The motion is receivable.
House of Commons Hansard #25 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was treaty.
House of Commons Hansard #25 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was treaty.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)
The motion is receivable.
Svend Robinson NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC
Madam Speaker, the Leader of the Official Opposition has indicated that he supports a referendum on this Nisga'a treaty. He has also spoken on a number of other occasions about the use of a referenda in a variety of contexts. He said, for example, that on the fundamental issue of freedom of choice on abortion that he supports, personally, a constitutional amendment, as I understand it, to make abortions in Canada illegal, but that he would be prepared to have that issue put to the people of Canada in a referendum. I assume that is the position of other Reform Party members.
I wonder if the leader of the Reform Party could indicate where he draws the line on the use of referenda. Many of us are concerned that if we subject the rights of minorities to a majority referendum, this could lead to a very dangerous abuse of the rights of minorities. I wonder if the Leader of the Official Opposition could indicate where he would draw the line. Is he prepared to use referenda with respect to the most fundamental and basic rights of minorities in the charter of rights? Would he have used referenda with respect to Japanese Canadians during and after World War II? Would he have subjected their rights to a referendum? Would he have subjected the equality rights of gays and lesbians to a referendum?
Just where does the Leader of the Official Opposition draw the line in the use of a referendum with respect to the most basic and fundamental rights of Canadians?
Preston Manning Reform Calgary Southwest, AB
Madam Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his question. I am glad he has paid attention to our demands for referendums. I wish he would pay attention to everything we say on this subject because we have answered this question at least a hundred times before.
We believe in the use of a referendum to allow people to express their opinions. We also believe in legal definitions of rights and constitutional provisions for bills of rights which provide some constraint on the other side so that rights cannot be simply trampled by majorities at their whim. We support the use of the courts to uphold those rights.
We are talking about a balance. This country hardly ever resorts to referenda. This is a country which professes to have great respect for majority opinion and it hardly ever goes to the public on any issue. Even to make changes in the Constitution of Canada itself as profound as the ones in Meech Lake and the Charlottetown accord took enormous public pressure.
This country is hardly overdosing on referendums. We have had a national referendum on conscription, a national referendum on prohibition and a national referendum on the Charlottetown accord. Canada has had three referendums in 135 years. The country is not overdosing on referendums. There ought to be more occasions where the public gets a chance to have its say. The Nisga'a treaty particularly in its all pervasive effects on British Columbia is one of those instances.
Bill Blaikie NDP Winnipeg—Transcona, MB
Madam Speaker, my comment is for the Leader of the Opposition. I do not think he answered the question put to him by the member for Burnaby—Douglas.
The member made an argument about why there should be more referendums and why it could be argued we have not overdosed on referendums, to use the member's phrase. However, he did not answer the question as to how he sees the role of referendums when it comes to things which arguably have to do with minority rights.
I wonder if the Leader of the Opposition could address that as he did not in his answer to the member for Burnaby—Douglas.
Preston Manning Reform Calgary Southwest, AB
Madam Speaker, I believe I did answer the question at the beginning of my remarks. The Reform Party believes in constitutionally entrenched rights. We include and believe in the use of the courts to uphold those rights. We also believe in the opportunity for people to vote on constitutional amendments. There should be a balance used between the referendum mechanism and constitutionally entrenched rights and use the courts to enforce them. That is how we achieve the balance.
It is our view that this country is going to have to achieve that balance or it is going to get increasing disrespect for the charter of rights and freedoms and the legal mechanisms used to enforce it.
Kenora—Rainy River Ontario
Bob Nault LiberalMinister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development
Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Vancouver Quadra.
I am pleased to respond to the motion by the member for Skeena. The member has asked that the government ignore years of consultation, negotiation and goodwill and extend the uncertainty even longer by sending the Nisga'a final agreement to a procedure heavy referendum in British Columbia.
There is no requirement for a provincial referendum. The three parties to the Nisga'a negotiations agreed on how they would ratify the final agreement early on in the process. Honourable governments follow through on commitments negotiated in good faith. To change the rules now would be wrong.
