moved that Bill C-39, an act to amend the Nunavut Act and the Constitution Act, 1867, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Madam Speaker, it is indeed a pleasure and an honour for me to begin the debate on Bill C-39, an act to amend the Nunavut Act and the Constitution Act, 1867.
I remind the House and indeed all Canadians that on April 1, 1999 something very important will happen, something that is reflective of who we are as a country and as Canadians, something that describes how we have been able through the course of the 20th century to find ways and means of modernizing democracy, of reflecting the will of the people of the land, and of taking creative approaches through negotiation, building treaties and discussion to find better ways to build governing structures that are representative and reflective of the people we are elected to represent.
On April 1, 1999 Canada will have a new territory, the territory of Nunavut. Over the course of the 20th century we as a country have found ways to build a nation, to make change. If we go back to 1905, it was in that year that two new provinces were created out of the Northwest Territories, the province of Alberta and the province of Saskatchewan. In a peaceful way we reflected the interests, the needs, and respected the requirements of the people living in what we now know to be two very important special provinces in our federation, Alberta and Saskatchewan.
At the beginning of the 20th century we had something very important and now we have at the end of the 20th century something equally important.
The creation of Nunavut is something we should all be proud of. It is something that is capturing the attention of the world. We know it is very rare that countries can in peaceful ways through negotiation build, change, redraw their maps and in a very active way remember and reflect on the fact that governments really are about people. Our challenge is to find modern ways to ensure that the people of the country feel a part of it and feel that their ideas and their concerns are reflected in their governing structures.
Bill C-39 is an extremely important piece of the legislative framework that will allow us to have a successful creation of or transition to the new territory of Nunavut on April 1, 1999.
As a result of conversations with my counterparts in the Government of the Northwest Territories, with the leadership of the Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated, with the work of the interim commissioner Jack Anawak and of the Nunavut Implementation Committee, we have identified that we need to build on the work that has gone on in the past and to implement amendments that will ensure the stable, safe and seamless transition to the new territory of Nunavut in April 1999.
Bill C-39 then is not an end in itself but is one piece in a long history of what the peoples of the eastern Arctic wanted and require. It makes sense to have a government that reflects them in modern times.
If we think back on the history, it is a fascinating one. We know now that the Inuit people were in Canada's Arctic and high Arctic over 4,000 years ago. I have had the great fortune to travel to the north. I am constantly amazed at how the Inuit and others living in the eastern Arctic have found ways to acclimatize, to live and to thrive in very harsh environmental conditions. If we think about that, 4,500 years ago, it is a tribute to the human condition, to human nature and to the Inuit people to see that they have stayed, thrived and flourished. They are bringing up families in northern climes, something that we have come to appreciate as very much a part of Canada.
In the mid-1500s Martin Frobisher, the explorer, was trying to find a passage to the Orient. He travelled through the islands of the high Arctic. Carrying on with our history, in the 1870s and 1880s the British crown transferred the Arctic and the islands of the high Arctic to Canadian authority.
In the early 1900s we saw structural changes to the Northwest Territories and the creation of the new provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan. In the 1920s there were discussions with other international parties, the Danes and the Norwegians, but again we viewed these lands to be very much a part of Canada and have defended that strongly.
It has been interesting to note that in the 1960s in the very large territory of the Northwest Territories which crosses over three time zones there were the beginnings of discussions about the need for division. There was a recognition that there were differences across that large geographic mass.
In the 1960s a task force was assembled, the Carrothers commission, to look at the appropriateness of the geographic alignment of that territory and how well we were able to represent the interests of the people there with one governing structure. As we know in the Mackenzie Valley and in the Beaufort Sea at that time there was increasing interest in the natural resources, an increasing population growth and an interest in building toward stronger representative government.
In 1973 a significant decision of the supreme court allowed us to start thinking about the Northwest Territories and other lands in Canada in a new way. In 1973 in the Calder decision the door was opened for us to consider the issue of aboriginal title in Canada and the fact that it may continue to exist. In 1973 the Inuit Tapirisat began to research the traditional occupancy of the Inuit people in the far north, to reflect their information and beliefs and to encourage us to work together to build a modern land claims structure and strategy.
The year 1973 was the turning point and gave us the interest to build the modern land claims strategy that we now see being implemented across the country, not only in the north with the Inuit people, with the Dene and the Metis but in British Columbia and Quebec where we are settling comprehensive agreements on land claims and self-government.
