First Nations Elections Act

An Act respecting the election and term of office of chiefs and councillors of certain First Nations and the composition of council of those First Nations

This bill was last introduced in the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in August 2015.

Sponsor

Bernard Valcourt  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 establishes a regime, alternative to the one under the Indian Act, to govern the election of chiefs and councillors of certain First Nations. Among other things, the regime

(a) provides that chiefs and councillors hold office for four years;

(b) provides that the election of a chief or councillor may be contested before a competent court; and

(c) sets out offences and penalties in relation to the election of a chief or councillor.

This enactment also allows First Nations to withdraw from the regime by adopting a written code that sets out the rules regarding the election of the members of their council.

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.

Motions in amendmentFirst Nations Elections ActGovernment Orders

December 10th, 2013 / 10:30 a.m.
See context

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

, seconded by the hon. member for Richmond—Arthabaska, moved:

Motion No. 1

That Bill C-9, in Clause 3, be amended by replacing line 1 on page 3 with the following:

“(b) the Minister, having obtained the opinion of a representative sample of electors of that First Nation, is satisfied that the majority of electors of that First Nation believe that a protracted”

Motion No. 2

That Bill C-9, in Clause 3, be amended by adding after line 9 on page 3 the following:

“(1.1) For greater certainty, the Minister may not add to the schedule the name of a First Nation that governs its elections according to the custom of the band, unless such an addition has been approved in accordance with prevailing customary practices.”

Motions in amendmentFirst Nations Elections ActGovernment Orders

December 10th, 2013 / 10:30 a.m.
See context

Bloc

André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

moved:

Motion No. 3

That Bill C-9 be amended by adding after line 31 on page 12 the following new clause:

“REPORT

41.1 Within one year after the coming into force of this Act and every three years thereafter, the Minister must prepare a report on the implementation of this Act and its effects on elections of band councils and elections on reserves.”

Motions in amendmentFirst Nations Elections ActGovernment Orders

December 10th, 2013 / 10:30 a.m.
See context

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate your earlier explanation as to why it is that the amendments are coming forward at report stage. I appreciate your consideration of the fact that due to a clerical error at committee, we did not receive notice to bring amendments forward at committee.

I must say that I am pleased. I have found that the so-called invitations to committees circumvent rights. I am able, at this point, to speak at report stage to what is a very significant flaw in this bill.

As everyone in the House knows, Bill C-9 initially came to us through the Senate as Bill S-6. It is a first nations elections act. Except for everything I am attempting to amend this morning, it is a good bill. It provides more precision in first nations elections. The bulk of the bill is a result of recommendations that came from first nations themselves, specifically from the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and the Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nations Chiefs, which represents the Mi'kmaq, Maliseet, and Passamaquoddy first nations of Atlantic Canada.

Before I move to my amendments, the intent of the good parts of the bill was to provide greater precision, to create set terms, and to provide for those first nations that had already opted in to elections under the terms of the Indian Act. That is worth underlining. The recommendations that came from the first nations themselves were to apply only to those first nations that had themselves already opted in to elections under the Canada Elections Act and not to those many first nations that elect their councils through traditional customs and methods other than under the Indian Act.

In any case, I will set aside the parts of the bill that are acceptable and will focus only on the amendments you have just read before the House of Commons. They both go to correct the mistakes that are found in clause 3 of the bill.

Parenthetically, I want to note that today is international Human Rights Day. Today is the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Vienna Declaration, which brought respect for human rights to the entire community of nations. Why is it relevant that we are looking at a first nations elections act? What about that is relevant to the fact that ironically, today is Human Rights Day?

The problem with this bill and the sections I hope to correct is also found in other bills that have come forward from this administration, such as the bill, not yet tabled, on first nations education. It is also found in bills that have been tabled, such as the NWT devolution in Bill C-15 and this bill, Bill C-9. What they all have in common is a failure to respect the constitutionally enshrined right of first nations to be consulted about changes that impact them directly.

