Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join with my colleagues in voicing my concerns about Bill C-49.
After listening to the debate all afternoon, certainly I do not think there is a great deal of difference in what we all want to achieve for aboriginal people. The great differences are probably in ideology and how we might achieve those things. We, myself and my party, do not think that this particular bill is the way to achieve what we all hope to achieve for aboriginal people.
The aboriginal people in my riding, who are many, often come into my office expressing concerns with the direction that this government seems to be taking Indian affairs.
For example, I can remember back in 1993, after I was first elected to the House of Commons, meeting with an aboriginal woman, a lawyer, who represented a band that had expressed great concerns about this bill. As a matter of fact, she expressed the idea then that this bill was nothing new, that in fact it was a leftover from the Mulroney government. She had huge concerns about the amount of money the government was pouring into the process and what this bill was going to achieve.
The impression that the government has been trying to leave all day, that this is part of the process of creating some kind of a new partnership with Indian people, is quite fraudulent and shameful.
This bill is well intended to bring into force a framework agreement on first nations land management to give first nations control over their land and the resources upon and under their land. That goal is long overdue.
The idea that any income from aboriginal lands has to flow to Ottawa and then Indian people have to come to Ottawa begging for their money should be corrected. Sometimes they find out many years later that their money has not in fact been held in trust, but has been squandered, spent and misused.
If we can correct that it will be an achievement. However, I do not think this particular bill is the way to do it for several reasons.
With respect to the issues of land management, this bill calls for the creation of what would essentially be a third level of government. In order to create a third level of government, most Canadians would agree that it would require a Constitutional amendment and all that goes with that. We cannot create another level of government and change the structure of government in Canada simply by bypassing the required process, as the government is trying to do here as well as in the Nisga'a land claim process.
This partial and yet substantial form of self-government would apply to all first nations that have signed on to the framework agreement. The framework agreement gives first nations the power to pass laws for the development, conservation, protection, management, use and possession of first nations land. The agreement also gives first nations control over licenses, leases, property and other interests. These self-governing powers are properly placed with aboriginal people, but the powers have been dangerously placed in the hands of a select few first nations leaders with no provision for accountability to the people they represent.
I am particularly concerned with clause 37. I have heard a lot of others say they are concerned with the same clause. This clause states that the framework agreement act will prevail in the event of any conflict between this act and any other federal law. There is no constitutional basis for the creation of this third level of government, nor is there a basis for granting even partial powers such as these.
In fact, Bill C-49 undermines the Constitution by giving first nations the power to create laws that would supersede federal laws.
I would point out that I am not opposed to native self-government. I am simply opposed to giving sovereign jurisdiction over certain issues to such a level of government.
My colleagues and I recognize the need for effective self-government. However, we believe that aboriginal self-government should be a delegated level of government, not one in which one segment of the Canadian population is given special rights or privileges. When we say that certain laws apply to all non-aboriginal Canadians but no longer apply to aboriginal Canadians we are creating two classes of citizens. This division is unacceptable.
It is over two weeks since Nelson Mandela visited and spoke in the House. Already some members of the House are forgetting the important struggle which this remarkable man represents. President Mandela dedicated his life to breaking down barriers between different cultural groups in South Africa. He pursued equality for all South Africans regardless of race or colour.
Creating these first nations reserves, nations within the nations of Canada, is no different in my mind than the creation of the homelands of South Africa. The same kind of squalor, poverty, disease and abuse is taking place on the reserves in Canada that the black people of South Africa suffered for so many years until Nelson Mandela was able to break that system.
Does this government not realize that by affording special privileges to one cultural group it is creating rather than eliminating such divisions? Not only is it creating divisions, it is promoting an “us against them” mentality. For years this mentality existed on the part of aboriginal people, and rightly so. Poor treatment by our ancestors gave rise to animosity between aboriginal Canadians and non-aboriginal Canadians.
For 131 years successive Liberal and Conservative governments instituted well-meaning programs, but programs that were disastrous for aboriginal people. They have not given aboriginal people the same rights as the rest of Canadians enjoy, such as the right to own a home, to raise a family in reasonable conditions, to travel the country and to have a reasonable income.
Those things are denied. As my colleague from the NDP said, aboriginal people are being corralled in reserves where conditions are making it very difficult for them to leave and participate in mainstream society.
We are now at a point in history where we have the opportunity to promote and ensure equality among all Canadians. Instead, this government would rather perpetuate the animosity by affording special privileges to those first nations which are signatories to the framework agreement.
This legislation is frustrating to non-aboriginal Canadians and also to most grassroots aboriginal Canadians who see a particular segment of Canadian society getting special privileges and constitutional rights beyond those afforded to the average citizen.
The creation of such an unconstitutional inequity is only one of my concerns. I am also troubled by the fact that through this legislation major sections of the Indian Act will no longer apply. My colleagues and I certainly support repealing the Indian Act, but not by this cherry picking method of taking the good and leaving the rest.
