Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to take part in what no doubt will be perhaps a contentious but, I am hoping, a very useful and positive debate at the end of the day.
It is a pleasure for me each time I rise to speak in the House. Unfortunately, my French is not perfect.
Bill C-9 is an act to give effect to the Nisga'a final agreement. My Nova Scotian colleague from the South Shore has spoken very eloquently about our party's position regarding the legislation.
I welcome the opportunity to address some of the issues concerning this very historic Nisga'a agreement. I congratulate the last speaker, the hon. member from Yellowknife, who gave a very impassioned and informative debate. I know that she feels integrally connected to this debate and to the people through her own heritage and I have a great deal of respect for her work on this bill and for her work in this place.
The Nisga'a people have roamed over the land of North America since the mists of antiquity. The Nisga'a final agreement was ratified only this year, but the history of these people goes back for generations and centuries. The Nisga'a people approved this agreement, as did the provincial government of British Columbia, when Bill 51 completed the legislative process in April of this year.
That is not to say that this was a process that went smoothly. There was a great deal of acrimony and the debate itself was eventually brought to closure by the British Columbia government. The NDP Government of British Columbia received a great deal of criticism over its handling of the debate. Let us hope for the sake of democracy that that type of attitude is not mirrored by the current government in Ottawa.
The end of the debate on the treaty occurred in a very cursory way some would argue. We are hoping that will not be necessary here and we look forward to a detailed, informed and open debate in the House on Bill C-9.
The Nisga'a treaty, as I mentioned and as previous speakers have alluded to, is a very historic document that will be debated, and it is certainly our responsibility as parliamentarians to give an open minded approach to all the views of all the people we represent in the House. It is also our responsibility to deal with reality and not myth when it comes to a treaty of such significance. Nor should we ever in the House try to pit groups of people against one another in a debate of such importance and of such far-reaching implications.
We have seen quite recently with the decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in the Queen v Marshall case the implications of treaties that are signed. In that instance we now realize that a treaty that was signed over 230 years ago has modern application and modern impact on the people of this country in 1999. Therefore, it is not a great leap of faith to say that the Nisga'a agreement that will be signed, ratified and passed through this House will certainly have the potential to affect future generations of Canadians and certainly the Nisga'a people.
There are 5,500 Nisga'a people, with approximately 2,400 of them living in the upper Nass Valley region of British Columbia. Under the treaty they will have title to 1,930 square kilometres of land and will receive $190 million as a cash settlement to be paid over a number of years. Those are the very basic cursory points of the treaty. It is a very complicated treaty that touches on a number of elements of everyday life and human existence, but the settlement itself is a step toward independence and self-sufficiency on the part of aboriginal people in this country.
The Nisga'a final agreement will be the first modern day treaty in British Columbia, but this is certainly not the first time the Nisga'a people have been involved in groundbreaking activities. This fact was alluded to as well by the previous speaker.
It was a 1969 decision in the Queen and Calder v the Attorney General of British Columbia case, and subsequently in 1973 a ruling from the Supreme Court of Canada in that case, which opened the door to the negotiated land claims settlement for the Nisga'a. It was Frank Calder, a Nisga'a aboriginal, who initiated the court action on the basis that aboriginal title in the Nass Valley had never been extinguished. The supreme court, while not ruling that aboriginal title to the land actually existed, said that aboriginal people who had owned the land prior to European settlement and that had provided them with the basis on which to argue for land claim agreements did in fact exist.
The federal government at that time realized the implications of the ruling and initiated a comprehensive land claim policy with the intent of negotiating land claim agreements where aboriginal people claimed they had traditionally lived.
Sadly, this is often the case that we see again today in this country. It is sad that very rarely negotiations between the federal government and our first nations people result in a peaceful and equitable agreement. More often, and I am not saying this in a partisan way, governments in this country tend to litigate rather than negotiate.
Again I hearken back to previous comments and reference the Queen v Marshall, where now the country, in particular in this instance the east coast of Canada, has been thrown into a huge chasm of confusion and misunderstanding as to what rights have actually been granted by the Supreme Court of Canada. I certainly recognize that that is a debate for another time between this place and the Supreme Court of Canada as to who should be making laws in such an important area that has such broad implications and such broad effect throughout the land.
The Nisga'a final agreement will be a modern day treaty in British Columbia and will represent the 14th in Canada's history. Other modern day agreements include the James Bay and Northern Quebec agreement, the Northeastern Quebec agreement, the Inuvialuit final agreement, the Gwich'in agreement, the Nunavut land claims agreement, the Sahtu Dene and Métis agreement and the seven Yukon first nations final agreements.