In Bill C-15, in addition to the NWT devolution, which everyone supports, there are substantial changes to the Mackenzie Valley regulatory systems that are part of first nations agreements and treaties, without consultation with or the consent of first nations. This brings to mind that these changes are actually questionable constitutionally under section 35 of the Constitution, as interpreted in many Supreme Court decisions. From the Haida case and the Delgamuukw case to the Marshall case, it is clear that first nations in this country are protected under section 35 of the Constitution. Further, the federal government has a fiduciary responsibility, a constitutionally enshrined obligation, to consult with first nations.

In this case, we have something that is, in my view, outrageous. Under paragraphs 3(1)(b) and (c), there are two ways in which the minister may impose upon first nations, based on his or her own discretion, a different system for elections within the first nation. What could be more critical in touching on the rights of first nations than changing the way a first nation conducts its own internal elections?

These two paragraphs that are objectionable state that the minister may add the name of the first nations to the schedule of first nations that must conduct their elections as under the act. In other words, the bulk of the act is for first nations themselves to opt in and request to be seen under these sections of a new Indian Act procedure found in Bill C-9.

These are the two exceptions that are outrageous. Paragraphs 3(1)(b) and (c) state that the minister may add the name of a first nation to the schedule if:

(b) the Minister is satisfied that a protracted leadership dispute has significantly compromised governance of the First Nation; or

(c) the Governor in Council has set aside an election of the Chief and councillors of that First Nation under section 79 of the Indian Act on a report of the Minister that there was corrupt practice in connection with that election.

As the Canadian Bar Association aboriginal law subsection has pointed out, the bill does not provide any guidance as to what the corrupt practice might be or what threshold the minister has for making this change.

It is offensive in a couple of ways. One is that it appears to apply to not only those nations that have already opted in to the current version of the Indian Act in their internal elections. It would apply to those first nations that have explicitly not wanted to operate under the Indian Act and that operate under their tradition and custom. Again, what could be more directly a denial of rights?

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples says very clearly, in article 3:

Indigenous people have the right to self-determination. By virtue of that right, they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.

Article 4 states:

Indigenous people, in exercising their right to self-determination, have the right to autonomy or self-government in matters relating to their internal or local affairs...

These changes in paragraphs 3(1)(b) and (c) strike directly at the heart of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and further offend the Canadian Constitution section 35.

I would have wished that these sections had been corrected inside the committee, but I hope that today we may give them fair consideration.

What is being proposed in amendment 2, line 9, on page 3 is a proviso to protect those first nations that have been operating under their own customs. The amendment states:

For greater certainty, the Minister may not add to the schedule the name of a First Nation that governs its elections according to the custom of the band, unless such an addition has been approved in accordance with prevailing customary practices.

In other words, self-determination is protected within those first nations that have already decided that they will not opt in under the Indian Act. They will preserve that ability, which is enshrined in our Constitution and enshrined in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and is therefore further protected under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which today has its 20th anniversary.

I appeal to my colleagues in the House to assess this amendment. It would preserve the right of first nations that are operating their elections under traditional custom to maintain those rights.

The second amendment would deal with this quite discretionary notion of protracted leadership disputes. We have seen instances when the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, or DIAND, as it was in the past, decides that, for instance, the ministry does not like the way things are going, to use an example, in the first nations of the Algonquin of Barriere Lake. The dispute is real, and the minister ends up taking sides. That is hardly respect for a first nations' right to self-determination and self-government.

In this amendment, I propose that the minister may not take that step unless, having obtained the opinion of a representative sample of electors of that first nation, those within the first nation are satisfied that they need to have the minister take this step. Otherwise, we have made a mockery in Bill C-9 of first nations rights under our constitution.

We will again do so if we fail to change Bill C-15 for the first nations within the Northwest Territories and some that are affected in neighbouring areas of the Yukon, where the first nations in that area have competing land claims issues. The leadership of the Tlicho as well as the Dene and other nations are appealing to have the bill split apart so that we can proceed with NWT devolution without offending first nations rights.

There is a pattern here with this administration of, bit by bit, chipping away at some fundamental rights in this country that are constitutionally enshrined and further protected by international law.

