Mr. Speaker, I rise today to discuss Bill C-49, an act to bring into effect a framework agreement on first nations land management. This is a significant piece of legislation because, as its title suggests, it has the laudable goal of giving certain Indian bands across the country the right to manage their own reserve lands.
It has been a long term goal of the Reform Party to ensure that Indians obtain authority to manage their own affairs. However, the bill carries within it many profound implications for both aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians and is a Trojan horse.
As the debate progresses it will be seen that Bill C-49 in its present form will only serve to further widen the gap between aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians by extending special rights to a specific segment of Canada's population, solely on the basis of race. It will also serve to continue the marginalization of Canadian women of aboriginal descent who live on reserves.
It is my intention to focus on many of the details within Bill C-49. However I feel compelled to address first some broader issues and questions which the legislation raises. Many of them may explain the perceived necessity of the bill and some of its shortcomings.
My remarks are in the context of one Canada, equality for and among all persons, a phrase taken from the blue book outlining the principles and policies of the Reform Party of Canada. I am proud to represent a party which holds the view that no one should be discriminated against on the basis of race as Canada's aboriginals have been for far too long.
We were recently honoured to have in our midst a great modern day hero, Mr. Nelson Mandela, President of the Republic South Africa. What a tremendous privilege it was to hear him speak of his struggle toward freedom and equality for everyone in his country. It strengthened my belief in the power of hope, truth and grace for our country at this time in its history.
To be in the presence of a man who has endured so much hardship and suffered such loss, to know that he remained triumphant and resolute against the desire to give in to hate, anger, fear and bitterness throughout his struggle, has become for me an indelible memory. I am sure I speak for all of us here today when I say this.
At the same time I was struck by the apparent contradictions in the Prime Minister's introduction of President Mandela and his own sorry record in the matter of Canada's native population. I can only regard them as either blind ignorance or outright hypocrisy.
The Prime Minister lauded President Mandela's fight against apartheid and Canada's efforts in joining this fight. He praised the ideals of a constitution which recognizes no race and grants rights and freedoms to all citizens regardless of race, religion or language. These comments were made against the backdrop of a government whose current and past policies in respect to aboriginal Canadians betray such words.
The government's policy with respect to aboriginal Canadians has actually reinforced a system within the country which has contributed to inequity of opportunity and unequal protection under the law. The practice of treating Indians unequally and apart from the mainstream of Canadian society has created the worst imaginable social and economic conditions for those who live on Canada's reserves. This separation has been just as real and just as injurious to aboriginal Canadians as it was to South African blacks.
I call upon the government today to reconsider seriously its course of policy with respect to aboriginal Canadians and the implications it has for all Canadians. As I will show, legislation such as that which we see in Bill C-49, as well as the current convoluted environment in which land claim and treaty making processes are taking place, is misguided and is contributing to inequality and segregation on the basis of race.
The past band-aid approaches of the government and those before it have failed to establish a legislative fiduciary responsibility by any level of government to aboriginal Canadians. Instead, what we have seen in recent decades are governments attempting to make amends for the wrongs of past actions by creating legislation which changes the outward appearance of things but does not address the fundamental issues.
Our country desperately needs today a brand new relationship between aboriginal Canadians and the Government of Canada which recognizes treaty rights but stresses a commitment to equality, not inequality.
As I turn now to address the details of Bill C-49 I want to point out some of the weaknesses of the bill and what needs to change. One of the primary assertions made by Canadian aboriginal peoples today concerns what they say is a special relationship to the land. Given this claim, it follows that land management could be considered a critical first step toward achieving self-government and economic security. This is a fundamental connection to bear in mind when considering the merits and weaknesses of the bill.
This much granted, while Bill C-49 in title sets out to give certain bands the right to manage their reserve lands, in function it amounts to a substantial power of self-government for each of the individual bands that have signed the framework agreement on land management.
I am sure the government envisions this being accomplished in two primary ways: first, by making those sections of the Indian Act which relate to land management of no effect for those bands that are signatories to the agreement. Of course this would end the delegated authority of the minister of Indian affairs over those sections of the Indian Act. Second, in the vacuum created by making those sections of the Indian Act of no effect, the framework agreement would allow the band councils to create and enforce their own laws with respect to their lands.
I want to state clearly that the Reform Party fully supports expressions of aboriginal self-government which ensure that all members of their communities remain full and equal participants in Canadian society and which uphold the rule of Canadian law and the supremacy of the Constitution of Canada.