I would like to reference two other pieces of legislation that have been debated recently concerning aboriginal people in Canada which share some similarities to the piece of legislation before the House today. They are Bill C-39, which was an act to amend the Nunavut Act and the Constitution Act, 1867, and Bill C-57, which was an act to amend the Nunavut Act with respect to the Nunavut court of justice and to amend other acts in consequence.
These acts were instrumental in the creation of Canada's newest territory, Nunavut. With respect to the application to today's debate, I would suggest there is a groundbreaking and very innovative approach being taken to the modern application of the Canadian justice system in this new territory. Again, although time does not permit us to get into the greatest of detail in this regard, it is a very forward looking and inclusive system of justice that blends two of these cultures into a very workable and modern approach to justice in this country. It brings about some of the concepts of restorative justice, which is a system that in many ways is borrowed from our aboriginal people, which is very inclusive and community oriented, the concentration being on including the victim and the community and having a face to face, in some instances confrontational, approach between the perpetrator of a crime and those who suffered.
We have always taken a very traditional approach to justice in this country, borrowed from the British model, that puts the state in the place of the victim, often very much to the detriment of the victim, making it a very sterile and sometimes non-inclusive approach to the healing that needs to take place. Aboriginal people have taken a much more hands on and inclusive approach that I believe is the spirit of this new justice system that will be in place in Nunavut and, to a large degree, brought about by the effect of the Nisga'a agreement.
The Nunavut land claims agreement was not a self-government agreement at all. Instead, it established a public government system that is similar to that which is in place in Nunavut today. That agreement also established a judicial system whereby the Inuit people in Nunavut could install a system that would better address the objectives of the Inuit people themselves. There is a more inclusive blend of aboriginal or Inuit justice with our modern day justice system which also includes and recognizes that all Canadians must be bound by the same laws of the land.
I think it is very encouraging and exciting from a justice perspective to look at the way we are able to blend these two cultures and make them work in a more effective way which in fact enhances all Canadians. In particular, I know that those involved in justice throughout the land will be watching very closely to see the modern application of this justice system in Nunavut.
The same can be said with respect to the establishment of this treaty, since the Nisga'a will have the opportunity to set up the Nisga'a court system. They may very much desire to watch closely the system that is just getting under way in Nunavut. The Nisga'a nation itself will no doubt benefit from that experience.
The provisions of this treaty will allow the Nisga'a government to appoint the judges of the Nisga'a court. The treaty will also provide for the means of supervision of judges of the Nisga'a court by the judicial council of the province of British Columbia or by similar means. We are seeing a very proactive and inclusive approach which will allow our current justice system to blend with this new system of justice.
Furthermore, the Nisga'a people will be provided with their own policing services. The police board of the Nisga'a government will assume this responsibility. In all of these cases, however, provincial and federal laws will continue to apply. The Nisga'a rules must comply and must work hand in hand with our existing federal laws.
I do not want to leave anyone with the impression that this will be some form of an abrogation from the law. It is simply a melding of a new system of justice that will hopefully enhance our current system. I would suspect that in the future other provinces may very well borrow some of the concepts that may come about as a result of the implementation of this new justice system.
Labour relations and industrial relations will not be governed by Nisga'a law. Instead, they will remain under the jurisdiction of provincial and federal legislation and apply evenly across the country.
I refer to the remarks of the hon. member for South Shore who alluded to the fact that there are many merits to this legislation. That is not to say that there is not room for improvement. As with all legislation that is brought through the process and brought to this House, there will be ample opportunity, even by virtue of the process that we are embarking on today by having this type of open debate, to bring forward ideas.
One would hope that the government would be open minded enough to be prepared to change the legislation through ideas that might emerge on the floor of the House of Commons, but I suspect more appropriately at the committee where members of the opposition will sit down with the government in the normal course of affairs to discuss this treaty in further detail. I know that all members of the opposition and the government are looking forward to embarking on that process.
The Nisga'a people will no longer operate under what have often been described as the onerous and even regressive rules of the Indian Act. Instead, the Nisga'a final agreement will set out in detail how the Nisga'a nation will continue to operate and the authority and accountability that the Nisga'a Lisims government will entail. This is something that the Nisga'a people have been working toward for over 100 years.
The earlier legislation that the Conservative Party supported regarding first nations land management outlined exactly why it is important for first nations to move out from under the Indian Act itself, particularly in regard to areas covered under resource management.
Under the Indian Act first nations must request authorization from the federal Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development to develop resources on a reserve. With the Nisga'a final agreement and the earlier First Nations Land Management Act this will no longer be the case and will no longer be necessary under the legislation. The Nisga'a people will be able to determine how, when and where they will use their resources. Not only will the Nisga'a people profit from this increased autonomy, I would suggest so too will the province of British Columbia.