The Nisga'a treaty has been many long years in the making. During this time every issue has been examined in great detail by the experts in the relevant fields. Third party advice has been sought and considered. Provisions have been carefully and painstakingly crafted to achieve the most clarity possible. Negotiations of the Nisga'a final agreement have included one of the most extensive consultation and public information exercises ever conducted in the context of treaty negotiations in Canada.
With the ratification of the Nisga'a treaty, we will resolve this outstanding matter which dates back to the time of Queen Victoria, a solution that is fair, equitable and in accordance with the laws of Canada. True equality recognizes that not all individuals start in the same place.
The reality is that aboriginal peoples' prior presence has given them unique rights as the original inhabitants of this country. The government believes that the aboriginal people of Canada have an inherent right to govern themselves which can be implemented through practical and workable agreements. The existing rights of aboriginal people recognized under section 35 of the constitution have been affirmed again and again by the courts.
I want to re-emphasize to members of the opposition that this is not a constitutional amendment. This is a reaffirmation of rights that have existed since historical times. We are recognizing them in a modern context under the treaty we are talking about. The Nisga'a final agreement recognizes this fact and embodies practical solutions specific to the Nisga'a people. This agreement identifies a Nisga'a land base, resources and a system of government that reflects their cultures and their values.
As my hon. colleagues are aware, the treaty contains reasonable self-government powers that will enable the Nisga'a to manage their internal affairs. They will be able to make their own laws on things like Nisga'a citizenship; language and culture; the administration of their land and other assets; marriage; child and family social and health services; child custody and adoption; and education. It is critical to understand that even where the Nisga'a can make laws, those laws must still operate concurrently with federal and provincial laws.
Nisga'a laws can be challenged—and this is a test of our democracy—under the charter like laws passed by other governments in Canada. That is because the treaty right to self-government is a right to govern in accordance with Canada's charter values.
Our constitution is sensitive to the fact that this country is made up of people with different backgrounds and cultures. It also guarantees that all individuals will be treated equally under the law. It is this guarantee of equality within society, this diversity within unity which make us distinctly Canadian. I understand that the opposition wants to change the values of Canadians and go more to an American model. Obviously, that is not the wish of Canadians and the governments of Canada.
It is precisely because the Nisga'a treaty was negotiated within the constitution that the rights of those people who are not Nisga'a citizens but who live on or within Nisga'a lands are secure. For example, even though those who reside on or within Nisga'a lands 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. I repeat that it does not allow the Nisga'a government to tax them. Neither does the treaty prevent anyone from accessing their interests on Nisga'a lands.
In addition to these assurances, those who are not Nisga'a citizens but who will live on or within Nisga'a lands will have extra measures to safeguard their interests and opportunities to participate in Nisga'a society.
For example, they will be able to stand for election or vote for elected Nisga'a public institutions such as education and health boards. They will also have special rights to consultation and appeal. These are guaranteed rights which will give them a strong voice in the community they inhabit.
For those who may not believe me, I am pleased to refer to the testimony last week of Mr. Bill Young. He owns a sizeable piece of property surrounded by Nisga'a lands. Mr. Young stated that he of course started with some questions and he is very satisfied with the answers. He believes that he will enjoy ongoing peace with his Nisga'a neighbours.
Members of the Reform Party talk about listening to grassroots people. It is funny how they listen only to the people who oppose the government. As has been said elsewhere, we listen to all sides. That is why there were amendments to the agreement in principle. That is what governments are all about, making decisions and being accountable.
The Nisga'a treaty, achieved after years of complex negotiations, has enabled us to achieve a just and balanced settlement that respects the needs of the Nisga'a people and all Canadians.
Like all Canadians, the Nisga'a people want to be contributors to their communities and their country. This fair and reasonable settlement will finally provide a much better chance for them to do so.
The benefits generated by this treaty are not limited to the Nisga'a nation. This agreement will yield significant long term dividends to other British Columbians as well. I can give some examples.