Stanley Cuthland, an elder at the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College, says that the traditional customs regarding divorce laws are vague. Therefore, by giving first nations' leaders control over property division and possession in the case of marriage breakdown, we are putting the well-being of native women and children in jeopardy. That is certainly an issue that I heard raised by almost every member who spoke on this side of the House. I also heard some feeble justification for it from the other side of the House that really would not provide much comfort to any Indian woman looking at this bill.
There is no guarantee that the divorce laws, which the member opposite talked about the first nations creating, would respect the individual rights of the individuals they affect. That is only one example of the problem that may arise from enacting this legislation. There are all kinds of problems. I guess the devil is in the detail and the development of the regulations that will be enacted on the reserves.
I would also like to point out that one of the biggest factors contributing to the cycles of dependency on reserves is the fact that reserve land and property is held in common.
We heard a lot of discussion about the traditional Indian way of holding property in common, but the Indian people who come into my office to talk to me about problems on the reserves do not see their aspirations any differently than I do. They have a great desire to own their own home, or their own piece of property, or to make improvements to their home, when they can afford to, because it is theirs and they can pass it on to their children. They want exactly the same things the rest of us want.
This idea that all Indian people still want to have this tribal custom of holding everything in common for the tribe is, in my opinion, an excuse for the aboriginal leadership to maintain control and the wealth of the reserve.
Giving a select few native leaders control over those common properties provides an opportunity for those in power to take advantage of the others in the community. I see it all the time. I cannot understand how members on the opposite side of the House can continue to turn a blind eye to the poverty and despair on so many reserves.
The member opposite even spoke about how we should not be so critical of these incidents that we continue to bring up of abuse of power and mismanagement of money because these people somehow have to learn to manage their own affairs and they will be better for it. That is idiocy. As long as we allow a system of tyranny to continue on the reserves, with the grassroots people having no tools at their disposal to correct those things and make their leadership more democratic, more responsive and more transparent, that system will be perpetuated forever. It will never change. The reserve natives will continue to live in substandard conditions while many of their chiefs and councils live in big houses and drive new cars and trucks.
Anyone who has been on a reserve knows about these things and what takes place on the reserve after a band election when the chief and the entire administrative structure of the band change. People are evicted from their houses. Relatives of the new chief move into the houses. These things happen every day. People talk to me about it.
I had a lady visit my office who had a wonderful well paying job in social welfare on the reserve. She enjoyed her job. She was well educated and she was good at her job. She witnessed the abuse and corruption on her own reserve. Money was being taken out of services for children and people on the reserve and being put into places where it should not have been. When she complained her life was threatened. She was evicted from her house on the reserve and had to move off the reserve into town to preserve her life.
The stories go on. I had a young man come into my office with a lot of documentation regarding mismanagement and corruption on his reserve. I looked at the papers and realized he had a solid case. I went with him to the RCMP and had it look at the evidence. The RCMP said there was solid evidence that something was wrong. The RCMP said it would begin a criminal investigation. The investigation went on for months until the RCMP phoned me and told me this young man turned up dead on the reserve and there was no sense in continuing any further with the investigation. I can go on and on. There are endless stories such as these.
The leadership on these reserves seemingly enjoys the funds originating from the federal government but they are unevenly distributed among other people. Indian people refer to this system as the Indian industry and how hideous it is.
It is an outrage to think this legislation would benefit most native people when it is only a select few native leaders controlling the show.
The problem on reserves needs to be fixed before native leaders are afforded any more power. That is the message being sent to me all the time. Otherwise we are only contributing to an already enormous economic and social problem.
It is time this government asked the grassroots natives, not just native leadership, what they want rather than giving full authority to the aboriginal leadership to impose whatever system it likes.
Many native constituents have walked through my office door to express their concerns over the secrecy and corruption on reserve. I can assure members that not one of them has ever suggested affording their native leaders greater control over their lives. Most natives feel the leaders already have too much power and the basic rights of the individual are being trampled.
I am frustrated by the government's automatic dismissal of anything offered by Reform members with regard to aboriginal issues. While I recognize that our philosophies may not always agree with the government's, I am here to represent my constituents. That is what I am attempting to do.
When I say a constituent has approached me with a concern, the frequent response from the members opposite is that was just one person, the majority support them. Under most conditions they would quote one poll or another to support their position.
The truth is there are no polls reflecting the views of grassroots aboriginal people. When it comes to native issues there is a secrecy and sensitivity that makes it difficult for grassroots natives to speak out about what they want or need. They feel threatened by the chief and councillors who already wield much control over their lives. If that control is increased, as it will be by this legislation, it will be even more difficult for those natives to speak out.
I cannot accept any legislation that supersedes federal laws of general application. Amendments must be made to ensure that in the event of a conflict with constitutional and federal laws, constitutional and federal laws will reign supreme.
In the event of a conflict, individual rights and freedoms must be protected under the charter which, I might add, is a cornerstone of liberal society. This is an absolute necessity, a necessity that was at one time acknowledged and expounded by the Liberal government.