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House of Commons Hansard #11 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was treaty.

Topics

Nisga'A Final Agreement ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my fellow member, the Progressive Conservative Party's House leader, for his excellent speech.

I would like to ask him whether he shares my opinion that it is essential that all members in this House support the Nisga'a treaty, essential, therefore, that the example set by Quebec in the early 1980s be followed. Quebec's National Assembly—and I know all members will remember this fact—recognized native rights at the start of the 1980s.

When we listen to the debate and consider the speeches by the Reform Party, with its usual narrow-mindedness, and then the open-mindedness of the Progressive Conservative Party, is this not proof—and the member could confirm this—that no agreement is possible and that no united alternative could be contemplated on this basis?

Nisga'A Final Agreement ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Progressive Conservative Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Quebec. Unfortunately, I am unable to answer his question in French.

I would be very quick to recognize that the province of Quebec has an exemplary record in many instances in dealing with aboriginal people. It has been a leader in many areas when it comes to issues of negotiation. It has a different law in many ways with respect to the application of the civil law. Perhaps in some ways it is more well versed in this type of negotiation under the civil law as it applies.

I embrace the idea that solidarity is what is perhaps most needed when it comes to an issue such as this one. A very important signal will be sent to aboriginal people in Canada in the spirit of this particular agreement. The last thing we want to see is more contentious and divisive debates. The last thing we want to see is a decision coming out of the supreme court which basically forces the government in many instances to negotiate with a gun to its head.

We know that the record of the federal government in taking cases involving aboriginal people to the Supreme Court of Canada or the federal court is an absolutely abysmal one. I suggest the hon. member is on the right track when he clearly states that negotiation in good faith is what is most needed and desired.

That is certainly the spirit of this agreement. It is why members of the Progressive Conservative Party are supporting it. We are looking forward to getting it to the committee where we can perhaps bring about some necessary changes and move the matter forward for the benefit of all.

Nisga'A Final Agreement ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

Reform

Derrek Konrad Reform Prince Albert, SK

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Kootenay—Columbia. I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak today to Bill C-9, an act to give effect to the Nisga'a final agreement. I am fairly sure the final agreement will become known as the phantom legislation that changed the nation. I say that because we will not get a look at the real treaty which makes all the difference.

It might be of interest to know that the agreement, the accompanying appendices and taxation agreement are 50 millimetres thick in either English or French, while the ways and means motion before the House is in both official languages and is only 1 millimetre thick. That means that parliament was able to study roughly one-100th of the total material referred to.

The treaty which the bill implements is the first of its kind. It is meant to be a template for the remaining 50-plus treaties to be negotiated in British Columbia. It would create and constitutionalize features of government, taxation, representation, fisheries and resource management that are unique in that they are based on race.

This is not public government. It is a private government which is not based on residency but on citizenship in the Nisga'a nation. Other people cannot obtain Nisga'a citizenship no matter how long they reside on their lands. They will always be guests with none of the rights that accrue to citizens.

Just for interest sake, I would like to refer to a statement made to the special rapporteur and presented to the United Nations working group on indigenous populations: “It is the first time in our life that we are standing on lands that the white man has a right over and we as indigenous people are merely guests. I am therefore very grateful to the people of Switzerland for allowing us to be here”. That appears to be the type of thinking we are up against.

People other than the Nisga'a cannot obtain Nisga'a citizenship. It is not open to anyone except by hereditary means. They will not have any part in the election of the legislative body that sets the level of taxation levied or the amount of fees for services that are to be set. They will be at the mercy of a system that, no matter how well meaning the participants are, will deny their democratic rights and will do it for all time.

If the legislation creating Nisga'a government were outside the constitutionally entrenched land claim as it should have been, the treaty would be more acceptable. Furthermore, if it did not form part of a final agreement, it would be possible to test drive the proposed government model. One would not buy a car without driving it first to see if it fit one's needs, runs well and has a guarantee that would cover the cost of repairs if it fails to live up to the sales pitch.

In spite of these concerns this new governance model is not open to amendment in the House. Time allocation will likely be used to limit debate. There is no way to make changes that may be found to be necessary for a government which is founded on the failed practices of the 19th century.

In the legislation before us today we are told that it will help build the economy. This is stated not as a fact but as an article of faith without the slightest evidence to support it. The sad history of Indian affairs on which the agreement is based does not give me, and it should not give it to any member of the House, any reason for confidence.

Every member of the House knows, unless in complete denial, that conditions on Indian reserves which constitute a society apart from the mainstream are abysmal. The commonly accepted indicators point to complete failure. Time and time again statistics show that all social indicators on Indian reserves are much worse than for the general population. Infant mortality rates are higher than for the general population. Drug abuse is rampant. Diabetes is a scourge. Rates of incarceration, unemployment, inadequate housing and lack of economic activity all bear witness to the failure of the system that has been in place since the 1800s.

To digress for a moment, I draw the attention of the House to the interim report of the Standing Committee on Indian Affairs and Northern Development on aboriginal economic development. In its report the committee calls on the government to invest in social housing in Indian communities and in northern communities inhabited largely by Inuit.