With the amendments I am proposing, we could pass Bill C-9 in good conscience. We would know that we had contributed to good governance, fairer elections, and clearer terms. However, to pass it as it is would be an insult to first nations, and this House would be violating our own constitution.

Motions in amendmentFirst Nations Elections ActGovernment Orders

December 10th, 2013 / 10:40 a.m.
See context

Bloc

André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, I commend the hon. member for Saanich—Gulf Islands on her speech.

I agree with what she says about accountability, good governance and transparency with regard to this bill. Of course, these are ideas and concepts that we can all agree on. We do not have a problem with the bill so much as the illegitimate way in which the government imposed it on first nations.

I would like to ask my colleague if the governments that usually like precedents so much could not have followed the example of the Government of Quebec in 2002. That was when Premier Bernard Landry of the Parti Québécois signed the peace of the braves with the Cree. Before the government imposed a bill or did anything, there were proper negotiations with the first nations to ensure that the legislation truly came from both nations.

The Conservative government could have followed that example and sat down and legitimately negotiated, nation to nation, with the first nations in order to reach an agreement on this bill. Then we would not be here today talking about the government's paternalistic way of imposing its views and options on the first nations with regard to good governance.

Motions in amendmentFirst Nations Elections ActGovernment Orders

December 10th, 2013 / 10:45 a.m.
See context

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague very much, especially because he helped me this morning by seconding my amendments.

The federal government is clearly imposing its own solutions on the first nations in complete violation of the aboriginal rights entrenched in Canada's Constitution. The importance, the very unique situation and the rights of Canada's first nations must be respected.

It is true that the other governments have made an honest effort to negotiate on a nation-to-nation basis in the past. That is how to work together respectfully.

I find it truly appalling that we are here this morning, faced with a bill concerning elections for Canada's first nations without consideration or respect for their fundamental rights.

Motions in amendmentFirst Nations Elections ActGovernment Orders

December 10th, 2013 / 10:45 a.m.
See context

NDP

Romeo Saganash NDP Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands for her speech. I should talk about the magnificent riding of Saanich—Gulf Islands, even though it is not as magnificent as mine.

She spoke about International Human Rights Day. I was at the international conference on human rights in Vienna, in order to make the entire world recognize that aboriginal peoples are also peoples, just like all the other peoples on the planet. We have fought that battle for a long time.

However, I would like to come back to an issue that I find to be important in this debate on relations with Canada's first peoples.

It is an important issue because, at present, we are celebrating the life of the extraordinary Nelson Mandela, who defeated a system that made no sense.

Does my colleague not have the impression that with the Indian Act we are dealing with almost the same system as apartheid in South Africa?

Motions in amendmentFirst Nations Elections ActGovernment Orders

December 10th, 2013 / 10:45 a.m.
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Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou. I am absolutely astonished to learn that he was at the Vienna conference in the earliest days of recognition of respect for international human rights.

It is indeed very ironic that this bill concerning our aboriginal peoples is based to an extent on the apartheid system in South Africa. It is precisely as he said. This is a serious issue for aboriginal peoples, the first peoples in Canada, and for the Government of Canada. We must find another way to work together.

It is clear that we have to reform the Indian Act. The best way of crafting this bill is not obvious, but any changes made to Canada's legislation on aboriginal peoples must prioritize what the first peoples want and need.

It is unacceptable to propose such a solution as Bill C-9, which was imposed on first nations. Relations are based on respect between the two nations. Relations between the federal government and first nations must be based on respect.

Motions in amendmentFirst Nations Elections ActGovernment Orders

December 10th, 2013 / 10:50 a.m.
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Bloc

André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to also take a few minutes to speak to Bill C-9, An Act respecting the election and term of office of chiefs and councillors of certain First Nations and the composition of council of those First Nations. Like my colleague, the leader of the Green Party, we were not asked to submit amendments to the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development. That is why the Speaker has given us permission to discuss these amendments at this point, the report stage.

