Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to address the House to support, on behalf of the Official Opposition, Bill C-36, an Act respecting the Split Lake Cree First Nation and the settlement of matters arising from an agreement relating to the flooding of land in Manitoba.
I would like to start by putting the bill into context, because what happened in northern Manitoba in connection with the construction of a hydro-electric project on lands traditionally held by aboriginal communities has had a major impact on these communities. It is also an object lesson for our governments and people in the south, who failed to give these issues the consideration they deserved.
The events took place in the seventies in northern Manitoba and involved a Manitoba Hydro hydro-electric project.
I may add that in a number of other areas in Canada, and especially in Quebec at the time, there were plans to develop hydro-electric power on several rivers in the north. The people of Quebec will remember that at the time, an agreement was negotiated with the Cree in connection with the James Bay hydro-electric development project. I will come back to this later on in my speech.
The purpose of the project that concerns us today, was to develop hydro-electric power on the Churchill and Nelson Rivers. It was an enormous project. It involved diverting about 85 per cent of the waters of the Churchill River to the Nelson River. It included the construction of dikes, dams, channels and hydro-electric power stations. This altered the rate of flow in the affected waterways, immense reservoirs were built, and lake water levels changed.
The communities that lived on these lands traditionally lived along the waterways that provided means of transportation, their livelihood and food in the form of fish, so their whole environment was disrupted. In my region in the twenties, we had a similar development that affected the Lac-Saint-Jean when hydro-electric dams were built to form a reservoir for the Île Maligne power station.
The shores of the Lake Saint-Jean were flooded. A few years ago, a local filmmaker, who I believe worked for the National Film Board, produced a documentary called La tragédie du Lac Saint-Jean . What we are about to discuss this morning in connection with the development of hydro-electric power in northern Manitoba is similar to this situation. I think some tragic events took place, and I think that is something we should not forget.
The territory involved in the hydro-electric development project in northern Manitoba is immense, covering more than 250,000, and perhaps as much as 300,000, square kilometres. Manitoba Hydro invested a total of nearly $3 billion in this project. Nearly 18 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity are produced, with sales estimated at between $5 million and $6 million annually. This enormous project will probably be of great benefit to Manitoba. Hydro-electric power is a source of wealth, and it is one of the cleanest sources of electric power, but although it has been of great benefit to Manitoba, the project has been a tragedy for the five First Nations living on the shores of the Nelson River.
These are the Cross Lake, the Nelson House, the Norway House, the York Factory and the Split Lake First Nations. The bill before the House this morning is specific to the Split Lake nation. Altogether, about 10,000 Cree status Indian living on these five reserves were affected. The hydro-electric development project flooded about 11,800 acres of land on the reserves or more than 10 per cent of their territory. The lands that were flooded were those that had been traditionally and continuously occupied, being, as I said earlier, those located along the waterways which served as a means of communication with the outside world.
Before the development of hydroelectricity, the traditional way of life of native people was what they had known from time immemorial. It was similar to the way they lived at the beginning of the century. They relied on federal assistance as they should, since they were entitled to it under the treaties they had signed, but mainly they relied on hunting, fishing and trapping for their livelihood.
And then, progress came from the south and disrupted everything. As you can imagine, with the start of huge projects and the arrival of southern workers living in camps and coming into contact with people on the reserves, the native way of life was bound to change. But the biggest change was the disruption of the ecosystem brought about by the dams. There was a change in the ecosystem of the Churchill and Nelson rivers as well as of neighbouring lakes and lakes which are merely wider parts of the river.
The water regime changed. In some places, the water flow dropped dramatically, while in others it rose sharply to the point of submerging banks.
Obviously, it has had an impact on the local plant and animal life. Hunting, fishing and trapping activities have been disrupted. Trapping often depends on water levels. Animals, such as beavers, live in streams and when you change the ecosystem, you disrupt their way of life and they must move or modify their habits. Thus traditional trapping, hunting and fishing grounds have been greatly altered.
Infrastructures such as wharfs and camps which had been used from time immemorial were lost. We often reflect on what the impact has been in the summer, but during the winter, people used to snowshoe across frozen lakes and rivers. Dams have changed the water flow and water level in streams. When you open the gates, the water level goes down and people can no longer walk on the ice as they have always done. Thus, even in the winter, their way of life has been greatly disrupted.
