That the House urge the government to not enter into any binding trilateral aboriginal treaty or land claim agreements in B.C. in the last year of the current provincial government mandate in order to respect the views of British Columbians on this issue as expressed by both major provincial opposition parties.
Madam Speaker, the Reform Party had concerns about this matter before today. For example, on October 30 I asked the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development a question. On November 27 I asked a similar question of the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans. I have also pursued this same subject in committee.
The question I put to the minister on October 30 concerned the polls in British Columbia which now rate aboriginal issues as the number one issue. Among the provincial political parties, there certainly is a growing divergence of views on aboriginal issues. We now have an NDP administration which is in the waning days of its mandate.
The question I put to the minister was whether he would assure the House that he will not entertain completion of any comprehensive agreement, such as the Nisga'a claim, until there is a new provincial administration with a fresh mandate. The response from the minister included the fact that the Reform member was asking not to do anything until the non-Nisga'a government changed in British Columbia and he certainly was not prepared to do that.
In addition, there is a major divergence of opinion on costs which was a supplementary to that question. The provincial government says that the cost of settling claims in British Columbia will be about $10 billion and the federal government says it will be about $5 billion. This divergence of views is something of which we should take note. We are talking billions not millions.
On November 27 my question for the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans dealt with the apparent intended agreement on the Nass. I say apparent intended because everything is based on leaks. We do not have open negotiations. We do not have transparency. The only things we know are based on leaks. However, there apparently is an agreement to include some of the Nass fishery in the Nisga'a agreement. I wanted the minister's assurance that the Nass River commercial fishery would not be entrenched in a treaty which would then get further entrenched constitutionally, and be unchangeable, socially divisive and the very opposite of free enterprise. Once again, I received no substantive response from the minister.
This is no longer an emerging issue in British Columbia. This is an established issue. The transformation happened over the last three years. It is considered to be an issue which has gone off the track. Public concerns are driving a re-examination of all of the basic assumptions underlying the treaty or land claims process in British Columbia.
I can give a thumbnail summary of some of these concerns. This issue has tremendous long term implications and ramifications; socially, financially and in other ways. The issue has parallels with B.C. concerns about what many call the disunity bill that the House has been debating very recently and where we have seen closure adopted. There are many parallels here. It invokes, for example, special status, whereas the public is demanding the principle of equality.
The whole question of public ratification of the government's aboriginal initiative has not been sought. This has all been done within a cloistered environment. Neither the provincial nor federal governments has involved the public in establishing the goals and objectives of the treaty process in British Columbia.
At this time I should give a background to the negotiations going on in B.C. We have the Nisga'a negotiations which have been going on for many years. There is a framework agreement which was signed in March 1991. There are many who say that the openness associated with this agreement was really closed off in 1991. That is a very self-serving analysis of the agreement by some of the bureaucracy and by some government parties.
Clause 7.1.1 of the agreement states:
The parties will, together, develop and implement a process of public information and consultation and will attend meetings with such selected individuals, organizations or groups as they may agree will assist in the process of public consensus building.
It is a real stretch to suggest that any of that in terms of the Nisga'a negotiations has occurred. The Nisga'a agreement is the closest to completion in the province and is a major focus of today's opposition motion.
There are some major concerns which are front and centre with the Nisga'a negotiations. One is the Nass River fishery which I have already mentioned. This is a public resource. Last week there were five British Columbia aboriginal fishery test cases argued in the Supreme Court.
There is an outstanding class action suit from commercial fishermen involving the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans. The outcome, if anything, would appear to rule against an aboriginal right to a commercial fishery.
This is not so much an issue of allocation of commercial licences. It is an issue of treaty entrenchment leading to constitutional entrenchment and protection of a commercial aboriginal fishery which would be in many people's minds and in my mind socially divisive and the antithesis of free enterprise.
Another major concern deals with costs. If we look at the costs involved in the Nisga'a agreement, once again we are dealing only with leaks. We never know where these leaks originate. They may be self-serving leaks, they may not be. This is one of the problems with the lack of transparency.
I put out a press release in November. I talked about some of the statements which have been made very recently on the Nisga'a offer and which were reported in the popular press. Back in March when I was doing a series of town hall meetings in British Columbia, I had taken the known offer of the day and extrapolated it to British Columbia using the Nisga'a example as a precedent. I said that the total compensation package would work out to $8.5 billion. At that time the Reform Party was accused of extrapolating figures from various sources in order to scare the British Columbia public.
In October the minister of aboriginal affairs within the province of B.C. said publicly that the cost of land claim settlements in British Columbia would be $10 billion. According to the leaks, the Nisga'a offer had grown between March and October. This is consistent with what I was saying back in March.
According to the latest leaks in the Nisga'a offer we are talking about a turnover of 2,200 square kilometres of land, a significant forest resource, $175 million cash and 30 per cent of the Nass River fishery. I might point out that other bands also have claims on part of the Nass River fishery.
When we talk about this total cost package of $10 billion as stated by the provincial minister, at the same time the director general from the federal ministry said that he was baffled by the number and said that the cost of the settlement was closer to $5 billion. Either he knows something we do not know or I know not what. Maybe he is only talking about the federal component. According to the way I calculate it, it is about a 50:50 split provincially and federally. That is a very significant difference and one that should concern the public and the government.
