Recognition of Certain Métis Governments in Alberta, Ontario and Saskatchewan and Métis Self-Government Act

An Act respecting the recognition of certain Métis governments in Alberta, Ontario and Saskatchewan, to give effect to treaties with those governments and to make consequential amendments to other Acts


Marc Miller  Liberal


Report stage (House), as of Feb. 8, 2024

Subscribe to a feed (what's a feed?) of speeches and votes in the House related to Bill C-53.


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

This enactment provides for the recognition of certain Métis governments in Alberta, Ontario and Saskatchewan and provides a framework for the implementation of treaties entered into by those Métis governments and the Government of Canada. Finally, it makes consequential amendments to other Acts.


All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, an excellent resource from the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

May 29th, 2024 / 4:55 p.m.
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Gary Anandasangaree Liberal Scarborough—Rouge Park, ON

Thank you for the question, Mr. Lemire.

I appreciate that you've been forthright from the outset on this, and we've had a number of conversations. Bill C-53 right now has gone through the committee stage; it hasn't come up for debate. We are at a point of pausing moving forward until we have concluded discussions with the Métis Nation of Alberta and the Métis Nation of Ontario. With respect to Saskatchewan, I think they've made a clear decision on a path for them, and I did meet with president McCallum, and we will continue discussions with the Métis Nation-Saskatchewan.

I think it would be premature for me to say what the next steps are until I have deeper conversations with the two parties that are still part of Bill C-53. There are some technical issues, some legal issues and some legislative limitations. I'm assessing all of them and getting the most informed information before we can advise where we go from here.

May 29th, 2024 / 4:55 p.m.
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Sébastien Lemire Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair. Once again, welcome to the committee.

First of all, minister, regarding Bill C‑53, you gave my colleague quite an elegant answer. As you know, however, the Bloc Québécois opposes this bill.

When you said that it will be reviewed, do you mean that's the end of the Bill C‑53 in its current form and that a new bill will have to be drafted in order to recognize the Métis communities of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario?

May 29th, 2024 / 4:45 p.m.
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Gary Anandasangaree Liberal Scarborough—Rouge Park, ON

First of all, I want to thank the committee for the work on Bill C-53. I know it was a very long study. The recognition of Métis rights is quite important and it's one that, as a government, we're committed to moving forward on.

With respect to Bill C-53, it was legislation that was codeveloped by the Métis nations of Ontario, Alberta and Saskatchewan. Extensive work and consultation went on before the bill was actually presented to Parliament. The decision by the Alberta courts with respect to the Fort McKay Métis as well as the Metis Settlements General Council has given us a moment to pause.

At the same time, with the decision of the Métis Nation-Saskatchewan, we are reflecting on what the next steps are in this process. We are in constant engagement with both the Métis nations of Ontario and Alberta to see how we move forward.

I will be glad to report back to the committee as we progress on this.

May 29th, 2024 / 4:45 p.m.
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Jamie Schmale Conservative Haliburton—Kawartha Lakes—Brock, ON

Thank you.

Let's quickly jump over to Bill C-53. It's a piece of legislation that had a bit of a bumpy ride through committee, hearing arguments for and against it. Of course, now the Métis Nation-Saskatchewan has broken away and is going to pursue its own path.

I know you came in halfway through. You were made minister as this process was already ongoing. My critique was that it had become very clear and very obvious that the government did not do its homework on this or ensure that proper consultations were done before that legislation was brought forward.

May 9th, 2024 / 4:55 p.m.
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Jamie Schmale Conservative Haliburton—Kawartha Lakes—Brock, ON

I just want to build on this conversation as well, more for our counterparts around the table who may be new to this developing situation.

I bring to the attention of Mr. Desjarlais that if he remembers back during the discussions on Bill C-53, the Métis self-governing act we were discussing just before Christmas and into January, the agreement at that time was that for the supplementary estimates (B), which is months ago now, if we got Bill C-53 through committee, at that point the ministers would gladly appear to answer questions of the committee.

We have had no ministers to date. We were told just a few weeks ago that we're still waiting on a date that works in their schedules.

I'm just painting the picture for everybody in this room that if we take it to the next step of voting on a particular motion, this is an ongoing problem—not just here, but at INAN—in a department that is swelling with bureaucracy, but yet the results are going down the drain. There are indigenous lives at stake here. Housing has horrible conditions. Again, there are ongoing challenges with drinking water. People don't have drinking water that's safe. There's Jordan's principle and the endless concerns about that.

I could go on and on, but as my friend from the Bloc said, if there's a path forward to have a motion, let's get to a vote. I just wanted to inform the committee or those who might not be aware of what's going on at the INAN committee that there are serious issues with getting Minister Hajdu to appear.

National Council for Reconciliation ActGovernment Orders

February 12th, 2024 / 5:15 p.m.
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Jamie Schmale Conservative Haliburton—Kawartha Lakes—Brock, ON

Madam Speaker, it is an honour once again to rise and speak to Bill C-29.

