Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to Bill C-9, an act to give effect to the Nisga'a final agreement. In doing so I want to assure the Nisga'a people, the people of British Columbia and the people of Canada that our sole interest in the debate on this bill is to establish a new and better future for the Nisga'a people in relationship with each other and other Canadians.
We understand that after years and years of negotiation within a framework dictated by the Indian Act but controlled by the federal government and Indian affairs, most Nisga'a leaders feel they have no alternative but this agreement and the principles on which it is based. For them it is this or nothing. We understand that. We understand why they have to support it.
The official opposition is not in the same position. We will oppose this bill because we do not believe the agreement to which it gives effect is in the long range interests of the Nisga'a people, the long range interests of the people of British Columbia or the interests of the people of Canada.
My colleague, the member for Skeena and other official opposition members will present the evidence and the reasons behind our convictions. The House should pay particular attention to the perspective of the member for Skeena because he is not only the member of parliament for 2,300 Nisga'a people but is also the member of parliament for 20,500 other aboriginals in his riding and 62,500 non-aboriginals all affected by this bill.
The member has had intimate contact with these people to a far greater degree than the rookie minister. It is the people in the member's constituency who will have to live with the immediate and practical consequences of the Nisga'a final agreement and so we should pay particular attention to what he has to say. His speech was not written by departmental officials. It will have been written by himself out of his own experiences.
Members of this House should also recognize that the NDP Government of British Columbia that has supported this agreement is to all intents and purposes on its way out of office. It is in extreme disfavour with the people of British Columbia. I suggest that its continued support of this bill and agreement should be severely discounted because of that fact. We should recognize that British Columbia will no doubt soon have another provincial government whose members will oppose this agreement, both in the legislature and in the courts.
I am also hopeful that by the time this debate is over, Canadians in all parts of Canada and members of parliament representing all parts of Canada will understand that this bill and the agreement to which it gives effect have ramifications for them. In our judgment many of those impacts are negative. The fiscal impacts will be negative. The resource management impacts will be negative, like those of the Marshall case, and the impact on aboriginal and non-aboriginal relations will be negative.
This is not simply a bill or an agreement affecting a particular group of aboriginal people in British Columbia. It is a bill and an agreement with ramifications for all of British Columbia and for all of Canada. For that reason we are pleased to see the attention and scrutiny that the national media and media in different parts of the country are giving this bill and agreement because it will have effects far beyond the Nass Valley and British Columbia.
The agreement we have before us is an arrangement providing for the government of the Nisga'a people, the government of their local economy and the government of their relations with each other and with non-aboriginals. The purpose of my comments this morning will be to make two main points.
The first point is that the whole underlying approach to aboriginal government and economic development in this country and ratified by this bill is wrong. The whole approach that is taken and the underlying principles are defective and will not lead to the desired ends. This we intend to demonstrate in concrete ways.
My second point is that an entirely different approach to aboriginal self-government and economic development based on better principles is desperately needed for the 21st century, and that alternative approach we will attempt to describe.
Let me start by making the case that the bill and the agreement it reflects are based on the wrong approach. Surely there is no one in parliament with the nerve to say that the approach the Government of Canada has taken to aboriginal people in the 20th century has been a success. No one believes that. It is the reason for embarrassment on the part of Canadians when we raise the subject because they know that something is terribly wrong. Surely there is no one here who is proud of the old treaty system or how it was arrived at, if we study how those treaties were arrived at.
Is there anyone here who would defend the reserve system as a great social invention of the 20th century that was a smashing success for aboriginal people? Is there anyone here who would defend the Indian Act? Is there any member in the House who would stand today if the Indian Act did not exist and move that it be adopted by parliament as a statement of our approach for the 21st century? I do not think there is a single member regardless of party who is proud of the system, the approach and the track record of the poverty, family breakdown, violence, illness, shortened lifespans and the despair that system has produced for thousands and thousands of people.
The unemployment, mortality, illiteracy, suicide and incarceration rates on reserves among aboriginal people, particularly young people, are the consequences. This is the legacy of a 130 year old system for dealing with aboriginal people in this country. It was established and mismanaged over the century by successive Liberal and Tory governments.
Of course there are exceptions. There are bands which have been able to raise their standards of living and which have succeeded in various economic enterprises and undertakings. There are bands and aboriginal leaders who have improved services for their people and who do run responsible and accountable governments. There are individual aboriginals who make remarkable accomplishments in the arts, business, sport and other fields of endeavour, but it is sad to say these are the exception rather than the rule. What they have achieved has often been achieved in spite of the system, not because of the system.
I find some of the accomplishments of these people amazing because of the obstacles they have had to encounter at every step of their career from childhood to their successes. If the Indian Act did not exist, would anyone in their right mind get up in the House and introduce it today as a framework or solution for anything? If the reserve system did not exist, would anyone in their right mind in the House get up and propose it as a solution? No, because the system does not work and is going from bad to worse. It is defective in principle.
I will describe the three greatest defects in the system. The first is that the current approach grants special status to aboriginals based on race. That is what status Indian means and it is defined in a statute supposedly approved by parliament.
