Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to be here to show my support for the proposed legislation to ratify the Nisga'a final agreement. I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Malpeque.
One of the most impressive characteristics of the Nisga'a treaty is the balance it achieves. The Nisga'a people have demonstrated, over more than 20 years of peaceful negotiations, that they approach issues from a balanced perspective. They have sought to resolve their disputes through discussion, mutual understanding and give and take. This same approach is reflected throughout the treaty.
Today I would like to speak about one area of the Nisga'a treaty where it was particularly important to achieve such a balance and where the parties were successful in doing so. The treaty not only protects the rights of the Nisga'a people, but it also respects the rights of those who are not Nisga'a citizens who will live on or within Nisga'a land.
As Canadians, we are very fortunate because our country is the best place in the world in which to live. In great part that is because of the importance we place on democratic values and our willingness to celebrate and respect each other's differences.
Respecting the rights of the Nisga'a, as well as the rights of those who are not Nisga'a but who will live on or within Nisga'a land, was one of the key objectives sought by the government in negotiating the treaty. The Nisga'a have been living in the Nass Valley and looking after their own affairs for a very long time and we tend to forget that.
Through the treaty, we are agreeing on practical arrangements that provide the Nisga'a with an appropriate form of self-government within the context of our Canadian federation.
The Nisga'a government is for the Nisga'a people. It is designed in a manner so that they will have the opportunity to protect their culture, their language and their property. As such, it is different from other local governments.
Where other local governments are elected by all residents in their area of jurisdiction, under the Nisga'a treaty only Nisga'a citizens may vote to elect Nisga'a government members. There is a very good reason for this. Using a residency criteria to determine Nisga'a electors could erode the protection the treaty is designed to provide. If at some future time residents who are not Nisga'a citizens become the majority, they could effectively control the Nisga'a government and make decisions regarding the allocation or disposition of treaty entitlements. As far as I am concerned, that would defeat the purpose.
Allowing for such a possibility would be incongruent with the spirit and intent of section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982 which recognizes and protects the existing aboriginal and treaty rights of the aboriginal people of Canada. Only the Nisga'a themselves should have the right to determine Nisga'a government.
At the same time, we all live in a democratic country. The individual rights of Canadian citizens are also protected by the Constitution Act, 1982, including the charter of rights and freedoms. While the Nisga'a treaty provides an opportunity for the Nisga'a to protect their culture, language and property, this is balanced with protection for the rights of those who are not Nisga'a but live on Nisga'a lands.
First and foremost, the rights of all residents on Nisga'a land will be protected by the charter of rights and freedoms which will apply to the Nisga'a government as it does to the other governments in Canada. Residents of Nisga'a lands who are not Nisga'a citizens will not be deprived of their right to vote. They will continue to be eligible to vote in federal, provincial and regional district elections. They will also have the right to vote for and become members of elected public institutions which affect all residents of Nisga'a lands, such as the school boards and health boards.
The final agreement also provides other specific rights to residents of Nisga'a lands who are not Nisga'a citizens. For example, they have a right to be given notice and provided with relevant information when the Nisga'a government intends to make a decision which might significantly and directly affect them. They also have a right to a reasonable period of time to prepare their views for presentation to the government who must then give full and fair consideration to those views.
Let me repeat that those living within the boundaries of Nisga'a lands who are not Nisga'a citizens have the right to a full and fair consideration of their views. That is not all. All persons living on Nisga'a lands will have the same procedures available to them for appeal or review of administrative decisions of Nisga'a public institutions. These protections are far stronger than those now provided under the Indian Act.
It also deserves to be noted that not all Nisga'a law-making authorities will apply to those who are not Nisga'a citizens but who live on Nisga'a land. For instance, while Nisga'a law-making powers over traffic control will apply to all residents of Nisga'a land, Nisga'a law-making authority in the areas of social services and adoption will only apply to Nisga'a citizens. This only makes sense.
More important, even though those who will reside on or within Nisga'a land but who are not Nisga'a citizens may receive certain benefits of services from the Nisga'a government. The treaty does not allow the Nisga'a government to tax them. Contrary to statements made by those who oppose the treaty but do not seem to know too much about it, the Nisga'a government will only have a treaty right to tax Nisga'a citizens and only on Nisga'a land.
Every aspect of the final agreement has been examined in great details to ensure that the rights of those who are not Nisga'a citizens are protected.
Another example can be found in the chapter on administration of justice which provides for the establishment of a Nisga'a court. A Nisga'a court can only operate if it is similar to a provincial court and approved by British Columbia in accordance with the treaty. The Nisga'a treaty specifically states that the Nisga'a court cannot impose on a person who is not a Nisga'a citizen a sanction or penalty that is different in nature from those generally imposed by provincial or superior courts in Canada without that person's consent.
During the negotiation of the Nisga'a treaty, federal and provincial negotiators briefed and consulted extensively with the residents of the Nass Valley and others who have interests within the area proposed to be Nisga'a land. Their views were taken into account in concluding the final agreement. None of these private properties will become Nisga'a land. Canada's policy is that private lands are not on the table during treaty negotiation.
Indeed, the final agreement requires that the Nisga'a government, on the effective date of the treaty, grant replacement interest to all those who have property interests in areas of Nisga'a land before the treaty came into effect. Not only will these interests be replaced but they are protected from expropriation by the Nisga'a in perpetuity under the agreement.
Members will see that great care was taken during the negotiation of the Nisga'a final agreement to ensure that the rights of all residents on Nisga'a land continue to be protected in the future.
Besides the Nisga'a track record, over more than 100 years stands in testimony that the Nisga'a deal with their non-Nisga'a neighbours in a fair and respectful manner. This high regard is reflected in the recent words of Chief Joseph Gosnell.
Nisga'a citizenship and the ability to participate in Nisga'a government is not restricted to persons who meet the eligibility criteria. Nisga'a government has the authority to grant citizenship to people, extending to them the rights and responsibilities of all Nisga'a citizens. The Nisga'a insisted on this power in recognition that there will be residents who are in every meaningful way full members of the community and should be included in the democratic functions of the Nisga'a government.
In order for the Nisga'a to prosper and attract economic development, their laws and decisions must be open and transparent and their administrative policies on review and appeal procedures clear and fair to all. The Nisga'a final agreement provides a sound basis for the Nisga'a to complete those objectives.