This flawed bill was the government's attempt, over nine years in office, to address the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's calls to action 53 through 56. Indeed, since 2015, the Liberal government, for all its rhetoric on reconciliation, continues to ignore indigenous voices. It breaks promises and perpetuates the archaic, broken and paternalistic “Ottawa knows best” approach to indigenous issues.

We do not have to look very far to see this.

The Chiefs of Ontario, which represents more than 130 first nations in the province, filed for a judicial review because this Liberal coalition government refuses to listen to indigenous communities and axe the carbon tax. The first nations argue that the imposition of the price on carbon is leaving their communities worse off than others in Canada and breaching the principles of true reconciliation.

Abram Benedict, the Grand Chief for the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne said, “People feel that their rights are being violated.” The chiefs want the federal government to redevelop the policy with their communities by either exempting first nations people from the price on carbon or allowing them to recoup all the costs associated with the system.

Many first nations members cannot benefit from the rebates delivered under the pricing mechanism, because the payments are linked to income taxes, which are not collected from individuals working on reserves. The leadership also argues that the price on carbon places a burden on their constitutionally protected rights to hunt, harvest or fish on their traditional territory because of the added fuel costs for all-terrain vehicles, trucks, boats and snowmobiles.

Furthermore, with respect to the long-anticipated national loan guarantee program, the Liberal government has remained silent on the details. Indigenous leaders are very concerned that oil and gas will not be included, sidelining over $300 billion in projects over the next decade and $40 billion in LNG projects ready to go next year. Indigenous leaders are asking for details, but this government refuses to engage with them and give them the details they actually need to plan.

This is not reconciliation. This is alienation.

This leads me to Bill C-29, the national council for reconciliation act. Speaking previously, I made it clear that it was important to use a consensus-building approach to improve this piece of legislation. Bill C-29 deserved, in its formation, a responsible look at areas where it needed improvement.

At second reading I pointed out that Bill C-29's foundation was cracked and would need some care and attention at committee if the government hopes to provide a workable council that is respected by all leaders, all communities and all organizations across Canada. I wanted to make sure that all five indigenous national organizations were represented, not just the three that were in the original bill, notably the Native Women's Association of Canada, NWAC, and the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, both of which were ignored.

My colleague, the member of Parliament for Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, added that he wanted the following addressed: The transparency and independence in the selection process of the board of directors; words that were purposely vague to avoid accountability; the lack of any measurable outcomes; the fact that it took over four years to bring the bill to the House in the first place; and, of course, lastly, that the Prime Minister should be the one responding to the council's annual report, as was the direction in the call to action 56.

In 2015 the Prime Minister claimed that building a good relationship with indigenous peoples would be the government's top priority. I am not sure what the word “priority” means to the Liberal Prime Minister, but to me it does not mean tabling any indigenous-related legislation at the last possible minute. Bill C-38 was introduced December 14, 2022, the last sitting day of a House sitting session. Bill C-53 was introduced on June 21, 2023, the last day of a House sitting session. Bill C-29, of course, was introduced June 22, 2022, which was the last day of a session. I do not know about my colleagues, but the trend certainly does not scream “priority” to me. Indigenous people deserve more than a last-minute Liberal effort.

Need I say that, while the Prime Minister would love to take credit for being the first to advance reconciliation, it was actually the previous Conservative government that finally issued a formal apology on behalf of Canada to all indigenous people across the country? Actions speak louder than words, which is why I remind the House that 17 of the 19 amendments Conservatives put forward were passed at committee. It is the job of the official opposition to improve legislation where possible and to make it representative of all voices, and that is exactly what members on this side of the House did. Unfortunately, there was one amendment we proposed that was disproportionately voted down by the other parties, and that is what I would like to discuss for a few minutes.

One of the most glaring issues with Bill C-29 is the lack of representation on the national council for reconciliation. The bill sets aside three seats for the AFN, ITK and the MNC, three national organizations that the Liberal government deals with almost exclusively when it comes to indigenous issues across the country. It chose to ignore the other two major organizations, NWAC and CAP.

At committee, Conservatives got a motion passed to have both organizations recognized in the same manner as the AFN, ITK and the MNC, yet when the bill was reported back to the House, the Liberal-NDP coalition chose to deliberately vote against the will of its members on committee and remove the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples from the bill. The Liberal-NDP coalition chose to ignore the voices of large swaths of urban and poor people. CAP represents over 800,000 off-reserve indigenous voices, yet it has no voice when it comes to reconciliation. It has been alienated by the government and its supporters.

The Conservative senators in the other place tried hard to rectify this, but again the Prime Minister made sure his Liberal senators defeated that amendment. I often hear in meetings with indigenous leaders about the importance of economic reconciliation, not just to address their own issues with their own resources but also to return a sense of self-sufficiency and honour to a people who have had it stripped away by the paternalistic, archaic and irreparably broken Indian Act.