I want the House to see and understand the contradiction in terms evident in such a statement. Social housing is neither a driving factor nor an indicator of economic development. If it is anything at all it is an admission there is no economy to stimulate or to build on. That the Liberal government thinks that social housing is an indicator of an economy rather than an indicator of abject failure shows that it has no idea what success is or how to achieve it. Therefore we must take its predictions of growth in the Nisga'a economy with a grain of salt, and I should suggest with much more than that.

In the agreement a collectivist approach rather than a private enterprise approach is entrenched. Therefore all indicators of failure will be entrenched.

The treaty is being presented as a fait accompli by the government in partnership with the Government of British Columbia. We know the Liberals are supremely confident that they and the B.C. New Democrats have it right and that the public has no need to look into what they have created. Historically this has been the modus operandi of the Liberals when faced with the big questions facing Canada.

Thirty years ago Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau introduced his white paper on Indian affairs which accurately defined the difficulties facing Indians because of the walls created by discriminatory legislation like the Indian Act. He proposed solutions to the problem that were visionary in their day and were breathtaking in their scope. His minister of Indian affairs at the time was in complete agreement with the prime minister. That Indian affairs minister is our current Prime Minister.

We need to ask what caused the failure of this grand vision for aboriginal people. What led to such a complete rout of the government of the day and the utter rejection of its vision, which continues to this day and which it rejects?

I believe it was caused by the Liberals' propensity to create grand doctrines all the while talking only to themselves. It is this predilection to shut the public out of the process and then spring some grand design for the public good on an unsuspecting public that caused it to fail. In thirty years nothing has changed. The Liberal government still has not learned anything about democracy and the need for wide consultation.

If the agreement is so good it should stand up to public scrutiny by B.C. residents in the same way it was put to members of the Nisga'a band. They should not be denied a voice in the affairs that concern them so directly. I suggest members of the House support the amendment proposed by the Leader of the Opposition in which he calls on the government to withdraw the bill and refer the subject matter to the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development.

I turn to a clause in the bill that to some extent sheds some light on the mindset of the government when we address these issues. The preamble to Bill C-9 states:

Whereas Canadian courts have stated that this reconciliation is best achieved through negotiation and agreement, rather than through litigation or conflict;

Then it goes on with a number of other whereas clauses. This clause serves no purpose in the legislation other than to tell the world that the Liberal administration had to be spanked by the supreme court and sent to its room. We would surely agree with that sentiment on this side of the House. However, it is our contention that the Liberal government is regrettably the senior level of government in Canada at this time and ought to behave in an adult fashion and not go to its room so easily.

Let us look at the taxation agreement as an example of what I mean. In section 37 under land claims agreements it states:

If within 15 years of the effective date, Canada or British Columbia enacts legislation giving effect to another land claims agreement applicable in northwest British Columbia that provides that all of the lands that were set apart as Indian reserves of an Indian band whose members were represented by a party to the agreement cease to be reserves, and provides in the land claims agreement that is referred to in that land claims agreement:

(a) tax powers that are not available to Nisga'a Lisims Government or Nisga'a Village Governments; or

(b) tax exemptions that are not available to Nisga'a Government or Nisga'a Villages;

Canada and British Columbia, on request of the Nisga'a Nation, will negotiate and attempt to reach agreement with the Nisga'a Nation to provide appropriate adjustments to the tax powers of Nisga'a Lisims Government, and to the tax exemptions available to the Nisga'a Nation and Nisga'a Villages, taking into account the particular circumstances of the other land claims agreement.

The rather lengthy legal text I read means just one thing. There is none of the vaunted finality in the agreement in respect of taxes at least. If any other band negotiates a better agreement, and that is inevitable, the federal and provincial governments must come to the negotiating table at the request of the Nisga'a government to add to the powers and exemptions that were not included in this agreement.

For the reasons I have stated I will be opposing the legislation and I call on other hon. members to vote in favour of the amendment proposed by the Leader of the Opposition.

Nisga'A Final Agreement ActGovernment Orders

5:40 p.m.

NDP

Svend Robinson NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member for Skeena, a colleague of the hon. member, indicated on a number of occasions that he believed the Nisga'a treaty in some way entrenched inequality of aboriginal women.

In view of the provisions of subsection 35(4) of the Constitution Act, 1982 that guarantee all section 35 rights, that is the aboriginal treaty rights in the constitution including Nisga'a rights under the treaty, equally to male and female persons, how could the member possibly argue that it is in any way unequal?

Nisga'A Final Agreement ActGovernment Orders

5:40 p.m.

Reform

Derrek Konrad Reform Prince Albert, SK

Madam Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Burnaby—Douglas for the opportunity to speak to this issue. There is already inequality on Indian reserves. Otherwise Indian women would not be speaking out about the need to look after their equality.

During debate on the last piece of legislation that went through the House, Bill C-49, the government and all other parties insisted that women were being equally treated.

