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.