Conservatives also put forward an amendment to add a seat on the board of directors for someone from an indigenous organization that is focused on economic reconciliation. With many options available from a whole list of organizations that are all doing great work in this sphere, finding a well-established organization that has done historic work in creating economic opportunity for indigenous people would not have been a barrier. The lack of support for this amendment, it should be pointed out, came at the expense of not listening to multiple witnesses who clearly voiced their approval for the inclusion of an economic lens being a part of this board. To ignore these voices discredits the very process of reconciliation.

As the shadow minister for Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada and Indigenous Services Canada, I hear regularly from indigenous groups and leaders across the country how important economic development and prosperity are to reconciliation. Having members with fiscal expertise on a commission directly focused on advancing reconciliation seems like a key component to ensuring an economic lens is at the forefront of their work.

Instead, obstruction comes from the Liberal-NDP coalition, which looks down upon Conservatives who encourage economic reconciliation. We need to establish an economic national dialogue with indigenous leadership and organizations to remove the bureaucratic barriers to economic prosperity that exist at Indigenous Services Canada and Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada, with a goal of phasing out these government bureaucracies altogether.

Conservatives are moving in this direction, with the recent announcement of the grassroots, indigenous-led first nations resource charge. Common-sense Conservatives are ready to dismantle the “Ottawa knows best” archaic and paternalistic way of doing things. For hundreds of years, first nations have suffered under a broken colonial system that takes power away from their communities and places it in the hands of politicians in Ottawa.

The Indian Act hands over all reserve lands and money to the federal government. This means that first nations must go to Ottawa to ask for the tax revenues collected from resource projects on their lands. This outdated system puts power in the hands of bureaucrats, politicians and lobbyists, not first nations. The direct results of this “Ottawa knows best” approach have been poverty, substandard infrastructure and housing, and unsafe drinking water.

The first nations resource charge is a signal to indigenous peoples that the Conservatives recognize the need to correct the fiscal imbalance between indigenous and non-indigenous communities. This would ensure that they receive stable, annual fiscal benefits and to advance reconciliation by promoting first nations self-determination and economic development.

We tried to do this with Bill C-29 as well, yet the Liberals were not interested in hearing the voices of off-reserve indigenous peoples or even considering economic reconciliation on a national committee tasked with reconciliation.

Conservatives continue to observe Liberal and NDP MPs aggressively challenging indigenous leaders who appear as witnesses at the indigenous and northern affairs committee, advocating for economic reconciliation. Unfortunately, I find myself asking why. It seems there is an aversion to even having a discussion on economic reconciliation. This tells me that something does not add up.

What is it about indigenous peoples being the creators of their own destiny that Liberal MPs dislike? What is it about empowering the creation of healthy, strong and vibrant communities through prosperity that they do not like? What is it about using own-source revenue from true partnerships to solve long-standing social issues that they dislike? What is it about leaving behind the destructive grip of poverty to offer hope and opportunity to future generations that they dislike? Why will the Liberal government not listen to what indigenous people are trying to tell them? Sadly, the answer is that they are more concerned with political power and control.

By imposing their own views, rather than listening to indigenous voices, they create the same environment that indigenous peoples have lived under for far too long in this country. One group's world views and political opinions are forced upon another group.

This past week, on many different occasions, I heard the Minister of Indigenous Services claim that her department is focused on co-development with first nations. The Prime Minister even stood in this House and used the term “co-develop” as well.

This sounds like another Liberal buzzword used to create the illusion of equal partnership between indigenous leaders and Canada. In fact, in response to the use of the term, first nations leaders have pushed back and said that they are not sure who the Liberal government is co-developing with, because it is sure not them.

We heard from the national chief, Chief Elmer St. Pierre, of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples that “Reconciliation must start with inclusion”. He added, “Despite the existence of five National Indigenous Organizations, the Liberal Government seems to be engaging in partisan politics by excluding CAP and the voices of urban Indigenous peoples.”

“The government's attempt to divide and conquer by selectively recognizing certain indigenous groups is deeply concerning,” stated Kim Beaudin, CAP national vice-chief. He went on: “Reconciliation cannot be confined to reserves alone, as the majority of Indigenous peoples now reside in urban and rural areas, demanding their voices to be heard.”

What an embarrassing indictment of the Liberal government this is. To make matters worse, one of the three original council members, the ITK, an organization that represents Inuit peoples, has withdrawn its support of Bill C-29. The ITK's president, Natan Obed, fears that the reconciliation body created by the bill could undermine ongoing Inuit work to build a direct relationship with the federal government and advance Inuit rights and interests. He says that the bill, as it stands, also does little to make the federal government accountable for fulfilling its obligations on reconciliation.

