House of Commons Hansard #151 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was aboriginal.


First Nations Land Management ActGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.


Roy H. Bailey Reform Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, that is a good question. I assure the hon. member for Churchill that the people I have talked to, not only those within my constituency, want control over their lands. No one disputes that. They want control over the development of business. No one disputes that. Even with the RMs that are losing portions of their land to the Indians to enlarge their reserves there is no quarrel.

I live in Canada. My residence is in the town of Bengough, Saskatchewan. That government is subject to a higher government, the provincial government.

If the people who form the Indian nations do not want to use the term municipality, that is fine, but they will still have to be subject to some other form of government in the rule of law scenario. We can give them provisions to pass bylaws to certain laws that apply to their own people. We are not arguing that, but there are some fundamental Canadian laws that have to be applied whether people are living in Nanaimo or Halifax. They have to be the same.

I would respond to the hon. member's question by saying that we accept that form of government, but we do not accept their having powers that are above those of the federal government or equal to those of the federal government in jurisprudence. That is not rule of law and Canadians would not accept that.

First Nations Land Management ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.


Howard Hilstrom Reform Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, today we are debating Bill C-49 which is important to all Canadians including aboriginal people.

On reflection and on examination of the bill I find I am unable to support the bill in its present form. As it goes through parliament I hope amendments will be brought in that make it more acceptable to both aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians.

I certainly support the right of aboriginals to manage their own lands, but we must think about Canada as a country. We must remember that aboriginals are Canadians. We occupy the same lands as defined by our national boundaries.

The good of all Canadians is paramount. The people of Canada need one government that is supreme, one government that is in charge and responsible for the country and for all the people residing in its boundaries. All other levels of government have to be at lower levels to the federal government. All governments and all laws have to be subject to the House.

We have heard and examined the report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, “Gathering Strength—Canada's Aboriginal Action Plan”. It had a lot of good features to it. It certainly helped move the debate down the road and helped to make Canadians more aware of what was going on. I question how many Canadians have actually read the report and understand it. Many aboriginal people have read it and a pretty significant number of them have some very deep concerns.

I will deal with some of their concerns in my speech today. I think I could sum them up by saying that they deal mostly with accountability and the place poorer children and women in particular will have in a future self-government.

The royal commission report should have stated unequivocally that accountability of elected representatives on our first nations lands had to be in place as self-government moved along. It should have included built-in democratic guarantees to all aboriginal people. A cornerstone of democracy would not be restricted to such things as election laws being equivalent to or better than the Canada Elections Act.

That would seem to be pretty basic to any self-governing democracy. However we find on first nations reserves which come under the Canada Elections Act contained in the Indian Act that elections are not always fair to the people who are participating.

How long will Canada and the aboriginal people in particular go along with the idea of hereditary chiefs? This was brought to my attention many times, over and over again. When there are hereditary chiefs we do not have a democracy.

The cultural aspects of hereditary chiefs are certainly important. They were a fact of life of aboriginal people. I believe that it can be accommodated through some form of governor general, a figurehead for the reserve and its people. True democratic institutions are what are required by aboriginal people. In order for them to have that they need full democracy as we know it today.

In addition to election laws that have to be clearer and fairer for everyone, there should be an independent auditor general. An independent auditor general would be free to criticize the government and government departments he is reporting on. That could have been built into all agreements with our aboriginal people. Without it there is no accountability of elected officials who manage agreements.

The third matter that would be a good cornerstone would be an access to information component. How can people be governed and assess—

First Nations Land Management ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Gerald Keddy Progressive Conservative South Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. It is Friday and I hate to delay the time of the House, but you are aware that it is incumbent upon the government to keep a quorum in the House. I do not see a quorum. It is a very important piece of legislation and we should have a quorum.

First Nations Land Management ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I think the hon. member knows that it is incumbent upon all members to maintain a quorum, but I will count the members present.

And the count having been taken:

First Nations Land Management ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I see a quorum.

First Nations Land Management ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.


Howard Hilstrom Reform Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, the last cornerstone I would speak about would be an ombudsman to assist people who are unable to deal with their elected officials due to a possible lack of education, a disability, or mental lack of capacity to understand exactly what is governing their lives.

Opposition to self-government within the native community is a fact of life. There is also widespread concern within the non-native community as it sees child poverty and the terrible living conditions that have resulted in the last 70 to 80 years. They see a gigantic gap between rich and poor. Many aboriginal people say that the rich among them got that way by getting a much larger share of financial resources intended for a much more equitable distribution among the people.

This opposition to self-government includes women's rights. How can it be that aboriginal people do not have the same democratic rights and protections available to the majority of Canadians? The royal commission could have made a big step in clarifying this and making sure all future discussions between the federal government, aboriginal peoples and elected officials include the bottom line that without democratic rights for everyone nothing goes forward.

The Liberal government and the aboriginal leaders who prepared these documents could have eliminated this opposition to self-government by simply stating and ensuring through action that Canadian aboriginals have all the democratic rights enjoyed by the non-native Canadian population.

Bill C-49 will ratify and bring into force the framework agreement on first nations land management. The framework agreement, it is my understanding, was signed by a group of 14 first nations and the federal government. It enables first nations people to opt out of land and property sections of the Indian Act individually and to establish their own land codes to manage reserve land and resources.

I reiterate that I support aboriginals' managing their land. As a land owner in Manitoba I have certain responsibilities and rights to manage the land I own. I accept, though, that the federal government has the final say with regard to how I use that land under some circumstances. For instance, if I am to use my land in a way that harms my neighbours or destroys the environment of my area, obviously we need the government, parliament, to be the final arbiter of what goes on in this country.