The most dramatic changes can be seen in the local native peoples' way of life. To start with, they have suffered a loss of income. Those who used to live from hunting, fishing and trapping have seen their income drop. The cost of living went up. Workers came in from the south, bringing along new products and introducing new habits among natives. All this meant an increase in the cost of living. Goods went up in price because people could not rely as much on hunting, fishing and trapping for their livelihood. They were forced to buy food, but at higher prices because everything had to be shipped from the south.
There was also a transformation of their mental and physical environment, in other words, their quality of life suffered. For generations they had lived next to a given river, they had particular activities, they recognized the landscape. Oral tradition had given rocks or places particular significance. When the land was flooded, a lot of significant landmarks were lost. Just think of our feelings when, by chance, we go through the village or the street where we grew up 40, 50 or 60 years ago. We know
it is the same place, we recognize a few things, but we realize that the environment has changed.
For the native peoples of the North affected by the harnessing of the Churchill and Nelson rivers, the environment changed suddenly. They no longer recognized their rivers, their lakes. They could no longer find the places where their people used to gather and live as a community. A part of their culture had been flooded at the same time as the river banks and the lake shores.
Yet, these people had rights. At that time we were not talking about rights entrenched in the Constitution, because this happened in the early 1970s in Manitoba. But these people had treaty rights, under Treaty No. 5, signed and negotiated with the federal government by their ancestors. Since they had rights over this land, it was to be expected that they would be entitled to compensation for losses incurred and that measures would be taken to help ensure decent living conditions on their ancestral land.
Of course it may have been less trouble for some people if these people had migrated south. Many wonder why one would want to live on ancestral land, when economic activity is difficult and everything is so expensive in these remote, northern areas; transportation costs in particular are astronomical. So, it would make things much easier if everybody just moved down south. But that is not what our country is about. That is not how we operate in Quebec and in Canada. Quebec and Canada are areas, land that was developed over the years by our fathers and forefathers, land on which we want to continue to live.
I can understand that aboriginal peoples of the north, be it Northern Quebec or Northern Manitoba, want to live in dignity on their own land. The issue of regional development was debated extensively in my region, the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean region. People want to continue to develop this land. They want to live on this land. They want their children to find work there and the community as a whole to prosper.
These are requests often made to governments. People ask: "Give us the means to live on this land of ours". I can understand full well the situation of native peoples from Northern Manitoba who have seen their land altered, but wish to continue living in dignity on that land.
An agreement was to be concluded between interested parties. These interested parties are the five native peoples, Manitoba Hydro, as the financial backer of this project, the Province of Manitoba, which owns the Crown lands, and the government of Canada, as trustee for the natives affected, under the Indian Act.
It all started, as I said earlier, in the early 1970s. In 1968, Manitoba Hydro received a licence from the provincial government to develop the northern territory covered by the Churchill and Nelson Rivers.
In 1972, Manitoba Hydro decided to go ahead. There was, of course, a debate among the population at that time. The Natives argued that they had rights. Some people more sensitive to environmental considerations also took part in the debate. There was a good discussion.
The licence was granted in 1968 and Manitoba Hydro decided to go ahead in 1972. In 1974, the Department of Indian Affairs got involved, some four or five years after the project was initiated. The Department of Indian Affairs assumed its responsibilities and ruled that, under Sections 28 and 35 of the Indian Act, the project could not be carried out without the agreement of the bands concerned.
The federal government, which had a responsibility in this regard, finally notified everyone involved that the agreement of Native peoples had to be secured.
In 1975, negotiations began between the federal government, the province, Manitoba Hydro and the five nations represented by the Northern Flood Committee. This committee had represented Native people since 1974. Representatives from each nation had formed a committee to negotiate with Manitoba Hydro, the Province of Manitoba and the federal government.
Negotiations took place and, in 1977, the Manitoba Flood Agreement was signed. In other words, an agreement was reached in 1977 and the First Nations concerned agreed that the project could go forth. At that time, compensation was provided for flooded lands, for lost community infrastructure and for the loss of hunting and fishing rights. Steps were to be taken to ensure fair treatment for the Native people affected. That was the agreement.
Unfortunately, as the representative of the Minister of Indian Affairs said before me, this agreement was vague on certain points. Some matters were not settled and too many issues were poorly resolved or negotiated, so that the agreement could not be implemented.