On this issue of “co-development”, which the Liberals insist is how they do business, President Obed said: “It has been debatable on the Inuit side on whether or not we would describe how we've interacted with the federal government as co-developed.... These terms are largely subjective and we wanted to make them more clear.”

Chief St. Pierre was much less forgiving, saying, “This extraordinary move by the Liberals is a slap in the face to thousands of survivors who live off-reserve.... For seven years now, the Liberals have trumpeted the importance of reconciliation, but this exclusion reveals their true colours.”

It is time to fundamentally change the approach. Much of my work on this file was shared by my colleague, the member for Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River. In fact, it was that member who shepherded Bill C-29 through the House, and I wanted to take a moment to thank him for his work on this file.

Out of respect for his work, I would like to share a story from his riding, which really highlights the changes that are already happening on the ground in northern Saskatchewan. Having spent time with Pelican Lake First Nation's Chief Peter Bill, RCMP and two of Pelican Lake's own community safety officers, the member asked how the newly established community safety officer program was going. Chief Bill replied that the community now has six full-time employees and its own fully equipped vehicles, and it is in the process of training more officers. The RCMP also explained how helpful the program had been in the overall safety of the community.

How did Pelican Lake First Nation pay for this community service officer program? In fact, it was their own-source revenue, which was generated from their forestry business. They invested the profits to assist the overall health of the community, instead of waiting around for years while the government and the bureaucrats plan; meet; make frameworks, charts and graphs; do benefit assessments and feasibility studies; or use the signing of MOUs for photo ops.

Later that day, the member for Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River was at Flying Dust First Nation to participate in a walk of solidarity with residential school survivors. On that walk, he saw the hockey rink that was built a few years ago and, beside it, the newly built 6,000-square-foot sporting goods store and facility called Snipe and Celly. If one looks in the other direction, one finds the new Petro-Canada gas station located right on the highway. For the member, it was a stark reminder of what the MLTC Cree vice-chief, Richard Derocher, had mentioned to him earlier that day, when he spoke positively on reconciliation. He shared that his wish was that, one day, when people were either visiting or driving through the area, they would not be able to recognize when they were leaving Flying Dust First Nation and entering Meadow Lake.

Generating prosperity through economic development works. It is a shame that this was not recognized by the government. The existing model of federal public servants determining who is and who is not ready for self-governance needs to change. Reconciliation must be centred on the future of indigenous peoples, not what is in the best interest of the Liberal government. By modernizing our approach to indigenous partnerships, we will modernize Canada and usher in a new age of economic prosperity and equality of opportunity.

Conservatives promote and believe in economic reconciliation. It is the solution to eradicating poverty and, with it, the social ills that poverty creates. With control put back in their hands, indigenous peoples can begin to manage prosperity instead of poverty and take concrete steps toward healing through self-determination.

Conservatives support off-reserve and non-status indigenous peoples. Unlike the Liberals and the NDP, we have demonstrated this publicly with our support of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples' inclusion on the national council for reconciliation. The Liberals and their NDP coalition partners effectively silenced the voices of the 800,000 off-reserve and non-status indigenous peoples when they voted against amendments that would have included CAP on the council. Let the record show that it was the Liberal, NDP and Bloc members who stood against the addition of economic reconciliation to the national council, while Conservatives recognized the importance of consultation and of hearing from as many diverse indigenous voices as possible.

To conclude, I am proud of the work our Conservative team did in making Bill C-29 a better version than what originally came to the House.

Indigenous and Northern AffairsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

February 8th, 2024 / 10 a.m.
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John Aldag Liberal Cloverdale—Langley City, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the 12th report of the Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs in relation to Bill C-53, an act respecting the recognition of certain Métis governments in Alberta, Ontario and Saskatchewan, to give effect to treaties with those governments and to make consequential amendments to other acts. The committee has studied the bill and has decided to report the bill back to the House with amendments.

I also would like to thank all of our witnesses and particularly the representatives from the Métis organizations in Alberta, Ontario and Saskatchewan, and the national Métis representative, for their persistence in helping us get through this much-needed legislation at committee stage.

I wish the House all the best in seeing this through to the finish line and on completion through royal assent.

First Nations Clean Water ActGovernment Orders

February 5th, 2024 / 12:55 p.m.
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Sébastien Lemire Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Madam Speaker, it is with deep humility and a great sense of responsibility that I take up the torch today for indigenous relations and the development of the north and its regions within the Bloc Québécois.

First, I would like to salute my hon. colleague from Manicouagan for her outstanding dedication and hard work on behalf of the indigenous nations of Quebec and Canada over the years.

I am committed to working closely with indigenous communities in the years to come and making progress in strengthening their rights and autonomy while fostering equitable nation-to-nation relations, and I am committed to following in the footsteps of my colleague from Manicouagan.