Bill C-49 deals with land management. Yet in purpose and function it amounts to the creation of a partial yet substantial form of self-government for the first nations that are signatories to this framework agreement. The framework agreement grants these powers of self-government in two primary ways. Individual first nations will establish a land code which will give them authority to pass laws for the development, conservation, protection, management, use and possession of first nations lands. It will allow them to control the issue of leases, licences and other interests.

In short, there is no constitutional basis for the creation of this kind of third level of government because under this framework agreement where there is a contradiction, a conflict between whether aboriginal law applies or Canadian law applies, under certain conditions aboriginal law can take precedence. That is one of the big concerns I have.

Clause 37 is particularly questionable. It says in effect that 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.

In essence, Bill C-49 would not only give first nations authority to create laws in areas that fall within the jurisdiction of their land codes but it would give them powers which could and probably will supersede federal laws.

Once again I get back to the discussion that were those laws and uses of these lands to be detrimental to their neighbours there has to be one final authority and that final authority has to be the elected officials who represent all Canadians, members of parliament.

Another significant dimension within Bill C-49 is that major sections of the Indian Act will no longer apply. In the absence of these sections and with first nations no longer being subject to either federal or provincial laws in the areas where they have or would have authority to create their own, this bill has the potential to create a serious legal and legislative vacuum.

I hope this was not a clever plan by the legal profession of Canada to create a lot more cases in court. However, it certainly seems it will have that effect.

My greatest concern deals with women and children on reserves. They seem to have the greatest concern over this whole issue of self-government and the laws being passed and the agreements being made. It is a legitimate concern, one that we as parliamentarians must address before this bill is passed.

Parliament has to ensure that those people who are less able to help themselves are fully protected and are able to lead good lives, lives that the majority of Canadians accept as being normal.

The question of divorce laws, property rights and what a spouse who is divorced ends up with is also of paramount importance. At present it is my understanding that provincial and federal laws dealing with divorce on aboriginal reserves have no effect.

Does it not seem right that the fundamental democratic principles I was talking about, which would include property rights, the right of a woman or a man to share the opposite spouse's property in the case of divorce, be in place and part of any agreement that moves forward?

I would like to see an all encompassing application of Canadian law to aboriginal peoples. That is what they are basically demanding and asking for. Some in the community do not particularly want to see those democratic rights proceed with the equivalent rights we have in the rest of Canada. I suspect that close examination would reveal it has more to do with the possibility of self-enrichment than with what is good for aboriginal people.

I refer to a letter sent to an MP from the B.C. Native Women's Society. As members of parliament we often reflect what constituents say from across the country. We interpret and deliver to this House what we believe to be our constituents' concerns. We lay them out in our own words.

Today I bring these aboriginal women's words to the House as part of the official record in a more direct way. I would like to read some portions of this letter because their explanation, this group of aboriginal women, expresses it in ways that no member of parliament can. That is because it comes from the heart. It comes from living under the conditions and laws they find so objectionable.

In the first paragraph the women say: “You must defeat this bill, the first nations land management act”. These women are not speaking for every aboriginal person in the country. But they are speaking for a significant number. I had a meeting in Winnipeg on October 31. I heard the same thing.

As I reflect on Bill C-49 and the whole movement toward self-government, we have to make sure democratic principles are in place and that every Canadian, rich or poor, aboriginal or non-aboriginal, has the rights enjoyed by all Canadians.

First Nations Land Management ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.


Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I listened very carefully to the comments of my colleague from the Reform Party. I have been trying to understand what their position is having listened now to the debate for several hours and hearing various members of the Reform Party debate Bill C-49.

On the one hand members of the Reform Party purport to support aboriginal self-government and management of their lands and yet it seems that every single member has risen to nitpick this bill apart, tear it apart and say that because it is not a perfect situation this will go down in flames.

The member has talked about the need for democratic elections and has questioned that this bill has no constitutional basis for aboriginal government. I would like to question the member on that.

For example, today we know that in the vote taking place on the Nisga'a referendum there will be provision for a democratically elected government.

I would like to query the member on his basis for claiming that there is no constitutional basis for the establishment of aboriginal government. It seems all members of the House and all governments have a responsibility to recognize the inherent self-right to government by aboriginal people.

When the member talks about his concerns for women and children in first nation communities I advise the member to look to his own party in terms of its representation of women as being among the lowest of any political party in Canada. I find it curious that he would be raising this issue when within his own organization the issues of women and the representation of women are very low, something that should be of concern to them.

I would like to ask the member to really be clear as to whether his party stands for aboriginal self-government. What is the Reform Party position? It seems to me Reformers are trying to talk out of both sides of their mouths on this question.

At the end of the day this framework is before us that has been negotiated in a fair and open process. The first nations involved have endorsed this process. I find it very difficult to understand the Reform Party's position that while it says it supports self-government there is really nothing in this bill it finds worthy of support. It seems to be a contradiction.

First Nations Land Management ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.


Howard Hilstrom Reform Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, I could comment for the next half hour on the things the hon. member for the NDP brought up.

First off, democratic rights for every Canadian is not nitpicking. That is a fundamental each of us living in this country deserves. Without democratic rights, who is not liable to be locked up arbitrarily or have laws applied to them that are inconsistent even with human rights.

With regard to women, children and the poor, approximately 18,000 aboriginal people live in my constituency. Looking back over the past five to 10 years, I have seen no member of parliament stand up and do anything for the aboriginal women and children in our community. They tried through the official methods, but no one listened to them. They tried the RCMP. They tried Indian affairs. They tried individual members of parliament. They tried all these official methods of addressing their problems and got nowhere.

