Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to respond to the hon. member for Halifax West concerning aboriginal access to forest resources on crown lands.
The key issue in this matter is the involvement of New Brunswick aboriginal people in the forestry industry in New Brunswick. The New Brunswick appeal court found that there was not sufficient evidence in the case concerning Mr. Peter Paul to support a treaty or aboriginal right to commercial use of the forests. In any event, court decisions in this case will not close the door forever on the question of aboriginal or treaty rights in the maritimes.
Including aboriginal people in economic activities throughout Canada can go a long way toward promoting economic development in aboriginal communities. This will help raise the standard of living and hope for the future among a group of people who remain the most disadvantaged in Canadian society.
The Government of Canada recognizes that this case deals with an issue that falls under provincial jurisdiction. The government is pleased to see that the Government of New Brunswick is amenable to negotiating immediately interim arrangements that would enable First Nation communities to participate more fully in the province's forestry industry.
The province's initial proposal is being reviewed by a coalition of aboriginal leadership and loggers. It is our understanding that a counterproposal will be submitted to the province shortly.
In addition, the province launched a task force led by former chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, Gerard La Forest. The mandate of this task force is to consider the immediate issues related to forestry, but also a broader agenda of concerns to the province's First Nations such as education and economic development.
We believe that this task force will help bring all parties together to support peaceful resolutions to this issue. While respecting the primary responsibility of First Nations leadership and the province to resolve these issues, the federal government is open to considering how it could assist the parties to facilitate a resolution. The Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and her departmental officials will continue to discuss this with First Nations and the province of New Brunswick.