However, Reform is opposed to the creation of any act or first nations laws that create a level of governance not envisioned within the Constitution. Yet this is precisely what Bill C-49 does and is the Trojan horse I mentioned earlier. It will extend powers of governance to the bands which are signatory to the framework agreement without any constitutional provisions for such powers having been put in place. We all know that changing the Constitution is a process far more complex and time consuming than simply passing legislation because its effects are so wide ranging.
The legislation in its present form clearly states that in the event of a conflict between band laws and federal or provincial laws band law would prevail. In this sense the rule of Canadian law will not be upheld, which leads to special sovereign rights being granted to certain Indian bands. There is no constitutional basis for this at this time.
There is a process for dealing with this problem. Amend the Constitution. This is difficult to do, and rightly so. The entire purpose of the Constitution is to limit the arbitrary use and abuse of power by governments. That this proposed legislation could lead to abuses of power is the subject of the next part of my speech and a major concern of the British Columbia Native Women's Society.
The British Columbia Native Women's Society has been raging a protracted battle with government to address inequalities and the break-up of families for the previous 15 years without success. Now the government wants to turn over land management to bands without first putting an end to the unequal status of reserve women. The problem will never end for these people. When bands can make laws governing themselves that do not recognize the rights of specific members of their bands which are accorded to them under the Constitution, government is abdicating its responsibilities. Shame on a government like that, shame on this government.
When we say that certain laws that apply to non-aboriginal Canadians no longer apply to aboriginal Canadians we are creating two classes of citizens, those who enjoy general rights together with special rights and privileges and those who enjoy only general rights with no special rights and privileges. This raises an important point about the concept of self-government.
A number of my colleagues have over the years lived in and worked closely with aboriginal communities. As members of this House, many have been meeting extensively with grassroots aboriginal Canadians to address their concerns about the deplorable state of many of Canada's reserves. It is tragic that many aboriginal Canadians, especially those on reserve, have been the victims of the current regime of inequality, prejudice and injustice that characterizes this government.
It is true this government is not overtly promoting inequality or injustice but it has never declared a policy to reinforce equality and justice. We only ever hear the exact opposite. We hear how the government is concerned about the well-being of aboriginal Canadians. It informs us that it has a wide range of effective programs and services in place, that it is increasing funding to ensure the long term economic development and equality of life for individuals and communities. But these are only superficial and empty words. Something is terribly wrong with he government's silence on the problems facing rank and file Indians, its refusal to act and its utter refusal to admit the facts.
The facts are that living conditions for the majority of aboriginals on reserves in Canada have for decades actually been at third world levels. While this government boasts about Canada's standing among the G-7 countries and about our consistent top quality of life ranking by the United Nations, it refuses to address the harsh realities of life on reserve. The reality is that by using the same criteria used to show Canada is number one in quality in life, Canada's Indian reserves would rank 63rd on the same UN list.
What is wrong with this government? Does it only see what it wants to see? Does it only hear what it wants to hear? Will this government stubbornly go on accepting a lie and refusing to admit these realities or will it move to change its present course of action?
Grassroots aboriginals are beginning to speak out strongly concerning the desperate need for change in the quality of life on reserves. Many aboriginals on reserve have no way of life that they are proud of or happy about. This should not be. These people have made it clear to us that on issues such as self-government they are simply not ready.
Listen to what some of them have said. “Most of us living on reserves today are living under dictatorships”, one middle aged woman said recently. A man from another reserve asked “What is the government trying to do with its agenda of self-government, wipe out the Indian people? In a different way it seems as though it is setting us up to wipe us out through self-government”.
Regarding the healing fund another aboriginal on reserve asked, “How can the minister of Indian affairs ever apologize for the abusers? What has happened to us has been passed down through the generations. Do you think money is going to heal us? No way. Only the Creator can do that. The government talks about healing yet not one of us will see a penny of the $350 million for the healing. It is going to go to drive the Indian industry. The chiefs, the government and their lawyers are the only ones who will benefit. We must make sure that our rights and freedoms are protected. I am determined to fight for the future of my children and my grandchildren. We must stop this cycle of desperation”.
There are legal concerns surrounding the elimination of major sections of the Indian Act. These concerns relate especially to the breakdown of marriage, the status of women and children and the potential for unfair treatment of certain groups of natives and non-natives with respect to the possession, occupation, ownership, enjoyment and use of land.