I am so proud to have held the accountability coalition meetings in Manitoba. The last one was on October 31. I announced in the House beforehand that it was open to everyone. Who did I see at my meeting? I saw a member from the Manitoba legislature. One of the Progressive Conservative members saw fit to come and contribute to the meeting. I saw no other elected members of parliament or members of the provincial legislature, other than a couple of Reform members.

I will let the House and the Canadian people judge who stands up for women and children in our communities. By ensuring democratic rights and bringing to the fore the complaints of these people, it is the Reform Party that is standing up the most for the disadvantaged people and natives in particular. That is my answer very simply to nitpicking and women's rights and problems in our country.

How many countries do we have in Canada? Do we have one country? Do we have two? I believe that there are in the neighbourhood of 600 aboriginal reserves with land rights in Canada. Are members on both sides of the House, and NDP members in particular suggesting that we should have 601 countries? Are we headed to 601 countries making agreements with each other or making agreements with foreign nations?

These basic principles have to be clarified to the Canadian public. We are being left in a big mishmash as we move forward toward self-government.

The term self-government could be applied to the provincial government in Manitoba in that it has rights and responsibilities. In this process of self-government for aboriginals we have to do two things. We certainly have to clarify that basic democratic cornerstones apply to absolutely every aboriginal person. We also have to clarify just where the process is going to end up. If it is to negotiate out 601 countries, why not divide it up even more until we are not a country at all?

I have spent a lot of my lifetime working in the public service and working for Canada. I have done that because I believe this is a great country. It can stand improvement in areas, certainly in the financial and spending areas. But those areas do not touch on the very basic right of every Canadian to have the democratic principles available to them in dealing with their elected officials.

Democracy is the only thing that protects us. It protects us from the possibility of a dictatorship, the possibility of abuse by elected officials toward the people. It may never be perfect but that does not mean we cannot go forward and make things as good as they can be.

I mentioned the letter from the B.C. native women. I am sure that certainly applies across the prairies, Ontario, Quebec and the maritimes. Their complaints reflect exactly what I am saying. They are saying they do not feel secure. They do not feel that self-government is going to protect them. They have stated in the letter exactly why that is the case. I will pass the letter to another member in my party who will be able to bring that out and show the exact words of these people and what their concern is.

It should be clear to this House that the Reform Party is not saying that Bill C-49 is a total disaster. We are saying it is not addressing the basic concerns these people have in regard to democracy. Until we have that in place, we should not proceed in making it tougher and causing more litigation between the parties that we are trying to get to live together in a unified Canada.

First Nations Land Management ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.


John Bryden Liberal Wentworth—Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I find myself in the odd position of having to spring to the defence of a Reform Party member, the member for Selkirk—Interlake because I feel strongly that it is the role of the opposition to nitpick legislation at second reading. That is why we are here, to debate and try to find flaws in the existing legislation so when it goes to committee it will have some guidelines on what to look for in order to correct the bill and make it better.

I am not quite sure where the member for the NDP was coming from. Possibly she had not read the legislation or perhaps she misunderstands her role as a member of the opposition.

For my part, I have never hesitated as a government member to examine legislation at second reading debate very carefully and to point out where I feel there may be shortcomings. I do not share the same concerns as the Reform Party members that there is a problem in the bill with respect to the allocation of sovereignty. I actually believe the bill provides for this. When it is debated in committee the members opposite will get the reassurances they need with respect to not giving away the store and creating mini states within Canada. I do not believe the bill does that.

I have one concern with respect to the bill and I hope a member opposite will address it. I cannot find anywhere in the bill a provision for transparency. There are some clauses that talk about accountability but there is no clause that I can find that would require the management groups or whoever administers this act on the reserves or on the self-government entities provide for open debate.

The difficulty is that there cannot be accountability without transparency. There has been a trend over the years to create legislation that does not firmly provide for committees and councils in self-government regimes to have their debates in an open forum. That is key to an amendment or change I would like to see in the bill. I would ask the member opposite or a member of the Reform Party if they might share the same concerns I have, that we should be looking for an amendment that clarifies a need for transparency in deliberations when the bill goes through.

First Nations Land Management ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.


Ken Epp Reform Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, what we are doing here is reversing the roles. The member had 20 minutes to make a speech and he used just a little over two. Really what he was doing was questioning our position on this. I appreciate that he recognizes those of us on this side, and I will be gracious and include everyone in the House, have an obligation to look at this legislation.

One of the things that happens to be in place right now is our motion to suspend the bill for six months. The reason for this is to provide the opportunity to get it right. I have often said to my children and to my students over the years that it is much better to get it right than to get it fast. Perhaps that is why I am so slow all the time. It is very, very important to get it right.

In this instance, this legislation has a lot of flaws. A lot of things in it just are not right. They fundamentally are not right. They are not right philosophically. They are not right socially. They tie us together as humans living on the same continent within the same boundaries with a political organization that will not work well in the long run.

All we have to do is read a little history and look at the history of different countries, countries where there is a clear delineation of the powers, responsibilities and privileges of the different levels of government. We are getting a hodgepodge. We are getting a total mess where based on race, based on factors such as personal characteristics, one set of laws applies and another set applies to different people.

There are different laws for pensions for MPs and senators as opposed to what other people have. There are different laws with respect to just about everything that can be named. We split up people and start pitting them against each other.