It is our understanding that women's rights will not be looked after carefully in the agreement. This is not the way in which rights should be handled. When the agreement says that it respects the free and democratic nature of Nisga'a government, what is it really trying to say? It is not just a straight statement of fact. There is a qualifier in the ways and means motion which I think a good lawyer will find a way around.

Nisga'A Final Agreement ActGovernment Orders

5:45 p.m.

Reform

Darrel Stinson Reform Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

Madam Speaker, I would like to ask my colleague about the agreement and property rights.

Nowhere in the agreement does it give Nisga'a people individual property rights. It is one of the fundamental aspects if a marriage breaks up, or there is desertion or anything like that. Without property rights being entrenched in the agreement, would that not put a severe handicap on the spouse who has been deserted?

Nisga'A Final Agreement ActGovernment Orders

5:45 p.m.

Reform

Derrek Konrad Reform Prince Albert, SK

Madam Speaker, the hon. member has stated the case very well. Most of our rights have sprung from the ability to own, deal with, dispose of, or invest in private property and not property held in a collective. That is a good point. How will the collective deal with the individual rights when two individuals go to court to try to work out some form of an agreement where their property will be assigned to one spouse or the other?

Nisga'A Final Agreement ActGovernment Orders

5:45 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Gerald Keddy Progressive Conservative South Shore, NS

Madam Speaker, it states very clearly in the Nisga'a final agreement that the rights of Nisga'a men and women are equal and protected under the law. It states that very clearly. Let us put aside the assertion that somehow there is inequality between men and women in the agreement.

The other assertion that needs to be set aside is that this is not a democratic process or is not democratic enough, or it could be more democratic. The Nisga'a government went before its own people and 61% of the voters in Nisga'a lands voted in support of the agreement. Looking at the total number of people in the Nisga'a lands, 75% voted for the agreement. The Reform Party itself agreed to change the way that party works. Some 25% of Reform Party members voted for that and it was good enough. I would like a comment from the member.

Nisga'A Final Agreement ActGovernment Orders

5:45 p.m.

Reform

Derrek Konrad Reform Prince Albert, SK

Madam Speaker, where we see a real lack of democracy on the issue is that it is an agreement that affects all people in British Columbia. The people of British Columbia were denied a voice in the implementation of the treaty. They heard about it secondhand. I said that in my speech. Other members have said it and they will say it time and time again. The people of British Columbia were denied a voice in the democratic process. Their rights were overlooked.

Nisga'A Final Agreement ActGovernment Orders

5:45 p.m.

Reform

Jim Gouk Reform West Kootenay—Okanagan, BC

Madam Speaker, should there be settlement with the Nisga'a and other aboriginal people? Absolutely.

There are undeniable historical grievances and they have to be settled and settled fairly. The question is in what manner should they be settled? A number of steps need to be taken.

There needs to be a deadline for claims to be submitted. This is necessary for two reasons. We cannot reach settlement if new claims are continually popping up. Also, we cannot reach fair and final settlements if the aboriginal communities themselves have overlapping claims.

The Nisga'a represent only one of more than 50 aboriginal groups in British Columbia and a third of those are not currently involved in negotiations. There is absolutely no way to reach realistic settlements when we do not even know what some of the groups might be willing to settle for.

With the Nisga'a treaty not yet complete, the Gitanyow band are now claiming that much of the Nisga'a treaty land is their traditional land and they are preparing a court battle over the title. Guess who is going to pick up the legal bill for both sides?

The total potential settlement package has to be affordable. It is no good coming up with a package if the total cumulative effect of that package and all the others to follow absolutely destroys or bankrupts an economy of an entire province. It has to take into consideration the cost of financial settlements, the cost of land settlements and the future cost of lost revenues primarily through lost natural resource revenues. Here we have the first of what I believe is a huge deception on the impact of the proposed treaty.

Provincial promotional material designed to sell the treaty to the public implied the cost was $312 million. That was extremely inaccurate and I believe deliberately misleading. That figure is only the actual cash component of the direct financial compensation to be paid. It did not include such considerations as the value of the land to be transferred or lost provincial forestry revenue.

The provincial government attempted to pacify British Columbians by claiming that most of the costs would be borne by Canadian taxpayers, not B.C. taxpayers. Last time I heard B.C. was still in confederation and we are Canadian taxpayers, and it is damned expensive at that.

The public must be consulted on the process and on any potential settlement. Settlements cannot be made piecemeal. Before one treaty is signed the public should know the bottom line and that means the total cost and impact of all settlements. There has been very little consultation with the public at large and virtually no indication that what has been heard has impacted on the outcome.

An agreement in principle was reached in 1996. From that time until now, despite a considerable amount of concern raised by the public, not one single word of the agreement has changed as a result of the public meetings that were held.

As I mentioned earlier the Nisga'a are one of over 50 aboriginal groups in B.C. The proposed settlement will be the floor and not the ceiling for all future settlements.

Given the cost of the Nisga'a treaty, I want to look at two components of the treaty: the financial costs and control of B.C.'s forest resources.

