Mr. Speaker, there are some legitimate concerns about Bill C-49. It goes to the heart of some of the things that were being said prior to question period.
The British Columbia Native Women's Society has complained quite bitterly about this legislation. I want to quote a few of the things they have said in their letter. They are very important.
To put this in context, B.C. native women have already been through an experiment promoted by the federal government in 1992 and 1993. A native justice pilot program was started on southern Vancouver Island. It came to a rapid, screeching halt after a lot of politically correct thought went into trying to create a system that would be sensitive to the native communities.
What ended up happening in that grandiose experiment was that people who committed grievous offences in aboriginal communities in that area, largely men, were found right back in the same community the day after their sentencing. The old rules were thrown out, the justice system was thrown out, and a new system more sensitive to the needs of that community was put in place run by the very cronies of the people that were perpetrating the offences.
Guess who were the loudest complainants and the ones that got this travesty stopped? It was the native women. When we look at who is organizing, who tends to be out front in trying to correct the wrongs that are happening in great abundance on some of our reserves, who do we find at the forefront? We find native women. They may not belong to a formal organization or they may be fighting to establish a formal organization. Whatever the case may be, we had better listen because they have something to say and they have everything stacked against them.
The Canadian Human Rights Act is a basic and fundamental piece of legislation which we would assume covers all Canadians. It does not. It excludes any discrimination flowing from the Indian Act. That is a big problem. It does not protect native women from many of the things they are complaining about. They cannot win if they have everything stacked against them. I will quote from the letter:
—women living on reserves lack the protections available to all other Canadian women when their marriages break down. They cannot get an order for occupation or division of the matrimonial home—. The Indian Act provisions governing their situation were struck down by the courts in the early 80s and the federal government has done nothing to correct the inequality—
Whenever we find inequality under the terms of the Indian Act we find that the Indian Act is dependent upon defining who is a status Indian. In order to do that it goes through great gyrations. When governments certify ethnic or racial status it can become very complicated. It does not matter how hard government tries. There will be inequality in the definition of status Indian. I does not matter who designs the system. It could never be designed not to lead to some form of inequality. It tends to be stacked against Indian women. It is also stacked against others.
This has many permutations in how other legislation that affects aboriginals because the definition of status Indian is a basic building block. It is an inappropriate way to do things.
Every piece of legislation over time has taken away sections of the Indian Act, including the most comprehensive and contemporary treaty in Canada, the Nisga'a agreement in northwestern British Columbia. Only one part of the Indian Act is kept under that agreement. We do not have to guess what part of the Indian Act it is. They kept the part that defines who is an Indian because the whole thing will unravel if they do not have some form of definition. It is an artificial definition. The longer things go on and the more human nature exhibits itself, the more dysfunctional the whole arrangement will become.
Many things have been said today by members of other parties. There is always an attempt to pigeon hole and stereotype. It very discouraging that people like to do that when talking to an issue that is potentially charged with racial overtones because we are talking about status Indians and the Indian Act. They love to stereotype and try to pigeon hole where one is coming from. This is why I was greatly concerned about what the member for Churchill was saying earlier concerning what motivates members of the Reform Party in terms of some of this legislation.
There is an unholy alliance which I describe as a love-in between the Liberals and the NDP on some aboriginal legislation. I remind members of the House that we are now in the second parliament of this administration and we have yet to see a piece of aboriginal legislation that originated with the government.
All the legislation we saw in the last parliament and what we are seeing in this parliament is legislation initiated in the days when Brian Mulroney and the Tories were in government. All their initiatives are still being milked. All their excesses are still coming out from the legislative boiler room, wherever it might be. There are no original ideas. There is no new direction. It is apparent that is what is needed.
Further, the bill we are dealing with right now dates back a number of years. I cannot locate all the details, but this legislation under different formats has been worked on for a number of years. A lot of money flowed to participants who were developing a proposal that was turned into legislation. It is a very expensive initiative. It probably cost several millions of dollars. It could be over $10 million. It seems like that is always the case. Very little is accomplished for an awful lot of money, and I have concerns about that.
We all know that there is very enlightened band governance in Canada. We could all name examples. We recognize that the current policy framework of the department of Indian affairs is ineffective in allowing people to get rid of unenlightened governance.
