Madam Speaker, I am very pleased and honoured to have the opportunity to speak to this historic piece of legislation, an act to amend the Nunavut Act and the Constitution Act, 1867.
I noticed earlier the hon. Leader of the Opposition in his remarks commented that the NDP had a certain position with respect to Senate reform and that we should take note, particularly members from the Atlantic area, of his words of wisdom. The NDP has clearly stated its position with respect to the Senate. It is unequivocal. It is on record.
I was quite disappointed to hear the hon. Leader of the Opposition, as was mentioned by my colleague from the Bloc, spend two hours commenting on Senate reform when this very important piece of legislation is before the House.
There is quite a bit of excitement surrounding the legislation. This is a very exciting time particularly for the people of Nunavut, for the Inuit.
A few weeks back I had the honour, along with some of my other colleagues, of attending a celebration of the coming into being of Nunavut. It was quite evident when we saw the rich cultural heritage that was being displayed and we sampled the cultural foods and so forth that there was a lot of excitement and a lot of hope surrounding the legislation. That is where we should be putting our focus today in terms of the hopes and aspirations of the people in the north with respect to the legislation rather than using it as a platform for a particular political agenda around Senate reform.
The legislation would pave the way for Nunavut's first general election. Timely passage of the bill would allow for a territorial election to actually precede the formal creation of Nunavut.
I am aware that the provisions contained in Bill C-39 are the result of long negotiations and discussions between the federal government, the Government of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated.
The creation of Nunavut and the unfolding of aboriginal self-government through public government in this new territory will be watched closely throughout the world. I must confess that I am not as fluent in Inuktitut as the previous speaker. From Qurluqtuuq or Copper Mine to Qikiqtarjuaq the early years of the territory of Nunavut will be monitored by many throughout the globe.
Before we send the bill to committee I want to congratulate all Inuit who have worked on and participated in this effort over the last 22 years and before.
Central to the success thus far in the historic effort that is the creation of Nunavut has been the careful negotiations between Inuit negotiators and those aboriginal groups on the borders of the land that is to become Nunavut. The success in the negotiations with first nations people living in northern Saskatchewan and Manitoba, the Denesuline, is a credit to all involved. Although the 60th parallel exists in our textbooks and laws it is irrelevant to the Dene who inhabit this region. The 60th parallel is also irrelevant to the caribou, fish and other wildlife that share the region.
The painstaking work of Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated, which is formerly the Tunngavik Federation of Nunavut, is a testament to the bright possibilities that mark the birth of this new territory.
In less than one year Canada's third territory will come into being thanks to passage of the Nunavut Act on June 10, 1993. On behalf of the leader of my party and my caucus colleagues I wish to indicate support of the bill at this stage as our party supported the Nunavut Act in 1993.
The amendments in the bill would allow for an election prior to the April 1, 1999 coming into being of Nunavut. With passage of the bill an elected assembly from the moment it comes into existence will govern Nunavut. It is very important that the assembly be in place at the time Nunavut is officially created.
The other amendments in the bill are the result of prolonged negotiations and would help to ensure the transition to Nunavut is a smooth one. The proposed interim commissioner would have responsibility for working on the division of assets and liabilities between the governments of Nunavut and of the Northwest Territories. The commissioner would also work to clarify how Northwest Territories laws would apply in Nunavut. Clearly these issues must be closely explored in committee.
The bill would also clarify liability for leases relating to staff housing and office facilities. The legislation also reassigns one of the two Northwest Territories seats to Nunavut and creates a seat in the Senate.
Support for the bill will be an important part of the effort to move ahead aboriginal self-government in this region. This will allow for province-type powers essential to the development of the social, cultural, economic and political well-being of Inuit.
Nunavut comprises, as we have heard, 1.9 million square kilometres, roughly one-fifth of the entire Canadian land mass. It is almost the size of Greenland. This clearly represents a tremendous opportunity for Inuit to manage wildlife and resources in a formal fashion in government, having managed them for so many thousands of years before Canada came into being. This will seek to formalize inherent Inuit rights to fish, wildlife and land that have been their rights since time immemorial.
With a population of roughly 24,600, Inuit comprise over four out of every five people in the territory to be. The representatives elected to bring this new territory into being would be accountable to a largely aboriginal electorate. The land claims agreement already passed recognizes Inuit title to 350,000 square kilometres of land and includes provisions for joint management and resource revenue sharing.