I would appeal to the government, to those eager backbenchers over there to finally say to the government and better yet, to stand up when the vote is taken and say “We support this six month hoist. We support that we need to work on this more. We support that we have to get it right. Let us make those fundamental changes”. I would urge the member who has just given this extremely short but I would say concentrated and valuable speech to get his colleagues together and say “Here are some things in this legislation that are fundamentally not right. Let us delay it so that we can get it right”.

Mr. Speaker, if you just tuck your head down and dive off the diving board without first checking to make sure there is water in the pool, would be an act of sheer stupidity. It is absolute folly for the government to ram this legislation through without giving it very serious thought.

The implications of what we are doing here are immense for the future of our country, our children and our grandchildren. I would like the member to elaborate a little more on what he said in his speech and to respond to what I have said.

First Nations Land Management ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.


John Bryden Liberal Wentworth—Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, the reason my speech was so short was that I did not find much of great concern in the legislation. I believe an economy of words in this House is something everyone should seek. That is what I was trying to do.

Now that the member has responded and raised some issues, I will say the reason I think the bill should go forward basically as it stands and go to committee for further deliberation is that I do not think it contains elements that cause the concerns raised by the members opposite. I do not feel that it creates mini states within Canada.

The Constitution provides special treatment for Canada's aboriginal peoples. That is in our Constitution. It is like official bilingualism. It is part of our national makeup.

However we have to be very careful—and this is where members opposite strike an appropriate chord—we do not create states along the model of apartheid in South Africa where sovereign states were created on race.

The legislation creates—and it is the theme of the government—aboriginal self-government that is more based on the municipal model. It so happens because aboriginal affairs is a federal responsibility rather than a provincial responsibility that we will not have a provincial government between the federal government and the municipality. In essence we would have the federal government and the municipality.

Unfortunately there has been a great misuse of language in the debate. For instance, we are always talking about first nations. Sometimes I find it quite deplorable when witnesses appear before the aboriginal affairs committee and talk about their first nations versus Canada. That is the kind of rhetoric I would expect from the Parti Quebecois in Quebec which actually talks about separating from Canada. I find that unacceptable.

It is a misuse of words because the vast majority of aboriginal peoples I know who appear before our committee are very much Canadian. They want a sense of management of their own affairs just in the same way as the people in my communities of Dundas, Ancaster and Hamilton, or in the province for that matter if we take another step up in the communities of communities that make up Canada, want a sense of personal identity in the immediate territory around them. We want to have some say in our lives in that context.

That is precisely what the government is trying to achieve by its aboriginal self-government programs. It is not trying to create sovereign states. It is trying to create communities that manage their own affairs in the same way as municipalities do and in another way as provinces do.

We are embarking on uncharted territory. We still do not know for certain how the experiments we have already done are working. We cannot leave it for decades and centuries to attempt to address the very legitimate need of the various communities of Canada to feel they are in control of their own destinies as individuals. We have to act.

The legislation may have flaws. What legislation that comes before the House does not have flaws? If legislation did not have flaws the opposition would not need to exist. There would be no need for debate. Legislation has problems and we have to discuss them as mature representatives of the various parts of Canada that have sent us to the House.

I have found one area of concern. While members opposite have expressed themselves sometimes eloquently, I am sure they have found other areas of concern. I read in what they say that they are not ambiguous at all with respect to the legislation. Members across the floor are saying that they believe in Bill C-49 in principle, but they do not agree with the detail and need reassurance. I urge them to support the bill, get it to committee, get those witnesses before the committee, hear those witnesses and then decide on the future of the legislation.

In order to give people who need a sense of self-identity a chance to have that self-identity as soon as possible we should move forward with this and other legislation like it.

First Nations Land Management ActGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I am afraid that the time for questions and comments is so close to over that by the time the hon. member got half a question out it would be over, so I will resume debate.

First Nations Land Management ActGovernment Orders

1 p.m.


John Duncan Reform Vancouver Island North, BC

Economy of words is something that is in my repetoire.

First Nations Land Management ActGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The hon. member will get a chance later this afternoon, I have no doubt.

First Nations Land Management ActGovernment Orders

1 p.m.


Leon Benoit Reform Lakeland, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am please to speak to Bill C-49. People have explained what the legislation says. Reform MPs have expressed their concerns about it.

My debate on the legislation will focus on the aspect that the legislation will give more power to chiefs and councils without first ensuring an increased level of accountability. When I speak about improved accountability I am talking about the area of fiscal accountability. In other words, the people on the reserves should know where the money comes from, how it is being spent and get the chance to have some input into how it should be spent. I am also talking about democratic accountability, starting with having fair elections and having some way of ensuring that elections are fair.

For that reason alone I cannot support the legislation and I will not support it. In fact I will do everything I can to prevent the bill from passing, including supporting the amendment to postpone the bill for six months so we can debate it, improve it and make it something we can support. I support the amendment to the bill.

I want to talk about something that happened over the past year which led me to know that my party and I and the government should not support legislation like the legislation before us. About a year ago I started representing the new Lakeland constituency. About two-thirds of the Vegreville and Beaver River constituencies were put together into one constituency. I had no reserves in the Vegreville constituency but eight reserves become a part of my Beaver River constituency. As soon as that happened I started getting phone calls from aboriginal people both on and off reserve expressing their concerns. Some of the calls were very disturbing.

One of the first ones I remember was from a man who said he was a grandfather of several grandchildren. He lived in a two-bedroom house in which were living 27 members of his family. He said they could not live like that. It was so crowded that the house was falling apart. They could not go on like that. The chief and council on the reserve would do nothing to try to improve the house or to provide housing that better suited their needs.

In pursuing this matter I found that the chief, council and families in the inner group were living in wonderful houses. Many drove new cars. They seemed to have money. Then people started telling me exactly what was happening, that the money was not getting to the people on that reserve who needed it most.