Before turning to the bill at hand, I also want to give a shout-out to the participants of the second edition of the First Nations Expedition, who are, as we speak, about to set off from Témiscaming or Kebaowek. The participants will cover a total of 3,250 kilometres by snowmobile on their way to Wendake, passing through Mashteuiatsh, Rouyn‑Noranda, where they stopped the day before yesterday, Maniwaki, Saint‑Michel‑des‑Saints, and many other places.

I went to Témiscaming yesterday to meet up with them. Politicians from Témiscamingue of all stripes, so to speak, came out to salute the courage of the participants in this second edition. Participants were selected based on their heightened awareness of the indigenous causes supported by the expedition, as well as their thirst and curiosity to learn more about indigenous nations.

I want draw attention to the two men who came up with the idea. The first is Christian Flamand, an Atikamekw man who spoke passionately yesterday about his commitment and the depth of his convictions. The second is Derek Jeremy Einish, a Naskapi man. Both are motivated by the principles of reconciliation, friendship, respect, solidarity and courage.

The aim of the expedition is to pay tribute to children who attended residential schools, missing and murdered indigenous women, Joyce Echaquan, whose name has come up several times, and children who were taken from their families at birth.

To segue into my thoughts on the bill, I will start by saying hello to a representative of the Naskapi Nation of Kawawachikamach, Billy Shecanapish. We met yesterday and he told me that he has spent his life advocating for water and working with water in indigenous communities. I think that is the perfect segue. I want to say hello to Billy and all those participating in the First Nations Expedition.

For indigenous communities, water is not just about staying hydrated, nor is it simply a commodity or resource. Water is considered sacred, because it is a source of life, knowledge and rights. Water is considered a living entity, with a spirit of its own. Human beings have a responsibility to protect and care for this vital resource from mother earth. In short, water is a symbol of indigenous sovereignty.

That is why I am rising today in the House to speak to Bill C-61, an act respecting water, source water, drinking water, wastewater and related infrastructure on first nation lands. After first reading of this bill, I think it is too soon to give my opinion on it, since the first nations are not all in agreement. We still have a lot of questions about the consultations that were held with first nations and about many of the bill's provisions.

When all of that is put together, it may not have the original intended effect. By way of observation, the notion of co-development, when the government and its main partners are not in agreement, says a lot about the current process. With all due respect, this also happened with Bill C-53, so perhaps the government needs to review the mechanism it uses for consulting with first nations in order to make it truly inclusive and have a real dialogue.

On the surface, Bill C‑61 may appear to be a long-awaited response to the ongoing equality issues related to access to water for indigenous people in Quebec and Canada, but the devil is in the details.

I want to talk about the basics of the right to drinking water. Access to a safe, clean source of drinking water is fundamental to life. Unfortunately, many first nations communities across the country face significant barriers to accessing safe drinking water. Since 1977, the government has been promising to provide reserves with water and sanitation services comparable to those available in the majority of similar non-indigenous communities. However, these promises have often gone unfulfilled.

First nations continue to endure a disproportionate share of the consequences of poor water management, water insecurity and lack of access to good quality drinking water, a situation that would be considered intolerable for anyone living off the reserves. For most people living in a G7 nation, it would be frankly unthinkable.

The consequences of water insecurity require no explanation. However, since we are still here debating a bill on water, in the House, in 2024, I will nonetheless speak to the link between water insecurity and the high rate of suicide in many indigenous communities. In recent years, numerous studies have shown that water insecurity and the loss of traditional water-related practices contribute to feelings of anxiety, depression and loss of cultural identity. These factors, in turn, can significantly affect the risk of suicide. In short, access to safe, clean drinking water is essential not only for the physical health of indigenous nations, but for their mental health and cultural vitality as well.

One of the clearest examples of this chronic inequality is the never-ending drinking water advisories on first nations reserves. Despite Canada's fiduciary commitments to provide potable water to first nations, its repeated promises to eliminate these advisories and its international obligations recognizing potable water and clean water as a human right, these advisories have been in place for decades.

It is odd that Canada, a country where water is abundant and easily accessible, is still unable to offer adequate infrastructure for drinking water access and waste water management. Unlike developing countries, Canada is not dealing with a water shortage, seeing as it possesses 20% of the world's freshwater reserves. It is not deficient in resources or dealing with the instability of an illegitimate or dictatorial government. The current situation should be blamed on successive Canadian governments and their chronic negligence toward first nations. The federal government's lack of interest in first nations is obvious when we look at the limiting and discriminatory situation imposed on these communities, leaving them stuck with poor sanitary conditions.

Questions remain. Given these realities, Bill C-61 represents a first step in the right direction.

This enactment affirms that the inherent right to self-government, recognized and affirmed by section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, includes the jurisdiction of First Nations in relation to water.... It sets out principles, such as substantive equality, to guide the provision for First Nations of clean and safe drinking water and the effective treatment and disposal of wastewater on First Nation lands. It provides for minimum standards for water quality and quantity and wastewater effluent. It also provides pathways to facilitate source water protection.