The status provided by the Indian Act is not privileged status. It is far from it. That status denies aboriginals many of the political and economic tools available to other Canadians, from responsible self-government to all the tools of the marketplace and private enterprise for economic development. That status in essence denies aboriginal people access to tools that the vast majority of Canadians take for granted. That status builds barriers rather than bridges between aboriginals and the rest of the Canadian community.
The second defect of the current approach is that it provides for undemocratic and unaccountable governments. The current approach to aboriginal political development fails to demand or to provide for genuine fiscal and democratic accountability from local aboriginal governments.
How did the people of Britain get democratic government? How did the people of upper and lower Canada get responsible government 150 years ago? They got it by controlling the pursestrings. Yet under the system created and managed by the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development local aboriginal governments get their money not from the people to whom they should be accountable but from the government and Indian affairs. Therefore aboriginal people do not have the most elementary grip on their own governmental institutions because of the way they are funded.
I do not need to get into the examples which abound on every hand. They are in the report of the auditor general. There are in the newspapers every year examples of fiscal and electoral abuse on reserves. The federal government has failed to provide responsible government for aboriginals in either the fiscal or democratic sense at the local level.
There are signs of change. There is a grassroots movement starting among ordinary aboriginals demanding fiscal and democratic accountability from their governments and from Indian affairs. So far their voice has been largely unheeded and I see no reflection of their concerns in the agreement we are being asked to pass this week.
The third big defect in the approach that has been taken in the past with respect to aboriginal economic development, and that is perpetuated by the bill, is that it is based largely on socialist economics, collective ownership of land and resources, government ownership of land and resources, and excessive regulation of every economic activity.
There is an absence on reserves of the most basic of property rights. There is an absence of contract rights. There is an absence of free markets in housing, labour and capital. The tragedy of the current approach is that to succeed economically many aboriginal people have had to leave the reserve in order to get the tools that other Canadians take for granted.
I spent 20 years in the management consulting business. One of my areas of business was trying to facilitate relationships between aboriginal business people and oil and gas companies. I could tell the House story after story of aboriginal entrepreneurs who had all the smarts to make it in business and had to go through hurdles to try to base their business off reserve: the simple business of being able to get capital and being unable to secure a loan by offering their property because if it was on reserve the bank would not accept it as security, a simple thing like that.
How many small business people in the country got their start by pledging the little assets they had behind some loan to undertake some economic venture? That simple tool which has probably been responsible for starting the majority of small businesses in the country was denied to native entrepreneurs because of the system.
Where has all this led? Where have special status, unaccountable governance and socialist economics led? Has it led to peace, order, prosperity and good government for aboriginal people? No. It has led to the record of poverty, misery and despair for thousands of aboriginals whom I have already described. It has led to a series of land claims, court cases and court actions that are further poisoning relations between aboriginals and non-aboriginals from the forests and fisheries of British Columbia and now to the east coast. In addition, the billions of dollars that Canadians commit to Indian affairs every year is now leading to an additional contingent liability for all Canadians of up to $200 billion.
I saw an article in the newspaper this morning. I will read a bit of it. Can members imagine the enthusiasm created among investors or business people thinking of doing business in areas contingent to aboriginal lands and treaties? It is entitled “$200 billion price tag placed on native demands” and reads in part:
The federal government has calculated the cost of satisfying all aboriginal demands at $200 billion.
This figure is bigger than the entire budget of the Government of Canada for an entire year. It continues:
The $200-billion figure is the federal government's first official estimate at adding up the potential of giving natives absolutely everything they are asking for. It includes every...outstanding aboriginal claim against the government, big or small, serious or spurious.
“There are thousands of these cases, and they are coming in every day”, said one Finance Department official.
The staggering figure will be explained further today in the 1998-99 Public Accounts of government spending, officials said.
The article goes on to talk about the impact of the Delgamuukw decision by the courts, in essence putting a lien on virtually every acre of land in British Columbia. It goes on to describe the chaos created in the east coast fishery by one supreme court decision based on an interpretation of the faulty approach to economic development I just described.
It is the kind of article that, if read by people who are thinking of investing or doing business with aboriginal people or with anyone else, is a signal not to proceed rather than a signal to proceed.
The tragedy is that all three of those defects in the approach to aboriginal development and economic development are carried on, perpetuated and even strengthened by this agreement. This is not a 21st century agreement. This is the perpetuation of a 19th century approach to aboriginal governance and economic development that has not worked in this century and will not work in the future.
Let me point to various parts of the Nisga'a agreement which evidence that it is based on a 19th century approach and not a 21st century approach. Let us look first at the evidence of special status perpetuated by the agreement rather than a move toward equality. I will give three examples in this regard.
The first example refers to the form of government established for Nisga'a people under the agreement. If the agreement were to give the Nisga'a people a form of federally chartered municipal government like the form of local government enjoyed by most non-aboriginal Canadians, one could argue that would be a step away from special status and a step toward equality, providing the Nisga'a people with the same tools of local government as other Canadians enjoy. The government itself has argued that the Nisga'a agreement allows for municipal type self-government for the Nisga'a people.
However I would contend this is a gross misinterpretation of the facts, and the government knows it. What municipal government in the country has paramount power over 14 areas of exclusive jurisdiction and shared powers in another 16 fields of federal and provincial jurisdiction?