The treaty will finally lay to rest the divisive debates surrounding what we mean by aboriginal rights and how they should apply to the Nisga'a people. It will enable all residents in the region to coexist in harmony fully cognizant of each other's rights and responsibilities. Perhaps most beneficial is that ratification of this treaty will give the business community confidence to invest in the northern corner of the province.
There are numerous other advantages to area residents resulting from this treaty. Chief among them is that there will be millions of dollars in settlement payments invested in the Nass region. Much of the new treaty money is likely to be spent in communities immediately surrounding the land claim area.
Another benefit is that the Nisga'a people will pay taxes in the same manner as other Canadian citizens and will contribute to the cost of running their government. It is estimated that 15 years from now, when transition periods are complete, the Nisga'a contributions from tax and own-source revenues will amount to one-quarter of all government transfers. These arrangements are unprecedented in Canada.
The Nisga'a treaty will be good for the Nisga'a people, the people of British Columbia and all Canadians. Yet there is an even more persuasive argument for supporting the treaty. At the most fundamental level, the treaty signifies our willingness as a society to reconcile historical and cultural differences. It provides an avenue for positive change.
The Nisga'a treaty will enable us not only to honour the past but to move in partnership into the future. This was our government's promise in “Gathering Strength: Canada's Aboriginal Action Plan”. We promised to address historic grievances and to develop mechanisms for healing, reconciliation and renewal that would make a measurable difference in the lives of first peoples.
We pledged to resolve longstanding land claims, to improve governance and to address capacity building and accountability issues to prepare aboriginal communities to assume more control over their own affairs.
We committed to defining a new partnership in shaping a common vision that would carry us all forward into the next millennium. The Nisga'a treaty symbolizes this new partnership. It stands as a practical and workable arrangement which supports the core principles espoused in “Gathering Strength: Canada's Aboriginal Action Plan”. Mutual respect, recognition and reconciliation; that is what Canada is all about.
I urge all members of the House to move forward with this treaty as soon as possible so we can get on with this new arrangement and partnership with the Nisga'a people in the Nass Valley.
Calgary Southwest Alberta
Preston Manning ReformLeader of the Opposition
Mr. Speaker, I have a comment and a question. In his statement the minister said that we could not have a referendum because it would constitute changing the rules after a long process.
In the Quebec case this is precisely what the government is arguing, to change the rules in the middle of the game. I wonder how the minister squares his position that it is not proper to change the rules here to give people a greater say, yet it is possible to change the rules in the other case. That is my comment.
My question is on the agreement. Even the process described by the minister is essentially an agreement among governments. It has been negotiated between the Nisga'a government, the provincial government and the federal government. People from rank and file Nisga'a to other aboriginals in B.C. and to rank and file other British Columbians have not been involved in this process.
If this treaty is so good, if this agreement produced at the top by governments talking to each other is so good and has so many benefits for all these people who were not involved in the negotiations, if this is so good that it will carry their judgment, why is the minister afraid of putting it before the British Columbian people in a referendum?
Bob Nault Liberal Kenora—Rainy River, ON
Mr. Speaker, that is a fair and appropriate question as it relates to the difference between this party and the party opposite. I did not run as a member of parliament, and I do not think any of the members on this side did, to take the easy way out whenever there is an issue that needs to be dealt with. Whenever there is a difficult issue of accountability and responsibility, they may as well just put a little computer where the Leader of the Opposition is and have a referendum every time we have a policy decision to make.
My point of view, and I hope the Leader of the Opposition is listening, is that I take my responsibility very seriously. The public at large voted for all members to come into the House of Commons in a democratic fashion, obviously, with the abilities and the rights to do the work that is necessary to make the country work for the betterment of everyone.
When I stand here I represent the people of Kenora—Rainy River. I am not afraid to stand up in front of people in Kenora—Rainy River and tell them that I support the Nisga'a agreement and that I will be supporting it when it comes to the House for a vote. That is the way our democratic process works.
If the member wants to change it he can continue to espouse that, and that is why he is at 9% in the national polls. People do not accept his argument. Maybe he should get off that.