However, as I mentioned earlier, it has not gone unnoticed that we are debating legislation in 2024 to give communities decent access to clean drinking water and proper infrastructure. This bill may seem like a step in the right direction, but it is simply not good enough.

Let us start with the fact that the government's main partners on this bill, the first nations themselves, disagree with the statement made by the Minister of Indigenous Services that the legislation she was working on was the closest the federal government had come to co-developing law with first nations.

The lack of consultation could explain why the bill seems to view free, prior and informed consent, as defined in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, as a mere suggestion or guiding principle rather than a strict requirement applicable to all aspects of the bill.

How can first nations trust that the government will consult them on the provisions of this bill, if the government cannot even consult them when the bill is first drafted?

This bill does confirm that water on, in and under first nation lands is part of first nation lands, providing a strong bulwark against provincial land claims. Subclause 6(1) of Bill C‑61 explicitly recognizes that first nations have an “inherent right to self-government, recognized and affirmed by section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982” with respect to “water, source water, drinking water, wastewater and related infrastructure on, in and under First Nations lands.”

The terminology in this section, which refers to section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, clearly establishes that first nations' right to self-government over water on reserve lands constitutes recognition of a constitutionally protected right, not simply authority conferred by law. The fact that the words “water” and “source water” are added means that first nations have complete control over water of any kind on their reserve lands.

The protection of source water is crucial to ensuring that first nations have access to quality drinking water, which supports economic development and helps preserve indigenous rights and cultural practices. Although the bill talks about protecting source water, it does not lay out any specific requirements for protecting it.

On the contrary, both the control and protection of source water remain vulnerable in the provincial and federal agreements required by paragraph 6(1)(b). This does not provide adequate authority to first nations for protecting water sources. First nations will have limited jurisdiction over source water, given that this jurisdiction depends on the agreement between the federal government and the respective provincial or territorial government for coordinating the enforcement of first nations legislation. This is problematic, because water protection varies considerably from one province to another. Also, this bill could always serve as a way for the federal government to shirk its responsibilities to its indigenous partners. Giving first nations considerable power perpetuates concerns about a somewhat disengaged federal government.

Bill C‑61 does not even recognize the basic human right to clean drinking water. Meanwhile, the bill cites the principle of substantive equality in paragraph 5(2)(a) which states that “the distinct needs of First Nations for reliable access to water services must be addressed in a way that respects First Nations rights and their access must be comparable to that in non-Indigenous communities”. Substantive equality is not, in itself, a right to good-quality drinking water. In fact, Canada's refusal to recognize the right to safe drinking water goes against its stated commitment in favour of the right to safe drinking water as a fundamental right within the United Nations.

I want to talk about Kitcisakik, which is located in the riding of my colleague from Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou. I would like to talk about a community in my region, Abitibi—Témiscamingue. This indigenous community has been without running water and electricity for years now. Thanks to Quebec's recent commitment, the community will finally be connected to the power grid over the next three years. Unfortunately, the community of Kitcisakik will remain without access to water. Because the water table is too high, it is impossible to dig on site and build the necessary infrastructure, making access to running water impossible. Only the communal showers and the band office have access to this precious blue gold.

Moreover, Kitcisakik has dreamed for the past 30 years of building its new village, Wanaki, which means “land of peace” in the indigenous language. In this way, it could finally acquire modern facilities and infrastructure. This brings me to a key aspect of this issue. To develop water management infrastructure requires considerable, recurring and predictable funding. Historically, this has never been the case. From 2015 to 2018, $146 million was allocated annually to fund this type of infrastructure. According to the Parliamentary Budget Officer in 2017, it would have taken $361 million a year to fund and maintain first nations' drinking water and waste-water systems. The government covered only 40% of the estimated needs.

Once again, I will talk about my region to demonstrate the impact. Maintenance and construction costs are much higher in the regions, and that forces communities to make heart-wrenching decisions. In February 2021, the Abitibiwinni nation on the Pikogan reserve near Amos reported that it was finding it difficult to allocate the funds needed to maintain and run its water and waste-water systems. It is difficult for a community to have to choose between maintaining its infrastructure, water and waste-water systems and roads, and fostering economic and social development when the envelopes are simply not there. We should keep in mind that, in remote regions, the cost of every repair is higher because of the distances involved, the labour shortage and the competition from mining companies in the construction sector.

From reading the bill, we get the impression it seeks to tackle inadequate funding. However, the language used is superficial, requiring only that the government provide “funding that, as a minimum, meets the commitment expenditures” set out in the 2021 Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Settlement Agreement.

The funding provisions in the bill simply do not go far enough to guarantee sufficient funding for first nations. According to clause 26 of this bill, the Government of Canada is content to make “best efforts” to provide adequate funding for water services and to offset the actual costs to first nations of water and sanitation services.