After receiving literally dozens of these calls, after about a year I decided that as the member of parliament I would try to do something about it. I did not really know what to do. I started by going to the local native friendship centres and speaking with the people. I asked what we could do. They expressed the desperate need for something to be done. They said that things were getting worse. They had been getting worse over the last 30 years. They were in a crisis situation. The things I heard were not uncommon to us. We hear them all the time.

I got a group of about 20 aboriginal people together at a native friendship centre in one of our towns and asked them what we could do. We decided to set up a small task force that would not study for years but would listen to the concerns of the aboriginal people in my constituency.

We started with four aboriginal members and me on the task force. One member left shortly after so we had three aboriginal people and me. We went through a three step process. We started by meeting confidentially with people who would come to the friendship centres in the various communities around the constituency.

We listened to 55 people in this confidential way. Many said that even by coming to the centres they risked some action being taken against them by the chiefs and councils of their reserves. They were at a point where they were willing to accept that risk because somebody had to do something to try to change the situation.

I will never forget in my lifetime what I heard from these people. I heard articulate people express their concerns about what was happening. They gave the task force recommendations as to what they thought should happen. It was am experience I will truly never forget. I am thankful to those people, some of whom I believe are my friends now.

The second phase was to put out a questionnaire in the area, on the reserves and in the towns near the reserves. I did that and received over 50 responses. The third phase was to hold public meetings. I held three public meetings in the constituency. The largest meeting was in St. Paul with about 70 aboriginals in attendance. It is the town nearest to two of the reserves. That was the process.

I will talk about the task force members to acknowledge the time and the money they contributed on their own. None of them have much money but I had no way of covering their expenses. They had to cover the costs themselves and they were willing to do that. They gladly did that because they believed that finally somebody would listen to their concerns.

There were three aboriginal people on the task force and me. There was Agnes Gendron who works at the Grand Centre Canadian Native Friendship Centre as the children's first family outreach worker. She has worked as a social worker for at least 20 years. In fact she worked for the department of Indian affairs for several years so she knows what goes on there. She understood very well some of the problems within the department and some of the problems with the Indian Act that were preventing change from happening, change which must happen to improve the situation.

The second member was Gina Russell from the Cold Lake First Nation. She also works at the friendship centre in Cold Lake. She has contributed her time to the youth justice committee, to victims services and to the Lakeland Native Parents Education Committee. Gina is presently the director of the Grand Centre Canadian Native Friendship Centre which is one of the few non-funded native friendship centres in Canada. It gets no government money and it is doing good work. I commend both these women for the work they are doing.

The third member was Ralph Whitford from Lac La Biche, a town council member who understands well how municipal politics works. He had great input in our discussions of what type of government would work on reserves. He has an incredible background. I will just mention a few things. Ralph has held several senior community positions including director of Beaver Lake Wah-Pow Detoxification and Treatment Centre. He was a member and supervisor of the Lac La Biche-St. Paul District Native Counselling Services of Alberta and he is now actively working as a member of Awasisak and Family Development Circle Association. His background is absolutely noteworthy.

I wanted to mention all these people who agreed to give their time to become members of the task force. They wanted to try to do something valuable for the people they care so much about, their families.

I have talked about why I initiated the task force. I have talked about the three stages that were involved in this process that we went through and I have talked about the members of the task force. We heard many concerns and complaints. Many were aimed at chiefs and councils. Some were aimed at the community outside of the reserve and many were aimed at the department of Indian affairs.

These people got beyond that. They gave us recommendations for change that would improve the system. That is what I want to focus on.

There were nine recommendations the task force accepted and put in the report which we presented to the minister of Indian affairs in September. The task force met with the minister and I will talk about that at the end of my presentation.

I would like to first talk about five of the nine recommendations. They are the five that deal with accountability, really the lack of accountability on reserves now. In category one we talked about financial accountability. The first recommendation is the government must enforce more comprehensive and transparent financial reporting by band and settlement administrators. This information must be freely available to all members and to the general public. This recommendation, as did all of the others, came from the aboriginal grassroots people we heard from.

These recommendations are not all supported by Reform policy. I do not support completely all the recommendations. But I was not there to put a Reform platform into this process. What I was there for was to hear from the people, what they thought could be done to improve things for themselves and for the people they care about, aboriginal people in the constituency.

That was the first recommendation. There are some notable quotes we have in this report from people who spoke to this issue. I will read one from Charles Favel from Saddle Lake reserve: “Nobody on the reserve is told how much funding is received from Indian affairs. As a result, administrators on some reserves and settlements are able to show favouritism in distribution of funds”. That was heard from several participants. Mr. Favel went on to say: “All the money benefits are certain family groups. Some living conditions on the reserve are so bad they are not even fit for an animal. Yet some families that benefit from the funding drive new cars, have new homes and have new clothes”. Mr. Favel in his presentation spelled it out about as clearly as one can. The way the money is spent on his reserve is not right at all. The money is not getting to the people most in need.

The second recommendation, again in the area of fiscal accountability, is that to ensure sound financial management on reserves and settlements the government must provide better financial management support for aboriginal councillors and administrators.

Many chiefs, councillors and administrators really do not have the knowledge they need and the understanding they need to properly account for the money they handle and which is being spent. They made no excuse for this. They said that does not mean they should not be held accountable for improper spending, because they understand when the spending is improper. But they need help to properly account for funding. They ask for that help to come from the department of Indian affairs, which makes sense. They said it is not coming now. Part of the help they need is very clear guidelines that really put in place responsible accounting for the money being spent.