Bill C-9 provides an alternative to the regime in the Indian Act governing the election of chiefs and councillors in certain first nations. As I said earlier when I questioned the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands, the Bloc Québécois of course fully supports the transparency, accountability and better governance that Bill C-9 provides for.

The problem does not lie in the bill itself or in the improvements that I just mentioned. The problem is the way in which the government imposed its solutions and opinions on first nations. That is what I am going to try to demonstrate, and I am also going to introduce my amendment in the next few minutes.

The Bloc Québécois agrees with the provisions in the bill limiting terms of office for chiefs and councillors to a maximum of four years, stating that the election of a chief or councillor may be contested before a competent court, and setting out offences and penalties. However, we oppose the fact that the Conservative government did not consult the first nations before going ahead with these major changes to the Indian Act. These are unilateral changes. As usual, the government acted paternalistically. When I say the government, I am talking about successive federal governments. The government paternalistically imposes unilateral changes on the first nations when it should know that we must talk, nation to nation, when working with aboriginal peoples.

Everyone agrees that there must be more transparency, not only during elections but also during each elected official's term of office. The government can give us examples of times when band councils or other councils, chiefs, leaders and councillors—as we see in any population—failed to govern appropriately. That is not the issue. First, as the Green Party member said earlier, this bill originated in the Senate. However, before introducing this bill, the government should have done what the Government of Quebec did in 2002, which I will talk about in a moment. The government should have sat down and talked, nation to nation, in order to come to an agreement and propose changes. The government would have no doubt received the unanimous support of the House for the bill had the bill first been approved by first nations.

However, we cannot do anything without considering the first nations rights affected by this bill, the direct impact this bill will have on the structures in the communities themselves and how that can affect the communities. The first nations are not opposed to the changes proposed by the federal government. They want to be consulted and be involved in the decisions that will have a direct impact on them. That is a dialogue as opposed to a monologue.

We are asking the Conservative government to sit down and have a dialogue, negotiate, come to an agreement with the first nations. We do not want it to have a dialogue of the deaf or a monologue in which it tells the first nations what is good for them. This goes back to what I was saying earlier when I described the attitudes of federal governments since the very beginning. They have shown a paternalistic attitude towards the first nations.

I used the example of the peace of the braves, and I want to come back to that. This was a historic agreement signed in 2002 by the Cree and the Government of Quebec, led at the time by Bernard Landry, the leader of the Parti Québécois. The peace of the braves is a good example. There were some economic improvements for many peoples, but there are still many problems. I am not saying it is a good example because everything was fixed. It is a good example of how negotiation can lead to a formal agreement, so that the people and communities involved agree with the changes being proposed and carried out. The Quebec National Assembly recognized the first nations as nations, and the peace of the braves is an agreement between nations, as Bernard Landry pointed out when he was interviewed by a journalist who was reporting on what had become of the peace of the braves several years later.

I would like to remind the hon. members that Quebec made a commitment to involve the Cree in northern development and give them $4.5 billion over 50 years. In exchange, the Cree put an end to certain land claims. A few months later, Quebec signed the Sanarrutik agreement with the Inuit, which is designed to accelerate economic and community growth in Quebec's far north.

The peace of the braves and the agreement signed between Ottawa and the Cree of Eeyou Istchee in 2008 brought prosperity to Quebec's Cree. The 16,000 aboriginal people of James Bay now have some of the highest levels of disposable personal income in Quebec, according to a 2011 article in La Presse.

However, as I said, things are far from perfect. There are still health problems and a housing shortage. There is still an unequal distribution of wealth, despite the fact that some people are better off. Right now, 92% of Cree youth interrupt their schooling before earning their diploma or some sort of certification. As I said, the agreement was not a cure-all, but it is a good example of negotiation. That is the point I wanted to make about the peace of the braves.

I do not understand why governments that, generally speaking, like precedents so much could not have used that 2002 agreement as a precedent to create a bill that is endorsed by the affected first nations.

Now, I want to talk about the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador, which long ago developed a consultation protocol that the government is supposed to follow when drafting bills or taking action that affects first nations in Quebec and Labrador.

