commitments, and the communities are left suffering.

The fire inquest has just finished in Ontario. The recommendations are damning. They are recommendations that we would have seen in any non-native community 40 or 50 years ago in terms of basic standards that have to be in place. For example, we need fire suppression, we need water sprinklers in any building, we need proper facilities, and we need proper funding for police services in these communities. The issue then becomes that agreements are signed but they are not signed in good faith, not by the federal government, very rarely.

I would like to say in the case of Bill C-28, we have an agreement that works. I think we have that agreement because it was the Grand Council of the Crees who fought for so long and said, “This is our territory. When development happens on our territory, it will happen with our consent and unless they have our consent there will be no moving forward”. There was a very clear initial hard line. All the communities worked together to maintain that line. It brought the province of Quebec to the table and then brought the federal government to the table.

I would like to think that it does not take a hard line to get other agreements in place. However, I wonder some days. I wonder when we see the recent report by the parliamentary budget officer and the shameful lack of standards for first nations schools. Again, we talk about agreements that are made and agreements that are broken, and they are casually broken.

In the community of Attawapiskat, which was the impetus that drove the study to get Mr. Page to look at the funding, it is a community that has been poisoned for 30 years. It is a community where children have been at risk, children who now are starting to show signs of leukemia, having gone to school on the largest diesel contaminated site in North American history. That is where their school grounds are. They have been exposed on a daily basis to low levels of benzenes and methylethylenes, blowing up from the dust on the school grounds. That is a community that had negotiated.

Again, we are talking about a community that sat at the table and negotiated in good faith, that had done all the studies that were asked of them, that did all the reports that were asked of them, and that had signed commitments from regional Indian affairs bureaucrats in Thunder Bay, in Toronto, and all the way up to the minister's office, Robert Nault. He came to the community in July 2000 and committed that there will be a school there. Minister Andy Scott in November of 2005 sat with the senior bureaucrats and said, “Make this happen”. The former minister of Indian Affairs, who is a Conservative cabinet minister now, wrote a letter to the community and said, “I will support this plan at Treasury Board”.

If we were in business with someone who signed these kinds of agreements and then breached them, we would take them to court. We would have a reason and we would win in court. When someone makes those kinds of verbal and written commitments, works with a partner step by step along the way and then at the eleventh hour pulls out of negotiations, walks away and says there never was a deal, that person would be taken to court. Yet, first nations are left high and dry.

It is a question of the need to make a commitment to communities that is not arbitrary, erratic or based on whether ministers decide they are going to spend the money some place else. Maybe they are going to move it back to Treasury Board, maybe they are going to take money from a specific funding envelope for schools and spend it elsewhere. This is what the Parliamentary Budget Officer has shown us very clearly, that the standards at Indian Affairs are erratic, random and not measurable by any standard.

As a former school board trustee, I was always shocked when I tried to get a straight answer out of Indian Affairs about its planning methodologies. It was making them up as it went along. Instead of having bureaucrats who could answer, I was dealing with spin doctors.

The civil service exists to protect the public interest and make sure that money taken from the taxpayers of Canada by the government is spent wisely. The role of the civil servant is not to cover the rear end of ministers based on whatever arbitrary political decision they make on a given day. Yet, this is what we see with Indian Affairs all the time. It raises the question of the federal government needing to take seriously on an across-Canada basis a willingness to negotiate in good faith and to tell first nations communities that it when it makes a plan, the plan will be transparent.

There is kind of a sick joke for people who work in first nation communities where the federal government always says to any first nation, “You have to be accountable. You have to be transparent. We want to see your books. You can't monkey around with your numbers. You have to be able to show how you are spending that money”. Well, all first nation communities do that. If they do not, someone takes control of their finances immediately.

Yet, Indian Affairs officials do not subject themselves to any of the same kinds of clear criteria, such as ring-fencing on line items so that funding envelopes cannot be pilfered and spent elsewhere. These are clear obligations. First nations cannot move that spending around. A school board cannot move the funding envelopes around. A municipality cannot go to the local school board and say, “We are not building schools for you this year because we are going to build some roads with it and give a tax cut to our constituents because it is an election year”. That cannot happen. That would be illegal under the provincial systems of government and, of course, it should be. Yet, at the federal level, that is the way business is done on first nations territory.