I quote one of the participants on this recommendation: “Problems on reserves are the outgrowth of a system that at one time prevented people from leaving reserves and at one time starved them”. This is from George Forsyth from the Onion Lake Band. “You can't go from a system where people are watched over every minute to one where they are totally on their own and expect perfect accountability”.

This is an individual who was mad as heck at his chief and council, but he acknowledged that it was hard to move from the one system to the other quickly. He said it was insanity to move to more self-government before the proper fiscal accountability is in place. This is exactly what this piece of legislation is doing. He made it very clear that he wanted no part of this.

The third recommendation, again in the area of fiscal accountability, is the government, together with councillors and administrators, must ensure there are effective, regular and ongoing consultations with band and settlement members.

One participant on this issue said the solution may be to require band meetings where the people approve a forecast budget. This person, who previously worked in an administrative role with a band outside of Lakeland, said the crucial process was not yet in place on that reserve. This is how people reacted to that concept being presented to them. He said: “You should have seen the administrators' faces the first time I brought up the idea. They said `it is not normal that you should have people discussing how the money might be spent”'. That is how out of touch the people on his reserve were with this concept of accountability.

I will never forget a meeting held in St. Paul attended by 65 to 70 participants. All but about five were aboriginal people. I was clearly getting the message they were concerned about the movement toward self-government. I heard it so much that I finally had to ask a question. This was a meeting recorded by two television cameras. I asked how many of the people at this meeting would support moving toward self-government on their reserves.

As no hands went up on the question I wondered if they understood the question. I then put the question another way: “How many of you here are against any further movement toward self-government until the problems of fiscal accountability and electoral accountability are dealt with?” Only one person was in favour of any further movement to self-government before the accountability was in place.

That person then said that the reason she put her hand up was because she did not know what I meant by self-government. My response to her was good point. The definition really has not been put forth.

Another thing that came up at this meeting was when someone said: “Ron Irwin sent a memo out to reserves saying that no one would be forced to take self-government until everyone was ready”. They are concerned that is not what is happening.

I have just gone through the three recommendations having to do with fiscal accountability. I will have another chance at third reading to talk about the electoral accountability.

When the task force members met with the minister of Indian affairs she said “we have heard all this stuff before, it has been in the various commissions we have heard from before, this is not new”. I said “so why haven't you done something about it?” The other task force members reinforced that. I said let us take one bite sized chunk. Let us take one of the recommendations that came under the democratic accountability thing, let us have Elections Canada monitor elections on reserves. This was very simple.

The minister's response to this was “There are some chiefs and councils who do not support that concept. We have been talking about it. Until I have the support of all chiefs and councils I cannot move forward with that”.

Clearly this government will not move forward with anything if it is waiting for the support of every last chief and council because many of these things will make it so that it will have to act in a responsible and accountable way in governing on the reserves.

First Nations Land Management ActGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.


John Duncan Reform Vancouver Island North, BC

Mr. Speaker, I compliment my colleague on such an excellent speech. I know it is a bit of an oxymoron but I hope there was a thoughtful Liberal listening to what my colleague had to say.

The member for Wentworth—Burlington posed some questions with regard to lack of transparency being a concern. That certainly is a concern with this legislation and it is a concern in terms of all kinds of current Indian Act legislation and policy from the department.

Essentially many of the things that are done now are tantamount to giving a blank cheque not only in terms of money but in terms of issues. Bill C-49 gives essentially a blank cheque to these 14 band councils in terms of marital assets and marital splits.

This agreement creates no protocol. It leaves an absolute void in terms of how these local governments are to deal with municipal governments on servicing agreements and all those things. There needs to be protocol. That has been pointed out for the last two years. There is no change to the legislation.

There is thought about rushing this legislation to committee because somehow at committee it can be fixed. There has been about $10 million invested in this piece of legislation through government initiatives since the Tory years and it is still not right because of a philosophical problem. It has nothing to do with what should be here. It is philosophical. Committees will not fix it as long as they are Liberal dominated.

There is also no protocol for what happens when third party interests are affected as a consequence of this legislation, and there needs to be. Those are three obvious ones. The sixth month hoist is appropriate.

First Nations Land Management ActGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.


Leon Benoit Reform Lakeland, AB

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his questions.

With regard to the issue of transparency, I have eight reserves in my constituency. We also had people participating from four Métis settlements. In every single case there were many concerns expressed about a lack of transparency.

One person who participated said that the concept of actually fully disclosing and then having discussion among the band members as to how money should be spent was foreign to him. He said they had never heard anything like that before. Clearly transparency is not there now. There is no insurance that it will be there under the current rules, and the rules that are there are not enforced. That is something that was made very clear again and again. That is something that has to start happening.

If we are to make meaningful change and if the government really wants to move in the direction of more self-government, giving more control over their own destiny to aboriginal people, then we have to ensure through tough guidelines that are enforced that there is transparency. That has not happened.

It is complete folly moving toward giving any more power to chiefs and councils before that happens. What we have to do first is have the accountability, the transparency, then move toward giving aboriginal people more control over their own destiny in a way that they really want.

A blank cheque given to a band council on the issue of marital split is a concern I hear about quite often. I also hear about cases where a couple has split, divorced, moved apart, with one person being on the reserve and one off. If they lived on the reserve the only assets they would have had, in most cases, would have been on the reserve.

First Nations Land Management ActGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I hesitate to interrupt the hon. member, but he will have five minutes remaining in questions and comments when the bill next comes up for consideration before the House.

It being 1.30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of Private Members' Business as listed on today's order paper.