This protocol includes the duty to consult and accommodate first nations before taking actions that could have a negative impact on their interests. Such actions include the modification or adoption of legislation, policy-making, planning processes, the modification or adoption of resource allocation regimes and the approval of specific projects or resource allocations. A consultation and accommodation report must be prepared.

The protocol also includes the duty to conduct consultation and accommodation follow-up. What is more, as provided in the consultation plan, provision must be made for the establishment, funding and operation of mechanisms for follow-up, mitigation measures and compliance monitoring with respect to the contemplated action.

The first nations have therefore already set out a procedure that should be followed by the other levels of government, including the federal government. It is really unfortunate that the government decided to bypass the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador's consultation protocol. We hope that the implementation of this bill is not harmful to first nations communities.

Members of the House agree that the Assembly of First Nations' protocol was not followed and that the bill will be passed because the government has a majority. That is why the Bloc Québécois is proposing to amend the bill in order to, at the very least, respect the second part of the protocol, which involves assessing the bill's impact on first nations communities. We are therefore proposing the following amendment to clause 41.1:

Within one year after the coming into force of this Act and every three years thereafter, the Minister must prepare a report on the implementation of this Act and its effects on elections of band councils and elections on reserves.

I would like to once again speak about precedents. People might ask why we are proposing this when such a measure has never been implemented before. However, this type of measure has been implemented before in Bill C-21, which pertained to the repeal of section 67 of the Canadian Human Rights Act and affected first nations. At the time, the government had a minority. The opposition required that the changes be reviewed every five years and the bill was passed by a majority vote. A precedent therefore exists.

In closing, we would have also liked to introduce funding and mitigation measures, but unfortunately, they would have been deemed inadmissible. However, we would like to take this opportunity to urge the government to implement those sorts of measures.

Motions in amendmentFirst Nations Elections ActGovernment Orders

December 10th, 2013 / 11 a.m.
See context

NDP

Romeo Saganash NDP Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his speech. I also appreciate the fact that he talked about the peace of the braves model, since I personally took part in those negotiations. I am glad that model is being used as an example, not only for the rest of the country, but for the rest of the world.

My question has to do with that model. I know that the relationship between aboriginal peoples and this government is completely broken.

Last year, after the January meeting, we were promised a new era of improved relations between this government and first nations. That is not the case today.

I wonder if the hon. member can tell us what is stopping Quebec from using the peace of the braves agreement as a model in its dealings with the other aboriginal peoples in the province, for example.

Why not move in the same direction with the Innu, who still do not have an agreement, with the Atikamekw, who still do not have an agreement, and with the Algonquins, who still do not have an agreement like the peace of the braves or the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement?

What is stopping Quebec from doing the same thing with those nations?

Motions in amendmentFirst Nations Elections ActGovernment Orders

December 10th, 2013 / 11 a.m.
See context

Bloc

André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for the question. Indeed, we would certainly never try to give him a lesson on these kinds of negotiations.

My colleague's question is really one for the Government of Quebec to answer. He is well positioned to go and meet with Quebec's Minister of Aboriginal Affairs or even the Quebec premier and speak with them about solutions that he has probably already come up with.

In the case of the Government of Quebec, first nations have been recognized as peoples since René Lévesque. I think these negotiations need to take place.

We would say the same thing to the federal government, the Quebec government and the governments of all the provinces and territories.

To answer the hon. member's question, or the allusion he made about the federal government keeping its hands in its pockets and not keeping its promises, I would say that the Conservative government is unfortunately shopping for votes.

The government selects clients to please in order to ensure that come election time, there are enough people in the ridings to elect Conservative members.

I think the first nations are not a clientele worth pursuing to the Conservative government. This is a government that uses marketing and determines how to operate based on the votes it can get. I get the impression that the Conservative government has made a purely political calculation and thinks that it does not need aboriginal peoples in order to win the election.

Motions in amendmentFirst Nations Elections ActGovernment Orders

December 10th, 2013 / 11 a.m.
See context

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I understand what my colleague means about the Conservatives' current political strategy, that it is based solely on marketing.