Nisga'a laws according to the agreement will override provincial and federal laws—and we must remember this is law that derives its status from a race based approach—in the following areas: Nisga'a citizenship; structure, administration, management and operation of Nisga'a government; Nisga'a lands and assets; regulation, licensing and prohibition of businesses, professions and trades; preservation, promotion and development of Nisga'a language and culture; direct taxation of Nisga'a citizens; adoption, child and family services, preschool to grade 12 education and advanced education; organization and structure of health care delivery; authorization and licensing of aboriginal healers; Nisga'a annual fishing plans for harvest sale of fish and aquatic plants; and a Nisga'a wildlife and migratory birds entitlement.
Second, the taxation regime established by the agreement perpetuates special status based on ethnicity rather than on moving toward the tax regime to which all Canadians are subject. It is true that within 12 years Nisga'a people will be paying income tax like other Canadians. This is something we in the official opposition support, but that is where the movement toward equality in the tax regime ends. The Nisga'a government will be exempt from a range of provincial taxes and stumpage fees. It will not have to pay GST. Individual Nisga'a citizens will be permanently exempt from having to hold or pay federal and provincial licences, fees, charges and royalties on fish and wildlife entitlements provided under the agreement.
On the surface these points may appear minor to some, but when we remember the agreement is supposed to become the template for 50 or more agreements to come in British Columbia, the precedent that is being set is for race based tax exemptions throughout British Columbia and indeed throughout all Canada.
Third, I should make special mention of the commercial fishery entitlement to the Nisga'a which will be granted for the Nass River. This entitlement will comprise 26% of the total allowable catch on that river. The parallels with what is happening now on the east coast are obvious. There the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that natives possess an unrestricted right to earn a reasonable livelihood from fishing lobster. This decision has led to violence between aboriginal and non-aboriginal fishermen and if perpetuated will lead to the destruction of the biological base of the fishery.
The major difference between that situation and the one created by the bill and agreement before us is that in this case the government cannot hide behind the Supreme Court of Canada. On the west coast, particularly in the case of the Nisga'a agreement, the government is setting the precedent for special race based access to the commercial fishery entirely of its own free will. This is a further example of the perpetuation of access to resources based on race which can lead, as we have seen on the east coast and we have seen with the disaster in the aboriginal fishery on on the west coast, to nothing but conflict and mismanagement of the resources it perpetuated into the 21st century.
Let me turn to the lack of fiscal and democratic accountability in the agreement. The various layers of Nisga'a government, the central Nisga'a Lisims government, four village governments and three urban locals, will have a broad range of powers. Due to the terms of the agreement, individual Nisga'a will be very dependent upon this government in a variety of areas such as housing, social assistance and employment. Indeed, most of the employment on Nisga'a lands will either be with the Nisga'a government or with Nisga'a government owned corporations.
While the Nisga'a leadership may be an honourable one, and I do not dispute that and have never disputed that, the concentration of political power in the hands of government on Nisga'a lands is worrying partly because the government will in fact largely be spending outside money provided by the Canadian taxpayer and because of the precedent this arrangement sets for other treaty settlements.
Gordon Gibson, a former advisor to Mr. Trudeau and a former Liberal leader in the province of British Columbia, has written “Small governments with large powers may acquire the ability to control the citizens rather than the other way around”.
To effectively constitutionalize such an arrangement as the Nisga'a does is a very disturbing precedent. I would suggest that it is the rank and file of Nisga'a, it is the ordinary aboriginal person who, from time immemorial, suffers from these unaccountable governments that have been established under mandates from the Government of Canada. It is not the chiefs and councils that suffer under that system, although some do. It is the ordinary citizen. What this treaty does is once again concentrate power in the hands of governments on aboriginal lands, not in the hands of the people.
As disturbing as these provisions are, they pale in comparison to the effect section 9(k)(ii) of chapter 11. It states:
—Nisga'a citizens are eligible to vote in Nisga'a elections and to hold office in Nisga'a Government.
Non-Nisga'a living on Nisga'a lands are disenfranchised by this provision. They will have no right to vote in local elections or hold office.
In their recent agreement in principle which the federal government signed with the Labrador Inuit, non-Inuit were at least granted up to 25% but no more of the seats on local councils. Even that provision has not been preserved or perpetuated in the Nisga'a agreement.
The federal minister of Indian affairs has tried to pretend that local elections really do not matter. He has said that non-Nisga'a will still have the right to vote in federal and provincial elections and have certain rights with respect to judicial and other proceedings. So do the Musqueam leaseholders and look what good that did them. The right to vote at the federal and provincial level has not protected them from the actions of the local band council which this minister of Indian affairs so enthusiastically endorses. It is hardly surprising that his words are of small comfort to those who are disenfranchised.
Is it really the federal government's vision for the future of aboriginal government across B. C. and the rest of Canada that racially specific enclaves would exist in which one's bloodlines determine one's right to vote? It is stunning that any government on the threshold of the 21st century would even sign such an agreement. It is hardly a wonder that the government refuses to allow the people of British Columbia a chance to vote on the agreement because it knows very well what the people of B.C. would have said.