There is another issue. The member continues to say to the people of British Columbia that the reason we need a referendum is that there is a constitutional change. In fact that is wrong, wrong, wrong. He continues to say it. I understand the reason Reformers stick to process. I would if I were them because so far in this debate I have not been able to get out of the Leader of the Opposition what he would do if he were the Government of Canada as it relates to aboriginal people's rights in section 35.
I have been waiting now for weeks to ask that leader to give me some assurance that he will tell us before the debate is over, if his party were ever to form the government, what it would do relating to aboriginal rights and the kinds of agreements we need to sign for reconciliation of our historic differences.
Ted White Reform North Vancouver, BC
Mr. Speaker, if we are talking about voting machines it is on the government side of the House where members are told what to do. They may as well stay home, frankly, and phone in their votes.
The crux of the debate today is whether or not people believe this treaty will work to the benefit of everyone involved, not just the Nisga'a but everybody.
Let us just look for a moment at the Nisga'a and whether it would work for the benefit of them. If we look at a band with a treaty, the Stony Plain band or the Samson Cree band, the Samson Cree has annual income of close to $100 million. Yet 85% of the natives on that reserve live in poverty and are on welfare. The Squamish band in my riding has $31 million in annual income. If we compare the standard of living off reserve with on reserve there is no comparison.
Can the minister name a single reserve in Canada governed by a treaty where the standard of living is as high as it is off reserve?
Bob Nault Liberal Kenora—Rainy River, ON
Mr. Speaker, that is the exact point we have been trying to make. The abilities of “Gathering Strength” to change the relationship between the Government of Canada and treaty relationships are in order to get out from under the Indian Act. That is what the Nisga'a agreement does.
The hon. member keeps using examples of first nations that are under the Indian Act. That is the point. The Nisga'a people will be outside the Indian Act. They will have property rights. They will be under the charter. All those things are not allowed by the Indian Act.
I just want to give the House one small point because it is very important to the whole debate. The whole debate so far has revolved around process. I hope that leader will somewhere down the line tell us what is his aboriginal policy.
He spoke the other day for two whole hours and danced around like he was doing a pirouette over and over again. He told us about one aboriginal woman, whom he seemed to have met some time in his travels, in two speeches in the House. It is time for him to tell us what his party really believes in.
Ted McWhinney Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC
Mr. Speaker, when I approached the Nisga'a treaty I wanted to satisfy myself on one point in particular. Was it a good treaty in terms of the people it was dealing with? I went to the facts and I am astonished by the results I obtained.
This is a very remote area of British Columbia, with a very tiny population: the aboriginal and the even smaller non-aboriginal population. In a period of three years leading up to the treaty 296 public meetings and colloquia were held in that area. If one considers the problems of distance and communications, it is an astonishing record. I do not think city seats could do better.
I also found that it is not simply companies doing business. It is not simply government agencies that impinge on this, but ordinary people. There is a little group called the Nass Valley Residents Association, representing predominantly non-aboriginal people. There were 13 successive meetings with this group. It raised the issues of effect on isolated fee simple titles, continued replacement tenures, access to water, and access to forestry and firewood supplies. These sorts of issues go to grassroots concerns, grassroots democracy.
That is why there were 13 meetings in a row. The people would come back and say they wanted answers. They would get the answers. At the end of the day there were no countervailing claims in the concrete in relation to the Nisga'a treaty. That is a very important fact when we talk of democracy.
On the issue of the referendum the minister has quite properly commented on changing the rules of the game at the end of the day, but I would raise more importantly the constitutional principle that we operate within a constitutional system of government which includes the courts.
The House has had a stern rebuke. One can read the judgment carefully on the rehearing of Marshall and find that it refers to intemperate and ill-informed comments by members of the House in relation to judicial decisions.
How can it seriously be suggested that the federal government should hold a selective referendum in a province that is itself before the courts? With the Attorney General of British Columbia and Attorney General of Canada, a decision by the Supreme Court of British Columbia in the first instance still moot and under appeal, how can we possibly, with proper respect for the courts and proper respect for a constituent province, intervene and hold a selective federal referendum? It would be more consistent if the Leader of the Opposition had responded to the hon. member for Burnaby—Douglas and said “Yes, I will hold a nationwide referendum. That is what I am proposing”. However he did not do it. The inconsistencies frankly do little credit to the study of constitutional law and show a complete disrespect for the courts with a pending process.
