Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure today to speak to Bill C-9, an act to give effect to the Nisga'a final agreement. The legislation marks the end of a long process for the Nisga'a people, one that has spanned more than 100 years since the Nisga'a representatives travelled by canoe in 1887 from the Nass River Valley to Victoria to begin this long process.
I have met with the Nisga'a people on a number of occasions and each time they have stressed that they are not only prepared for this process, but they are eager and anxious for it to begin. As they say, there has been enough dialogue on this matter and they have welcomed visits from interested parties seeking to see how prepared they are for this new initiative.
The Nisga'a treaty is the first modern day treaty to be signed in British Columbia and will be the 14th in Canada. It sets a strong precedent for other treaties that may be under negotiation. At the same time however, it is clearly stated in the treaty that in no way does the treaty impact the negotiation of other treaties within the province of British Columbia. On the contrary, each first nation will negotiate on its own merit to pursue its own goals and aspirations.
What this treaty does show is that negotiated settlements can be reached that satisfy all parties and provide a peaceful, informed and effective means of delineating responsibility and accountability on behalf of the federal government, the provincial government and the Nisga'a people. Each party had to make some concessions. That is what negotiation is about. The end result is a treaty that has already been ratified by the Nisga'a nation and the provincial government in British Columbia.
The Nisga'a people accepted the treaty when they held a referendum on November 7 and 8, 1998. The treaty had to be ratified by a majority of all registered voters regardless of how many actually voted. There were 1,451 people representing 61% of the Nisga'a nation who voted to accept the terms of the final agreement. There were 558 votes against the treaty and 11 spoiled ballots. This meant there was an acceptance rate of 72% although there was a voter turnout of 85%. The 356 people who did not vote meant that the treaty was approved by 61% of the Nisga'a nation.
It is important to explain the voting process because there has been a lot of discussion about the voting process and quite frankly, a lot of criticism about the voting process that is completely unwarranted. The Nisga'a constitution which was voted on during the referendum required a 70% approval rate. It received 73% with 1,480 votes in support of the constitution and 525 against. The end result was that the treaty and the constitution were approved by more than 70% of the Nisga'a people voting in the referendum.
The criteria establishing eligibility for the ratification vote is outlined in the Nisga'a final agreement in chapter 22 on ratification, section 6. That section states that it is anyone who meets the criteria of the enrolment committee, is 18 years of age or older, is ordinarily resident in Canada and is not enrolled in any other land claim agreement. To determine who meets the criteria of the enrolment committee, section 1 of chapter 20 on eligibility and enrolment states that the person must establish some Nisga'a ancestry, including adoption and marriage.
What is important to note is that it does not mention that the person must be ordinarily resident on reserve, a condition of the Indian Act and one that was recently the focus of a court ruling in Corbière. In that case the court ruled that band members living off reserve should have the opportunity to vote in some matters where their interests are involved. The requirement to live on reserve prevents a number of band members from voting even when the decisions of the chief and council may impact on resources or assets held communally by the band members.
The ratification process for the Nisga'a final agreement requires approval from three parties: the Nisga'a people, the province of British Columbia and the federal government. The province of British Columbia approved the agreement when it ratified legislation on April 23, 1999 with Bill 51. At that time the provincial government used closure to end debate and push Bill 51 through the legislature.
Now legislation is before us that will ratify the treaty. I welcome the opportunity to address this matter. The government has indicated that closure may again be used to limit debate on this matter. I will wait to address that issue later.
Members of the Reform Party have made it clear on a number of occasions that they have some problems with certain provisions of this treaty and maybe even the treaty itself. This is from a party that prides itself on its grassroots connections, yet it refuses to recognize that the Nisga'a people themselves voted in a referendum to accept this treaty, 61% of whom accepted the treaty and constitution of the Nisga'a final agreement.
One of the complaints of the Reform Party about the Nisga'a treaty is that it changes the Canadian constitution. The Nisga'a final agreement act states:
Whereas the Constitution of Canada is the supreme law of Canada.
Whereas the Nisga'a final agreement states that the agreement does not alter the Constitution of Canada.
Hopefully that will lay that issue to rest.
Clearly, the Nisga'a treaty does not change the Canadian constitution. The constitution under section 35 recognizes and affirms treaty and aboriginal rights. These rights which are set out in the Nisga'a final agreement for the Nisga'a people continue to be affirmed by the constitution. The treaty is not part of the constitution; rather, it is recognized by the constitution.