I might also divert for a moment to respond to a comment the minister made in his remarks that somehow people would be protected in the democratic and political rights sphere because the charter of rights and freedoms will apply to Nisga'a people. The minister is right in saying that, but he forgets that the charter of rights and freedoms, besides defining those rights and freedoms, also contains section 25:
The guarantee in this Charter of certain rights and freedoms shall not be construed so as to abrogate or derogate from any aboriginal, treaty or other rights or freedoms that pertain to the aboriginal peoples of Canada including—
Any rights or freedoms may be acquired by the aboriginal peoples of Canada by way of land claim settlement. This is also part of the charter and, I suggest, leaves a great gap in charter protection for people subject to the agreement.
Let me deal with the third defect of the current approach and evidence of its existence in the agreement. It is the evidence of the socialistic approach to economic development. The model of economic development proposed in the agreement is one in which nearly all the revenues flow from the federal and provincial governments to the Nisga'a government. It does not flow to the Nisga'a entrepreneurs, workers, taxpayers or citizens, it flows to the Nisga'a government in order to generate economic activity.
Former British Columbia premier Glen Clark was quite excited as to who would pay a major share; the Canadian taxpayer of course. On December 14 of last year he bluntly stated that British Columbia would be the net beneficiary of money coming in from Ottawa. Perhaps this would explain his enthusiasm for this. It had nothing to do with the Nisga'a people. It had something to do with the $200 million injection from Ottawa; over $200 million for the Nisga'a treaty alone coming in from taxpayers outside of British Columbia.
Not only will the revenues be flowing in from outside, it will be flowing through the Nisga'a government. All of the nearly 2,000 square kilometres of Nisga'a territory will be collectively owned by the government in fee simple. It is the Nisga'a government that will decide which lands, if any, will be sold, leased or held as private property by Nisga'a or non-Nisga'a citizens.
The treaty thus bypasses the individual and concentrates economic and political power in the hands of the Nisga'a government. In effect, the Nisga'a deal enshrines one of the worst aspects of the reserve system and does it in a so-called modern treaty.
Let me speak for a minute on the responsibility for these defects. Anyone who is looking for a 21st century approach to aboriginal government and economic development, and given the track record of the country in this century, would wonder how on earth these defects, which everyone knows about and no one on either side of the House would defend, got into the treaty.
First of all, it is certainly not the Nisga'a's fault. The Nisga'a have never been offered any other approach in these years and years of negotiations because their negotiations are with the department whose philosophy contains these three defects that I have mentioned.
This approach comes from this and past parliaments, from the federal government and the department of Indian affairs. It comes from and is reinforced by a swarm of bureaucrats, politicians, consultants and interest groups with a vested interest in the status quo, even though the status quo does not work for aboriginals, for British Columbians or for Canada.
After spending time in the consulting business and getting involved in the area of native economic development, I knew there was a cloud of consultants and lawyers from Edmonton and Calgary who lived off the system like parasites. They had no interest at all in the economic well-being of aboriginals. They had a checklist of who the band manager and chiefs were. When they got booted out of one place for corruption they would go to the next one. They lived off that system. Those are the types of sick people who want to perpetuate the system. There are far too many of them still active and influential on the government today.
Why does parliament not acknowledge these defects I have talked about and start anew? Why did the government not do that when it had a chance with Nisga'a? I would like to tell the House why. For the Liberals to do so would be to admit that they have been on the wrong track for almost 130 years.
One of the things that is very hard for us proud, egocentric politicians to do is to admit that we were wrong, in particular when we have made decision after decision that perpetuates the wrong original decision.
The one bright light—and I remember reading this 30 years ago—that might have led in a different direction was when Mr. Trudeau in 1968 recognized this defect, in particular where special status based on rights led. He made an attempt to depart from that when the current Prime Minister was his minister of Indian affairs. Let me just take a minute to read a couple of things that Mr. Trudeau said back in 1969. He said:
We can go on treating the Indians as having special status—
This is what this treaty does.
—adding bricks of discrimination around the ghetto in which they live...Or we can say you're at a crossroads—the time is now to decide whether the Indians will be a race apart in Canada or whether they will be Canadians of full status.
In 1968 in the House he said:
There is a long term intention on the part of the government—and this to be debated, I suppose, as part of our Indian policy—to arrive eventually at a situation where Indians will be treated like other Canadian citizens of the particular province in which they happen to be.
He went on to say “We do not think that there are different categories of Canadians. We believe that all Canadians should be equal”. We get castigated in the House for talking about the equality of all Canadians under the law. This is the former prime minister, a more influential Liberal than any of the ones we see across from us today.
Mr. Pierre Trudeau, in the House of Commons on April 30, 1982, said “We believe that all Canadians should be equal and it would be desirable to define rights in a way which does not distinguish between ethnic groups”.
Let me quote a little from the current Prime Minister. Some members in the House will recall that the current Prime Minister's first portfolio was minister of Indian affairs. He was there at the time Mr. Trudeau was articulating this doctrine of equality. He was the one who brought forward the so-called “red paper” that contained that statement, an attempt to go in a different direction.
At that time—and I have to assume that the Prime Minister was speaking from his own perspective, not just reflecting the words of Mr. Trudeau—these are things he said “Special treatment has made the Indians a community disadvantaged and apart. Obviously, the course of history must be changed”.