However, I find it hard to imagine that a federal government would ignore its constitutional obligations to hold serious and essential consultations on Bill C-9. No effort was made to hold such consultations.

Why does my colleague think that the Conservative government does not feel it is necessary to comply with the Constitution Act?

Motions in amendmentFirst Nations Elections ActGovernment Orders

December 10th, 2013 / 11 a.m.
See context

Bloc

André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for the question. It is always hard to put ourselves in the government's shoes, when we do not think or operate the same way. We can only imagine or assume what they were thinking.

This government has no regard for the Constitution or even democracy and has not had any since being elected in 2006. Things became even worse when it won a majority in 2011.

As I was saying, aboriginal, first nations “clients” are not worth sitting down with properly, in accordance with the Constitution, as my colleague said.

With or without the Constitution, the government must sit down with the first nations to make the necessary changes with respect to transparency, good governance and accountability, but also to ensure that this is a real agreement signed between the two peoples. That is what should have been done.

Why did the Conservatives not do that? We are constantly asking them that. They have done the same thing in many other cases, such as the appointment of Supreme Court justices. There is a whole slew of cases where there is no respect for the Constitution, the Quebec people, first nations or Canadians in general. They might negotiate a little more, but only when there is something in it for them and it can win them votes. Otherwise, it is my way or no way.

Motions in amendmentFirst Nations Elections ActGovernment Orders

December 10th, 2013 / 11:10 a.m.
See context

Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon B.C.

Conservative

Mark Strahl ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise in the House to support Bill C-9, the First Nations Elections Act.

As with everything we do as a government, this bill is about delivering results for Canadians and addressing the priorities of Canadians. That most certainly includes the priorities of first nations citizens of this country, who are currently living under the outdated and discriminatory Indian Act.

As the matters this bill addresses are a priority for first nations, this bill is about empowering first nations across Canada to take charge of their own destinies. In fact, it may easily be said that this is not a government bill, but a first nations bill. The government did not go to first nations with a proposal; first nations came to the government with one. They said, “Here is a serious problem and here is how the government can help us solve it.” Bill C-9 before us today is not the result of the government consulting with first nations; it is the result of first nations consulting with first nations.

I should add that our government was proud to provide the support and coordination that helped first nations engage with each other on a national basis. As the hon. member for St. Paul's stated at a recent meeting of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development:

We think this is an excellent example of bottom-up legislation.

I could not agree more with the Liberal member.

In that regard, I must recognize the initiative and determination of two first nations organizations that have played a pivotal role in bringing us to this day and giving us the opportunity to provide a legislative framework that is indisputably better than what first nations have been saddled with for decades. This is not simply duplicate legislation to the Indian Act, but an effective, accountable, and responsible option for first nations communities.

It was over five years ago that the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, led by then Grand Chief Ron Evans, and the Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nations Chiefs, with the support of our government, began the efforts that ultimately resulted in the bill that is before us today. They saw the need for electoral reform. They had good ideas for improvement. They consulted with the leaders of their local communities and with the people who live in those communities.

Half a country apart, they found a remarkable similarity of opinion emerging from these consultations. The quality and scope of these consultations and the close parallels to be drawn between their recommendations encouraged the government to ask the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and the Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nation Chiefs to lead a national consultation process. The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs covered the west and the Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nation Chiefs handled the east.

The consultations included not only chiefs and band councils; from the beginning, they recognized the importance of including individual grassroots band members across Canada. Both organizations gave the consultations a prominent place on their websites. They published their recommendations and explained what they meant and what they intended to achieve. A simple feedback form enabled and encouraged individuals to provide their thoughts and opinions on the initiatives being proposed. I would point out that this feedback carried considerable weight with the government in developing this bill.

As a result, in supporting Bill C-9, we have the opportunity to endorse not only its contents, but the truly inclusive and collaborative process that led to its creation, an example of how first nations people, their leaders, their representative organizations, and the federal government can work collaboratively to find solutions and achieve a common goal.

