Mr. Speaker, as the second opposition party, the Bloc Quebecois will not have as much time as the leader of the opposition, who, according to my calculations, spoke for over two hours.
I draw the attention of the leader of the opposition to the fact that, during these two hours, he did not, to my knowledge, pronounce the word “Inuit” once. I find it absolutely deplorable that in such an important debate, which concerns one of Canada's great peoples, the Inuit, the leader of the opposition would launch an all-out attack against the Senate, while barely talking about the Inuit people during a two-hour speech.
Over the last few weeks, the Reform Party has been showing that it should not be the official opposition for aboriginal issues. It should be the Bloc Quebecois.
I can provide examples. Before the Easter break, the Reform Party launched a major attack on the Stoney community. The issue was the death of a woman and her child, but instead of addressing it, the Reform Party discussed only the economic aspect. The Chief of the Assembly of First Nations strongly condemned this attitude, saying that it was not right. And what is the Reform Party now doing? It will probably decide to sue the Chief of First Nations.
In this context, I again say that the Bloc Quebecois welcomes Canada's aboriginal people, including the Inuit and the Metis, and tells them that, if they have specific claims, they should take them to the Bloc Quebecois and the other parties, rather than to the official opposition.
The leader of the official opposition has just clearly demonstrated that he has no interest in aboriginal issues, except to play petty politics and to seize the opportunity to present his case against the Senate, as he did today, or to discuss the economy of aboriginal reserves, as he did in the past, rather than dealing with the fundamental aboriginal issue.
I had to make that point.
I will now deal with the bill before us. Effective April 1, 1999, the map of Canada is going to be substantially changed because a huge area will be created that will come under a legislative assembly, in which many Inuit will of necessity be involved in decision making. I say of necessity because, at this time, 80% of the residents of the area are Inuit, and 20% non-aboriginal.
This will therefore be reflected in the decision-making structures of this new territory and for once the Inuit will really find they have decision-making power on many issues that have always been very important to them.
This is the first time since Newfoundland's entry into Confederation in 1949—which I hardly need point out took two referendums—that we have seen the creation of a territory of such importance with such responsibilities as far as government autonomy is concerned.
Nunavut means something. I have already given an explanation of where all of the lands are situated. Every time I have the opportunity to speak, I like to point out where the new territory is located geographically.
This territory, which, under this bill, will be given the opportunity to come into existence on April 1, 1999 is an immense territory covering 1.9 million square kilometres. I have not done the calculations but, with a total of 17,000 Inuit living there, there are very few inhabitants per square kilometre. That vast expanse will now be under the jurisdiction of the Inuit.
As I said earlier, they make up 80% of the population. The other 20% will not be left out. They can, of course, run for office; it will be done through universal suffrage. I think however that 80% of the seats in the legislative assembly will, of necessity, be held by Inuit.
I have had several opportunities to visit Nunavut. We parliamentarians often tend to visit the capital of a territory or province, and this was so in my case. I have been to Iqaluit twice. The first time, in 1993, I had just been elected and the Prime Minister had decided that Parliament would start sitting only in February, so I took advantage of the opportunity to visit the Far North.
I take a special approach to visits. The first day I often just wander around the place and talk to people. I rarely identify myself. I do not tell them that I am an MP. This way, I get a better idea of what kind of life people lead there.
Life in the Far North is hard. It used to be even harder because most decisions affecting the people there were taken in Ottawa.
What we have before us today will change this situation to ensure that the power is devolved toward those who know what their specific needs are. Given the huge area involved, we can see that there are many needs. There are needs with respect to infrastructure, communications and education.
Let me remind members that, all too often, education programs designed here, in Ottawa, were implemented in the Northwest Territories, and the people had to comply with requirements in terms of education, health and economic development. All decisions used to be made in Ottawa. This will be a very significant change for these people.
In my travels, I was also struck by the hospitality of the Inuit. They are very open people who like to discuss. We have had a great deal of fun at the place where I lived, in bars and at the various decision making places in Iqaluit.
The Inuit are a people I greatly admire; they have been living on this land from time immemorial. Long before the arrival of Christopher Columbus, Jacques Cartier and other European discoverers, the Inuit had already settled here, with their own political and cultural systems and all the societal considerations associated with settling a territory.
I was shocked at the time by the price of food in this region, and I later made it one of my favourite themes. It seemed to me that food prices were disproportionate. I will quote some statistics later on, in this regard. But the most alarming thing, in my opinion, is the fact that between 50% and 80% of the population is unemployed. I was amazed to see that food was twice as expensive in Iqaluit as it was in the greater Montreal area for instance.