In the House of Commons in 1969 he said:
For many Indian people, the road does exist, the only road that has existed since Confederation and before: the road of different status, a road which has led—
Where did the Prime Minister say the road to different status led? He said:
—to a blind alley of deprivation and frustration. This road...cannot lead to full participation, to equality in practice as well as in theory...the government will offer another road that would gradually lead away from different status to full social, economic and political participation in Canadian life. This is the choice.
What happened between 1968 and 1999? The Prime Minister knows in his heart that the current system does not work and desperately needs to be fixed. He knew in 1968 and must realize more pointedly today that it is failing the very aboriginal Canadians who he obviously cares a lot about. He took an aboriginal boy into his own family. I think his heart was where that was. It was not just a policy decision. Does he not lie awake at nights regretting that he did not more vigorously pursue equality when he had the chance in the 1960s, or wonder whether it was too late to find a solution?
It is not too late but the time is shorter than it was 30 years ago. As with the national debt, the first rule for getting out of a hole is to stop digging. If we want to start on the road to equality, the first step is to stop discriminating, which is what this does.
The Nisga'a agreement was the opportunity to take that other road, but apparently the Liberal government is too rooted in the past and the status quo to provide the leadership required.
Let me turn to the other groups in the House and perhaps some of their reasons for supporting this agreement. The Bloc will not protest the bill because it provides a form of sovereignty association for an aboriginal group in British Columbia. The Bloc sees the principle of sovereignty association as a stepping stone toward its ultimate objectives for Quebec. The document, therefore, just incidentally, is diametrically opposite to the position the government takes when someone argues for special status for Quebec.
The NDP will not protest the bill because many of its members, in their hearts, are still committed to socialist economics. Even though socialist economics have been abandoned by most developed and developing countries around the world, the NDP still clings to it and seems to think that the only place socialism still exists in the 21st century is on Indian reserves; that this is some kind of progress.
The only party whose position I find inexplicable on this subject is the Progressive Conservatives. It is true that the Tories are as much to blame for the current system as the Liberals due to their early complicity in the treaties and the establishment of the reserve system.
But this bill and agreement was a chance to abandon all that baggage. No one in the House would have castigated the Tories if they had got up and said, “We were part of the early treaty system and the reserve system and the Indian Act. We thought, our forefathers thought, it was the right thing to do”. If they had stood up and said, “It obviously was wrong and the principles of it were wrong; we are going to acknowledge the wrong and we are going to go with a new route”, no one in the House would have catcalled or hooted. In fact we would have stood up and applauded, but they have not done that.
The Tories ought to reject the sovereignty association features and socialistic features of this treaty because it is contrary to their own principles, for example the creation of another race based aboriginal fishery, because that is already creating horrendous difficulties in Atlantic Canada where the majority of PC members are from. We would think that the warning bells would be going off all over. But the PCs in the House apparently have decided to support the bill despite all of that.
Fortunately the official opposition is not subject to any of these conflicts or restrictions. We are not responsible for the present approach. We had absolutely nothing to do with it. We were not on the scene. We are free therefore to criticize it and to pursue alternatives.
We do not believe in special status for anyone and we never have. We argued that in the big constitutional debate. We do not believe in special status for English or French. We do not believe in special status for aboriginals. We do not believe in race based status of any kind. It is a formula for disaster.
We do not believe in socialism. We understand why the prairies embraced agrarian socialism in the depth of the depression. We understand that. We do not criticize it. But we do not believe in it. We do not believe it is the economic instrument of today. If we are trying to develop economies today, the last thing we would do is offer people collective ownership, state owned enterprise and that approach to economic development.
I might also add we just happen to represent the majority of federal ridings in British Columbia. So do not let anyone think that there are not a lot of people out there who agree with the position that we are stating.
The official opposition is therefore in a position to dissociate ourselves from the old approach. We want nothing to do with it. We want nothing to do with the Indian Act except to repeal it over time. We want nothing to do with the department of Indian affairs except to dismantle it over time and transfer its functions and funding responsibility to accountable aboriginal governments.
We want nothing to do with the traditional approach to treaty making. We do not want our name connected with it for historical or political reasons. It has been nothing but a disaster for aboriginals and an embarrassment to non-aboriginals, as it should be.
Reformers are therefore in a position to explore and offer an entirely different approach to aboriginal government and economic development based on different and better principles for the 21st century, better principles than those found in this agreement. That is what I would now like to do.
The first principle that we believe should govern our development of a new relationship with aboriginal people is the principle of equality of all Canadians in law. In place of special status and entitlement based on race, we offer equality of all Canadians in law as the guiding principle.
For further clarity, and we never pretend that it is easy to get there from where we are, the aim is one law for aboriginals and non-aboriginals alike. To illustrate at a more practical level, there would be one law for fishery and resource development, not one set of laws for aboriginals and another set for non-aboriginals.
Let me answer two objections that often come in comments from across the way to this commitment to equality.
The first objection from some of our friends that do not think this through very carefully is to say that the equality approach fails to acknowledge, recognize or provide for uniqueness. Some of the Liberals say, “You cannot treat people equally in law because they are not the same”.