An actual financial analysis of the treaty has now been completed and it places the cost at approximately $1.3 billion. The total Nisga'a population represents 3.74% of B.C.'s aboriginal population. Of those, only one-third live on Nisga'a land and receive any kind of benefit from this treaty.

This treaty becomes a template for all future settlements. The final cost of all settlements would exceed $35 billion. If we think that is far fetched, then we should ask ourselves what aboriginal group is going to settle for less than the provincial and federal governments are willingly giving to the Nisga'a?

Under forestry, using the same proportional arguments as the financial concerns, this treaty would ultimately give an aboriginal population representing less than 5% of the B.C. population harvesting rights for almost 20% of the provincial annual allowable cut.

We simply cannot afford either one of these situations.

Treaties when signed have to lead to equality and finality. The settlement must be available to individual aboriginal people. To do otherwise extends an already existing feudal type system that will ultimately fail, just as it is failing now.

At this time the federal government alone spends $9,000 for every aboriginal man, woman and child on a reserve in this country. Despite this, many aboriginal people on those reserves live in a state of abject poverty. The reason is that much of the money is used up by the bureaucracy and what is left is passed on to certain band leaders. In some cases not so much as one single dollar makes its way to those truly in need. Under this agreement individual rights and access to benefits are still non-existent.

Under the Nisga'a agreement a central government will own all of the land and control all of the money and resources provided for by this agreement. For an individual to voice criticism is to risk exclusion from the benefits of those government owned and controlled holdings. It is a top down mechanism and it is fatally flawed. It totally ignores the principles of public scrutiny and equality of citizens. The Nisga'a agreement empowers government instead of people and that is a certain formula for failure.

Many people will remember studying the old English feudal system of medieval times where the lord owned all the land and everything that grew on it. The peasants were allowed to live on the land, to put up their dwellings and to raise crops, all of which belonged to the lord. They had no ownership or rights of any kind other than what he allowed. It was a very oppressive, undemocratic system full of flaws and resentment that came to a deserving end centuries ago. So why is this House considering going into the 21st century proposing the same kind of system for Canada's aboriginal people?

We have already seen examples of this. The Stoney band situated west of Calgary has a total of 3,300 people living on three different reserves. Many of those people live in absolute squalor, some in the basements of condemned homes. This is despite the fact that the Stoney band has an annual income of $50 million. That money goes first to the three band leaders who collectively draw half a million dollars in salary plus unlimited expense accounts while many of their people live in despair. Is this a system that is going to solve aboriginal problems? I do not think so.

Some might argue that these leaders are elected and can be thrown out of office if they do not do a good job. Well, I am an elected member of parliament. If someone does not like what I do, they can speak out against me. They can stand for election and try to beat me in the next election. If they do, fine. If they do not, life goes on. But what if I owned the house of that person who complained and tried to beat me out? What if I owned their bank account? What if I controlled all of their principal activities on the land? They could still run against me and if they win, that is fine. But if they lose, they have a problem.

That is the inherent problem with the current reserve system. Much of the government funds that the band leaders receive and will continue to receive even under this agreement are based on the reserve population. It is in the interest of the band leaders to keep the reserve population up and discourage band members from leaving.

Non-Nisga'a people living on land handed over to them will not have a vote on decisions affecting them. They say they will have a vote on the school board. They will not have a vote on anything that deals with their taxation. They will not have any property rights. They will not be able to vote for the Nisga'a government itself. They will not be allowed to run for government office. Never mind the school board. I have heard the flippant answers that come from the other side. They will not be allowed to run for government. They will not be allowed to vote for local government, the kind of government that deals with their taxation on any property that they happen to reside upon. But they will be subject to those taxes the government decides to impose on them and that is taxation without representation.

Promotional material in support of the Nisga'a agreement states that the Nisga'a will be subject to all provincial and federal taxes. That is not true. While the Nisga'a agreement does terminate some special treatment for members after eight to twelve years, it also leaves in place many exemptions such as property tax, taxes on capital and many others. Nisga'a corporations are tax exempt, as is their forestry. The Nisga'a along with all other status aboriginals however, will continue to get such benefits as free post-secondary education and be user fee exempt on various medical services. These benefits are race based and the ultimate goal of settlement must be the full equality of all Canadians.

I have more, Madam Speaker. I am not even going to get to my fifth point because of the little time left. It is unfortunate, when we are trying to get as many speakers on as possible, that this government has already said that it is going to cut off this debate.

And using the word debate is a sham. This is not a debate. The government does not intend to change one piece of legislation, not one clause, no matter what evidence comes forward. It is going to put something through, an agreement that with its appendix is thicker than the Ottawa phone book.

Nisga'A Final Agreement ActGovernment Orders

5:55 p.m.

Reform

Grant McNally Reform Dewdney—Alouette, BC

Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I apologize for interrupting my hon. colleague but he is making such important points I think it would be important for at least one member of the cabinet to be in this place to hear such an important debate on Nisga'a.

Nisga'A Final Agreement ActGovernment Orders

5:55 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

That is not a point of order.

Nisga'A Final Agreement ActGovernment Orders

5:55 p.m.