We are looking at an agreement that should be a model, an agreement that was made with a number of communities in the James Bay region of Quebec that drew a line in the sand and said, “There will be a standard of how you work with us, how you consult with us, how you develop our territory, and we will be part of that”.

I am very proud to work with all the parties in the House to make sure this bill gets through and that this agreement comes into force. However, the standard of trust and respect has to become part of the federal government mantra in order to develop all our first nation communities because the greatest resource we have in our lands and the territory north of 50 is not forestry, not hydro, not the gold nor the diamonds. It is the young people and the children living on reserves who are often treated as completely neglected backwater. The failure of the government to plan and work with communities to develop the resource of these children, these young people, and these growing communities is a staggering loss for today, for tomorrow, and for what our country could become.

I would hope that the spirit of Bill C-28 will help move us forward and all our communities.

Cree-Naskapi (of Quebec) ActGovernment Orders

May 26th, 2009 / 4:25 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, although the bill is not controversial and should get the support of the House at third reading, the subject matter seems to have drifted to the obligations of the Government of Canada with regard to first nation issues.

I want to ask the member about the minister's opinion on the actions taken by his ministry with regard to Bill C-8 and the representations he made in his speech to this place, that he consulted widely and had taken all the necessary steps to engage first nation communities. In fact, I refer to statements about the fact that the Supreme Court of Canada recognized the federal government was required to consult, accommodate and obtain first nations' consent when it contemplated action that could affect first nation, aboriginal or treaty rights.

Even some of the questions that we have seen at question period, again, seem to deny the fact that there was no consultation in the form that was required, that informed consent was not there, that the accommodation was not there.

What assurances or what comfort level does the member have that the government in fact has appropriately consulted with these communities with regard to the important changes to the act under Bill C-28?

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights ActGovernment Orders

May 15th, 2009 / 10 a.m.
See context

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Liberal Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, what I was suggesting is that instead of referring the bill to committee after second reading, where the committee is limited in the scope of what it can do, I had hoped the government would consider referring the bill to committee before second reading where we could then engage, in a constructive manner, in crafting legislation that would reflect the will of all parliamentarians and of the interested parties, the aboriginal community of Canada.

The member for Simcoe North agreed with me when I pointed out that the committee we currently have is functioning very well. We have already dealt with two bills, Bill C-5 and C-28, expeditiously after listening to witnesses, but in both cases there was exemplary co-operation between the government side and the opposition parties. Also, in both cases, the aboriginal communities that were interested in the legislation supported the legislation.

We have a situation now with Bill C-8 where the aboriginal communities do not support the legislation and have expressed great reservations. If we approve this legislation at second reading and then send it to committee, it will tie the hands of the committee in its ability to improve the legislation. The amendments that could be introduced at that stage are rather limited and must be narrower in scope than what the legislation says.

When I hear the members of the NDP and my colleagues from the Bloc Québécois say that they want to improve the legislation by passing it at second reading and sending it to committee, I think they and the government forgot that we could have gone another route, which would have made for a situation that would have been much more constructive and more in keeping with the spirit of co-operation that is supposed to exist between the Crown and aboriginal communities ever since we had an incredible ceremony in this House, as people will remember, and ever since we had a royal commission look into the matter. We have all agreed that we need to start dealing with the aboriginal communities in a much more respectful manner and in a manner that engages them, gives them a voice and we listen to their voice. It is a matter of the honour of the Crown that we must respect that.

That is essentially what I was saying in my comments yesterday. I would hope that the members from the Bloc Québécois and the members from the NDP would support this motion, would give an occasion to the government to go back and consult properly and then bring forward a bill that we could refer to committee before second reading in order to give the committee the chance to do good work, as it has.