The most contentious points that were put on the back burner concerned adding lands to the reserves to replace the flooded lands or giving the first nations concerned other lands in return for the flooded lands.
Another point left in limbo was the employment of reserve members on building sites. One would have thought that with the building sites open in those regions, an adequate and rigorous policy would be in place to allow members of the First Nations concerned to work on hydro-electric projects if they wished to do so. The agreement was vague on this point.
There was the whole issue of environmental monitoring. Land was flooded, so the plant and animal life were disrupted and we realize that there were surely environmental problems. The agreement contained no strict, specific measures for proper environmental monitoring. Of course, we are looking at it today from the vantage point of the 1990s and, in the 1970s, people may have been less sensitive. Today, when we think of all the environmental studies and precautions that an organization must take if it wants to proceed with hydro-electric development in the north, we realize that nothing was done in Manitoba in the 1970s or whatever was done was inadequate.
In my region, there was a hydro-electric development project on the Ashuapmushuan River. I say "was" because that project seems to have been abandoned for now. For seven or eight years, Hydro-Québec has been conducting studies, making public submissions, setting up review committees and boards to hear what the public thinks. Today we find it quite right and proper to protect the environment. That was not the case in northern Manitoba in the 1970s.
The agreement between the native peoples and Manitoba Hydro left this whole issue unresolved.
Another important thing is that the agreement did not provide for a body to implement it. You might think that the committee of First Nations on the flooding of land in northern Manitoba would have dealt with this issue, but the agreement did not provide for any spending or an adequate amount to cover the costs. There should have been an auxiliary agreement to specify this, but no such agreement was ever concluded.
So in 1977, we had what I would call a bungled agreement that was very inadequate. The result was predictable. Implementing the agreement was a tragic failure for the Native people concerned. From 1982 to 1993, the Native people filed 174 applications for arbitration under the agreement. That is a huge number. It means that the Native people concerned had to fight inch by inch, make representations and file complaints with an arbitrator to enforce an agreement that they had signed in good faith. Of course, they are in a pitiful situation.
It is clear that for the Native people concerned, the project had very harmful consequences, as the Department of Indian Affairs has admitted. For example, in terms of the environment, the Department of Indian Affairs has admitted that some deterioration of commercial and recreational areas can be observed. I have spoken about it at length from the beginning. The department has also been able to observe an increase in mercury contamination. Those are waterways, and the presence of mercury in water is very harmful to fish and to those who eat that fish.
It was noticed that the drinking water in some communities was contaminated, this in an area where water is found everywhere. In northern Manitoba, there are lakes, rivers and streams on much of the land, but some of the water used by Aboriginal people was contaminated. A reduction in the quantity and the quality of fish was noticed. The Department of Indian Affairs recognized that game and fish became scarce.
In 1992, the Auditor General examined the issue. I must admit that, since I come from Quebec, I did not have a very good grasp of the issue, but the problem has been discussed for years in Manitoba. In 1992, the Auditor General found that the Department of Indian Affairs, which had signed the agreement on behalf of Canada, had not done its duty regarding the environmental aspects of this project. The Auditor General told us that the department had not conducted an adequate preliminary environmental assessment, that it did not have a plan to monitor the environmental impact of the hydroelectric project, and that it did not present a report to the bands concerned on the implementation of the recommendations made in 1975 regarding the environment.
The Native peoples concerned had told the Department of Indian Affairs that the project had serious consequences. Recommendations had been made in 1975, but the department did not implement them. Aside from these environmental considerations, the agreement also included provisions on major concerns of Native peoples, but these were not implemented.
Canada did not fulfill its commitment to transfer some land to the reserves, in exchange for the land that was flooded. Seventeen years later, in 1993-94, only one per cent of the promised land had been transferred.
Also, community development was never really promoted. Some initiatives were taken, as the parliamentary secretary said earlier, but little was done for community and economic development in those regions.
In 1980, a plan was developed to promote employment, health, transportation, housing and education. That plan was not implemented and, in spite of that, no monitoring process was devised to ensure its implementation.
Consequently, 20 years later we find ourselves with an enormous mess on our hands. Of course Hydro Manitoba is pleased: it generates electric power. The province is also pleased because it promoted its own economic development. The federal government was not seen to be particularly pleased, but then, during his speech earlier, the parliamentary secretary did express satisfaction that the bill before the House this morning
will free the Department of Indian Affairs from some of its duties.
