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.