When we cannot get rid of the bad apples the barrel tends to get tainted. That is what we are trying to change. We want all accountability mechanisms to be put in place because that is what people deserve. In actual fact we are finding out that is what people want. It is only the established powers that tend to resist because the status quo serves them quite well.
Bill C-49 purports to provide for the establishment of an alternative land management regime that gives first nations community control over the lands and resources within their reserves. In other words, Bill C-49 was drafted to give aboriginal people more control over the lands they occupy.
I have some very major concerns about the bill. The framework agreement on first nations land management will be ratified by Bill C-49. It extends to band governance broader powers than those extended to municipal governments under the various provincial-municipal acts. This is very troubling, especially from a local perspective. After all, it is at the local level that lives are lived. That is where things get done. That is where co-operation is developed. That is where families grow. That is where everything happens.
The bill has the potential to significantly impact relations between bands and local governments in a number of areas such as land use planning, environmental regulation and protection of third party interests. Again the federal government is imposing its will in terms of creating legislation that will destruct local and provincial relationships without saying what it is doing.
This kind of legislation is always wrapped up in a pretty package and the contents are allowed to seep out over time. There is no attempt to quantify what the consequences of the legislation may be even though the implications are vast and potentially far reaching.
Last year the union of B.C. municipalities and the lower mainland treaty advisory committee both expressed major concerns about the predecessor piece of legislation, Bill C-75, which was introduced in the dying days of the last parliament. It died and has now been resurrected a year later. To summarize their concerns, there was little or no consultation with the British Columbia government, local government and the public in general.
This was my critic area in the last parliament. The minister of Indian affairs, Indian lobbyists, backbench Liberal MPs and the minister's staff hounded the opposition House leader, the Reform House leader and me in the dying days of the last parliament prior to the election call. Everyone knew the election call was coming on the last weekend of April 1997. Everyone knew the June 2, 1997 election would be called in April. There was incredible pressure brought to bear on us to allow Bill C-75 to go through all three readings and obtain royal assent before parliament recessed due to the election call.
We refused to be stampeded because of our concerns, as I have just explained, about the lack of consultation with anybody involved other than the aboriginal band leaderships set out in the agreement. Despite this major and serious concern no substantive change has been made to Bill C-49 which evolved from Bill C-75 to ensure a smooth and harmonious relationship between local and band governments, which I also consider to be local governments.
The department of Indian affairs works in mysterious ways. I must admit that I have lost my grapevine having moved on to another portfolio. What has happened with this legislation is typical of many other pieces of Liberal legislation. The government gets stampeded by internal lobby groups. The minister commits himself or herself to action. Pressure flows from the minister's desk to staff and caucus. They all try to infect the opposition with a sense of undue haste and urgency. Then, if the legislation does not go through either in the dying days of a parliament before an election or prior to a recess, when we come back to the House, lo and behold the haste and urgency have dissipated.
It has been more than a year since the election and we are just seeing this piece of legislation slowly winding its way through this House.
I do not like this piece of legislation because it fragments the statutory framework whereby we have about 630 bands across Canada administered under the Indian Act.
We are trying to take 14 bands out from under some of the provisions of the Indian Act. However, far too much of the Indian Act will still apply to those 14 bands. It is piecemeal, partial, non-satisfactory legislation.
Another concern I have is about the leaseholders on reserve lands. The leaseholders have had, in some cases, multiple decades of holding their leases under agreements supervised by the department of Indian affairs. Perhaps there has been an eroding federal presence, but certainly this is a tremendously significant departure from previous lease arrangements for homeowners, cottage owners, long term land leases and other situations.
These people are going to be faced with a whole new set of rules with attendant uncertainties. Should they be unhappy with the new arrangements, should they consider that they have a legitimate beef, their concerns are not really addressed in this bill.
There is no protection against one sided land quotes which may totally devalue the investments they have made in improvements. That could really be considered a form of expropriation.
I think we can argue that natural justice would say that compensation should occur if land quotes impact negatively on people, but there is no mechanism for this to happen in the bill.
This bill is coming back to us again a year and a half later and not a thing has changed in terms of band, local or provincial protocol on environmental or land use issues.