That is a gateway to inaction. The term “best efforts” allows the government to shirk its responsibility to provide First Nations with real access to clean, safe drinking water.

If the minister can simply claim to have done their best to make sure a community has access to water, and the community still does not have access to drinking water, that is legal under the terms proposed by this piece of legislation. That is unacceptable. It is a shirking of responsibility toward our indigenous constituents, and we cannot tolerate such negligence.

I will remind members that the investigation conducted by the Institute for Investigative Journalism at Concordia University revealed that Indigenous Services Canada funded only 33% of the needs of the community of Kebaowek, located in my riding, while the federal government should have contributed 80%. No matter the infrastructure, if the federal government does not do its part, it is unrealistic to think that first nations will be able to meet expectations.

The drinking water problem is also affecting non-indigenous communities. Take, for example, the municipality of Laverlochère-Angliers in the Témiscamingue region. Its inhabitants do not have access to drinking water because it is just too expensive for a community of about 300.

Some 30% of the population of Abitibi—Témiscamingue gets its water from private wells. A study conducted by the Direction régionale de santé publique showed the presence of arsenic in the private wells. It validated the hypothesis that the contaminated wells were associated with a certain type of rock often found near gold deposits. Some of the private wells were dug in gold deposits, so their water contains arsenic. It is important for both indigenous and non-indigenous communities to understand the geology of our region so as to reduce the risk of contamination.

It is also important to remember that, according to a survey conducted by the Abitibi—Témiscamingue public health directorate, four out of five households had not cleaned or disinfected their wells in the past five years.

This is another important point that needs to be included in this bill. How can we fund prevention if indigenous communities opt to dig their own wells? These are important things to think about.

In conclusion, I would say that we are at a crucial point in time and that we must seriously consider the future of access to drinking water in Quebec and Canadian indigenous communities. Although imperfect, Bill C-61 is an attempt to do something about the persistent inequalities experienced by indigenous peoples when it comes to access to drinking water.

However, despite its good intentions, it fails to address basic concerns. The issue of a real and meaningful consultation of first nations is still up in the air, casting a shadow on the legitimacy of this legislative measure. In addition, the funding provisions fail to guarantee sufficient resources to adequately meet the needs of indigenous communities.

We cannot overlook how unacceptable it is that, in 2024, we still have to stand here and talk about the need to ensure access to clean drinking water and decent infrastructure. This highlights the government's ongoing failure to deliver on its commitments to indigenous nations.

As elected representatives, we have a responsibility to ensure that every citizen has equitable access to an essential part of life, namely drinking water. Bill C-61 is an opportunity to improve the situation, but it needs to be strengthened and adjusted to truly meet the needs, demands and rights of first nations.

We must take urgent action and firmly resolve to put an end to this unacceptable situation. Access to clean, safe drinking water is a basic human right, and we must not tolerate any further delay in making that a reality for everyone. The House's commitment to reconciliation and to indigenous peoples requires that we take bold action to ensure that every indigenous and non-indigenous community has a future and can thrive with dignity and fairness.

First Nations Clean Water ActGovernment Orders

February 5th, 2024 / 12:55 p.m.
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Jamie Schmale Conservative Haliburton—Kawartha Lakes—Brock, ON

Madam Speaker, I want to commend my friend, the member for Fort McMurray—Cold Lake, for her work with first nations and Métis communities in her riding. She is a tremendous champion for those voices, and I know those communities appreciate all her knowledge and willingness to continue to learn on this file. It is not a file that should be taken lightly. I know she takes it very seriously and really digs in, and I appreciate that.

She could not be more bang on with her comment. The government, like with many other pieces of legislation, waited until the last second to bring this in. The legislation, as she mentioned, was promised for six months and counting. Bill C-53, the Métis self-government legislation, was brought in during the dying seconds of the sitting before we adjourned in June. We could even go back to the Whitecap Dakota treaty, which was also brought in during the dying days.

Again, it is a growing concern. On the one hand, the government says that the indigenous file is the most important relationship. However, on the other hand, it drops these pieces of legislation at the last second or in the dying days of Parliament.

First nations communities deserve more than that. We should be promoting them front and centre. Unfortunately the government says one thing and does the other.

First Nations Clean Water ActGovernment Orders

February 5th, 2024 / 12:50 p.m.
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Jamie Schmale Conservative Haliburton—Kawartha Lakes—Brock, ON

Madam Speaker, as I mentioned earlier in my speech, this piece of legislation, Bill C-61, is an important step forward and something that has support from organizations such as the AFN. Others do have some questions they would like asked, and we will get to that in the committee process.