So, these people are in very extremely difficult circumstances. The fact that they will now be able to take control of their destiny and look after themselves pleases me tremendously. I think this was a fundamental need of theirs.
There is much discussion at present. There are plans to establish a legislative assembly before the new territory is officially created on April 1, 1999. I remind members once again of the specific character of Nunavut. This can be seen by the fact that they have even considered eventually having half the seats in the legislative assembly occupied by women. The respect owed to mothers and to women in general is a serious matter for aboriginal nations. The Inuit and native peoples are often much more advanced than we are when it comes to the status of women.
The very fact that they are considering a parliament or legislative assembly with 50% of the seats held by women is very interesting. I think it would be worthwhile to look closely at how people arrived at the idea of having this percentage of women in the legislative assembly.
The capital of Nunavut is Iqaluit. The committee to prepare the way for the legislative assembly, which I will get to later, did one important thing and that was to recommend that the government hold a referendum to decide where Nunavut's capital would be, and Iqaluit was the choice.
Another thing about Iqaluit, and I make a point of drawing this to members' attention, is that 10% of its inhabitants are French speaking. Naturally, Inuktitut is the official language of Nunavut, and there are people there who speak English, so there is still a fairly high rate of assimilation.
Without wishing to give advice to the future assembly, but as a Bloc Quebecois representative and French speaking parliamentarian, I would greatly appreciate any efforts that could be made to preserve the French language, because it is, after all, one of Canada's two official languages. Obviously, Inuktitut will probably be the language used in the legislative assembly.
I take this opportunity, with many of Nunavut's inhabitants listening today, to point out that, if they could make an effort to preserve the rights of the 10% of the population that is French-speaking, it would be a very worthwhile gesture.
Nunavut occupies one-fifth of Canada's surface and is composed of three regions: Qikiqtaaluk, Kivalik and Kitikmeot. These three regions contain 28 communities of Inuit operating, as you know, on an essentially municipal basis. These communities are run by mayors, while aboriginal reserves are under the authority of chiefs. Aboriginal reserves have a specific way of appointing the chief and band council. In Inuit communities, the municipal structure is often in place and people elect mayors rather than chiefs of communities.
So, the Nunavut government will allow Inuit people to have the place that should have been theirs since the very beginning. It also reflects the wish of Inuit people regarding self-government. These people have negotiated for close to 25 years to arrive at this result.
The Bloc Quebecois strongly supports the bill. There are a few minor things which we may try to change but, overall, this legislation allows the Inuit people to take their destiny into their own hands. Therefore, we can only agree with it.
Earlier, I mentioned that 50% to 80% of the people are unemployed. Since the legislative assembly will hire a number of public servants, it will help economic development. We should probably warn them not to create a bureaucracy that is too burdensome. Still, if Canada can provide funds for training, it will be a very good thing to create 600 or 700 jobs for people whose first responsibility will be as public servants for the legislative assembly. An effort will have to be made to ensure that this training can allow these people to hold important positions in the public service of that government.
Another interesting point is that, like in aboriginal reserves, 60% of the population is under 25 years of age. Therefore, it will be important to give them the tools needed to build a solid foundation for their legislative assembly, so that they can adequately control all the programs and address an issue that is extremely important to them and to Indian reserves: their young people.
The birth rate of aboriginal and Inuit people is twice that of the Canadian population as a whole. This will eventually create a problem that has to be looked at now. In fact, this problem is already surfacing in the reserves and villages. There are major demographic pressures, given how young the population is. This issue will have to be looked at very carefully. The legislative assembly will probably be well informed of these statistics, and I am sure that it will take the necessary steps to control the situation properly.
What we have before us is the most important land claims and self-government settlement there has ever been in Canada. I have been here since 1993, and we will remember the many self-government and land claim agreements there have been in the Yukon, the Sahtu, the Mackenzie Valley, and elsewhere. But there has never been such a large amount of land involved. That is very obvious, as we are talking about 28 communities over a territory of 1.9 million square kilometres.
There is a communication problem. We will see that the philosophy the Inuit will adopt concerning their legislative assembly will be aimed at decentralization as much as possible. In the past, all decisions came from Ottawa. Now, they must not all come from Iqualuit, and people will have to look at the possibility of having certain powers passed down to the communities, precisely in order to lessen the isolation of such a vast territory.
I referred earlier to the geography of Nunavut. It is one of the four great regions, principally Inuit, which will be the second to gain recognition. Inuvialuit has already been recognized in the part that is completely in the west of Canada. This one will be located right in the middle, and will encompass a large part, one-fifth in fact, of continental Canada. The other part, Nunavik, occupies the entire northern part of Quebec.