It is difficult for many southern Canadians to understand the social and economic nature of the region to become Nunavut. With a litre of milk costing roughly $7 and a loaf of bread $3 and with about 20 kilometres of paved road in almost 2 million square kilometres of land, the challenges and the opportunities facing the voters of Nunavut and their families are unique and most certainly require their own territorial government.
Nunavut means “our land”. The bill would facilitate giving meaning in history to that title. This new territory will be able to work in concert with native development corporations such as Nusai and Qikiqtaaluk Corporation representing concerns such as shrimp fishing, trucking and the hotel industry.
The Nunavut government will be elected by all voting residents of Nunavut, Inuit and non-Inuit. The government elected will be responsible to all citizens of the territory. Increasingly, beginning after the first election and the formal birth of the territory in April of next year, the government of Nunavut will assume responsibilities currently exercised by the Government of the Northwest Territories with the transfer of programs such as culture, public housing and health care to be completed by the year 2009.
While the federal government's co-operation with the Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated and the Government of the Northwest Territories is to be commended, it also serves to further underscore the dismal failure of the government in so many areas concerning self-government for aboriginal peoples.
The Liberal government should take the efforts and relative success in the developing creation of Nunavut and learn from it in its relations with aboriginal peoples throughout the land. The government should be taking the lead instead of waiting for costly and confrontational court actions to determine the history of our relations with aboriginal peoples.
Delgamuukw is an excellent case in point. It is astonishing that on the one hand the government can proceed with positive steps in the creation of the territory of Nunavut but stumble and fall so terribly in its abject failure to respond coherently to the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples.
As I mentioned earlier in these comments, the government did manage to engage in successful negotiations with Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated, the body that now affords representation and a negotiating structure for the Inuit of Nunavut. Why then has the government failed to carry this model forward and negotiate self-government?
The supreme court in the recent Delgammuukw decision encouraged the government not to continue to rely on the courts but to negotiate in the spirit of self-government recognized in the Constitution Act.
One of the issues that will need continued work in the future, which is not covered by the bill, is the area of the court system. There are no commitments in the legislation to move to develop community courts and to recognize the role of aboriginal justice. This glaring omission merits serious attention in the months to come. Although the bill would establish the supreme court of Nunavut and the court of appeal of Nunavut, it is silent on the issue of aboriginal justice and this silence condemns the Inuit to the existing judicial arrangements.
Furthermore, the issue of the status of Nunavut in the Canadian charter remains unsettled. Although the legislation would permit the new interim commissioner to enter into full employment contracts with future government of Nunavut employees and go beyond simple recruitment, much concentration is required on the whole issue of staff development and training. The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples stated:
An important goal is to ensure that the majority population of Inuit can staff their own governing institutions. The importance of training to self-determination cannot be overestimated.
Systems must be developed to ensure Inuit are trained and educated in such a way to ensure their full ongoing participation in all aspects of policy making, management and operation of the administrative, cultural, economic and other institutions developed. Given that many of the new jobs to be created will require some form of post-secondary education, according to the commission it is alarming that the government has not addressed the fact that less than one per cent of this population has a university degree.
The challenge at hand for all is to ensure that education is available particularly in areas of accounting, financial management, organizational development, planning and business development. Public education materials and programs must be developed in co-operation with the aboriginal population to ensure all understand and develop the dramatic changes in texture and responsibility of government in the land that will become the territory of Nunavut.
While the minority population of Nunavut currently pervades the territorial administration, the challenge in part will be to see how the majority culture of Nunavut can be “knit together with the culture of the minority population”, as the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples suggested.
Once again I commend the Inuit involved in all aspects of the negotiations which led to the bill and to the development of Nunavut as a whole. As I said at the outset, there is a lot of excitement surrounding the legislation. Even as I am speaking now I understand there is a web page on the Internet sponsored by a school in Nunavut. They are having a second by second countdown to the day that Nunavut will come into existence. It is not a day by day countdown but a second by second countdown. That shows how much excitement there is surrounding the whole concept.
This accommodation extends not only to the chief negotiators but to all those involved at every level, particularly families who so often had to endure long absences during the varied steps of the process.
Canadians owe a debt of gratitude to the Denesuline and to the Government of the Northwest Territories for the endless negotiation over the years to arrive at this point. The efforts of the minister and her staff in this instance, not to mention the many people in the federal government who have all brought goodwill and hard work to bear on the development of Nunavut, deserve to be commended.
I look forward to a very careful examination of the bill in detail over the days and weeks to come.