Against the backdrop of these Nisga'a precedent setting background negotiations, we also have the B.C. treaty process. We talked about that in the House not too long ago with Bill C-107 the enabling legislation from the federal end to set up the B.C. Treaty Commission.
The Nisga'a negotiations are not part of the B.C. treaty process in terms of the treaty commission. They predate it and are not subject to the same terms of reference. The B.C. Treaty Commission has only been in place since 1993.
An estimated 77 per cent of the British Columbia bands are currently involved in the process. There is a total of 196 bands in British Columbia. The other 23 per cent of British Columbia bands are not part of the B.C. treaty process and they have no other option. They either go with this process or they are left out. This is problematic for that other 23 per cent.
In July 1993 the federal and provincial governments announced the establishment of a treaty negotiation advisory committee. They have also set up regional advisory committees in each treaty negotiation area to represent public and local interests. There is much public and participant unhappiness about the consultation process and about the ratification process at this time.
If a band enters into the B.C. treaty process it receives 80 per cent funding repayable upon completion of negotiations. In effect this is a loan. The Nisga'a negotiations on the other hand are 100 per cent paid for by the federal government.
I have other concerns. The municipal level of government is not recognized in any of this. There is simply a sidebar arrangement through the provincial negotiators. Right now their intervenor funding or advisory funding or whatever we want to call it is capped at $250,000 a year. It comes from the province.
The municipalities have many concerns about this. Some of the municipalities are dealing with multiple claims. Their costs are far and away exceeding the compensation they are receiving. They are
caught up in this process, not through their own doing but they cannot afford not to be there. Their interests are certainly affected.
There are no readiness guidelines to the regional advisory committee boards. They are not in the terms of reference of the treaty commission. This has also proved to be very problematical.
Interim agreements have been negotiated at the provincial level. This has also compromised the B.C. Treaty Commission process. This was identified by the B.C. Treaty Commission in its 1993 annual report. That is as far as it can go. The commission can identify it but it cannot deal with it unless one or the other or both levels of government agree to do something about it.
Governments have lost their mandate in those parts of the province most familiar with and closest to the settlement process. There has been some movement toward openness and other things to which the federal Reform has contributed. We have done some things to open up the public process. In March we had an aboriginal town hall series in the province. We covered eight communities in 11 nights province wide. In a separate exercise we set out through a 10-month process new aboriginal policy initiatives. They were very well received in British Columbia and were considered to be very refreshing.
Much of what we were saying in March was common sense, bottom up thinking which had not been reflected before in B.C. political circles. Now much of what we have said is mainstream political dialogue in British Columbia. Issues being talked about are an end to the Indian taxation exemption and certainly a focus on not entrenching commercial activities in B.C. treaties.
We have done more as a federal opposition party to open up this process than the B.C. Treaty Commission and both levels of government combined. The treaty commission is hampered by its mandate and the governments are still locked into an agenda they foresaw three years ago.
The layers of bureaucracy surrounding this process are leading to inevitable massive gridlock. Unless the governments obtain a publicly ratified negotiating mandate, the public will never accept the terms and conditions which are being negotiated. This will foster further disharmony and misgivings.
We are not objecting to a fair, open and complete conclusion to the process, but we do have a problem with the status quo arrangement. People are begging for leadership to break the binds of the status quo and they are not seeing it forthcoming. We are trying to fill that void. The manner and the approach currently being pursued is intrinsically wrong. It is neither enlightened nor receptive. Therefore, people conclude they are being manipulated and that the process is entrenched and resistant to change, despite mounting opposition.
One might ask what the provincial opposition parties are saying. I can talk a little bit about a B.C. Liberal government. It is talking about instituting a series of public hearings and free votes in the legislature; initiating public consultation on a principal framework for treaty negotiations; and developing a set of guidelines that would have to be approved by the legislature with the approval of MLAs who would be free to vote without following party lines.
A second step would be to set up new negotiating teams that would include local non-Indian representation. The next stage would be to send any agreements to public hearings. The final stage would be to take this back to the legislature through another free vote of MLAs.
The B.C. Reform Party is saying many things about this whole process. It does say we must offer to negotiate treaties because it is the right thing to do. The goal of treaties should be to lift the yoke of the Indian Act off the backs of native people. Further, they must own their own reserve lands and govern their own affairs within the context of the Constitution and B.C. laws. Treaties negotiated should not aspire to the false promise of native sovereignty. The principle of equality is central to our support for treaty talks.
A Reform government would insist upon renegotiating the cost sharing agreement as a precondition for B.C.'s ongoing participation in land claims negotiations. It would reject constitutional entrenchment of the inherent right of self-government, would reject a third order of government enshrined under the Constitution, would reject formal recognition of aboriginal title, and would define the meaning and scope of aboriginal rights, title and self-government. That is what treaty negotiations are all about. It would seek a clear negotiating mandate from the people, not the politicians.
If treaties confer special rights, they must first pass muster with the majority. Any deal that purports to accord special status will not pass public scrutiny in their opinion. Treaties should be aimed at removing barriers based on race, not at entrenching new inequalities.
In conclusion, given the importance of the issue, the costs of the issue, the social implications and the permanence of this, there is absolutely no way an outgoing government should be binding the public. I urge in the strongest possible terms for government to respect this position.