To be obvious, successful land management is perhaps the first most critical step toward self-determination and self-government. Reform supports this insofar as such movement creates a climate for first nations to achieve greater economic self-sufficiency and ultimately self-government as full and equal participants under Canadian law and the Constitution.
The supremacy of the Constitution and the rule of law are at issue here. The bill makes it very clear that in the event of a conflict between band laws and either federal or provincial laws, band law will prevail.
What safeguards this is legislation put in place to protect individuals' fundamental rights and freedoms and to ensure they are above encroachment by band laws. Essentially there are none and this is wrong. It is shameful.
The Liberals are washing their hands of responsibility to protect the weakest, most powerless members of the aboriginal communities by introducing this legislation.
It appears to be in direct conflict with section 15(1) of the charter of rights and freedoms:
Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.
Do members not find it incredible, as I do, that the government is proceeding with this legislation? The government's complete abdication of responsibility by failing to uphold this section and indeed to defend the entire Constitution is unconscionable.
Surely the primary role of government is to uphold the Constitution, but the legislation being contemplated here states in clause 37 the following:
In the event of any inconsistency or conflict between this Act and any other federal law, this Act prevails to the extent of the inconsistency or conflict.
What guarantee is there that individual rights or freedoms would be protected in Indian band laws? Surely this House must act to ensure the supremacy of the Constitution and rule of federal and provincial laws are strongly affirmed as sufficient. This legislation is found to be flawed on these grounds alone.
I want to briefly address the fact that this legislation will make certain sections of the Indian Act non-applicable. While this is not the first time the government has done this perhaps it is time for the government to undertake a serious review of the need for the Indian Act or at least as to whether comprehensive amendments to it should be introduced.
For many aboriginal Canadians the act has become an anachronistic burden and a vestige of colonial policies. Many sections of the act have directly prevented many on reserve aboriginals from attaining personal wealth, property and financial independence.
It is not insignificant that many of these sections are the same ones that would be made non-applicable by this legislation. It speaks to the many inadequacies of the Indian Act and the barriers which prevent individuals from attaining personal wealth.
This is a very important issue which is the subject of another full speech for another day. However, I wanted this issue to go on the record today.
What I have been attempting to emphasize here is that this government's piecemeal approach to the elimination of the Indian Act is misguided. If the government's intention is, and it appears as though it is, to remove the burden of the act in order to give all aboriginals the right to acquire personal wealth and property which all other Canadians enjoy, then why does it not declare its intentions and just do away with the Indian Act altogether? That would certainly be a positive first step toward true equality of opportunity.
However, if the government's agenda is to slowly erode the Indian Act in order to give the Indian leadership more power at the expense of the powerless, even the right to sovereign self-government but without accountability, then the government should declare those intentions.
The legislation before the House is nothing more than a thinly disguised agenda to bring about self-government. But again, self-government is not the real problem. The problem is what is not being addressed, the government's unwillingness to correct the core problems inherent in the system.
The balance of power must change to favour the majority of aboriginals on reserve, not just the privileged few at the top. The problem is that all we hear is the minister repeating the mantra of commitment to partnering with aboriginals to bring about change. It sounds good. But I wonder if the minister really knows what that means. Is she really confronted every day as she recently claimed with the problems that face the majority of aboriginals on most reserves? Does she experience every day the third world levels of health and housing or the fact that many reserves experience virtually total unemployment? Does she daily experience the effects of substance abuse and gambling addition? I doubt it.
Further I wonder if she is really aware of how all these things are linked to the tragically high rates of fetal alcohol syndrome and family breakdown on a daily basis. If the minister were aware of these things we would see a drastic change in her condescending attitude toward questions on these subjects. We would see a different kind of action and not just words. When will the partnerships that the minister is so fond of mentioning include all aboriginals and not just those fortunate enough to be in leadership? Is it not true that this partnership the minister talks about extends only to the privileged few? Clearly this is the way things appear to be.
This is what I would call extreme, extreme injustice. This is what I call extreme inequity. This is callous indifference to the needs and will of many grassroots aboriginals. Many see individual land codes as necessary given the regional differences and needs of each band. However, it should be noted that this fact actually strengthens the argument in favour upholding Canada's Constitution and law in the event of conflict between Indian band laws and federal and provincial laws which are designed to protect individual rights.