The way we answer that is to give everyone the same rights, entitlements and powers in law but give them the freedom to use them differently. It is possible to treat everyone equally in law and still allow people to exercise those rights in different ways to give expression to their uniqueness and diversity, whatever it may be.
This is precisely the point that the premiers addressed in the Calgary declaration. They wanted to affirm the principle of equality in law and equality of the provinces. They wanted to give some recognition to the uniqueness of Quebec. How did they say we do that? We do it by giving everybody the same powers.
There is nothing wrong with the fact that Quebec uses those powers to build a different house than Alberta or Nova Scotia. That is how we preserve the diversity of the country. But we do not preserve it by giving different powers to different jurisdictions. That is why they argued that any power given to any jurisdiction ought to be given to everyone. We can answer that objection that somehow equality suppresses diversity, whether it is in Canada as a whole or among aboriginal people.
Another objection to the equality approach made by Liberal members is that it will not allow them to give special help to people who need special help. If we are going to treat everyone equally, we cannot give special help to someone without giving it to everyone and not everyone needs it. We either perpetuate the inequality or we do nothing. There is a false premise in that. Equality does allow for special help. All we have to do is make sure that the entitlement to the help is not tied to things like race, culture, language or religion.
For example, suppose we all agreed in this House that a large number of people in northern British Columbia needed special help in education. Let us say that we discovered a large number of people with less than a grade 10 education. It is very hard to make one's way in the modern knowledge based economy without getting to that first rung which is a good basic education. A large number of people all across our country still do not have a good education.
Suppose we agreed among ourselves that we wanted to give special help to people who are educationally disadvantaged. This is basically in the provincial area but suppose there was co-operation, we could devise between the provinces and the federal government a program that gave special help. Everyone who has less than a grade 10 education would qualify for this service, but we would not tie that special help for a grade 10 education to a person's race. We would offer it to everyone. In northern British Columbia or northern Alberta the majority of the people in that program might be aboriginal, but they would be in that program because of the need. They would have responded to it because of the need, not because of their race.
Someone will say that from an aboriginal standpoint it does not matter. Either way aboriginals get special help. I will tell members where it does matter. If we want to get the support of that program from the entire community, it has to be available to everybody. A non-aboriginal could ask, “What is this special program for helping the educationally disadvantaged aboriginal people? I see that three-quarters of the people are from that community. Are they being given some special consideration?” We would say, “No. Anyone who has less than a grade 10 education will qualify for this program just the same as the others”. The equality approach is useful not just for addressing special needs but for getting community support from the others by treating everyone fairly.
We acknowledge that the mistakes of our ancestors, for example the old race based treaties, complicate achieving the goal of equality because we have made certain commitments to people based on race. Where rights have been granted on the basis of race and now conflict with the rights of other Canadians or sound resource management or whatever, they should be acknowledged and we should at least offer compensation for voluntary extinguishment. We should move in that direction rather than perpetuate it.
How tragic it is that the federal government has missed the opportunity to pursue this alternative approach based on equality.
British Columbia is the one part of the country where aboriginals are not subject yet to the weaknesses of the old treaty system. As members know there never was a treaty negotiated with aboriginal people in British Columbia. There was a chance in B.C. above all other places to go down the other route. What does the federal government do? Rather than go down the new route, rather than even experiment with it, the government takes the system that has not worked in every other part of the country and jams it on British Columbia. I find it inexplicable.
Let me turn to the second principle we think should govern a modern arrangement with aboriginals. Instead of accepting the current defective system of aboriginal government and its relationships with the department of Indian affairs, we believe we should institute this principle. All Canadians, including aboriginal people, are entitled to the services of local governments which are fiscally and democratically accountable to the people they serve. Who would have thought that in the last year of the 20th century someone would have to stand in this House and press the argument of the entitlement of some Canadian citizens to responsible government, something that the rest of us have enjoyed for 150 years?
Where does affirming this principle lead? It leads to doing away with the department of Indian affairs and eventually transferring its functions and funding responsibilities to local and accountable aboriginal governments. But there is one catch, and it is a catch in here for the benefit of aboriginal people: local and aboriginal governments that are fiscally and democratically accountable to their own people.
I say to aboriginal people when I discuss doing away with the department of Indian affairs that what will govern the rate of that will be the rate at which fiscally and democratically accountable local governments can be established. The sooner they are established, the more quickly the power and the funding can be transferred. The slower we are in establishing those governments at the local level, the slower the process will be, because their own people do not trust an unaccountable government whether it is aboriginal or not.
This leads us to propose reforms in the procedures and processes for the election of local aboriginal governments on reserves, including making available the services of Elections Canada to deal with allegations of vote rigging and intimidation on reserves.
This leads us to propose the reform of fiscal accounting procedures for local aboriginal governments, including the provision of the services of the Auditor General of Canada to ensure fiscal responsibility.
We propose a third thing. This point to be made in principle is difficult to implement, but I think we should pursue it. It is the direction of a greater portion of the department of Indian affairs funding directly to aboriginal persons on reserves so that local aboriginal governments have to tax it from their own people in order to get access. That would put the purse strings of the local aboriginal government in the hands of the people to whom that government should be accountable.