The fact remains that some people benefitted from all this, some people benefitted from this development, but so far it has not been the Natives living on these territories. Why? Because the proposed agreement was ill-conceived and there was no agency to implement it. This agency, as I mentioned earlier, should have been the committee that negotiated on behalf of the aboriginal peoples, that is the Northern Flood Committee, but since the agreement did not provide for its funding, we are without such an agency.
Moreover, in 1983, the judge presiding over some of these matters stated that if someone had wanted to strip the committee of all its duties, he would not have acted any differently. The best way to go about it was to provide no funding at all. We must realize that this committee was supposed to implement the agreement over a vast territory. This would have entailed permanent staff, management, transportation costs, legal costs for representation in court. In any case, it would have cost a lot of money. The agreement did not provide funding for this committee. I think it should have, but it did not.
A solution had to be found, so, 1986, the committee which had overseen the negotiations for the agreement and managed to survive, proposed a new round of comprehensive negotiations to settle all outstanding claims and to put an end to all these disputes. This was in 1986, six years after the Agreement was signed.
Three years later, in 1989, a new round of negotiations started. This is a very slow process. Admittedly, aboriginal people are patient but when they ask for negotiations and these negotiations only start three years later, somebody somewhere is not making all the efforts needed to solve the problem.
In July 1990, another settlement agreement was signed on outstanding land claims and obligations. Among other things, it was decided to transfer at least 834 square kilometres of Crown lands to the Indians concerned. Thus, a settlement agreement was signed that was going to be used as a kind of framework agreement for the negotiations embarked upon by the Aboriginal peoples, since each one of them is in a unique situation. All of them are not located along the same river. Their physical and economic conditions differ. Of course, each and every one of them wants negotiations that meet its own particular needs.
But the agreement signed in 1990 was supposed to be a framework agreement. In 1992, the Split Lake First Nation, the one mentioned in the bill before us this morning, apparently accepted a special agreement that stemmed from the proposed agreement. As for the four other nations, negotiations are still going on. At the present time, they negotiate on an individual basis with the authorities to reach agreements. There are separate negotiations for each of the four nations. Was the intention to divide and conquer? If so, this was certainly successful.
The agreement signed by the Split Lake Cree Nation provides particularly for some rule on the water level, meaning that the aboriginal people will be consulted and will have their say on water levels and flows. The agreement specifies which lands will have to be transferred by the Crown to the province of Manitoba for the reserves and for the native populations. The agreement provides for a partnership for resource management and planning for the use of traditional lands. The agreement provides for adequate environmental monitoring with a very active participation by the Cree. The agreement provides for the payment of certain amounts per capita and pensions to the elders. This is part of the compensation owed to the aboriginal peoples for the losses they incurred due to the hydro development project.
The agreement also specifies that the right of native populations to have access to regular government programs is not diminished because of the fact that they have received money under this agreement. If we take away their right to have access to regular government programs because of the money they have received, they will be as poor as they were before.
It is also expected that measures will be taken to ensure that members of the native community affected can find jobs at Manitoba Hydro and that business opportunities are created to help these populations revitalize the local economy.
The agreement also provides for an adequate arbitration mechanism. This is essential because nothing guarantees that this agreement will always be implemented to everyone's satisfaction. So there is a need for an arbitration mechanism.
There is also the possibility of opening a trust account to make money available to the native people so that they can manage this own development. for development purposes. All these measures may require fiscal commitments of $15 million from the federal government and of $4 to $5 million from the province of Manitoba and Manitoba Hydro, as well as guarantees of some $21 million from Manitoba Hydro. This means that money will be made available to the Cree to stimulate economic development in the area.
Now, you may ask, since an agreement has been reached, why do we have to study a bill on this agreement? The bill is designed to facilitate the settlement of matters arising from the Split Lake agreement.
Thanks to this bill, the aboriginal population of Split Lake will be able to receive directly the money owed to them. It will not have to go through the federal government. My party has frequently asked this government for amendments to the current legislation that many people would welcome. At present, money made available to Indian or Native nations must go through the Indian affairs department, which is responsible for the manage-
ment of that money. With this bill, the Split Lake population will get administrative control over the funds made available to them.
This bill also exempts from reserve land status certain federal lands to be transferred. That will give the Split Lake population better control over those territories. That also means less responsibility for the department.
