Mr. Speaker, I will begin my speech on the bill to amend the Indian Act by addressing some central themes in the presentations that have allowed me to reach thousands of aboriginal people in the country over the last two years.
At the risk of repeating myself, during the first two years of my term in office, I made it a personal mission to reach as many people as possible in remote communities across the country. That is why I travelled to Saskatchewan, among other places, over the summer.
I abide by the principles of realpolitik and direct democracy—in other words, I will meet with the people, not just a few band council officials, but the general population at large. The same concept also applies to the aboriginal people I have met with over the past few years.
I will now go back to Bill C-428, specifically the study of the amendment and ultimately the measures intended to dump the Indian Act. It should be noted from the outset that this is a private member's bill. Ensuring inclusive measures and seeking the consent of Canadians were not necessarily considerations in the development and drafting of this bill.
This is the kind of information that came up again when, for several months—and I must emphasize this point—we examined this private member's bill in committee. For several months, almost all of the stakeholders and various witnesses who appeared before the committee talked about the lack of consultative and inclusive measures that should take precedence when a member puts forward legislation that significantly changes the relationship between the Canadian government and aboriginal peoples.
However, we already know that the Conservatives are always rather reluctant to propose any inclusive measures and that the concept of consultation tends to be avoided or reduced to a bare minimum. We have already seen this during the current mandate of this majority government. The concept of consultation is diminished, and the government seeks public approval as little as possible.
I have noticed that in the current mandate, when it comes to aboriginal matters, the government will often just consult the nine elected officials, or the elected representatives of a community. Looking at my own experience and my own reality, in the case of Uashat-Maliotenam, there are 3,000 people and nine elected representatives. Inevitably, if the government wants people's approval and if it really wants to introduce measures that are culturally relevant, it should be consulting the entire population.
Of course this will involve some costs and staff will have to be hired to poll and meet with the population. However, this is crucial and will help prevent a public outcry later on, like the one that is building right now and has been reported in the media. We already know that aboriginal communities tend to be rather assertive, that measures have been proposed and that there is an outcry. Real inclusion could mitigate, or at least limit, this public revolt.
Based on that observation, it is important to emphasize that the government's failure to seek the approval of the people involved before proposing these measures is reason enough for the lack of support expressed by a wide variety of Canada's political players.
I mentioned that there is a wide variety of players. We spent at least two months in committee studying this particular private member's bill. A number of stakeholders were called to testify. They spoke about the lack of inclusive measures and the basic lack of support for this reform and for revisiting the Indian Act.
I want to stress that this study took several months. I would ask my colleagues to question the motives an individual MP would have for introducing a bill that amends the Indian Act and, in particular, the government's need and willingness to spend hours looking at a private member's bill, given the significant cost to do so in committee.
Were my colleagues given the same preferential treatment when they introduced private members' bills? I am simply asking the question. In this instance, logic and reasoning would suggest that the Conservatives are trying to use a private member's bill for electioneering and publicity purposes, nothing more. They claim to be focusing on the issue and the Indian Act, citing the fact that their colleague introduced a private member's bill to amend the Indian Act. I would ask Canadians, those listening this morning and my colleagues to pay attention: when the member sponsoring the bill speaks, chances are that he will stick to his notes and will not seem overly comfortable with the subject matter. We should be concerned.
Various stakeholders, including a number of top-notch legal experts and members of the bar across Canada, appeared before the committee and raised this problem, which will very likely arise with regard to the shift in provincial regulations governing succession and gifts, for example. The proposed bill will make significant changes to the Indian Act, thereby causing a shift in the provincial regulations governing succession, that is to say, wills and gifts.
I cannot speak for the rest of Canada, but this is going to cause a major problem for Quebec. It is going to be a real problem because it will cause a shift in the provincial regulations governing succession—regulations that fall under the Civil Code of Quebec. It will also cause problems in matters pertaining to succession and gifts on Indian reserves, which until now have been governed by the Indian Act.
In short, the testimony that was given in committee showed that this bill was ill-advised in fact and in law and that there was a very good chance that a significant amount of money would be spent defending the objectives of this bill in court.
It is understandable for a private member's bill to be flawed and problematic in terms of its adaptation, practical application and implementation. However, in this case, given the effort the government is making and the support it is giving this bill, I would say that it would have been extremely advantageous to spend more time talking to experienced legal experts. I am not trying to knock the government's legal experts, but a more in-depth examination of the practical application and implementation of this bill should have been conducted.
The Indian Act must gradually be changed so that it exerts less control over aboriginal governing bodies. That is inevitable. However, as witnesses in committee told us, the proposed initiative violates the existing principles of self-determination. Too little effort was made in seeking public approval and getting all community members on board. Therein lies the problem, since the modernization of the Indian Act is a very contentious and identity-based issue. As I said, the modernization of this act is inevitable, but it should not be done at any cost and in just any way, particularly not through the highly questionable means of a private member's bill.
I submit this respectfully.