Cree-Naskapi (of Quebec) ActGovernment Orders

May 7th, 2009 / 11:05 a.m.
See context

Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon B.C.

Conservative

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

propose que le projet de loi C-28, An Act to amend the Cree-Naskapi (of Quebec) Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

He said: Mr. Speaker, it is my honour to rise today to begin the debate at second reading of Bill C-28, An Act to amend the Cree-Naskapi (of Quebec) Act.

The amendments to Bill C-28 hold important consequences for our country, for the province of Quebec, and most significantly for the Cree of Eeyou Istchee, the people of the eastern James Bay and southern Hudson Bay region of northern Quebec.

Bill C-28 helps settle long-standing differences between the Government of Canada and the Cree of Eeyou Istchee, resolving disputes. Perhaps most importantly, the bill sets the stage for a revitalized relationship between the federal government and the Cree of Eeyou Istchee.

I will explain the provisions of this legislation and provide some detail of how Bill C-28 will encourage greater prosperity, social development and self-determination for the Cree of Eeyou Istchee. First, let me take this opportunity to tell the House a little about these people and how we have moved forward to this important step here today.

On February 21 of last year, I was in Mistissini, Quebec to sign the new relationship agreement with the Cree of Eeyou Istchee. Mistissini is located about 850 kilometres due north of here, in some of the most breathtakingly beautiful natural surroundings anywhere in the world.

Mistissini is one of nine Cree communities in northern Quebec. Some 30 years ago, residents of these communities expressed their deep disagreement with plans by the Government of Quebec to build and expand hydroelectric developments on their traditional lands.

The Cree of Eeyou Istchee and the Inuit of Nunavik thought this project, one of the most ambitious civil works projects ever considered in Canada, threatened their traditional way of life. To address the concerns expressed by the Cree of Eeyou Istchee and the Inuit of Nunavik, the Quebec and Canadian governments entered into negotiations with those peoples.

The result of these negotiations was the James Bay and northern Quebec agreement. Signed in 1975, the agreement is the first modern treaty reached in Canada, resolving land claims that date back to the late 1800s. It also accommodated the interests of the Cree of Eeyou Istchee and the Inuit of Nunavik on the development of natural resources on their traditional lands. In 1978, the Naskapi people of the region reached a similar accord, the northeastern Quebec agreement.

Together, these two agreements facilitated development of hydroelectric dams and related infrastructure in northern Quebec and ushered in an era of unprecedented economic development, not just in the James Bay region but throughout northern Quebec. At the same time, the agreements established new governance regimes to manage the delivery of social services to Cree communities in the region and administer the growing relationship between Cree authorities and provincial and federal governments.

There was one problem, though. These agreements were struck without the benefit of a coherent policy backdrop, such as the comprehensive claims policy and the inherent right policy, which we have today, and without detailed implementation plans, essential components of the claims process that negotiators, policy-makers and legislators rely on today.

Because the agreements lacked the precision we now expect from such accords, challenges arose. The parties to the agreements, the federal government, the provincial government, the Cree of Eeyou Istchee, the Inuit of Nunavik and the Naskapi Nation of Kawawachikamach encountered substantial difficulties interpreting and then acting upon obligations outlined in the agreements.

In 1984, the Government of Canada adopted the Cree-Naskapi (of Quebec) Act. The act is the first piece of self-government legislation adopted in our country. It was an obligation under the James Bay and northern Quebec agreement and under the northeastern Quebec agreement. The landmark law set up a system of land management and recognized the authority of local Cree and Naskapi governments to make bylaws to protect the environment, manage natural resources and provide health services to band members. Provisions of the act also enabled the federal government to further address the needs of the Cree Eeyou Istchee and the Naskapi Nation of Kawawachikamach through government programs, sectoral funding agreements and joint action with the government of Quebec.

Despite these constructive efforts, the Government of Canada continued to bear the brunt of criticism for its alleged failure to implement its obligations under the James Bay and northern Quebec agreement and the northeastern Quebec agreement in an adequate and timely manner.