To amend the treaty, provisions within the treaty document set out the requirements that must be met to effect such change. The Nisga'a people and the other signatories recognize the real possibility that changes will be made to the treaty and a process is in place to allow this to happen. It is a process that does not require the consent of a number of the provinces across Canada that a constitutional amendment would entail.
The Nisga'a final agreement outlines the amendment provisions in the chapter on general provisions, section 36, and states:
Except for any provision of this agreement that provides that an amendment requires the consent of only the Nisga'a nation and either Canada or British Columbia, all amendments to the agreement require the consent of all three parties.
For the Nisga'a nation to consent to an amendment to the final agreement, it requires the support of two-thirds of the elected members of the Nisga'a government.
Race based government is another assertion that the Reform Party has used to argue against this treaty. The treaty allows the Nisga'a people to be self-governing and to establish laws in areas where they are in the best position to do so, areas such as protecting their cultural artifacts. At the same time, federal and provincial laws provide minimum standards with which the Nisga'a must comply or surpass.
Moreover, non-Nisga'a people living on Nisga'a land will have representation in areas in which they are affected. Non-Nisga'a citizens will continue to vote for their municipal, provincial and federal representatives, as will the Nisga'a people. The Nisga'a people also have the ability to set rules governing who becomes a Nisga'a citizen. This does not exclude non-Nisga'a people from possibly being included.
The Nisga'a final agreement clearly states that the charter of rights and freedoms continues to apply to the Nisga'a people. Interpretations differ as to how the charter applies to aboriginal people, but the Nisga'a agree as stated in the treaty that the charter continues to apply to them. When I met with representatives of the Nisga'a nation they were clear that in their minds the charter applies to the Nisga'a government. The exact wording of the Nisga'a final agreement states:
The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms applies to Nisga'a government in respect of all matters within its authority, bearing in mind the free and democratic nature of Nisga'a government as set out in this agreement.
The Nisga'a people will elect members of the Nisga'a government so it will be a democratic style of government.
Another way to look at this treaty and the legislation that we are debating today is the position the Nisga'a people would be in without such a final agreement. Under this treaty Nisga'a land will no longer be reserve land under the Indian Act. This allows a much greater opportunity in terms of resource management and economic diversification or development.
Under the Indian Act the Nisga'a people required authorization from the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development whenever they wanted to develop a resource or pursue activities that would encourage self-reliance. All of that changes with this treaty.
Furthermore, aboriginal rights and treaty rights are exhaustively set out in the final agreement. We all know that the decision in Delgamuukw supported and encouraged negotiated settlements as opposed to continued litigation. This is exactly what the treaty represents, a negotiated agreement settled by all parties involved.
With conclusive aboriginal treaty rights, this will encourage industry to develop partnerships with the Nisga'a people since there is certainty as to who owns the resources. The forestry and mining industries have suffered in British Columbia because of a lack of certainty that exists regarding resource ownership in the province. The provincial government and the first nations have suffered the economic consequences as companies refuse to invest funds in exploration and development activities when they are unsure with whom they should be negotiating. It has been estimated that as much as $1 billion and 1,500 jobs have been lost in British Columbia because of this uncertainty and the unwillingness of the forestry and mining sectors to invest in such an environment.
For the Nisga'a people this treaty removes that uncertainty. The Nisga'a people should benefit from increased resource development projects on Nisga'a land once the treaty ratification process is complete. The Nisga'a people will be in the position to develop their own resources through whatever avenues they wish to pursue. At the same time, federal and provincial environmental standards will provide guidelines on how these resources are extracted and developed.
I would like to take a few minutes to address timber resources on Nisga'a land. Nisga'a land was heavily logged from 1958 on and the remaining timber is located in areas that are harder to access. Currently there is approximately 230,000 to 250,000 cubic metres of timber being harvested annually on what will be Nisga'a land under the final agreement. The Nisga'a have concluded that if this cut is reduced to 115,000 cubic metres, it could be sustained for 250 years with regeneration. At the current rate it is not sustainable. The sustainable rate of 115,000 cubic metres is not, however, a large amount of timber by British Columbia standards.
When I spoke with the Nisga'a people they indicated that they will be looking at harvesting timber at the sustainable rate of 115,000 cubic metres as established in the treaty. At some point in time however, they may wish to pursue other options such as investing in timber resources off Nisga'a land.
