Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to speak today on Bill C-34. In response to the Minister of Indian Affairs, who mentioned that he finds some days very satisfying, I will confide that I found the last 24 hours extremely dissatisfying and very arduous. First reading took place yesterday morning at 10 o'clock, so you can imagine my surprise when, in the afternoon, a pile of documents, one foot high, appeared on my desk for me to read before today's debate on these two bills. We are dissatisfied because we worked well into the night and are exhausted.
Fortunately, we were basically already in favour of self-government. If we took the trouble to review these documents as thoroughly and as humanly possible under the circumstances, it is because we had in mind these people in the Yukon who have been waiting for so long to see this matter of great concern to them finally settled.
Consequently, we did our utmost. We may have missed a few things, but for our part, we are in favour of Bill C-34.
I would like to take this opportunity to salute all those who dropped by my office during the week. On Monday night, we received a delegation from Yukon. I immediately cleared up an unfortunate misunderstanding, and I would like to do the same here now.
The Bloc Quebecois never intended to delay the presentation of this bill. As you know, there has been a problem with the translation of the maps, but my party decided that it would not oppose the first reading. We mentioned that to these people from Yukon, because rumours had been going around in the north and in Yukon to the effect that we would oppose this bill at first
reading, on the basis of the Official Languages Act, which was not true, of course, and that is why I take this opportunity today to set matters straight.
As I said before, the Bloc Quebecois already has a position on self-government. We support self-government. To define the concept of self-government, we have the choice of several dictionaries. For my part, I referred to the Petit Larousse .
Self-government is defined as "government of a group by the action of its own members, independently from a central power". As for government, is it defined as "the right, function or power of governing, of running a country".
An agreement on self-government means that the central power, the Crown in this case, agrees to relinquish a certain number of areas of responsibility to this group, to effectively enable it to assume responsibility for itself and decide its own future. That is no different by the way, from the traditional claims of Quebec which in fact wants a little more than self-government, namely complete sovereignty.
I have to mention in passing the similarity between the two situations. As I said earlier, the Bloc Quebecois has always been in favour of self-government for native peoples and it demonstrates its support today by supporting Bill C-34.
The agreement was negotiated under the existing policy concerning self-government. This means that government commitments with respect to self-government for the nations concerned are not governed by the provisions of clause 35. They are not considered as part of a modern treaty. There is no protection under the Constitution, contrary to what we will see later in the case of Bill C-33. This must be made very clear from the start. Protection under the Constitution cannot be guaranteed today by tabling these agreements.
About self-government, it should be pointed out that more than one definition must be examined more closely. Finally, self-government is exercised to some extent at the discretion of both sides. Advocating self-government is one thing, but this does not mean that there is a standard pattern that fits any situation for all bands and all first nations.
Based on certain claims, depending upon the willingness of the various nations, some areas of responsibility can be transferred quickly and others not so quickly, while others yet would not be transferred not at all. It is rather difficult, when discussing self-government for first nations, to say: "Here is a complete, comprehensive and definitive profile of self-government". It will take shape as these kinds of agreements develop and it can vary from band to another.
So far, four first nations in the Yukon Territory have entered into agreements on both lands claims-these are covered by Bill C-33-and self-government.
These are the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations, the First Nation of Nacho Nyak Dun, the Teslin Tlingit Council and the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation.
That still leaves about 10 nations. The minister said that, during the year, we may indeed conclude and ratify agreements with five other nations. I think the fact that we may complete these negotiations within five years is a good sign and that it is the first step these nations must take to get rid of the Indian Act trusteeship although in fact-as I will explain later-they can opt for continued coverage under this act. I will explain some of its provisions a little later.
However, a number of preconditions are attached to self-government. As I pointed out a few minutes ago, the First Nations increasingly want to face themselves from the Indian Act trusteeship but they are a little afraid of what will replace it. I think a bill such as the one before us today shows that the Indian Act could be replaced with agreements enabling members of the First Nations to take control of their own destiny.
As a precondition, the First Nations must be willing to get rid of this trusteeship and to take control of their own future. The House of Commons, which has jurisdiction over this, must also recognize that this trusteeship must end and gradually give the First Nations the opportunity to take control of their own destiny. The will must also come from the House of Commons.
Last but not least among the preconditions-also the most important in my opinion-is mutual respect. This mutual respect is sometimes difficult to achieve. The agreements may not have been as difficult to negotiate, but this respect must still be maintained and cultivated on a day-to-day basis. We must mention it whenever such bills are tabled because the public often feels uncomfortable toward Natives and vice versa. I think that if we want to spread the beneficial effects of these agreements, we must achieve mutual respect. That is not always easy.