However, in 2002, a new dawn began to break in the relationship between the Cree of Eeyou Istchee and the provincial and federal governments. In February of that year, the Cree of Eeyou Istchee and the government of Quebec signed the “Paix des braves”. Under the terms of this agreement the Cree of Eeyou Istchee agreed to assume major provincial obligations with regard to socio-economic development and community infrastructure in Cree communities.

In exchange, the government of Quebec made three commitments: first, to pay $3.5 billion over 50 years to a new Cree development corporation; second, to provide ongoing funding for Cree health, policing and justice regimes; and third, to share with Cree communities the revenues and contracting and employment opportunities generated by natural resources development on traditional Cree lands.

Cree leaders then approached the Government of Canada and proposed a similar arrangement to resolve their outstanding differences. After close to six years of rigorous study, consultation, negotiation and ratification, we signed the agreement concerning a new relationship between the Government of Canada and the Cree of Eeyou Istchee, a landmark accord that does what its title suggests; it establishes a new relationship between the Government of Canada and the Cree of Eeyou Istchee.

I was deeply honoured to participate in that signing ceremony in Mistissini in February 2008. I was proud to join hundreds of residents and more than a dozen current and former elected leaders of the region's nine Cree communities to celebrate the beginning of a revitalized relationship between the Government of Canada and the Cree of Eeyou Istchee.

Today, more than a year after that memorable event, we are gathered here in this House to consider Bill C-28 and enshrine in Canadian law a crucial part of the new relationship agreement between the Government of Canada and the Cree of Eeyou Istchee. But what is in that agreement, and by extension, in the bill?

With regard to its second goal, funding and ongoing financing, the new relationship agreement calls for the federal government to provide $1.4 billion in compensation to the Cree of Eeyou Istchee. This funding is divided into three parcels. The first portion is a cash payment of $1.1 billion. These funds have been transferred when the agreement was signed and put an end to significant lawsuits initiated by the Cree of Eeyou Istchee against the federal government.

The federal government will provide the Cree Regional Authority with an additional $100 million within 30 days of Bill C-28, this bill, receiving royal assent. A third payment of $200 million will be made within 30 days of royal assent being given to a future bill that sanctions a distinctive Cree Nation government.

Equipped with this new funding and ongoing financing, the Cree of Eeyou Istchee are poised to take on a number of essential regional functions, including policing, sanitation, firefighting services and several vital economic development initiatives such as job training, recruitment and placement.

This is where Bill C-28 comes in. The Cree Regional Authority must be granted the legal authority to carry out these functions. Accordingly, Bill C-28 amends the Cree-Naskapi of Quebec Act to provide the Cree Regional Authority with by-law making powers, similar to those now enjoyed by the eight local Cree governments.

As its name suggests, the Cree Regional Authority is the governing body that regulates affairs throughout the entire region, and Bill C-28 provides the Cree Regional Authority with powers that truly correspond with its title. The bill also incorporates a ninth Cree band, the Oujé-Bougoumou, and brings it under the jurisdiction of this regional governing body.

These forward-thinking provisions dovetail perfectly with the third goal of the new relationship agreement, modernization of Cree governance. Upon passage of Bill C-28, the agreement pledges the Government of Canada to work with the Cree of Eeyou Istchee, to continue to transform their current governance regime. This modernization process will involve development of a Cree constitution and establishment of a Cree Nation government.

Indeed, Bill C-28 serves as a stepping stone for the Cree of Eeyou Istchee as they continue their journey toward genuine, full-fledged self-government. Through the agreements they have concluded with the governments of Canada and Quebec, they have shown their willingness to take greater control of their lives, establish high quality social services in their communities, safeguard their culture and chart a clear, self-sufficient course for their future. In doing so, the Cree of Eeyou Istchee have earned the respect and admiration of all Canadians, aboriginal and non-aboriginal alike.

At the same time, the names of distinguished Cree leaders have earned an honoured place in the history of our country. Grand Chief Billy Diamond signed the James Bay and Northern Quebec agreement and then used the agreement as a springboard to launch his people along the road to greater economic prosperity, social development and cultural preservation.

Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come fought to ensure that his people were assured a fair share of the wealth generated by the natural resources found on Cree lands.

Grand Chief Ted Moses helped develop and then sign La Paix des Braves with the government of Quebec, and was a powerful force in enabling his people to gain formal recognition as a consultative, non-government organization at the United Nations.

Now, as a signatory of the agreement, current Grand Chief Matthew Mukash takes his rightful place alongside these great Canadian leaders. I salute Grand Chief Mukash for his inspired leadership in shepherding the agreement through to ratification, and thank him for the enormous contribution he has made, not only to the life of his community but also to the prosperity and vitality of our country.

I also take this opportunity to salute Bill Namagoose, the chief negotiator of the Grand Council of the Crees, and Raymond Chrétien, the chief negotiator for the Government of Canada. These wise, skilful and patient men played indispensable roles in helping us strike an agreement and forge this new relationship. Simply put, without their diligent effort, firm commitment and determined leadership, an agreement would not have been reached and Bill C-28 would not be before us here today.

Finally, I would like to acknowledge the indispensable role played by the Cree of Eeyou Istchee themselves. During a referendum held to cast judgment on the agreement, they voted overwhelming in favour, some 90% of all ballots cast, and in doing so, expressed their deep faith in the value of and their firm desire to establish a revitalized relationship with the Government of Canada.

In the same spirit of optimism, partnership and trust clearly demonstrated by the Cree of Eeyou Istchee, I ask my colleagues to do their part.

I encourage my colleagues to adopt Bill C-28 and enshrine in the law of our land a vital element of the new relationship agreement. I encourage all members to play their part in revitalizing the relationship between the Government of Canada and the Eeyou Istchee, to play their part in helping usher in a new era in that people's distinguished history, an era of greater prosperity, self-determination, fulfillment and harmony for us all.

Cree-Naskapi (of Quebec) ActGovernment Orders

May 7th, 2009 / 11:30 a.m.
See context

Liberal

Todd Russell Liberal Labrador, NL

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak to Bill C-28, An Act to amend the Cree-Naskapi (of Quebec) Act of 1984. I want to thank the minister and the government for bringing this legislation forward in a rather expedited manner.

Essentially, this particular piece of legislation stems from land claims and the implementation of what we call modern-day treaties. The first such modern-day treaty was the James Bay and northern Quebec agreement of 1975, which I am going to speak about a little more as we move forward.

Negotiation and implementation has been difficult. It has been tough, time-consuming and burdensome, but these treaties have also been signs of hope, opportunity and promise. In 1975, the James Bay and northern Quebec agreement signalled a new time in the history of Canada and a new relationship with aboriginal peoples. However, even though it has been a new relationship and new processes have taken place, they have not been without their trials and tribulations.

Since 1975, there have been a number of comprehensive land claims signed in the country, in places such as the Yukon, the Northwest Territories, British Columbia, Nunavut, Quebec and Labrador, with a broad range of aboriginal peoples and nations: the Teslin Tlingit, the Gwich'in, the Nisga'a and the Inuit, but unfortunately, to date, no comprehensive land claim specifically with the Métis people.

If we want to look at the implementation of these particular treaties, the aboriginal peoples across the country signed these treaties with a profound sense of importance. I want to sum up that profound sense of importance in a Cree prophesy:

Only after the last tree has been cut down

Only after the last river has been poisoned

Only after the last fish has been caught

Then will you find that money cannot be eaten.

In that particular prophesy, and because of the nature of land claims where aboriginal people had to give up lands or give up certain rights for money, the negotiations are profound, because they come with a certain sense of permanence as well. The sense among elders in the community that in fact we sometimes have no right to give up land, that we are caretakers and stewards of it, makes these particular negotiations ever more heartfelt.

I say that because when we get to the implementation there are often difficulties in terms of interpretation and consistency. We will often hear this phrase amongst aboriginal people: We have signed this agreement, the government has certain responsibilities, both the federal crown and the provincial crown, but the honour of the Crown, what the Crown has promised, is not being kept to; there is not a sincerity.