Over the course of the seventies and into the eighties the discussion about division and appropriate boundaries in the Northwest Territories continued. There were different strategies put forward. The Dene suggested that we break into three different territories. The Inuvialuit, the Inuit people around the Beaufort, became very interested in focusing on their self-government in land claims agreements. We have settled those and are proceeding to implementation in the western part of the Northwest Territories.
In 1992 we came to understand more fully the importance of settling what has come to be Canada's largest land claim agreement, the land claim agreement in Nunavut. This is a huge territory in and of itself, covering over 200 million square kilometres of land. In 1993 the Nunavut Act legislation was passed that allows us to settle the land claim and create the new and innovative governing structures that we need so that the people of the eastern Arctic feel that their government is reflective of their interests and of their concerns.
While the government will not be dissimilar in many ways to the governments we see in the territories, there will be some differences. One that is of particular interest and that has been strongly encouraged by the Inuit in the eastern Arctic is that the government be decentralized and that there be bodies of the government in remote communities so that people are connected with their structures of government.
It is an interesting undertaking which as I said is reflective of our capacity as a country to build democracy, to build a nation and to understand that democracy is not static and has to change and evolve, and that a country and a federation as successful as ours can find ways in modern times to evolve and to change.
The history that has brought us to this point has been a long and arduous one. It has been 20 years since we have focused our attention on building a new government in the eastern Arctic. This has been strongly supported by all people in the Northwest Territories, and it would have to be because when boundaries change there are issues associated with division that have to be negotiated.
I am proud to say that the discussions are currently continuing and being undertaken to ensure we have the platform for governing structures available on April 1 and are proceeding in a positive fashion.
As I said at the outset, we have discovered that we need more legislation to allow us to continue to make progress. That legislation and these amendments are real and important. They were not just dreamed up by this side of the House. The needs were fed to us by our partners in the Northwest Territories, the Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated, our partners in the Nunavut Implementation Commission and the interim commissioner, Mr. Jack Anawak, a former colleague of ours in the House who has taken on the task of ensuring that we are implementing “Footprints In the Snow”, the document that gave us the grand design for the territory itself.
The amendments that are part of Bill C-39 fall into two broad categories: the amendments that are particularly technical in nature and the second group of amendments to ensure full representation for the people of Nunavut both in the House and in the other place.
When it comes to the technical amendments, they essentially are required so that we have a stable and even flow of activities between now and April 1, 1999 and then into the future. We want to make sure, for example, that people have the ability to have their car licences continued, that people have a court structure which has continuity, that for cases which have been or are being heard there is not a requirement for a stoppage, but that things can flow and continue.
We want to make sure that social services continue to be provided and that we have platforms so that there is no stop or start, that individual residents can be assured that their circumstances will not change in terms of their day to day lives.
These technical amendments are critically important and they are necessitated by the fact that we believe and are sure we can create this new territory with a minimum of confusion, concern and difficulty for citizens in what will be the western Arctic and the eastern Arctic.
We can imagine the work that goes into preparing this platform. The interim commissioner as we speak is in negotiations with the Government of the Northwest Territories with the Government of Canada, looking at arrangements, at contracts that have been struck between the federal government and the Northwest Territories and sorting them out to make sure that the assets and liabilities in the territory are clearly split fairly and identified and that there is an acceptable and fair approach to the creation of this whole new territory.
When we look at the other set of amendments, they are equally important because one of the things that we believe in strongly in this country is that individuals must be represented within their governments. At the federal level that means having representation here in the House of Commons and it very clearly means having representation in the other place.
With this bill we will confirm the member of Parliament for Nunavut. My colleague, the member for Nunavut, ran in that territory in the election of 1993 and for the first time it was called Nunavut, but that needs to be confirmed in the Constitution so that there is a place for the people of Nunavut in this place.
As I have said, we have to ensure that the voice and representation of the people of the Northwest Territories and the western Arctic and eastern Arctic is heard in the Senate. That is why we have to make an amendment to the Constitution Act, 1867 to ensure that their voice is heard in the Senate.
This bill is not about redefining the structures of government as they exist. It is about making sure that the voices of the people in Nunavut and western Arctic will continue to be heard in their houses of parliament.
I would like to continue on by talking about the relationship we have built among ourselves, the people of this country, to ensure we do have a positive and successful transition to the creation of Nunavut on April 1, 1999.
As can be imagined, it is not easy. What we see is a willingness of the part of all people associated to make sure this works. They reflect on their history. They reflect on the importance of the land claim agreements. They reflect on the importance of proving that we can continue to develop a democracy that works, a federation that works, a nation that works.
