Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on Bill C-79, the bill that makes what they call optional modifications to the Indian Act. I was very pleased to hear the words of the minister in introducing the bill to Parliament and as well to hear a number of the Liberal members commenting on why they think the act needs to be changed and eventually eliminated.
I applaud the minister of Indian affairs for his work over the past three years in visiting with aboriginal people from coast to coast to coast. He has travelled more extensively than probably any other minister of Indian affairs that I am aware of.
It seems that while he was travelling he learned some of the language Indian people want to hear, but the actions he has taken are not the ones the majority of Indian people would like him to take. The Indian people in Canada would like the language being used by the minister and by government members to be more adequately reflected in the legislation proposed and in the actions the government takes in terms of removing some obstacles that are in their way, along with providing them with the resources necessary to assist them in getting themselves out of the difficulties past legislation and government practices have put them in.
In looking at Bill C-79 I recognize there are a number of positive aspects to it. However, they are almost insignificant in terms of what it is that needs to be done for aboriginal people in Canada today. The legislation allows the government to remove itself from certain aspects of Indian community life. It allows different First Nations to buy into the proposal or to leave things as they are. Let us look at some of the specifics.
For example, departmental officials will no longer have to approve the sale of farm produce. This is admirable but that has not been going on for years. This part of the Indian Act has basically been ignored by all the officials, the department and the minister for years.
The act allows for a First Nation not to require the instruction from the minister on road repair. I am sure most First Nations are glad they no longer have to ask the minister for permission to fix their roads, but they have no money to fix their roads. Their roads are in horrible disrepair and it is because the resources are not available to fix them. They do not have to ask the minister because they cannot fix them in any case. If the government were truly interested in assisting in this regard, it would ensure that the necessary moneys were there, not just for road repairs, but for the
establishment of new roads to connect with provincial highway systems which ignore a lot of the First Nations communities.
The bill also states that the terms of office for chief and council could be extended from two to three years. Obviously many of the Indian governments would applaud the move from two to three years, but most of them have been asking for an extension to four years. Because other governments around them have terms of office of four years, many of them see that the work they start is interrupted at the end of the second or the third year. Most of them have been thinking that four-year terms would be appropriate. Having the opportunity to set their own terms of office in conjunction with people in their own communities is very important.
I notice in the briefing papers that the government indicates it would "not fundamentally affect the crown's fiduciary relationship and treaty obligations". The word fundamentally is very important to aboriginal people in Canada. Fiduciary responsibility of the federal government is paramount. The fiduciary responsibility exists and cannot be changed, yet the government acknowledges that it will not be fundamentally affected. That means there may be an effect on the fiduciary responsibility. We must ensure that does not happen at all.
All of this follows the release of the report by the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. There has been a great deal of comment around the country about the expense and the expanse of the royal commission. Fifty-eight million dollars was spent on the royal commission, money that the minister even said he would rather have spent on housing than on the royal commission.
Regardless of what we think about the process and the financing of the royal commission, the fact is the documents released by the royal commission exist. This is the most extensive study of the relationship between aboriginal people and the rest of us that has ever taken place in this country.
I do not claim to have read the entire royal commission report. I am only almost finished the first volume of the several volumes of the report, but I am overwhelmed at the value of the information contained in the document. In skimming the other documents that I intend to read over the next few months, I can tell that the royal commission has done a tremendous job of identifying the problems that aboriginal people have faced and suggesting some solutions as to how to overcome those problems.
Certainly getting rid of the Indian Act is a part of that, but it is not negotiating the Indian Act away one Indian band at a time or one section of the act at a time. What this country needs is a thorough parliamentary First Nations provincial government review of the Indian Act and the overhaul of it in one fell swoop with the idea of ensuring that the resources are available to all levels of government to ensure that the replacement is a success.
It makes no sense to replace the Indian Act one nation at a time, one clause at a time. This does not seem to me to be the most efficient way of doing it. Certainly the words, the study, the thought, the work that has gone into the report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples make it very clear that substantial changes are necessary both in attitude and in programming in order to fix a number of the problems that exist. Some of them cannot be fixed by this type of negotiation; they will simply be fixed within the Indian communities on their own.
When we ask First Nations communities what is at the top of their list for correction, they are not saying they want to get the minister off their backs from selling farm products. They talk about the need for more housing. They talk about the need to improve their health and justice systems. They talk about the need to fix their education system to ensure that their young people are well educated and skilled both in traditional knowledge and in the ways of the neighbouring communities, to ensure that their young people will be successful as they get older. They also talk about culture and language, economic development and self-government, land and resources which ensure their economic development packages are successful.
These are all matters which require a great deal of attention from all members of this House, from all members of provincial legislatures and from all municipal governments across this country. We as communities, as people living together, must understand the history of this country, how all of our people have worked together to get us in the position we are in today. Tinkering with the Indian Act, one clause at a time, one band at a time, certainly will not achieve the goals which we wish to achieve.
I wish the minister well as we go into the election period. I know there are major challenges in front of us. I challenge the minister to address those serious, important issues before we face the people.