Application of this principle of fiscal and democratic accountability to relations between aboriginals and non-aboriginals also means doing away with the tortuous, closed door, conflict of interest ridden approach to the negotiation of settlement of land claims and local aboriginal agreements employed unfortunately in the development of this agreement. Those processes would be replaced with an open, transparent negotiating process in which all interests are appropriately represented and which Indian affairs is not put in a conflict of interest situation.
How can Indian Affairs go into these negotiations, profess on the one hand to be discharging a fiduciary responsibility to the aboriginal people and claim to be representing the fiduciary interests of other Canadians who have a different interest? We cannot do that. When we ask people to do that, we end up with defective agreements, particularly ones where people will question the integrity.
I want to note that because of this defect, because this agreement is the product of a long, closed door, top down, conflict of interest ridden process, that is why it ultimately will not carry the judgment of the majority of the people of British Columbia. Those who watch polls, and we politicians study the polls, will notice that the support for the Nisga'a agreement in British Columbia is on exactly the same trajectory for precisely the same reasons that the Meech Lake accord became unacceptable in that province.
Members will recall when this agreement was announced, and when Meech Lake was announced incidentally, with all the public relations and all the press releases and the minister giving grand statements et cetera, public support started out in excess of 60% in favour, 40% against. There was 60% in favour because a lot of people did not know about it, but the rest were against. In March a survey by Feedback Research Corporation showed it down to 42% in favour, 32% opposed and 36% only vaguely familiar. In August 1999 a poll conducted by Market Trends Research showed 45% opposed, 36% in support and 12% undecided. It is on that same downward trajectory as Meech, which started at 60%, 65% and ended up being voted down. Why? For the same reason that Meech was rejected, the top down, closed door approach. People do not trust what goes on behind closed doors, particularly if they think political people are involved unfortunately.
The more the public finds out about the content of these agreements the more it is the same as happened with Meech. When it was just a press release they thought it sounded good, but as people find out what is actually in it, they become less supportive rather than more supportive.
The refusal of the provincial or federal governments to allow the people of British Columbia to voice their approval or disapproval for this agreement, Canadians being what they are when told they will not have a voice, results in the net effect of increasing their opposition to whatever is wanted, not decreasing it.
For the minister to make statements that it is too complicated for the people of British Columbia to understand is an insult to the electorate. The Nisga'a people had a referendum on it and presumably understood it. I compliment the Nisga'a people on the effort they went through to try to inform their own people.
The minister says the Nisga'a people can understand it with the educational effort made, but the rest of the people of British Columbia cannot understand it so they cannot be given a chance to say it. That is the way to generate opposition to the agreement.
I will now address the third principle that we believe should be incorporated into a new approach to aboriginal economic development. Rather than offering the Nisga'a or any aboriginal band the outmoded, discredited tools of collective ownership of property, centralized government planning, government ownership and excessive regulation, we should begin to find ways and means of adapting private enterprise and market based tools of economic development to the needs of aboriginal people. That means finding a way to establish private property and contract rights on reserves. That would do more to stimulate economic development than all of the collectivism in the agreement put together. We should start to develop real housing and labour markets on reserves, including equal economic rights for men and women.
The government professes to be passionately concerned about equality of economic rights for men and women in the federal public service. Why does it not look at the reserves that are under its jurisdiction by virtue of the Indian Act? No one disputes its jurisdiction. There is more discrepancy in economic and civil rights between men and women there than anything to be found in the civil service, no matter how bad it is.
The government seems passionately concerned about that principle when it is applied to non-aboriginals. It does not seem to be very interested in that principle when it applies to aboriginals.
The government should look at the removal of trade and regulatory barriers for aboriginal business people rather than erecting more.
Bill C-9 is riddled with references to regulatory powers or the right to establish regulatory powers. Have we not learned in our own experience with economic development that government regulation kills economic enterprise? Excessive regulation kills even more enterprise. There is no recognition of that in this agreement whatever.
What has to be done? No one has all the answers, but surely we have to start down the road, which this bill does not. The bill and the agreement to which it gives effect make the same mistake as Indian affairs made on the prairies when it decided that aboriginals would be turned into farmers. What did it do? It gave them horses at the same time that non-aboriginals were getting tractors. It gave them the technology of the previous generation. That is exactly what this agreement is doing.
I will touch on accountability for this bill and the Nisga'a agreement. We in the official opposition recognize that we cannot by ourselves bring the principle of equality under the law, fiscal and democratic accountability, private enterprise and free markets to bear on aboriginal government and aboriginal economic development. That would require a majority in the House committed to such principles and there is obviously not such a majority.
What we can do is advance the principle of accountability for aboriginal government and economic development at least one step in relation to this bill and the agreement it represents. The vote on this bill will force MPs to declare whether they are on the side of perpetuating the 19th century approach that does not work or whether they are searching for a 21st century alternative.
The editorial comments on this bill will tell the public on which side the commentators and editorialists are. No one, except maybe historians, remembers who was responsible for those original treaties which do not work. Who was responsible for the original reserve system which did not work? Who really created that residential school system which everyone now recognizes may have been well intended but did not work? Nobody can remember who it was. The historians know, but it has all faded into the past.