At the same time, the Nisga'a final agreement explicitly states that the Nisga'a nation, a Nisga'a village or a Nisga'a corporation will not establish a primary timber processing facility for 10 years after the effective date of the treaty. This provides for a window of time for Nass Valley timber users to develop their own agreements with the Nisga'a nation or find other suppliers.
Another section of the Nisga'a final agreement that has relevance in relation to the provision I just mentioned is the ownership of water. Under the agreement, British Columbia will establish a Nisga'a water reservation, in favour of the Nisga'a nation, of 300,000 cubic decametres of water per year from the Nass River and other streams wholly or partially within Nisga'a lands. This represents 1% of the average Nass River flow and should enable the Nisga'a people to pursue some industrial applications where industrial water use is required. That will further their economic development opportunities.
This treaty was negotiated on the basis of a nation to nation concept. It also recognizes the inherent rights of aboriginal people, in this case the Nisga'a, and the PC Party recognizes the inherent right of aboriginal people to be self-governing. This treaty meets those expectations and establishes certainty.
We only have to look at what is happening in the fishery on the east coast to understand the importance of signing treaties. The Supreme Court of Canada in Delgamuukw and now in Marshall has shown that aboriginal and treaty rights are important rights for aboriginal people and all Canadians. An exercise in these rights can influence activities of both aboriginal and non-aboriginal people.
Right now in Nova Scotia there is a lot of controversy over the introduction of aboriginal fishers into the fishery and how this is going to be accomplished while maintaining the fishery for non-aboriginal fishermen and protecting the resource. These are complex questions and there are no easy answers. Fishers, both aboriginal and non-aboriginal, with the help of the federal negotiator, are in the process of finding answers to these questions and figuring out how to proceed to implement the supreme court ruling of September 17.
It should be noted that the help of the federal negotiator in this case has really not been productive. What has happened is that non-aboriginal fisheries representatives, aboriginal fishers and chiefs and councils have met and, as a side agreement, have actually worked out and negotiated a temporary agreement for the time being.
The Nisga'a treaty did this same process in reverse. Instead of asking the court to determine what rights they have over what resources, and having to sit down after the fact to negotiate some kind of an agreement, they negotiated their own treaty. The federal and provincial governments sat down with the Nisga'a people. They carefully reviewed all of the issues that are needed to allow the Nisga'a people to become self-governing, while at the same time settling a land claim and allocating resources. Anyone involved in the east coast fishery can attest to the perseverance such an effort must have entailed.
Finally, I would like to bring attention to the fact that the Nisga'a treaty is a final document that has already been accepted by the Nisga'a people and the B.C. provincial government. Furthermore, this treaty cannot be changed. The final agreement has been signed by the federal government and is now the ratifying legislation that is before us. The legislation can be amended, but the treaty is not part of the constitution; instead being recognized and affirmed by the constitution. Therefore it does not require the acceptance of the provinces to do so. Instead the three parties to the agreement have the opportunity to amend the treaty should it be necessary to do so.
As I said at the beginning, there has been a lot of dialogue already on this treaty. It has taken more than 100 years to arrive at this final goal for the Nisga'a and there has obviously been opportunity for them to evaluate and determine what they are looking for and how this treaty recognizes those goals. As well, the Nisga'a people have been very accommodating in terms of explaining the treaty and answering any questions I have had on provisions within the final agreement.
I encourage all of my colleagues to contact the Nisga'a people should they have questions on this treaty. At the same time, however, it concerns me that the debate on the Nisga'a treaty may be cut off. As I said, the Nisga'a people have had 100 years to formulate and determine what objectives they are seeking in a treaty and now other Canadians need time as well to evaluate what is involved. I recognize that the Nisga'a people are anxious to begin what will be a new opportunity for them, but a reasonable and informed debate should encourage acceptance by people who may not completely understand what is entailed by this treaty.
Perhaps one of the more positive results of the final agreement is that it removes the Nisga'a people from under the auspices of the Indian Act. No longer will the Nisga'a land be reserve land under the Indian Act and no longer will the federal government determine how and when resources are extracted and developed on Nisga'a land. Instead it will be the Nisga'a people themselves who will make these decisions. They will have to live with the consequences and surely they will make some mistakes, but so did the federal government. The opportunity to have the freedom to make those decisions and to become self-reliant outweigh any downfall that may result.
The Nisga'a people have been preparing for self-government for a long time and they have stressed to me that they welcome the new opportunities that await them. They are anxious to begin and this process in the Parliament of Canada represents the final part.
I look forward to an informed, reasoned and unlimited debate on this treaty.