Reform

Jim Gouk Reform West Kootenay—Okanagan, BC

Madam Speaker, I conclude by pointing out that we are debating a piece of legislation that has incredible impact on British Columbia, a document that is thicker than the Ottawa phone book, and yet the government will not even consider a single change to it. If this government wants to make even a pretence of being democratic, it will agree to hold hearings in British Columbia, listen to the concerns of British Columbians and make sure the final agreement is fair to all.

Nisga'A Final Agreement ActGovernment Orders

6 p.m.

Reform

Darrel Stinson Reform Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

Madam Speaker, I heard a lot today, especially from the other side, about consultations in the province.

I want everybody to know that we got in touch with Victoria in regard to these so-called consultations. Not one piece of advertising went out to the people. As a matter of fact I took it upon myself to put out advertisement. Until that point in time nobody even knew this was going on. This is how open and democratic the NDP is in the province of British Columbia. It is, as the hon. member said, almost like this government.

In regard to these consultations and polls that were taken in and around the province of British Columbia, did the hon. member have any direct input into them?

Nisga'A Final Agreement ActGovernment Orders

6 p.m.

Reform

Jim Gouk Reform West Kootenay—Okanagan, BC

Madam Speaker, it is important for us to understand that we are here to represent people.

I had a two hour live televised debate with a provincial minister from the NDP government. During that debate I offered to pay for a scientific poll of his riding if he would agree to a vote according to the results. He refused, but I did the poll anyway.

In his riding and in the neighbouring riding of another NDP member, the poll turned out that the majority of people opposed it. What is more interesting is that we did a breakdown inside the poll, as polls often do, and identified which of the people who were contacted were NDP supporters. Seventy per cent of the people who identified themselves as supporters of the provincial NDP said that they wanted a referendum and a voice on this. That government did not listen and we now have this government not listening.

I have documents from the previous federal minister of Indian affairs and the provincial minister of Indian affairs. They have both told the people that they hoped they would recognize their tenure, but that if they did not they hoped they would be offered compensation. That is a typical example of what is happening to British Columbians on this issue. It is also happening to ranchers.

We got another briefing note by the Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food for the minister stating that 1,000 farms in the Okanagan alone would be affected by the Nisga'a agreement, yet these governments are all prepared to walk through it. I do not know if it is because of guilt from the past, but they refuse to listen to reason. The irony is that not only is the agreement bad for non-aboriginals in British Columbia, it is not even good for the Nisga'a.

Nisga'A Final Agreement ActGovernment Orders

6 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Gerald Keddy Progressive Conservative South Shore, NS

Madam Speaker, I have listened to the Reform's debate and, quite frankly, it seems that we come around to this point every time where the Reform wants to take this wrecking ball approach to public policy debate. If nothing is working, we tear it all down to the base common denominator and then somehow build some constructive process on top of that after there is nothing there to start with.

There has been a fair amount of talk about the Supreme Court of Canada. We have gone to the supreme court far too many times in dealing with first nations in the country. Every time we have gone to the supreme court we end up with a decision that binds us by law to abide by and to live with.

When the member looks at the Sparrow, Delgamuukw, Simon, Gladstone, Smokehouse and all of the supreme court decisions of the last decade and some from the decade before, would he advise us to continue to go to the supreme court? I have heard the comments about what is happening on the east coast of Canada.

Or, are we not far better off to sit down in a public policy debate with first nations, the federal government and the provincial governments and establish some type of a treaty process, that may not be perfect for everybody but is perfect for the majority, and come to some concrete examples and terms of a decision that all Canadian can live by?

Does the hon. member not think that this is a much better process than allowing the Supreme Court of Canada to dictate Canadian laws to Canadians?

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6:05 p.m.

Reform

Jim Gouk Reform West Kootenay—Okanagan, BC

Madam Speaker, the hon. member wants to have public debate and public claims on this, yet the public has not been included. If all of the public were included we would have a much better agreement.

It is interesting that he mentions the Delgamuukw case. I keep forgetting whether it is his party or the NDP party, they are so intermingled these days. When the Delgamuukw case began in British Columbia, it was won by the provincial government. However, by the time the decision came down in came the NDP provincial government which encouraged the people to appeal. It then fired all the lawyers who had won the case and conceded a number of points they had won. The court finally had to hire back those lawyers as friends of the court in order to have somebody speak on behalf of British Columbians.

Yes, Delgamuukw is a big problem, but one of the governments that was an author to the damn report is the reason for it.

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6:05 p.m.

Reform

Jim Hart Reform Okanagan—Coquihalla, BC

Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Nanaimo—Cowichan.

I stand today on behalf of the people of Okanagan—Coquihalla to speak to Bill C-9, an act to put into effect the Nisga'a final agreement. This is a very significant issue today and it is very important that members of parliament be able to represent their constituents.

What we are seeing today and what we will see throughout the debate is an attempt by the federal Liberal government to not allow the debate to go forward. It will use every means possible at its disposal, including closure on debate, and every tactic it can to not have a full hearing on the Nisga'a final agreement. The people of British Columbia have not been able to express their views on the Nisga'a final agreement.