However, in this information age, an age of full disclosure, we can ensure that the names of those who perpetuate that system will be known far and wide. They will be known in every aboriginal community. They will be known in every community in Canada and they will be held accountable for that decision.
I should note that the public will be especially watching the votes of seven Liberal MPs from British Columbia: the hon. member for Victoria, the hon. member for Richmond, the hon. member for Vancouver South—Burnaby, the hon. member for Vancouver Centre, the hon. member for Vancouver Kingsway, the hon. member for Vancouver Quadra and the hon. member for Port Moody—Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam.
In those ridings I believe a majority of people would support the argument that we have made here. These members are going to have to decide, and I know that Liberals hate this kind of dilemma, whether they represent their constituents in this House on a fundamentally important principle or whether they toe the party line and line up behind 19th century approaches to aboriginal development. We will be watching and we will make sure that every voter in that riding knows whether their member is on the side of the 19th century or the 21st century.
I want to conclude by telling the House a story. I have not had a lot of close aboriginal friends. I have had some, most of whom have been in the business community. The best aboriginal friend I ever had was a woman named Ernestine Gibot. She was a Chippewyan Indian who lived the first 45 years of her life in the northern part of Alberta, west of Fort McMurray. She made a life trapping and living the old way. She suffered all of the things that aboriginal women and aboriginal people in general can suffer in those communities. I could keep the House here for a long time listing all of the things that she suffered.
One day, for some reason, and I have no idea why she did this, she walked out of the bush of northern Alberta. She was in her forties and had decided that she was going to start a new life and get a job. She went to Edmonton. She went around and around in circles, through the social programs, the help agencies and all the program places in Edmonton for seven years until she finally actually did get a genuine job. I could tell the story of all that but it would take too long.
I got to know her because I was doing some consulting for the Esso heavy oil plant at Cold Lake. As some members from Alberta will know, there is a Chippewyan band right next to that plant. We were doing socio-economic impact studies. I knew a fair amount about Cree, Woods Cree and Prairie Cree, but not a lot about Chippewyan people and I happened to mention to somebody that I was looking for somebody who could counsel and educate me on the ways of the Chippewyan people.
A social worker in Edmonton who knew about that brought Ernestine Gibot to my office. She told me her story. She told me that she was unemployed. I said to her that when we white people are unemployed we do not go around telling people that, we print up little cards that say consultant. We look very busy and we hand these cards out. Lo and behold, after a while someone actually gives us work. She said that she did not think that would work but we could try it. We printed up these cards that said “Ernestine Gibot, Consulting Services”. I gave myself as a reference because she was giving me consulting services. She handed these cards out.
She could speak English, Cree, Slavey and Chippewyan. She used to go to hospitals because she knew they needed translating services. She would visit aboriginal people. She would hand out these cards. Somebody picked up this card and said that there was a position with the Edmonton Public School Board in native studies that she should go to look at. Maybe the board could use her. One thing led to another and, lo and behold, she got a job.
I was so impressed with her story that I made it a point to study how she got from the bush to that first job. At that time I was co-ordinating an economic discussion group that included representatives, some pretty hard-boiled fellows, from about 15 oil companies, but they had a heart for native aboriginal development. The group used to meet once a quarter to see if there was anything it could do to create more jobs or opportunities for aboriginal people.
On behalf of this group I said that I was going to study how Ernestine got from the bush in northern Alberta to that first job because maybe there were some lessons in it for us. I traced her steps from agency to agency, from doctor to social worker, to priest, to consultant, around and around the maze that included maybe 50 or 60 contacts with organizations, et cetera.
The thing I discovered was that she got help along the way. If she had not been in the system that I have described she might not have met these people, but in virtually every case the person who helped her had to step outside the box defined by the aboriginal Indian affairs system in order to help.
The Indian affairs doctor who told her to get out of the north said that it was not his job to tell her where to live, but he was going to take off his Indian affairs doctor hat and talk to her as a friend. He told her to get out of there or she would be dead within a year.
The priest that she went to said: “I am supposed to uphold the sanctity of marriage and I cannot tell you to leave your husband who has been very abusive to you, but I am taking off my priest's hat and I am telling you to get out of where you are because you will be dead in a year”. He had to step outside the box in order to give her that kind of help.
Then there was the social worker who eventually brought her to me. She was supposed to take people around to these make work projects created by the government. That was her job. She was not supposed to talk to consultants doing business with the evil oil industry, but she stepped outside that box because she really wanted to help.
To make a long story short, if members want to read the story of Ernestine Gibot, it was written up in the October 1984 edition of Reader's Digest .
I appeal to members that if we really want to do something for aboriginal people, either on governance or on economic development, I believe that we have to step outside the old box. We have to step outside. This bill does not step outside the box. It creates the same box for the Nisga'a people and puts nails in its lid. That is why I appeal to members to oppose the bill. That is also the reason I will move the following amendment in order to facilitate further discussion. I move:
That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word “That” and substituting the following therefor: Bill C-9, an act to give effect to the Nisga'a Final Agreement, be not now read a second time but that the order be discharged, the bill withdrawn, and the subject matter thereof referred to the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development.