I would just like remind the House that the Government of Quebec is also opening up and intensifying negotiations concerning Nunavik and the Inuit who live there. I think, in fact I am convinced, that this will be the third region to be recognized, in terms of self-government land claims in Quebec, since the last region that involves the Inuit is in Labrador. Negotiations there are dragging out. They are making little progress, while things with Nunavut are reaching a conclusion. The western side, Inuvialuit, is already done. Soon, I hope, the same will be the case for Nunavik in northern Quebec, and the last one will probably be the people of Labrador.
Nunavut is located in the middle and the east of the Northwest Territories. The bill before us will divide up the Northwest Territories. The lines are already pretty well drawn. There will be one legislative assembly, the one already in place in Yellowknife, NWT, and then another for the other part, the old eastern part of the Northwest Territories, with Iqualuit as its capital, as I have said.
This is a territory with many water courses, running to the Arctic Ocean and to Baffin Bay on the east. Furthermore, Baffin Bay separates Nunavut from Greenland, which does not, by the way, mean that, because the respective territories are separated, there is no contact. I must point out that, for years now, the Inuit have had a circumpolar conference. It is supranational. Naturally, Inuit from throughout Canada speak to each other, but they are also going to speak with Inuit from Greenland or Russia. This is a very important body for them, an international body that allows them to put forward common claims.
Obviously, the isolated and polar nature of this territory is already a particular feature that must be taken into account. I think that there are dealings with other countries that it is important to monitor and I think that the circumpolar conference is ideally suited to this task.
There is possibly a dispute with Quebec that I must mention. I have just drawn a broad outline of Nunavut's geography, which, as I have said, is very far-flung. The Belcher Islands, however, which lie beyond this general outline, were also included in Nunavut. These islands lie a few kilometres off Quebec's shores.
I know that there is a dispute with Quebec. I do not think that the purpose of the bill before us is to resolve that dispute. It seemed to me important to state Quebec's position and to tell members that Quebec is claiming these islands, because they are much closer to Quebec's territory than to the territory of Nunavut.
Basically, the territory of Nunavut was marked off, and then, much later, two islands were dragged in. I have trouble seeing the logic behind this land claim. Quebec has most definitely not thrown in the towel on these islands and there will certainly be other discussions.
With the probable exception of the Belcher Islands, which may well, I agree, be inhabited by Inuit, but Inuit much closer to Quebec than to Nunavut, the territory of Nunavut—with the exception of the Belcher Islands—normally corresponds very closely to the traditional lands of the Inuit living in Canada's north and to the lands inhabited by their ancestors from time immemorial.
I will now summarize the legislation. The bill seeks to ensure a smooth transition and a delegation of the powers that were all concentrated in Yellowknife, in the Northwest Territories. These powers will now be decentralized and decisions will be made in the Nunavut.
The bill amends the Act to establish a territory to be known as Nunavut and to provide for its government, whose short title is the Nunavut Act. The act already exists. It was passed on June 10, 1993, by the political parties present in Parliament at the time.
The 1993 act also ratified an agreement. Before a bill is introduced, it is often preceded by agreements in principle and various processes that eventually lead to a final agreement requiring that a bill be passed, as is now the case. The same was done with the Nunavut Act. The bill before us today goes a little further, since it calls for constitutional amendments, among others.
At the time, the Nunavut Act provided land titles over a territory covering 350,000 square kilometres, and mining rights over 35,257 square kilometres. This is important, since we often have debates here on mining rights. Until now, it was Canada that developed, mined and benefited from mining or oil rights, with very little going to aboriginal people.
The 1993 Nunavut Act gave Inuit people an opportunity to achieve self-financing, and we should support this idea. We absolutely must break the financial and political dependency of aboriginals and Inuit on Ottawa. The 1993 Nunavut Act was right on target.
It also provided for hunting and fishing rights in that territory. Whenever I have the opportunity to make a speech on Indian affairs or on Inuit people, I stress that these things are extremely important. Hunting and fishing are often the foundations of their economy, whether it is caribou, seal or whale.
The hon. member for Nunavut invited us the other day to a day of festivities with dances and traditional food. I always enjoy traditional Inuit food. Whether it is frozen caribou, seal or Arctic char, they are all delicious foods.
So, hunting and fishing are very fundamental activities in Nunavut. When 50% to 80% of the population is without a job, these foods become subsistence, practically. Earlier, I also explained that prices in stores in the north are often twice what they are in the south. Therefore, these people have to hunt and fish to compensate, and I think that the right to hunt and to fish is the very foundation of Inuit family subsistence.