It is very important, particularly for the members of our party, but certainly all members from British Columbia, to speak on the issue and to reflect what their constituents have been telling them because the deal is very significant. It is probably one of the most significant agreements for the aboriginal people in Canada for quite some time.

The deal will hand over to 5,500 Nisga'a ownership over an area of land that is one-half the size of the area that I come from, the Okanagan Valley. The Okanagan Valley is home to over 200,000 people as compared to 5,500. Along with ownership of the land, these 5,500 individuals will get the rights to resources such as timber, water and minerals, and a major say over the wildlife resource management.

The Nisga'a will also get cash payments. According to an independent analysis done by R.M. Richardson and Associates, the total cost of the deal will be a minimum of $1.3 billion or $260,000 per Nisga'a. The agreement is dramatic because the federal government intends to make Nisga'a the blueprint for over 50 other agreements that will come down the road.

It is no wonder that the people of British Columbia are concerned. Let me point out that to date I alone, as the member of parliament for Okanagan—Coquihalla, have received literally thousands of names on petitions from people who are concerned about the agreement. They want questions answered. That is why it is important to have a full hearing of this debate, even though the Liberal government is going to throw up every roadblock it can to prevent that from happening.

In the grassroots plebiscites in the province of B.C., over 90% of British Columbians opposed the deal. It is also worthwhile pointing out that only 60% of the Nisga'a people agree with the Nisga'a final agreement.

The whole idea of agreements like this is to help solve the lingering social and economic problems facing aboriginal people in the country. If the agreement was going to solve those lingering social problems that have been faced by aboriginal people in the country, I and my colleagues would stand today in full agreement of the deal. Unfortunately, that is not the case. The agreement leaves more uncertainty than the Nisga'a had before.

When all is said and done, there is no doubt in my mind that this bill will pass. It will be a matter of history that the Reform Party of Canada stood alone, stood separate from all of the other political parties in the House of Commons, the Liberals, the Bloc Quebecois, the NDP, and the red Tories at the end of the hall, and the other NDP at the end of the way here.

The fact is that at the end of the day, after the votes are counted and this deal has passed, the social and economic problems faced by the Nisga'a will not have changed one iota. In fact this agreement will guarantee that the Nisga'a people will see another hundred years of poverty in their communities.

This agreement does not give the Nisga'a people the tools they need for a modern economy in the 21st century. It does not do that. That is unfortunate. That is why the members from British Columbia and the members from the Reform Party of Canada are standing here today. Although we are standing alone as a political party, we are standing shoulder to shoulder with the Nisga'a people and every aboriginal group across the country.

We want to see settlements that are final, that give the people the tools so that they can democratically elect their governments in the 21st century. We want to make sure that they have the tools to participate in the economy. These are very real problems.

One really important issue is the lack of property rights on reserves. It has been one of the major stumbling blocks for aboriginal peoples. It plays a leading role in any economy. Without the right to private property it is almost impossible to raise capital to start or expand a business. Aboriginal people cannot benefit from the hard work of past generations because they are unable to inherit property. Under the Nisga'a final agreement all land will be collectively owned by the Nisga'a government. It will have the right to determine what land, if any, will be sold privately.

By concentrating power into the hands of the Nisga'a government, the Nisga'a people do not gain individual rights and equality with other Canadians. Since much of the spending power of the Nisga'a government will be handed to them by Ottawa, they fail to become fiscally accountable. The Nisga'a will not acquire the opportunity and responsibility to make their own future and to pass the fruits of their labour on to their children.

Before the House considers this agreement or any other agreement, we should have a full debate on the issue of property rights for aboriginal people. Property rights should be the cornerstone of any 21st century agreement with aboriginal people. Without them we are condemning the aboriginals in Canada to repeat the 19th century and all that entails.

Let us not forget which party has been in government for most of those 100 years. It has been the Liberal Party of Canada and the red Tories at the other end of the hall who have insisted on agreements such as this which have made the aboriginal people suffer in abject poverty.

As a solution I would like to suggest three points which at minimum the Nisga'a agreement should ensure. There should be adequate protection of Nisga'a land occupants with guaranteed tenure and ownership rights to compare with non-aboriginal Canadians. There should be special measures to ensure that people have the same rights regarding the division of marital assets whether or not they live on Nisga'a land. There should be the guaranteed right on individual property ownership on Nisga'a land.

Federal and provincial legislation should apply on Indian lands to protect people living on that land. We hear a lot from the people on the other side of the House that everybody who lives on that land will be covered by the same federal and provincial agreements or laws that are in place.

I would like to refer to a situation in my riding of Okanagan—Coquihalla. Members may recall that I introduced a private member's bill regarding the situation at the Driftwood Mobile Home Park. The 51 families who resided at Driftwood Mobile Home Park were evicted. They were told they had to leave their homes.