I have had the pleasure of sitting down at a principals meeting in Iqaluit with my counterpart, the deputy premier of the Northwest Territories, Mr. Goo Arlooktoo, and with the president of the Nunavut Tungavik Corporation, Jose Kusagak, listening to the interim commissioner talk about the plans and the implementation strategies that must occur in the next few days.
It is a challenge and it is our view that the best approach we have in place is the basic framework of our legislation package so that the people of Nunavut, upon electing their government, their men and women who will be in their territory to represent them, can make the decisions that are required to build a series of legislation that truly reflects the realities of the eastern Arctic.
In this bill we are asking the House to confirm and to agree to early elections. We want to make sure that before April 1, 1999 the men and women of the eastern Arctic have been elected and are ready to take office on that very important and significant date, to begin their work as representatives of the people who are Inuit and non-Inuit.
There are things that are very important in this that we must understand. First of all in the context of this land claims agreement, we are not talking about self-government for the Inuit people. We are talking about building a public government that will represent all who live in the eastern Arctic, in the territory of Nunavut.
With this public government, we will have a structure that better represents the Inuit people who make up 85% of the population but which, in addition, is representative of those other Canadians who live in the territory.
To this point, the Nunavut Act would have the elections occur after the transition, after the creation, after April 1, 1999. In our view and in the view of the Nunavut implementation commission, that is inappropriate. Rather, the election must occur before.
This brings some great urgency to this piece of legislation and why I would encourage all members of the House to support the speedy passage of Bill C-39.
As we all know, the process of election, the process of presenting oneself to the public for consideration takes time. Individuals need to question proposed candidates, to get to know them, to understand their point of view, to determine if they have the philosophy that is so much defined for us in footprints in the snow.
That is why I am asking the House to support us in moving Bill C-39 through the process of legislation as quickly as possible. We need to ensure that there will be representation for the people of Nunavut in their government in Iqaluit, in their house of Parliament here on this side and the other side.
As I say, this is a truly exciting time. Our job together, my job as the representative from the federal government in this very important initiative, is to have the platform ready, to have the basic legislative framework there, to ensure that there is a public service there to serve and support the men and women who will be duly elected before April 1, 1999.
Our job is to provide that infrastructure but then to give it over in a stable fashion as smoothly as possible, as efficiently as possible to the individual men and women who will be elected by the people of the eastern Arctic to sit on their behalf in the new government of Nunavut in Iqaluit.
Members can see why Bill C-39 is required. It is required so that technically we have the structure in place for the new government to function.
It is required so that the people of Nunavut can hold their election and truly celebrate their new government on April 1. It is required to ensure that the people of Nunavut will have their voices heard here in Ottawa, in their national capital, in the House of Commons and in the Senate.
As I said at the outset, this is just one small piece in what has been a long and exciting and tremendously important history of our eastern Arctic. I want to congratulate all those who to date have put their time and energy into such a significant undertaking.
I think of John Amagoalik who chairs the Nunavut implementation commission, called Mr. Nunavut, who has over the course of his lifetime really worked for nothing more than a clear representation, a clear governing structure for the Inuit and other Canadians who live in eastern Arctic.
I congratulate those men and women in the existing Government of the Northwest Territories who have consistently supported this approach, the minister of finance, John Todd, the deputy premier, Goo Arlooktoo, the premier and the representatives from the eastern Arctic and the western Arctic now who are working and focusing on making this an effective example of how Canada works.
I want to thank those men and women here in the federal legislature, the member for Nunavut who has so strongly supported this initiative and provided me with direction and advice and I expect will explain to the House her involvement in the whole process.
This is an exciting time in Canada's history. We can be very proud of our country. We can be very proud of its heritage. We can be very proud that we are part of a nation that takes very seriously the issues of democracy, the structures of government, the focus that we believe that we can build ways and means that represent all individuals who live in this nation. We can be flexible and through positive initiatives of negotiations, of treaties and discussions, keep our country moving forward in a healthy and hopeful direction that is not static, that is not arbitrary, but is thoughtful and always recognizes that the role of government is to make the lives of its citizens better.
In my mind this undertaking, the creation of the new territory of Nunavut, is a shining example of how we make progress in this country, of how we show that our federation works, of how we indicate to the rest of the world that we are unique and that we are building a democracy that is second to none.
I will just ask all members to reflect on what is being asked for in this legislation and to understand that by supporting it they are supporting the values and the strengths that make this country so great.