As we know, our vision of democracy as we experience it here today is not necessarily that favoured by the First Nations. They are not too familiar with the concept of delegated voting. Does that mean that their vision of democracy is not as valid as ours? I do not think so. It is just a little different and we must respect it.
We have a common law system and a civil law system based on property rights to land among other things. We are not used to letting our neighbours move their trees 15 or 20 feet onto our lands without saying anything.
We must understand that, from the natives' point of view, the land does not belong to them; they belong to the land. So the way they see things is somewhat different and often very different
from our view. I think that for future agreements like those before us today, this respect will have to be cultivated, and I assure you that I will be there to try to instill this respect.
Turning now to the presentation and the bill, if I look at what is in the agreements, the ability of these nations to make laws in the Yukon is being recognized. The things I noted which are major for me are that once they have to administer their affairs and pay for them-we realize in the bill and we agree-these people should run their own affairs more and more. If money is granted to them in the form of transfers or new royalties, we must also accept that they can enact legislation saying how they want to administer their affairs. That is how it is in the bills, and it is important that this be pointed out.
Also, still in a spirit of respect for native cultures, we realize that some programs will now allow a certain spiritual or religious influence in the way they run their affairs and the way they make their own future; for them, beliefs and cultural practices are extremely important and we will let their main programs be imbued with this culture.
There may also be legislation on native languages. From the representations made to my office this week, I gather that there are six or seven aboriginal languages in the Yukon and the common language in which they communicate most often is English, would you believe it. Later, my conclusion will emphasize the fact that the two cultures complement each other well, and I think that the opportunity now given to them to legislate in their own language in Yukon is a step in the right direction. Here, a parallel can be made with the Quebec government, which has some power to legislate on language issues to protect culture. Consequently, the Bloc Quebecois fully supports this approach.
Medical care, health care and social services. This is a very holistic approach, as well as a feature of native culture. They try to prevent disease instead of trying to cure it, and even the treatments they apply are different from ours. Thus, they will be able to follow their cultural and traditional ways as regards medical care, health care and social services.
Training programs and tools. Again, I want to establish a parallel with Quebec. They are lucky to be able to enact legislation on training. Giving that possibility to these people will enable them to train their manpower according to the needs of their economic development, both traditional and modern. Unfortunately, Quebec still does not have that opportunity and, frankly, I envy them in that respect.
Education programs and services are also a major component of what we are prepared to give back to these people. It would be important for them to put in place an education system which would really transcend their traditional values. In that respect, we are pleased with the part of the agreement which allows native peoples to take charge of their education programs and services.
There will also be the possibility of enacting legislation related to local or private interests. There are provisions in the agreement and in the bill which are somewhat similar to what was provided in Bill C-16, the Sahtu legislation. The object was to find a happy balance between modern and traditional values. I think that goal was reached with the conclusion of this agreement.
Among other things, these people are given back the responsibility for protecting natural resources. Traditional activities such as picking, trapping, hunting and fishing, which they have been doing for centuries, are recognized. We are telling them "go ahead, its yours, its your territory". Because of their closeness to nature and the Earth, these people have eloquently shown that they do not need complex legislation. Through their culture, they have learned to respect nature when they hunt and fish. They are not the type of people who would fish out lakes and then have nothing left. They do not need specific laws on this: it is part of their culture.
Again, I must make another parallel with Quebec. There are provisions regulating signage, including billboards. I envy them. This is somewhat like Quebec's law 101. I hope that the Supreme Court of Canada will not periodically challenge the fact that they can post notices in a language understood by their people, and that they will not be required to include some English on their signs. Once again, I envy their authority to enact laws of a local or private nature, laws concerning signage, for instance.
They will also be able to issue various permits, which will also be useful in the case of construction projects. I will not enumerate every single case, but it is clear they will have a great deal of latitude in many areas. This is very good for them, and I am delighted. Regarding construction regulations, they seem to have their own approach to labour relations. I repeat, I do not expect a lot of legislation on the subject. These people usually have a great appreciation for fairness, so I do not imagine there will be many labour problems in the construction industry in the Yukon.
They will have jurisdiction over transportation and vehicle use, which makes sense. Regulating and prohibiting alcohol consumption are a major problem, and I think this point was made before. It is a major problem that affects society, but especially societies with tremendous social problems, and one realizes these are often connected with the problems created by alcohol consumption. The fact that they intend to deal with this issue through their own social and health services may be a completely different approach. So there is a connection between health and social services and how they intend to use legislation
to regulate or prohibit alcohol consumption. This being a crucial problem, I agree they should be given the opportunity to deal with it themselves.