Why was that? It was because their septic system failed. After they had paid rental for years and years to have their mobile homes on that property their septic system failed. Why did it fail? We found out that because it was on reserve land proper inspections were not done. The landlord and tenant act did not apply to these people because they lived on reserve land. It was a huge injustice.

Did we see the Liberal government standing up to support those 51 low income families at that time? No, it did not. Nor did members of the NDP or the red Tories at the other end support those 51 low income families who lost their homes. Some of them only received 50 cents on the dollar for their investment. They are low income people. They are without homes. They are living in my riding. There are four other mobile home parks in jeopardy of the same fate. Why? It is because the Liberal government depends on agreements which are set up to fail.

This will not solve the problem. I wish the House would reconsider this whole area. At the end of the day I can guarantee that I will be standing shoulder to shoulder in support of the Nisga'a people for their future and their economic development when all these other people are long gone.

Nisga'A Final Agreement ActGovernment Orders

6:15 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Gerald Keddy Progressive Conservative South Shore, NS

Madam Speaker, I have one question and a point that I would like to raise. The hon. member says that private property rights are not protected in the Nisga'a agreement when in reality if he has read the agreement he must be aware that private property rights are protected in the agreement.

Private landowners, non-Nisga'a landowners who live in the Nass Valley, are not under the Nisga'a agreement. They still have full title to their property. It even goes so far as to give them ownership of the roadbeds leading to that property. Therefore private property rights are definitely protected.

I find it a bit incongruous that government members are not standing to debate and defend the Nisga'a agreement. They have left it up to opposition parties in the House that may or many not agree with each other. Surely the Government of Canada, which represents the people of Canada, should be doing the job of defending the treaty that I am on my feet doing right now. It is a good treaty and I would like to hear more from government members. I would like to hear from the hon. member on that.

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6:15 p.m.

Reform

Jim Hart Reform Okanagan—Coquihalla, BC

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the question. Unfortunately the member is not from the province of British Columbia which really makes his argument moot.

The people of British Columbia want to see an agreement that makes sense, an agreement that does not protect the property rights of Nisga'a people. We are talking about the Nisga'a people and their property rights. They do not have property rights in this agreement. This is what needs to be protected. They need to be protected in this agreement.

If we do not have the tools, which the agreement does not have, to give Nisga'a people those property rights in the 21st century, what are we giving them? We are giving them more of what they are used to now, more of what they have had for the last 200 years, and that is abject poverty. They will not be able to participate actively in the economy of the country and in the economy of British Columbia.

As I have said in my comments, they do not have the right to own that property. They do not have the right to hand it down to their heirs. They do not have the right to participate through a business.

The hon. member says he would like government members to stand and defend the Nisga'a agreement. Probably the reason they are not is it is indefensible.

The agreement is a bad agreement. It does not make sense for the Nisga'a people. I just hope at the end of the day when the deal is signed, because undoubtedly it will be, that the hon. member will be willing to go to British Columbia and explain it five years from now when the impact of the agreement on the Nisga'a people is truly felt. I hope the member is still around to explain that he stood in support of the agreement.

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6:15 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Madam Speaker, I would ask the member to comment further on the issue of property rights. We have heard all day from Reform Party members that this treaty somehow does not allow property rights for Nisga'a people.

Would the member not agree, if he has read the treaty, that the treaty transfers ownership of the land back to the Nisga'a people as a people but that the treaty allows various ways for people to privately own the land they live on? It specifically says that individuals cannot get less in terms of property rights than they already have. They can only get more. I ask the member to confirm that is exactly what the treaty says.

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6:20 p.m.

Reform

Jim Hart Reform Okanagan—Coquihalla, BC

Madam Speaker, the agreement does not confer individual property rights on the Nisga'a people.

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6:20 p.m.

Reform

Jim Gouk Reform West Kootenay—Okanagan, BC

Madam Speaker, I am particularly interested seeing as how the last speaker is my neighbouring colleague in the Okanagan. I go into the south part and he goes into a major part of it.

I have a copy of a briefing note from the provincial ministry of agriculture to the minister of agriculture, Corky Evans, who is now running for the leadership of the NDP government out there. It states clearly that the Nisga'a treaty sets up a precedent that will affect every rancher in the province of British Columbia who lives within 10 kilometres of a reserve. In the Okanagan alone that could affect 1,000 ranchers.

I would like to hear my colleague who represents a good part of that area and those 1,000 ranchers comment on that.

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6:20 p.m.

Reform

Jim Hart Reform Okanagan—Coquihalla, BC

Madam Speaker, because I come from an area that has a ranching industry and an orchard industry natural resources are very important to our area. Because the agreement is set up the way it is, it has a direct impact on ranchers, orchardists and the natural resource sector.

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6:20 p.m.

Reform

Reed Elley Reform Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Madam Speaker, the Reform Party has always believed that treaties with our native people should be concluded as quickly as possible, so I really wish that I could stand before the House and offer my support for the bill. Unfortunately the bill is full of concerns that have deep ramifications for not only my home province of British Columbia but for the whole country.