It is difficult to imagine a more laudable goal than ensuring that all first nations citizens have the opportunity to participate in free and fair elections. However, the fact is that for many first nations governed by the outdated and archaic Indian Act, the most basic premise of democratic government does not exist. The failures of the Indian Act with respect to elections are well known and long-standing, dating back to the early 1950s. Even before the development of the bill before us today, more than 75 first nations communities decided to take matters into their own hands and move out of the Indian Act to design and implement their own community election codes.

Adoption of the proposed electoral system described in the bill is voluntary. The bill is intended to provide an option for first nations that may not have the capacity to develop their own community election code or that simply want a turnkey and accountable election code that they can opt into.

Let us consider some of the shortcomings the bill would address.

The Indian Act, for example, specifies the chief and band councillors are elected on a two-year term. This is hardly conducive to the design and execution of the long-term strategies needed to achieve key priorities. It also means that first nation communities are in almost constant election mode. By the time a first nation council has been elected, sworn in, got a handle on its responsibilities and started the actual process of governing, it is time to start campaigning for the next election.

Bill C-9 would enable first nation communities to fix that by implementing four-year terms for elected officials, bringing them into line with what is the norm for most other jurisdictions in Canada and allow time to not only learn the job but time to actually do the job.

In addition, the bill would enable different first nations to hold their elections on the same day, a common election day. This innovative idea came directly from the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, and it is a good one. With terms of office beginning and ending at the same time, common election days would make it easier for groups of first nations to collaborate and present a common front in business development endeavours and other shared priorities.

Longer terms in office and the potential to set common election dates are important improvements, but any elected official's term is too long if the legitimacy of the electoral process is in question. This is perhaps the most damaging impact of the electoral system provided under the Indian Act.

The sort of checks and balances that allow most Canadians to take for granted the results of an election as an accurate reflection of the will of the people are virtually non-existent in the Indian Act. We have all heard of cases of vote buying and other irregularities, irregularities that even if they do not effect the legitimacy of an election can cause it to be perceived as such.

There is little in the Indian Act to discourage these practices. They can be carried on with little or no consequences. This not only undermines confidence in government, but leads to paralyzing appeals of election results.

Under the Indian Act, anyone who does not like the way in which an election has turned out can simply appeal the results by providing a sworn affidavit to the minister regardless of the merits or validity of their arguments.

In addition, the appeal system under the Indian Act is slow and administratively cumbersome. Many months can go by before a decision is rendered. In the majority of cases the appeals are dismissed, but in the meantime with its legitimacy in question, a first nations government comes to a virtual standstill. Projects and initiatives that can benefit a community may be stalled. To add insult to injury, the Indian Act includes the paternalistic provision that all appeals are decided by the minister.

Similar to the provisions of the Canada Elections Act, Bill C-9 contains provisions that would minimize the likelihood of corrupt election practices by setting out specific offences and specific penalties for those convicted of committing those offences. Instead of appealing to the minister, an elector would file an appeal in federal or provincial court. These appeals would be addressed by the courts, just as they are for federal, provincial and municipal elections. This provision would minimize the potential for frivolous appeals and at the same time remove the minister from the process.

Local law enforcements could lay charges for corrupt activity in connection with first nations elections and they would have the backing of the courts to impose fines and jail sentences on those convicted.

Again, these are the kinds of protections, which most Canadians take for granted, that help to ensure the electoral processes are accountable, consistent and effective and that help to provide for political stability that is so essential to economic growth, job creation and higher standards of living.

The first nations elections act would also encourage greater citizen engagement in the political process by eliminating anomalies and other peculiarities that the Indian Act's lack of clarity has allowed to happen.

The nomination process is perhaps the most glaring example. Under the Indian Act, the same person can run for chief and for council in the same election. Not only can the same person run for both positions, the same person can be elected to and serve in both positions. That would change under Bill C-9.