The House proceeded to the consideration of Bill C-208, an act to amend the Access to Information Act, as reported (with amendment) from the committee.

Access To Information ActPrivate Members' Business

1:30 p.m.


Colleen Beaumier Liberal Brampton West—Mississauga, ON

moved that the bill be concurred in.

(Motion agreed to)

Access To Information ActPrivate Members' Business

1:30 p.m.


Colleen Beaumier Liberal Brampton West—Mississauga, ON

moved that the bill be read the third time and passed.

Mr. Speaker, needless to say, I am delighted that the House has taken this bill and accepted it as its own. It is now a House bill.

I would like to thank all members from all sides of the House for their co-operation and support.

The bill was amended with some reluctance. It was amended in committee, where there was a great deal of co-operation as well. This goes to show that none of us has the monopoly on anything that is good and wonderful in this House. We all have different ways of trying to get to the top of the mountain. Once we have decided that we have a common goal we can work together.

This bill is about accountability. We all want to be accountable to our constituents and we all want the Access to Information Act to be protected so that we can acquire information to be accountable.

I think all has been said that there is to say. This is not a very large or comprehensive bill, but perhaps it is significant. Once again I would like to thank all members.

Access To Information ActPrivate Members' Business

1:30 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Gilles Bernier Progressive Conservative Tobique—Mactaquac, NB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-208, an act to amend the Access to Information Act.

I would like to commend the hon. member for Brampton West—Mississauga for bringing this legislation forward. It is a tribute to her efforts that we are debating a private member's bill at this advanced stage of debate.

Hopefully the Liberals will be more co-operative with opposition parties in the House to ensure that private member's business is treated in a better manner.

It is well known that the Access to Information Act does not have enough teeth. Even the former information commissioner has said so in his most recent report.

On that note, I would also like to take this opportunity to belatedly congratulate the hon. John Reid, a former member of this House, on his appointment as the new information commissioner. I am pleased that my colleague, the House Leader for the Progressive Conservative Party, was able to facilitate the appointment of a qualified, hard working person such as Mr. Reid.

Bill C-208 would create an offence for a person who denies the right of access under the Access to Information Act, who destroys, mutilates or alters a record, who falsifies a record, who makes a false entry in a record or who does not keep required records.

As amended by the justice committee, Bill C-208 would also create an offence for anyone who directs, proposes or counsels someone to alter or destroy official records.

This is an extremely important amendment because it extends responsibility to senior managers who may order someone to break the Access to Information Act. A person found guilty of this indictable offence would be liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years or to a fine not exceeding $10,000, or both. We would have liked to see the maximum punishment of five years as originally proposed under Bill C-208 kept, but we in the House should focus on passing this bill.

In essence, Bill C-208 remains a very simple amendment to the Access to Information Act that will nonetheless strengthen the provisions of the overall act. For some time now Canadians have been losing confidence in their public institutions and especially in government. Canadians need to know their federal government is truly working on their behalf and truly working well, otherwise people feel that both their votes and their taxes are wasted.

The Access to Information Act is one of the tools for the public to achieve that objective and this amendment proposed in Bill C-208 is simply helping to make the law more complete. The amendment would give more visibility, more access and more teeth to the Access to Information Act by including strong penalties for those who do their utmost to prevent its application. This is not to say that more could have been done to improve the act.

For example, amendments could have been proposed to allow the public access to documents of the privy council which are currently confidential. In fact, many other amendments reflecting the concerns and expectations of information commissioners, past and present, could have been tabled in the same manner.

This is not a reflection of this bill or the bill's sponsor, the hon. member for Brampton West—Mississauga, but it is a reflection on the Liberal government that is obsessed with keeping secrets and covering up instead of being open and straightforward with Canadians. On the other hand, it was the Right Hon. Joe Clark during his tenure as prime minister who first acted on a longstanding call for an Access to Information Act. His Progressive Conservative government introduced such legislation in 1979.

Unfortunately, the Liberals and the NDP, out of their partisan interests, defeated that government and the bill died on the order paper. Several more years would pass until the legislation was reintroduced and took effect. Thankfully, Mr. Clark is returning to the scene and will no doubt bring the same fresh and innovative ideas to change government for the betterment of Canadians.

On behalf of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada, I am pleased to support Bill C-208. I encourage all members to do so. We believe it is a step forward in opening up the government to more public scrutiny and in giving Canadians a stronger sense of public control and identity with their public institutions.

I hope the government follows the example of the member for Brampton West—Mississauga and introduces more comprehensive amendments to the Access to Information Act.

Access To Information ActPrivate Members' Business

1:35 p.m.

Ahuntsic Québec


Eleni Bakopanos LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, it is really an honour and a pleasure today to rise and first of all congratulate my colleague, the member for Brampton West—Mississauga, on Bill C-208.

As members of the House will know, it takes a combination of initiative and perseverance to get a private member's bill to third reading, and I congratulate her for that.

Before providing details on the bill, I want to make it clear that the Minister of Justice supports Bill C-208.

The justice committee recently reviewed the bill and, after making some necessary amendments, it unanimously supported its passage. I take this opportunity to thank all the members of the justice committee.

I hope all members of the House will follow the example set by the justice committee and will vote in favour of Bill C-208, regardless of their political affiliation. I say this because, in my opinion, this bill is crucial for Canada and for Canadians, and should therefore get the unanimous support of this House.

Without doubt, Bill C-208 is short but its importance greatly exceeds its length. The bill would add an offence to the Access to Information Act. The offence proposed in the bill would apply to anyone who, with the intent to deny a right of access under the Access to Information Act, destroys, mutilates, alters, falsifies or conceals a record or makes a false record.