Forestry and mining companies that have often been very reluctant to invest in resource activities in recent years, particularly after the Delgamuukw decision which ruled on aboriginal title, will now view doing business in this particular part of British Columbia in a different light.
With the uncertainty that existed, which continues to exist, concerning who owns land and resources in much of the province of British Columbia, the resource industry has been very slow to invest in exploration and development, costing as much as $1 billion in lost revenue because of this atmosphere of uncertainty. Stability and economic confidence will hopefully be one of the main results in this sector of resource management coming from this particular bill.
As well, the Nisga'a people will have a greater opportunity in the area of resource development, but this is only a small part of what the final agreement entails. We all know that autonomy and the ability to be the masters of their own destiny is very much the wish of not only the Nisga'a people, but Canadians from coast to coast to coast.
The province of British Columbia is subject to aboriginal land claims. This will be the first agreement to combine a land claims agreement and self-government agreements under one umbrella, one that also includes taxation. There has been much debate, as there was moments ago, over the issue of taxation. Under this agreement the Nisga'a people will begin to pay taxes over a phased in period of eight to twelve years. In the long term this should allow the Nisga'a nation to become increasingly self-reliant and less dependent on the federal government for funding and service provision. This is certainly a concept that all Canadians would embrace.
We know as well in the maritime provinces that a feeling of dependency, a feeling of being less empowered and less entitled to the future profits and profitability of this country is very intimidating and stifling. I am not drawing a direct parallel between those who live in the maritimes and those on first nations. But I can say that this feeling of uniformly sharing in the country's wealth is something we should all be very quick to encourage. I am hopeful that this agreement is a step in that direction.
I want to reference very briefly the consultation. We are embarking on an exercise in consultation simply by debating this, but I am led to believe that there were over 500 separate consultations before coming to the final draft and agreement which was inked by the Nisga'a people and the Government of British Columbia. Some would argue that that is a large number of consultations. However, an agreement that has such far reaching and important ramifications is one that requires a great deal of consultation. One only has to quickly reference the agreement itself to realize that it is a very involved and detailed agreement that speaks to many of the intricacies of the relations that will exist between the Government of Canada, the people of British Columbia and the Nisga'a people.
The Nisga'a final agreement is without a doubt a historic document that details aboriginal rights for the Nisga'a people. It is a comprehensive and extensive outline of the rights and responsibilities that the three parties will be subject to once the agreement has been ratified, which is the road we are on at the present stage.
The treaty is recognized and affirmed by section 35 of the Canadian constitution, but it does not become part of the constitution. There is need for clarity here as well. This does not exclude the Nisga'a people from the application of the constitution. This does not empower them with special rights outside of the constitution. This is simply an agreement that will be bound and subject to the application of the Canadian constitution and charter of rights.
I specifically reference sections 1, 15, 24 and 25 which speak to the general application of rights and freedoms in this country. The charter speaks of rights and freedoms not being construed so as to abrogate or derogate from any aboriginal treaty, or rights, or freedoms which pertain to aboriginal people across the country. This is not a derivation or a step away from the law of the land that applies to people throughout the country. The Constitution Act, 1982 will be in full force and effect and in the final analysis will be something that will work very much together with this agreement.
The treaty is recognized and affirmed by section 35 of our constitution. A process for amending the agreement is outlined in the treaty and requires the consent of the Nisga'a nation and the federal or provincial governments, depending on the amendment. This is an important clause. As with all agreements, we know that an evolution will occur.
Oftentimes circumstances will arise, court cases will appear on the horizon and they may exist now. It is fair to say that these court cases could have a devastating or perhaps a very positive effect on future agreements. However there is a section in the agreement which speaks to the amending formula.
For the Nisga'a nation to approve an amendment, two-thirds of the elected representatives of the Nisga'a government will have to accept the amendment. As I said earlier, the legislation represents what is, it is hoped, an open agreement at the end of the day when it comes to friendly amendments, but time will tell.
The final chapter in the long process of this agreement is before us. It is a process that began in 1887 when the Nisga'a people first travelled to Victoria to present their proposal for self-government.
The 1997 court ruling in the Delgamuukw case emphasized the need for negotiated settlements with aboriginal people. In Delgamuukw the court suggested that continued litigation was not the appropriate or most effective means of reaching an agreement.
The Nisga'a final agreement demonstrates that negotiated agreements can be reached and that negotiators deserve credit for their perseverance in continuing that long process. As a result we have an agreement that is workable and which is before the House today. It should be seen as a signal, a positive sign for Canadians, aboriginal and non-aboriginal, that we should continue on this path of co-operation in building this beautiful country our ancestors have left to us.