I can say that it is happening with the Nisga'a, with whom I have met. They say, “Listen, we signed an agreement, and it has taken now seven or eight years to negotiate other aspect of the agreement, such as the financial framework agreements.”

I talked to the Teslin Tlingit, and they talk about the fact that it has been now over a decade and some of the aspects of their comprehensive land claim, such as the devolution of justice and enforcement, has not happened.

I even talk about the Nunatsiavut government in Labrador. “Nunatsiavut” means “our beautiful land”. I know these people. I know them well. Many are relatives. They say that even since 2005 there have been problems with implementation.

It is in this broad context that I talk about Bill C-28. I want to refer to Labrador specifically because I know it well. We have three land claims at various stages. I mentioned the Nunatsiavut government comprehensive land claim that was signed in 2005, which I was happy to be part of and was in this House when it was ratified.

There is also the Innu, which have signed a New Dawn agreement. They want to move forward to full ratification of their particular agreement because it creates some certainty for development, economic prosperity and social progression.

Of course, there is the Labrador Metis Nation, which I was president of for 11 years. It has had a claim with the government since 1990. It submitted additional information in 1996 and is still waiting for the Government of Canada to come to the table and negotiate outstanding issues.

Against this entire backdrop and in this context, we have Bill C-28. As I mentioned, in 1975, there was the James Bay and northern Quebec agreement. It did not contain implementation plans, and this gave rise to a whole series of disputes about interpretation and litigation.

There was also the northeastern Quebec agreement with the Naskapi in 1978, and then in 1984, the Cree-Naskapi (of Quebec) Act was established, which arose out of the James Bay and northern Quebec agreement. The Cree-Naskapi (of Quebec) Act has been termed Canada's first aboriginal self-government type of legislation. It provided for local governance for Cree bands on their own lands.

Within this debate are the precursors of what is happening in society today: the first modern land claim in 1975, and the first self-government type of agreement in 1984. Even though these agreements were signed, there were problems with implementation, and a series of court actions arose. To attempt to get some of these issues settled, there was an agreement with the Inuit and the Naskapi in 1990, but no agreement with the Cree of Eeyou Istchee.

In 1992, Canada and the Cree of Eeyou Istchee signed the Canada—Oujé-Bougoumou agreement. In 2002, the Cree signed an agreement with the Province of Quebec, the Paix des Braves agreement, covering a period of 50 years and dealing with resource development, policing and compensation to allow certain resource developments to go forward. It also has within it a process, as I understand, to resolve outstanding issues.

Then, in 2008, there was a new relationship agreement, called the Chrétien-Namagoose agreement, between the Government of Canada and the Cree of Eeyou Istchee. This agreement was ratified by the Cree, as were the agreements referring to the Cree that I have already mentioned.

The people themselves were at the table. They looked at it, it was brought to their communities, and they ratified it. Many have termed it an out-of-court settlement; and in essence, it was. This new relationship agreement had a 20-year term, and there were a series of payments. The payments would amount to $1.4 billion in three separate stages.

I want to sum up with the words of the Cree-Naskapi Commission to describe to how this has unfolded over the last three decades. This comes from the chairman of the Cree-Naskapi Commission, which came out of the Cree-Naskapi (of Quebec) Act of 1984:

The James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement...(which did not include an implementation plan), was signed in 1975. During the thirty-three years since the signing there have been numerous disputes and frequent litigation concerning the obligations under, and the implementation of the agreement. This in turn has led to a difficult relationship between the Cree Nation of Eeyou Istchee and Canada and Quebec. Through the efforts of the Crees, Canada and Quebec, that has changed. The Agreement Concerning a New Relationship Between le Gouvernement du Québec and the Crees of Quebec...addressed outstanding issues between the Crees and Quebec [for a term of 50 years]. The Agreement Concerning a New Relationship Between the Government of Canada and the Crees of Eeyou Istchee of 2008 addressed in parallel fashion outstanding issues between the Crees and Canada. These agreements have been ratified by the Cree people as well as by Quebec and Canada. They represent a major achievement in resolving problems through negotiation.