The act provided for a share of the oil, gas and mining royalties on crown lands, as well as the right of first refusal with regard to sports and commercial development of renewable resources in Nunavut. For game and fish, the 1993 act gave these people the final say. It is a kind of veto on everything that occurs in the territory, and its purpose is to ensure the subsistence of Inuit families.
It also established the legal and political framework for the establishment of the new territory. Furthermore, it provided for the creation of the famous Nunavut commission I mentioned earlier, whose mandate was to advise the governments of Canada and the Northwest Territories, as well as Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., the three parties concerned in the establishment of Nunavut.
We saw the establishment of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., which was the agency responsible for managing the whole financial issue, to ensure a harmonious transition toward the establishment of the new territory and its legislative assembly, on April 1, 1999.
What did the commission do? It examined several political and administrative issues. In particular, it looked at the transfer of services from the Government of the Northwest Territories to the new Government of Nunavut. At present, Nunavut is administered by Yellowknife, by the Northwest Territories.
Before the legislative assembly of the new territory is convened, it should be determined which jurisdictional aspects will be devolved to the new territory and a time frame should be set. They have looked into this.
I referred earlier to the funding and development of training programs so that Nunavut can have its own public service. Inuit affairs were normally dealt with by Indian and Northern Affairs officials in Ottawa. Now, from the moment they have their own legislature, Inuit people will need to have an efficient public administration.
One way to promote the economic development of the region is to have decently paid public service employees. I mentioned earlier that 600 to 700 jobs would be created. Funds must be set aside now to train these people to ensure that they can start performing their duties as soon as the new government takes office.
Naturally, the commission is also responsible for organizing the election of the first government and identifying the infrastructure needs, which are enormous because of how isolated most of these regions are.
A referendum was actually held to select the capital of Nunavut. Three municipalities were in the running: Iqaluit, Rankin Inlet and Cambridge Bay. In the end, Iqaluit won out and it will be the capital and seat of the next legislative assembly.
The commission also recommended appointing an interim commissioner to Nunavut, a position held by our former colleague, the hon. member for Nunavut's predecessor, Jack Anawak.
Most of the recommendations are reflected in the bill before us today. Several amendments will be made to the Nunavut Act, including those I just mentioned. This bill makes a number of changes to the act.
In 1993, the act provided that elections would be held after the territory was established. This makes little sense for, if the territory is officially recognized on April 1, 1999, a legislative assembly should be in place and ready to take immediate action.
We are developing not only the public service, but also the new philosophy. We want to be ready, come April 1, 1999, to put the legislative assembly into action. A number of people are now saying that it will be hard to do all this by the April 1, 1999 deadline, but the information I have for now is that everything possible is being done to ensure that the whole thing is up and running on time.
The elections are apparently going to be held before April 1, 1999, precisely so that the legislative assembly will be ready on the date I mentioned. The legislative assembly will have 19 members. There will therefore be 19 electoral ridings in Nunavut. I think I am very lucky to represent the riding of Saint-Jean. It takes me perhaps 30 minutes to travel from one end of my riding to the other, or an hour to cover the whole area.
Nunavut is so vast that it would take more than one hour by plane to make the same journey. I was saying earlier that the territory will cover an area of 1.9 million square kilometres and have 19 ridings. This means that each riding will cover 100,000 square kilometres.
This is huge as ridings go. In fact, this is why there are many discussions about decentralization taking place in preparation for the next legislative session. The idea is to give each of the 28 communities a little more power so that it is not necessary to ask for Iqaluit's permission every time urgent action is required, since people live in isolated communities.
The Inuit themselves admit this. They say that their government will be extremely decentralized, but that it will be necessary to wait for the commission to wrap up its work and the new assembly to take up its role before deciding on the extent of this decentralization.
Many government departments and agencies will be created in the territory's various communities. Approximately 20 are being considered. There will therefore be 28 communities. Departments and agencies could be decentralized in various municipalities in the interests of maximum decentralization of power.
One last detail on the Nunavut Act, which is that the elections will be based on the current NWT election legislation. The Northwest Territories Elections Act will therefore be the model for the coming elections for the Nunavut Legislative Assembly.
Another amendment to the Northwest Territories Act will be to adjust the number of seats required in the Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories, because after April 1, 1999 they will have lost part of their territory. The east will come under the new legislative assembly. The Northwest Territories will go from 15 seats to 14.
The purpose of the bill is to amend the 1867 Constitution Act in order to ensure that Nunavut is represented in the House of Commons as well as in the Senate. There are certain problems. Unlike the leader of the official opposition, I will not spend 35 minutes talking to you about the Senate, and then only 5 on the Inuit, but will try to do the opposite.