The conditions under which many aboriginal people in my riding and many other regions of Canada live are absolutely appalling. I have seen homes without water and proper heating. I have spoken with people who are desperately poor having been unemployed virtually forever and who are hanging on through subsistence welfare cheques. I have seen the emotions of people as they begged for someone to help them. I have witnessed their sense of hopelessness and helplessness. I have been an eyewitness to the less than enthusiastic police investigations into filed complaints of wrongdoing that occurred on reserves.

It takes real courage for our native people to step forward in these circumstances. After the witness reports, the pictures and the paperwork it is truly wrong and upsetting to have the whole thing swept under the carpet.

I have observed firsthand the lack of personal initiative that many aboriginal people have for individual advancement, that personal drive which gives all of us a reason to roll out of bed in the morning and strive to do our best during the upcoming day.

Why do many aboriginals feel this way? The answer is simple. Either their own peers, the Indian act or a combination of both strive to hold them back.

Over the past 10 years approximately $60 billion have been poured into the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. If money alone could solve these problems, I would have thought they would have been solved years ago.

The problem is not money. There has been plenty of money poured into DIAND. Simply put, the resources have never reached those at the grassroots level that need it most. The reality is there has been a litany of broken promises from both the government and many of the native leaders. Bureaucratic red tape and corruption have made it nearly impossible for the individual grassroots aboriginal person to get ahead.

During the summer of 1998 I attended a meeting of grassroots aboriginal people in Airdrie, Alberta, initiated by the Reform Party. Following the meeting and after hearing from many aboriginal people I hosted a meeting on aboriginal accountability in my own riding of Nanaimo—Cowichan. I expected 25 people. That was the number of invitations that went out. Over 50 people crowded into a room representing 15 different bands from all across Vancouver Island.

Time and time again grassroots aboriginals in attendance expressed serious concerns over their respective band councils and leadership. Of all the people in attendance the only ones who did not see that there was an accountability problem were those few who worked for the band councils or the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development.

Person after person stood up to talk indicating that they had the same concerns within their band that other speakers had expressed. They also added they thought that they had been the only ones with this problem until they came to the meeting. They were grateful that others were willing to step forward and publicly discuss the issues. The primary concern was accountability among their own leadership. That is not new. I will refer to some quotes from that meeting:

It's sad to see your own people doing this to you.

If white people had done this to us we'd be up in arms.

This has really opened my eyes. I thought it was just us.

Reformers are the only people who'll listen.

I am leery of the agreement and the lack of firm details of accountability within the band. I am also very concerned about the welfare of women and children under the agreement. Contrary to words spoken on the other side, the rights of Nisga'a women have not been included in the document.

Women's rights deserve to be fully addressed. I have had the opportunity to talk with many grassroots aboriginal people at friendship centres and native women's associations. We have discussed a great many matters ranging from land settlements and equality to health care and family matters.

I speak from the heart on this issue. I have witnessed firsthand the terrible price women and children have paid through the native patriarchal system. Women and children typically have had very few rights bestowed upon them by the elite of the band councils. If the Liberal government is so concerned with the family, why does it not put its words into action for it is time to walk the talk?

One of my next concerns is the matter of personal property rights. Under the current agreement the Nisga'a council, village or corporation will be the owners of the land and therefore the resources.

I believe strongly that to take full responsibility for one's actions has both rewards and consequences. Consequences tend to mean very little if there is no personal risk and no cost to the individual personally. The reward is based on the same principal that to risk something to succeed there will be personal gain. Simply put, what one owns one cares for.

I believe this is not only a problem within our aboriginal community as a whole but a symptom of our society at large. To be truly effective I strongly urge the government to implement individual property rights for all Nisga'a people.

There are several positive aspects of the agreement. One of them is to move the Nisga'a people out from under the oppressive Indian Act. I hope and pray that the Nisga'a people will not be moving from one oppressive regime to another. I have to ask myself a question. If this agreement was to apply directly to me, would I be satisfied to live under it? My simple answer is no. I would not want to be placed under the terms of the agreement. Nor do I believe that all Nisga'a people truly want to be placed under it.

Although a majority of the Nisga'a people did pass the agreement the final result was certainly not overwhelming. A total of 61% approved the agreement, 39% were against it, and 15% of the eligible voters declined to vote.

Perhaps the greatest concern to me is that the agreement sets the framework for all treaty settlements in Canada. There are many agreements yet to be negotiated. However to use the agreement as the cornerstone, I am afraid, sets the country on a long road to the courts and confrontation. I hope that is not what my colleagues on the other side are looking for. They only need to look at the west coast and review the Musqueam land battles. They only need to look to the east coast and try to make sense of the fisheries fiasco the government has created.

All Canadians are deserving of a far better agreement. It is my belief that the agreement will not bring the Nisga'a people into Canada but will create a mini-state within the nation, a nation within a nation, a nation that in 14 different areas has the right to supersede the laws of the Canadian constitution and the province of British Columbia.

I have three native children who are part of my family. I love each one of them very much, just as I love my other five children who are non-native. We have made it work in our family. We love and comfort each other. I want them to grow up in a country where—