An additional complication is seen in the creation and enactment of a band land code. Since each of these will be individually created and entered into by the bands and since the rule of Canadian law would not always apply, there is no guarantee that a national standard of rights will be met. Furthermore, it will be difficult if not impossible to track cases of inequity and litigation across reserves since each reserve could have vastly different land codes and laws within those codes.
It would be instructive for the House and particularly for members of the government to revisit their recent past. I am referring to their 1969 white paper which was introduced by none other than the Right Hon. Prime Minister who was at that time minister of Indian affairs. Listen to some of the ideas and words uttered at that time by the Liberal government. As members listen I ask them to reflect on this government's near abandonment of those lofty ideals and also to where its departure from those ideals has led it in the last 30 years. I urge members to reflect on whether its policy path has really led to greater equality, a stronger identity and strengthened unity between aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians.
The white paper initiative was designed to “Lead to the full, free and non-discriminatory participation of Indian people in Canadian society”. The white paper outlined several policy initiatives which I summarize to achieve that goal.
First, the legislative and constitutional bases which set Indians apart from other Canadians must be removed. Second, all Canadians must recognize the unique contribution of Indian culture to Canadian life. On this point it is safe to say that the majority of Canadians would affirm this today.
Third, government services to aboriginals should come through the same channels and from the same government agencies for all Canadians. The white paper actually recommended dismantling the department of Indian affairs within five years. This was to have been a key factor in establishing equality for aboriginals among all Canadians.
Fourth, lawful obligations must be recognized. Fifth, those who are furthest behind must be helped the most.
The white paper went on to state:
The separate legal status of Indians—have kept the Indian people apart from and behind other Canadians. The Indian people have not been full citizens of the communities and provinces in which they live and have not enjoyed the equality and benefits that such participation offers. The treatment resulting from their different status has been often worse, sometimes equal and occasionally better than that accorded to their fellow citizens.
What has changed since then? I submit that very little has changed. I ask members to consider the input this government has given over the intervening years and what it has achieved in terms of equality of outcomes. There has not been equality of opportunity because much of the money spent has not reached the majority, and as a result there has not been equality of outcomes.
It is instructive and profitable to read even more of what the Liberal government of the day was saying at that time. A review of this part of the Liberal's history is relevant to the debate today because this successor government has lost sight of a worthy vision that was short lived. Although the Liberals did a complete about face in implementing this policy some four years after introducing the white paper, it is important to remind them of where they stood.
This government must recognize that in its departure from the white paper policy, the path it chose to go down has actually done less to serve and protect the equality rights of aboriginal Canadians. In a very real sense the government's policy decisions over the last 30 years were set on a very slippery slope and today more than ever this is abundantly clear.
It is tragic that the government refuses to recognize that its policies rest on assumptions that have not delivered freedom from want and entry into the mainstream of Canada's economy by aboriginal Canadians.
The white paper even had the full support of then Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. At the time he said:
We have set the Indians apart as a race. We have set them apart in our laws. We have set them apart in the ways our governments deal with them. They are not citizens of the province as the rest of us are. They are wards of the federal government—they have been set apart in the relations with the government and they have been set apart socially too—.We can go on treating the Indians as having special status. We can go on adding bricks of discrimination around the ghetto in which they live and at the same time perhaps helping them to preserve certain cultural traits and certain ancestral rights—or we can say you are at a crossroads—the time is now to decide whether Indians will be a race set apart in Canada or whether they will be Canadians of full status.
I remind the House that those words were spoken in 1969. Today on the threshold of the 21st century, sadly aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians are still at the same crossroads. Now almost 30 years and billions of dollars later we should not be in this place. Significant progress could have been made and real changes should have been made.
We know that the majority of Canadians desire to see past wrongs made right for a sense of closure to be achieved. There is a desire to move ahead with building a strong and united country. The Reform Party believes in the common sense and goodwill of the majority of Canadians to move forward and accomplish change. But we know that while the majority of aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians desire this change, they also realize that it is not more money and programs that will achieve this.
There is not currently equality of opportunity, nor is there equality of outcome despite a history of spending. A person spending just one day hearing testimony in the Standing Committee on Indian Affairs and Northern Development proves that. Studying the human development index report on Canada's reserves will serve to reinforce this knowledge.
True equality can only be achieved when Canadians are united together in willing a change. It must be all Canadians, non-aboriginal and aboriginal together willing equality. One people, one vision and one goal: one Canada, equality for and among all persons.