Native peoples will get better control, but, as a result, the department will have to assume lesser responsibilities as their trustee. What matters is that these peoples take charge of their own lives and that the trusteeship of the Indian affairs department gradually diminish.
The bill provides that the agreement takes precedence over the 1977 agreement. That agreement was bungled and ill-conceived. Therefore, the agreement the Crees signed in 1992 will have precedence over the clauses of the previous agreement that are not as clear.
There is also a dispute settlement mechanism under the Manitoba legislation. This means that people can be more easily summoned and that procedural rules are clearer and more restrictive for all parties.
Mr. Speaker, you can see from my speech that I have realized that there has been a hydroelectric development. The population has suffered because of that and should receive some kind of compensation. The Split Lake agreement signed in 1992 provides the population concerned with the means to look after its own development and the bill submitted to us will help that. That is the reason why the Bloc Quebecois supports this bill in third reading.
However, some issues were raised when we heard witnesses at the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs. The Bloc Quebecois members sitting on this committee intend to suggest that the committee ask the minister that some of our recommendations be implemented in order that agreements with the other four nations now negotiating be reached.
We will ask that the committee negotiating that issue for Aboriginal people gets adequate funding to ensure proper service to the communities involved in future negotiations. We will ask that the federal government authorize anticipated payments or non-interest-bearing loans so that funds be given to people negotiating in order that they have immediate access to all the monies required for their economic recovery. And when other nations settle, the anticipated payments will be deducted from amounts due.
Perhaps we will also ask the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development to seriously consider reviewing the amounts the Split Lake nation settled for in the agreement reached if other communities should obtain much higher amounts through negotiations. We must say that the Split Lake people are taking a risk under the circumstances. They are the first to sign and the others could get much more. Canada, the province of Manitoba and Hydro Manitoba will benefit from the fact that people in Split Lake want to take that risk, but I think they should not have to put up with negative consequences in the future because they were the first to accept.
We will also ask the committee to recommend that the Department of Indian Affairs ensure the continued use of environmental impact studies, and we want the federal government to see to it that the parties act in good faith during current negotiations with the four other nations.
I am not accusing anyone, but I have the impression that in this process, especially in the case of the agreement signed in 1977, some people wanted to take advantage of the situation, and that the parties were acting in strict good faith.
Since my time is running out, I will start my concluding remarks.
The agreement before the House today is not a comprehensive agreement like those concluded in 1975 at James Bay, in 1984 on the Mackenzie, in 1990 in Yukon and in 1992 in Nunavut. This agreement concerns only one of the nations, but the philosophy is the same. In other words, faced with the fact that Aboriginal peoples were making claims and had rights in Canada, Canada and Quebec realized that it was necessary to have agreements in good faith involving aboriginal peoples and the various governments concerned.
In concluding, I may recall that the first agreement in this country was the agreement signed in Quebec with the James Bay Cree in 1975, while a side agreement was signed in 1978 with the Naskapi of Northeastern Quebec. It was the first significant and comprehensive agreement signed in Canada and was ratified in 1977 by an Act of Parliament.
Hon. members will recall that, at the time, the federal government's objective was to extinguish the aboriginal rights of all Indians who signed agreements. The Crees who signed the James Bay agreement relinquished their aboriginal rights to the lands concerned. These lands represented an immense territory of more than one million square kilometres, about 69 per cent of the territory of Quebec. This agreement was implemented.
I think Quebec can be proud of the fact that the agreement signed in the seventies by the Bourassa government was implemented by subsequent governments, including the Parti Quebecois government headed by Mr. Lévesque. These agreements were entered into in good faith by the Crees and the Neskapis, the federal government, the province of Quebec and Hydro-Quebec. As far as I know, the parties concerned, have seen to it that the agreement is respected. I think it has been, to the satisfaction of all parties. Substantial amounts of money were
made available to the James Bay Cree; their territorial rights are clear; they managed to organize a Native police force; there were propoer environmental assessments. As far as health and education are concerned, Cree communities have been able to set up all the services they need and are in charge of running their own affairs.
In closing, I can say that my party intends to support Bill C-36. An injustice has been done to the Aboriginal peoples in Northern Manitoba, and I think it is the duty of the federal government to redress it. If Bill C-36 before the House today can be helpful in this respect, it will be a pleasure for us to support this bill.