[T]here is some evidence that the federal and Quebec governments have learned from the James Bay experience. Over most of the past thirty-plus years governments, through both their actions and their words appear to have regarded the Crees from what was essentially an adversarial perspective.... [T]he traditional structures and decision-making processes of government were ill-suited to negotiating much less implementing treaties and land claims settlements with First Nations.... [The] 1982 amendments to the constitution changed that.... Aboriginal and treaty rights (including land claims agreements) were moved beyond the scope of governments' ability to ignore or change them unilaterally. Now, as the Supreme Court said in Badger, “Treaties...create enforceable obligations...”.

On the signing of this new relationship agreement, the current Cree Grand Chief Mukash said, “It also sets in motion what is probably the most important initiative since 1975, the development of a new Cree government”.

The new relationship agreement set out a way of moving forward and called for a two-phased approach: commitments by Canada to amend the Cree-Naskapi (of Quebec) Act of 1984, which we are talking about today, and the negotiation of Cree self-government agreements with a Cree constitution and their own powers.

Bill C-28 deals with the first of these undertakings and can be summarized under two headings: amendments to the Cree Regional Authority and the Oujé-Bougoumou amendments. I just want to run down what those would entail.

The proposed amendments regarding the Cree Regional Authority would allow the Cree Regional Authority, which is basically the administrative body of the Grand Council of the Crees: to act as a regional government on category IA lands, which are basically the lands that they own under the 1984 Cree-Naskapi act; to regulate essential sanitation services, housing and buildings used for the purposes of regional governance; to use, manage and administer moneys and other assets; to promote the general welfare of the members of the Cree bands; and to promote and preserve the cultural values and traditions of the members of the Cree bands.

In terms of the Oujé-Bougoumou amendments, the Crees of the Oujé-Bougoumou were not recognized in the James Bay and northern Quebec agreement as a distinct Cree band. The individual members of this community were listed on the band list of the Mistissini Cree Nation and have been beneficiaries under the agreement since its inception. Since 1975, the Crees of Oujé-Bougoumou have sought to be recognized as a distinct band under the James Bay and northern Quebec agreement and the Cree-Naskapi (of Quebec) Act. The Government of Canada has committed to amend the agreement and the act to meet this objective.

The amendments in this bill deal with such issues as incorporation, transitional matters in relation to councils, boards of directors and bylaws, residence and occupation rights, right of access to land, exploration activities, tax exemptions and exemptions from seizure.

That outlines in broad strokes what Bill C-28 would do.

We have spoken with the government representatives about consultation. We have been assured by the government that it has carried out adequate and efficient consultation. We have also spoken with the Cree who were intimately involved in the drafting of Bill C-28 and who were a signatory, as well, to the new relationship agreement. We have talked with the Naskapis and they have assured us that they are comfortable with these particular amendments. We have talked as well with the Inuit.

We have also been given assurances that due to Bill C-28, there would be no infringement on the rights and interests of other aboriginal peoples.

As such, I am delighted on behalf of the Liberal Party to support Bill C-28. I want to commend the efforts of all those involved. At the end of the day, this is about helping people and supporting people in communities. I do not like to use the word “allowing” people to have self-government because it seems to be an oxymoron. People have self-government and had self-government.

The Crees of Eeyou Istchee had their own self-government. What we do now is recognize that in further processes under the new relationship agreement. As I understand it they are hoping to have an agreement within five years.As I understand it, they are hoping to have an agreement within five years. That is an admirable timeframe given that some land claims and self-government negotiations have gone on for three decades, and many would say for a century. The Nisga'a often say they started their land claim back in the late 19th century.

This legislation is a move in the right direction, and I am happy to support it. It is good to see the full involvement of aboriginal people in the drafting of this piece of legislation. It sets an example that when aboriginal people are involved in the drafting of legislation that impacts them, things go much more smoothly.