I must admit, however, that I have certain reservations about the Senate. Of course, in the present system certain senators represent certain regions, and we in the Bloc Quebecois MPs would be ill advised to tell the Nunavut not to elect senators because of our position on the Senate.
I must admit that there some thinking is still needed on this. I believe everyone is aware of the Bloc Quebecois position on the Senate. We simply want it abolished. When adding a senator is suggested to us, therefore, we are not all that receptive, but we do not want to take it out on Nunavut by saying it is the only region not entitled to have senators.
I would however like to make a point here. As I have said, we want to clarify our position a bit perhaps. At present, this is an irritant to us. The entire Senate, in fact, is an irritant. We spent an official opposition day demonstrating the inefficiency of the Senate, its costs in particular. For us, the true power must lie with the elected representatives, not with appointed senators.
There may be other ways to view the Senate, as the Reform Party leader demonstrated earlier. But if the Senate were elected, it could create other problems in our opinion. Who, in a given territory, would decide: the senator or the member of Parliament?
There are many problems. Consequently, the Bloc Quebecois is not beating around the bush. It proposes the outright abolition of the Senate.
There are other minor changes. The day that Nunavut is established, the laws and ordinances of the legislative assembly of the Northwest Territories will become the laws of Nunavut. We do not want a legislative and political void. When Nunavut is established, people will simply apply the laws that applied previously in the Northwest Territories, in Yellowknife.
This will prevent total chaos on April 2, 1999, by making sure people will not find themselves without laws. So, to avoid legislative void, the Northwest Territories Act will apply to the Nunavut territory. Therefore, the laws and ordinances of the Northwest Territories will form Nunavut's legislative basis.
The new government will have powers equivalent to those of existing territorial governments. It is anticipated that the whole transfer could be completed around the year 2009. There are many things to transfer in the areas of culture, public housing, health, education, and so on. So, there is a lot of work ahead. People will be able to start operating on April 1, 1999, but it must be realized that it will take some time before the delegation is fully completed.
There is also the issue of leases signed with the federal government regarding Nunavut's administration. These leases will of course be transferred to the Nunavut territory.
As for sharing the assets and liabilities of the Northwest Territories with Nunavut, there is no agreement between the two territories. The governor in council has the power to transfer the property of certain assets to Nunavut and to terminate certain federal contracts.
This means that in the meantime cabinet will be able to make a number of transfers while hoping that everything will be done by April 1, 1999 but knowing full well that everything cannot be done by then. The laws currently applying to the Northwest Territories will remain in force until such time as the people become completely autonomous as far as the Nunavut legislature is concerned.
The authorities and powers of the interim commissioner will also be clarified. At present, he is recruiting many people for the future public service of Nunavut. The interim commissioner, who is our former colleague, Mr. Anawak, is currently busy looking for qualified people to hold important positions in the future public service.
His mandate will end the day the first official commissioner of Nunavut is formally appointed. The new territory of Nunavut will then appoint a commissioner who will be directly assigned to Nunavut on a permanent basis. Mr. Anawak must be listening in. I want to salute this man who, for nine years in this House, represented the riding of Nunatsiaq, which is now represented by my hon. colleague opposite.
With respect to the public service of Nunavut and its establishment, some $39 million has been invested in employee training since April 1996. The process is already under way to recruit the 600 to 700 public service employees who will be responsible for carrying out the administrative and executive functions of the new government.
The establishment and division of the Northwest Territories into separate territories is nothing new. Originally, the Territories covered a much larger area known as Rupert's Land. I think these names can still be found in geography books.
Talk of splitting the territory into an eastern and a western portion is therefore nothing new. Members know that the present boundaries of the Northwest Territories were set in 1912, at the same time as those for Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec. Furthermore, it was at this time that we were given the northern tip of Quebec, that will eventually also be called Nunavik, and that will also probably be part of the drive for self-government that is part of the far north Inuit land claims.
Until 1950, the federal government administered the Northwest Territories. There was a territorial council whose members were appointed and this council was chaired by a commissioner appointed and serving in Ottawa. Ottawa decided who was the public servant and who was the commissioner. He was based in Ottawa and from here made decisions affecting territories thousands of kilometres away.
Things have changed significantly. This, of course, was the forerunner of the legislative assembly of the Northwest Territories.
In conclusion, I would like to read, as I always do, a short passage in Inuktitut, and perhaps my colleague will tell me if I pronounced it properly.
As I was saying in Inuktitut, I hope that the return of this bill to the legislative agenda will encourage the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and the government to take action to compensate for their mistreatment of the Nunavut Inuit. I hope that the creation of Nunavut will bring harmony and prosperity to your communities. Long live Nunavut.