Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou for introducing this bill and prompting this important discussion. His passion on this issue was quite evident and I want to recognize him for that.
While I may oppose the passage of Bill C-641, I agree that issues related to aboriginal rights are an integral part of Canada's past and future. My southern Alberta riding of Macleod has a rich first nations history, and I am proud to represent them here today.
It is well known that our government has been working on reconciliation and the implementation of aboriginal rights across Canada. As a member of the aboriginal affairs and northern development committee, I am particularly pleased to have the opportunity to address this subject.
In 2010, it was this government that endorsed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples underscoring our commitment to reconciliation, to building a positive and productive relationship with first nations, Inuit and Métis peoples, and to improving the well-being of aboriginal Canadians. As we said when we endorsed the declaration, the government's vision is a future in which aboriginal families and communities are healthy, self-sufficient and prosperous. Just as much as that vision remains true today, it has guided the actions of this government from the beginning.
The Prime Minister's 2008 historic apology to former students of Indian residential schools, to their families and communities remains the most public manifestation of this government's, indeed of any Canadian government's, commitment to reconciliation. The Prime Minister's heartfelt words will echo for generations, for they marked not a conclusion but a beginning of a new era of aboriginal relations in this country.
The creation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as part of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement was another watershed moment. The commission's activities and outreach have been fundamental to the process of reconciliation. As hon. members are aware, our government has extended the commission's mandate by an additional 12 months, to June of this year. This will ensure it can report fully on this historic injustice and start Canadians on the path of reconciliation. The work of the commission will stand as a lasting reminder that there is no place in Canada for the attitudes that inspired the Indian residential schools system to ever prevail again.
Even more than this, our government has redoubled its efforts to work in partnership with aboriginal peoples to foster opportunities for a better future for aboriginal peoples throughout Canada.
It must be said that this work is achieving real results. Our government is delivering on economic development, on housing, and on child and family services. We are producing results with respect to education, access to safe drinking water, and especially governance. We are making concrete developments related to sharing benefits of natural resources development in traditional aboriginal territories, on the extension of human rights protection, and on matrimonial real property protection to first nations on reserve.
We are accelerating efforts to resolve the past grievances of first nations relating to Canada's obligations under historic treaties with tools such as the expedited specific claims process. This new process brought in under our government allowed the minister to clear away a backlog of specific claims left behind by the Liberal government.
Progress in areas such as the settlement of specific claims is essential to advancing reconciliation while establishing a more predictable climate for economic investment and increased prosperity for aboriginal communities, things that work to the benefit of all Canadians. These treaty agreements provide aboriginal communities with the lands, resources and the tools they need to determine their own destiny and take advantage of opportunities for economic development in ways that they could not have been able to before.
Our government has committed to reach specific claim settlements fairly and expeditiously through negotiation with first nations, and the results cannot be denied. Since 2007, 125 specific claims have been negotiated, representing some $2.2 billion in settlements for first nation communities across the country. We are equally committed to negotiating fair settlements to self-government and comprehensive land claims, and we are responding to aboriginal groups and others who have long called for reforms to the federal approach.
In July of last year, the minister announced a number of measures to address key impediments to concluding modern treaties. This included making important changes to Canada's own source revenue policy and resuming negotiations related to the fisheries in British Columbia.
In addition, the minister also announced important new measures to promote reconciliation in advance of and outside of treaty. Canada will now consider proposals to negotiate incremental treaty and non-treaty agreements. These are two important new tools to help strengthen partnerships with aboriginal groups and help address their section 35 rights.
Incremental agreements could address one or more elements of an eventual treaty, or could exist as stand-alone agreements in the event a treaty is not concluded.
Moreover, our government has clarified Canada's approach to the resolution of shared territory disputes in the context of resource development, and we continue to take seriously our duty to consult with aboriginal groups, particularly those in priority areas of high resource development.
We are engaging aboriginal groups and other stakeholders in the renewal of federal consultation guidelines, including new industry guidance and a public statement to clarify Canada's approach to aboriginal consultation.
Our government is also working toward developing a new framework for addressing section 35 aboriginal rights through dialogue with aboriginal groups and other stakeholders.
As a first step in the development of this new framework, the minister appointed Douglas Eyford as ministerial special representative to lead engagement with aboriginal groups and key stakeholders on renewal of the comprehensive land claims policy. Over the past six months, Mr. Eyford has met with representatives from more than 100 aboriginal groups, federal, provincial and territorial governments, and industry.
Mr. Eyford's report is now in hand. Over the coming months, we will engage with aboriginal groups as well as other stakeholders to seek their feedback on Mr. Eyford's recommendations. At the end of the process, we hope to have an improved comprehensive claim policy that will ensure collaboration between parties and enhance the B.C. treaty process.
This is the Canadian way, to address these matters not unilaterally, but through a process of respectful partnership, consultation and negotiation, a process that supports reconciliation and one that leads to shared solutions that work for aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians alike.
We believe that much of the work our government has done with first nations is actually compatible with the spirit of UNDRIP. However, our government has also been very clear. We continue to have serious concerns regarding certain clauses of the declaration that go well beyond Canadian laws. Canada has a constitutionally entrenched framework in place that ensures the recognition with, and when appropriate, accommodation of potential or established aboriginal and treaty rights with respect to crown activity.
This is important for good governance, sound policy development and decision-making. This framework balances the interests of aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians and has served as a model for nations around the world.
However well-intended the bill may be, it is the view of this government that supporting Bill C-641 would run the risk of hindering our ability to balance these interests and realize solutions that work for all Canadians.
For these reasons, I urge the House to join me in voting against it.