The same applies to public safety. As far as protecting the environment is concerned, I think I gave a good description of the situation. Because of their attachment to land and water, it is important for them to be able to deal with these issues. I think they can teach us a thing or two about protecting the environment and the great respect they have for their Mother the Earth, as they often say. I think it is entirely appropriate to give them back their jurisdiction over the environment.
There will also be legislation to regulate or prohibit firearms. We must realize that, because of modern hunting techniques, the number of firearms in circulation in Yukon, as in many parts of the north, is considerable. It makes perfect sense for them to be able to regulate possession of firearms.
Here again, I have every confidence that the possession of firearms will be regulated so that the focus is on possession for the purposes of daily survival, rather than for the purpose of committing crimes. I have no doubt whatsoever that this will be the intent of the regulations.
The bill also provides for laws of general application. I noted in the agreement that a separate agreement could be negotiated to resolve the problem of inconsistencies arising between catch all laws. If I understand the terms of the agreement correctly, further negotiations will take place in the near future once this legislation has been in effect to determine if indeed there are some inconsistencies between these legislative texts. There will have to be some discussion on points of agreement and the necessary changes will have to be made. I felt it was important to take note of this provision in the bill and in the agreement.
In other words, we are not making any final decisions here today. There is nothing to stop us from re-opening the debate at some later date. If we disagree on certain issues, we have to find a way to talk about it and if inconsistencies arise, then we will have a mechanism with which to try and smooth out any irritants.
Regarding the administration of justice, once again, we are prepared to allow them considerable latitude. In the agreement, this issue is even the focus of a separate sub-chapter. We realize that there are many problems involving the justice system and here again, the problem is one of culture. We realize that it is difficult to get the First Nations to understand our notion of justice.
I think that even more respect will have to be shown for First Nations to ensure they have their own justice system, with all this can entail. Again, if problems do arise, I think we will just have to get together and see how we can work things out.
But I think it is becoming increasingly difficult to apply the White justice system in its entirety in the Yukon Territory or in the northern territories. It is inappropriate. I think that more respect must be shown for the value systems of these nations, and their justice system. And this agreement will give them an opportunity to implement them.
Concerning taxation, there are also very interesting provisions in this agreement, from what I have seen. I was pleasantly surprised for the First Nations to notice, for example, the possibility of taxation for localities, as well as the possibility to collect property taxes and to operate a taxation system with legislative powers in taxation matters.
I would say that for once, we are allowing them to free themselves from this guardianship, the dependence created by the Indians Act. And if we can manage to make our transfers match their capacity to break away and develop their economy, I think that will be great. The possibility also exists for transfers to continue, since nothing in here says that these have to stop because we give them taxation powers.
I think that a transition period is necessary and the bill leaves an opening so that transfers will continue, and if these people succeed in developing their economy, of course, then I think that transfers from the crown should be reduced accordingly.
In conclusion, from having looked at the agreement, although I was up until three or four o'clock in the morning-I did not really keep track of the time-I realize that it is a step in the right direction for the people in the Far North and the Yukon. I even ask the ten other First Nations to speed up the discussion. I think that it is really a step in the direction of getting rid of this trusteeship. We are telling them: "The white man's law that applied to you need no longer apply now. You are being given jurisdiction and being allowed to develop your economy. Go ahead. We will even help you to do it. We will respect your traditional values, we accept that you are still a little reluctant to take the route of modern economic development. We will give you a hand with it".
All this to say that I am happy for the four Yukon nations which have signed these agreements. I hope to see, in the near future, all 14 Yukon nations reach such agreements.
These people must be congratulated for their tenacity. They must be congratulated for their democratic consultation process. As you know, when negotiations last for 20 years, those who were involved in the process two decades ago have now become what they call elders. These elders use their wisdom to help those who now sit at the negotiating table.
Another feature of the native culture is the fact that those who negotiated are happy for themselves of course, but their main source of contentment is to enable their children and grandchil-
dren to take charge of their own destiny. This must be pointed out and emphasized.
These people have worked very hard and the elders of the time, as well as today's negotiators, can now see the results of their efforts. I think this may be an example to follow for all First Nations in Canada. As I said, these people negotiated with determination, but they also did it in a peaceful way and this is important.
At times, negotiations broke down. As well, there are issues on which no agreement was reached. Negotiating is not a perfect solution. The two sides are never completely satisfied. However, this exercise was conducted peacefully. It led to an agreement on self-government and a bill to confirm it. As well, the elders are happy for future generations. This is typical of the native culture and it is an example which we should follow.
For all these reasons, the Bloc Quebecois will certainly support Bill C-34.