Clearly governments do have a significant role to play in allowing for the will of the people to bring about this change. Making things right is never easy. It can only occur when there is humility and generosity of spirit on both sides.
With this legislation the government is at another crossroads. It has another opportunity to choose the way of establishing true equality and justice. I urge the government to rethink its current course of policy and the approaches needed to make Canada's aboriginal people truly equal with all other Canadians. This would be the right thing for the government to do. But I wonder, does it have the moral fortitude to choose the right way?
The Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development needs to be significantly restructured. Decades of DIAND's consistent mismanagement of aboriginal communities must end. It is time for a fresh and revitalized relationship between governments and first nations that will allow them to regain confidence, self-reliance and greater economic independence.
I have highlighted how DIAND's piecemeal approach to addressing problems among first nations has consistently failed. First, by creating programs with no long term plan, it has created a convoluted landscape of programs and rights that benefit a few but which fail to reach and benefit the majority of grassroots aboriginals.
Until such time that the mandate of DIAND is clearly defined in a modern context and its goals realigned with the priority of ensuring that aboriginal Canadians are fully equal under the law and with equal opportunity, Canada's Indian population will continue to suffer.
DIAND is like a canoe heading down a fast moving river but without a paddle. That river can be likened to the Niagara, and we all know how a trip down that river would end up.
There is a great struggle for more than land right now and the stakes are high. The current general direction of modern day treaty negotiations as evidenced in the recent Nisga'a treaty are inconsistent with the Reform Party's principles and policies and are unacceptable to the Canadian public at large.
These treaties have not been negotiated in an open, public manner. Third party interests and the public in general are being ignored throughout the process and then are expected to approve the package after the deals have been made and signed. Current self-government agreements negotiated under the treaty process go beyond any concept of a form of delegated self-government.
What is most incredible is that if anyone dares to question either the contents of the treaty or the process used to arrive at a final agreement, he is instantly labelled a racist and troublemaker by those driving the agenda. There needs to be an openness and acceptance to public scrutiny of both process and analysis of substantive issues.
I want to conclude by saying that the Reform Party strongly desires to bring about closure to outstanding grievances so that aboriginals and non-aboriginals, Canadians all, can move forward as true equals and partners. It is our desire that Canadians move forward into the next millennium, not backward to the attitudes and prejudices of the past. In order to do this, government needs to re-examine many fundamental assumptions it has been operating on for decades.
The way to righting wrongs and having a fresh start is not through unfocused spending and the creation of special rights and privileges which serve only to degrade the rights of others. We cannot purchase equality nor buy an end to injustice. If it were only that easy. These things can only come about by a change of heart and spirit and this nation desperately needs renewal of spirit.
Inequality breeds injustice, suspicion and prejudice. If this government continues on its present course, there will not be greater equality. It will be diminished as will hope for the justice which so many aboriginals are crying out for today.
Aboriginal Canadians continue to experience an ever greater sense of dislocation and isolation from the rest of Canada and the sense of being fully Canadian. I know this is clearly not what the majority of Canadians want.
In closing, I want to point out to this House that Mr. Mandela referred to Canadians as a people. Why can Canadians not refer to themselves as a people? Why can they not do the same? I believe that this Prime Minister and his government have at certain times had a vision of Canadians as a people united and equal. On June 6, 1994 in his address to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the D-Day invasion on Juno Beach in Normandy, France, the Prime Minister spoke these ringing phrases:
On the beach behind us, Canadians gave their lives So the world would be a better place. In death they were neither anglophones nor francophones, not from the West or the East, not Christians or Jews, not aboriginal peoples or immigrants. They were Canadians.
Let us not simply consecrate a foreign battlefield on which Canadians died with words like these. If we who share this land can die together as Canadians, why can we not also live together as Canadians?
This government must regain sight of this vision of Canada. It must regain it with respect to this piece of legislation, to land claim and treaty negotiations, as well as with respect to its overall fiduciary responsibilities to aboriginal Canadians.
It is impossible to move ahead while dwelling on the past. A weak and halting apology has been extended. Forgiveness, however grudgingly accepted, was given. It is time now time for all Canadians to move on into the next century as one people, united in the principle of equality and strengthened by freedom and truth.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to move:
That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word “That” and substituting the following therefor:
Bill C-49, an act providing for the ratification and the bringing into effect of the Framework Agreement on First Nation Land Management, be not now read a second time, but that it be read a second time this day six months hence.