As for the actual time schedule, it is the government that controls the agenda in the House. We are at its mercy. It is really up to its members and their priorities. I notice something with other pieces of legislation, such as the indigenous-led legislation we just finished up in committee today, Bill C-53. That legislation, on self-governance concerning Métis in Ontario, Saskatchewan and Alberta, was promised for months and brought in at the dying days of the session before the break in June.

This piece of legislation, Bill C-61, was again promised for months. I do not know what the delay was on the government's side. I do not know what it was. I believe the delay has been over six months, when we could have been discussing this or even bringing it to committee, and perhaps even passing it at third reading. Again, it is the government putting up these roadblocks. We would like to see what timetable it has in mind.

February 5th, 2024 / 12:05 p.m.
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The Chair Liberal John Aldag

Yes. At this point, now that we've concluded Bill C-53, the next business we have is the review of version one of the education study. When we finish version one, then we have the land restitution study draft that we need to go through.

We don't have any passed motions yet for whatever the next study would be, so if this motion passes, I would look to the committee on timing as to whether we want to interrupt the review of either of those two reports. Then, as we get into the land restitution study, that's where I was going to bring up committee business to have us look at motions. The Conservatives are next, for their study, and then we have the Bloc, the NDP and the Liberals. We'll move through that rotation of getting topics sorted out, but I wasn't going to have that discussion until we got into the land restitution report, because we have lots of work to keep us going. There are also a couple of pieces of legislation in the House that could be coming to us.

Should this motion pass, I would look to the committee on timing and when the committee would want to have that motion implemented.

Hopefully, that answers your question, Ms. Idlout. Okay. Thank you.

Next I have Mr. Battiste.

February 5th, 2024 / noon
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The Chair Liberal John Aldag

Mr. Zimmer, can I interrupt just for a second? I apologize for this.

I should have offered to our officials that if they'd like to leave the table, we're beyond Bill C-53 now, so I don't want to hold them here for this.

Please feel free to make your exit. If you want to stay, you're more than welcome to. You're like family here. If you want to go, I will make you that offer.

February 5th, 2024 / noon
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The Chair Liberal John Aldag

With that, we have concluded our review of Bill C-53.

Thank you to each of the members and to those who have substituted.

Thank you to our officials. As did Mr. Battiste, I'd like to thank all the members of the Métis organizations, the Métis nations of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario, for their dedication and input into this very important piece of legislation.

Colleagues, I have two things before we adjourn. Mr. Zimmer would like to speak, and then I want to quickly go to the travel discussion.

Mr. Zimmer, the floor is yours.

February 5th, 2024 / 11:40 a.m.
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Lori Idlout NDP Nunavut, NU

Thank you. I really appreciate your repeating that and helping to clarify.

I think that what I do need to say is that treaty-making was never a fair process for first nations. First nations were never heard in the same way we're hearing these three Métis nations in Ontario, Saskatchewan and Alberta. In that sense, Bill C-53 is unprecedented, as first nations during their negotiations did not have the same weight given to their voice by the federal government. When we're hearing about treaties never really being implemented the way they were intended to be, it has been a concern for over 150 years, so when it came to this bill and the concepts of treaty and self-government for Métis, it naturally flowed to the concerns and issues of first nations and other Métis over the last 150 years.

I think that's why this scrutiny was so important, so that when we're seeking fairness, we're seeking fairness for all indigenous peoples and for those first nations that were not given the same opportunities, through words like what you said, Michael—that the relationship with first nations is evolving and that treaties need space to evolve. It opens the doors for first nations to come back to you to make sure that treaties are evolving. When we're talking about treaties that, for example, might have been silent on water, they still need to be allowed to discuss water.

We know, for example, that there have been years of concerns about rights not being respected because of treaties towards indigenous peoples. This conversation helps to open the doors to first nations that have not been treated with equity, to first nations and other Métis who have not been given the same opportunities that we've heard of today.

Having said that and having heard your explanation about what this limits for future treaty-making, those limits existed for first nations, but I will still oppose.... I've changed my position on this provision. I will oppose this amendment because of what we've heard, because of what we need to do to uplift all indigenous peoples.


February 5th, 2024 / 11:40 a.m.
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The Chair Liberal John Aldag

Okay. I have you on the list.

First, I was asked for the chair's position or ruling on this. After a discussion with our legislative team, I'll give you, just briefly, the ruling on why this is deemed to be in order, as opposed to out of order.

The understanding is that CPC-5.01 reiterates the fact that Bill C-53 does not grant Métis governments and the Government of Canada the ability to enter into treaties regarding any rights or claims that pertain to land or resources. Procedurally, this is interpreted as a limitation rather than an expansion on the scope of the bill. Therefore, the amendment is admissible. If it were to be an expansion, it would not be admissible, but because it's a restriction, it is admissible. That's why it's on the table before us for discussion.

With that, I have Ms. Idlout, Mr. McLeod and then Mr. Schmale on my speaking list.

Ms. Idlout, I go to you first.