The offence would also apply to someone who directs, counsels or causes anyone to do so. This last aspect is important because it means that a person will not be able to escape the offence by telling someone else, a subordinate, for example, to do the act.

When the bill was first discussed in the House, I on behalf of the Minister of Justice expressed reservations regarding the penalty that the hon. member for Brampton West—Mississauga had put in the original version of her bill.

This was one of the main issues discussed by the committee. I am pleased to report, as I said earlier in the other official language, that the committee unanimously adopted the amendment of the hon. member for Brampton West—Mississauga. It was agreed that the offence should be made a hybrid offence rather than a straight indictable offence. This means that the crown has the flexibility to proceed against an accused person, either by way of indictment or by way of a summary proceeding.

The flexibility I am referring to is required because the indictment procedure is more complicated and, therefore, summary conviction is simpler and more direct. This flexibility also applies to the possible maximum penalty.

The committee decided that, if a person is prosecuted by way of indictment, the maximum penalty should be five years imprisonment or a $10,000 fine, or both. If a person is prosecuted by way of summary conviction, then the maximum penalty should be six months imprisonment or a $5,000 fine, or both.

Before getting into the purpose of Bill C-208 and generally what it provides for, I would like to take a moment to share some general information with the hon. members of this House.

Canadians have been the beneficiaries of a federal Access to Information Act since 1983. It is not to say that this act could not be improved upon and brought more up to date. In fact we have an example of it today.

Canadians can be confident that the government will not ignore the issue. For a decade and a half Canadians have enjoyed a high level of access to government information. It is worth pointing out that Canada is only one of a handful of countries that has such legislation. For example, England does not yet have access to information legislation although Mr. Blair's government has issued a position paper in favour of creating it.

Under this legislation, only specific and limited exceptions may be invoked by the government for refusing to allow access to information. In such cases, the legislation gives individuals the right to file a complaint with the information commissioner and to have the government's decision reviewed by the federal court.

The purpose of the Access to Information Act is to help citizens play their rightful role in a free and democratic society. Unfortunately, in some societies, citizens do not have such rights and therefore have no means by which they can call their government to account.

When the justice committee first considered Bill C-208 in May of this year it asked the hon. member for Brampton West—Mississauga to state the purpose of her bill. She declared that her bill was about accountability. It is important to note that on the relationship between the Access to Information Act and accountability the Supreme Court of Canada is in agreement with the hon. member.

The supreme court has so far decided only one case involving the Access to Information Act and therein the court wrote:

The overarching purpose of access to information legislation is to facilitate democracy by helping to ensure that citizens have the information required to participate meaningfully in the democratic process and that politicians and bureaucrats remain accountable to the citizenry.

I mentioned that Canadians are lucky to have the Access to Information Act but, on closer examination, this legislation is not as flawless as it seems.

An important omission has been identified with respect to the protection it affords: as things now stand, there is no penalty for deliberately altering or destroying a file. The former information commissioner had already pointed this out. In fact, he recommended that an offence relating to the destruction of documents be added to the Access to Information Act.

The law makes obstruction of the information commissioner an offence, and if there is any information relating to the commission of any offence against any law of Canada or a province on the part of any officer or employee of a government institution, the information commissioner may disclose this to the Attorney General of Canada. The bill before us today remedies that shortcoming.

We simply cannot have a situation in Canada in which people can with impunity completely block accountability by destroying documents to thwart access. Bill C-208 would prevent this.

Again I wish to say that the Minister of Justice fully supports Bill C-208.

Access To Information ActPrivate Members' Business

1:45 p.m.


Janko Peric Liberal Cambridge, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak this afternoon at report stage of Bill C-208, an act to amend the Access to Information Act.

I wish to begin by commending the bill. I would also like to commend my colleague from Brampton West—Mississauga for working hard in introducing this bill and all parties for supporting Bill C-208.

The time has arrived for parliament to ensure that actions with the intent to deny access to information through destruction, falsification or concealment of records are penalized. Clearly, manipulation of documents in this manner is not an acceptable operating principle. The issue of increasing the accountability of those denying access to information through the behaviour outlined in Bill C-208 is essential. Accountability is the essence of Bill C-208.

In Bill C-208, this parliament has before it an important private member's bill. The fact that Bill C-208, a private member's bill, has come this far is a testament to the worthiness of its content and intent.

I believe most Canadians want record abusers stopped and penalties enacted for abusers that include fines and jail terms. Bill C-208 ensures this outcome. As a consequence of ensuring accountability, this bill will forge better public trust and assurance. I urge this House not to let the opportunity provided for in Bill C-208 to pass by.

As we know, Canada is one of only a dozen countries throughout the world with access to information legislation. Bill C-208 demonstrates the Canadian resolve to offer access to information in an accountable and open manner. Strengthening the Access to Information Act through Bill C-208 illustrates Canada's approach that is unique to most of the world.

Bill C-208 provides for prosecution of an individual by way of indictment or summary conviction. This legal flexibility permits greater possibilities for prosecution thereby making the Access to Information Act more effective.

In strengthening the Access to Information Act, Bill C-208 strengthens democracy in Canada. Individuals scheming to manipulate records from public access need to be called to account for their actions. This is the basis of Bill C-208.

Passage of this legislation will be to this parliament's credit. It will be remembered as yet another instance when parliament endeavoured to protect and benefit Canadians.

I strongly support this bill. I urge all colleagues in the House to do the same.

Access To Information ActPrivate Members' Business

1:50 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is the House ready for the question?