In addition, the Indian Act provides little guidance on other aspects of the nomination process. If he or she wishes, one person can nominate dozens or more candidates for any position. It is not unheard of for a first nations voter to be handed a ballot with more than 100 candidates listed on it, sometimes without the knowledge of those candidates. This hardly encourages citizens' engagement. That too would change under Bill C-9.

The first nations elections act would enable first nations to implement a more stringent nomination process. First nations could impose a fee of up to $250 to discourage the nomination of candidates who were not interested and were simply running as a lark.

Under Bill C-9, first nations would also have the authority to require all candidates nominated to accept their nomination in writing so the names of people with no desire or interest would not appear on the ballot. Other provisions in the bill would enable the development of regulations to address frequently expressed concerns about the potential for abuse in the distribution of mail-in ballots.

In conclusion, I would point out that neither this provision nor anything else in the bill goes beyond what is the norm for most Canadians. Through the consultations led by the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and the Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nations Chiefs, we have learned that first nations citizens want to have the option to divest themselves of the Indian Act provisions and to a new consistent and accountable system similar to that which is enjoyed by all other Canadians.

I would emphasize again that adopting the first nations elections act would not be mandatory for first nations. Bill C-9 is intended to provide an option for those first nations that are having difficulty with the status quo. They may want a more robust electoral system than what is proposed under the Indian Act, but may not have the capacity to design their own. They may have a community electoral system in place that is not working as well as they had hoped. This is an option and it would be flexible. Many of the provisions themselves would be optional, the nomination fee, for example, so it could be tailored to the specific circumstances of individual communities. It is an option that first nations themselves have asked us to provide.

I am confident all members of the House understand and support the belief that a strong, robust electoral system that assures elections are free and fair encourages citizen engagement and promotes good governance. I would urge all members to compare the option the bill would provide to first nations with the electoral system currently provided for in the Indian Act. The problems allowed by the Indian Act's lack of clarity could be exceptionally damaging.

Let me give the words used by Mr. John Paul, executive director of the Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nations Chiefs in a recent appearance before the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs. He said:

—the Indian Act election process is very ruthless. It is not a nice process. It is not pretty, and it's very vicious in terms of how it gets played out in a community. It negatively impacts a lot of people in the community.

Too many first nations have been struggling under the kind of electoral system described by Mr. Paul. It is why Mr. Paul and first nations leaders and individuals across the country came to the government with a plan to give those first nations a better option, the option that Bill C-9 would provide. The bill is the result of a true grassroots movement and it reflects broad and legitimate consensus among the people who want this option. I would argue that our task is as clear as it is simple. We need only to step out of the way.

Motions in amendmentFirst Nations Elections ActGovernment Orders

December 10th, 2013 / 11:25 a.m.
See context

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, when I give my speech, I will touch on a number of problems with the bill. However, I have a specific question for the parliamentary secretary with regard to the consultation process.

He is absolutely correct that the Assembly of National Chiefs and the Atlantic Policy Congress did carry out a consultation process, but in the briefing that was provided to committee members, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs had a frame that it carried out the consultation under. It was the fact that it was looking at new election legislation affording a common election date and longer terms of office.

The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs initially supported going forward, but then when the draft legislation was presented, it contained additional clauses that would impact directly on first nations autonomy. Those included a continuance of the minister's ability to intervene with an election process, the fact that first nations were forced to the courts and a regulatory process that was not inclusive of first nations involvement.

My question for the parliamentary secretary is this. Why did the Conservatives not take that draft legislation back to first nations and then gather input on what they were proposing?

Motions in amendmentFirst Nations Elections ActGovernment Orders

December 10th, 2013 / 11:25 a.m.
See context

Conservative

Mark Strahl Conservative Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon, BC

Mr. Speaker, the key part of this, which I spoke about numerous times during my speech, is the opt in nature of the legislation. There is nothing in the bill that compels first nations to adopt this mode of election for their first nation. If they prefer to operate under the Indian Act system, that is their right. If they have a custom election code, that is their right.

If first nations do not like what they see in the bill, they are free to continue on the same course they have currently. There is nothing to compel first nations to adopt this new elections act, although we hope many will choose that option.