Let me get back into the issue of participatory democracy. I issued four very well documented newsletters to my constituents since the treaty was published. Each contains a 2,000 word summary of legal issues and constitutional issues, and I have asked for responses. Over a period of six, nine and twelve months I have had 3,000 or 4,000 responses of various sorts. People are coming in, phoning me and writing thoughtful letters. As a result I was in touch with the minister, the predecessor of the present minister, to say here are some concerns. Let us take them.
Is this a template? The point we made was no. Every treaty rests on its own particular society which has its own particular social and political facts.
What is right and proper for a remote thinly populated area of the province may not work in the city where there are countervailing interests that will be presented. The template concept must be rejected. Good sociological jurisprudence is when each treaty is considered and negotiated on its own facts. That was in spite of the opposition. It would be some considerable time before the Premier of British Columbia accepted that Nisga'a was not a template but a special treaty negotiated on its own facts.
The second issue is of the so-called constitutionalizing of the treaty. There is a possibility of confusion here. I discussed this point with the then federal Minister of Justice in 1983. He was not the man who drafted the charter of rights but he was the successor. I raised the issue of the effect of applying section 35(1) to future treaties, not the known quantity of already existing treaties. I raised the issue that these were constitutionalized treaties and not in my view constitutional amendments.
Can we clarify and make this assurance clear? In the Nisga'a treaty it is made very clear that the treaty is subject to the constitution and the charter of rights. I went to the predecessor of the present minister and said that there were still concerns and could we not put it in the federal enacting legislation.
If we look at the federal enacting legislation it is clear. It establishes the supremacy of the constitution and the charter of rights. Do not be afraid of changes to sections 91 and 92. Do not be afraid of a third level of government. Do not be afraid. Due process of law applies. The principles of equality before the law and equal protection of the laws are there. They are in the charter and the courts can apply them. There is no reason for this fear which is based on misconception and lack of study. It is all there in the Nisga'a treaty.
The issue arises that it is not a template. It is still the first treaty. It is an historic event for people who negotiated in good faith and in good spirit, which shows it is in the absence of countervailing claims re the concrete. The spirit of good neighbourliness of the sort the supreme court and the world court have spoken of is basic to the common law.
What of future treaties? It is clear, and I have had discussions on this with members of the B.C. Liberal Party, which has the same name but is legally separate and distinct from the government. I have spoken to some of the critics who have appeared and attacked the Nisga'a treaty on the basis of a lack of information of the changes being made in the federal enacting legislation which are now there.
It is clear that for future treaties we will re-emphasize they are individual treaties to be negotiated on their own facts. It is also clear that all future treaties must be made expressly and in terms subject to the constitution and the charter of rights.
I believe we may need better fact finding facilities in relation to these treaties. I speak of the federal court with all respect, but I have difficulty in reconciling two judgments at two different levels of the federal court in a cognate but distinct case on the basis of the economic evidence in this area. There needs to be better lawyermanship by lawyers, the federal justice and other parties presenting the case. The supreme court made this clear at the Marshall rehearing.
There also needs to be perhaps more use of the provincial supreme courts. They are closest to the people. The federal court, and I am not speaking of the Supreme Court of Canada, is a body that often has few local roots or little access to local facts.
Those elements are there. I also think we should take up the suggestion made by members of the Vancouver city council when the treaty process approaches the city of Vancouver and involve elected municipal representatives in the negotiating process. They have a lot of knowledge and a lot of practical wisdom. They can help us in this path to what is an historic process for B.C.
All the rest of Canada has treaties. We have to begin in B.C. It is a learning process and it is a difficult process, but what is the choice? We want to live in peace in British Columbia. We want a society in which people feel safe to invest. We want a society in which people can act in good faith in relation to each other.
We have made clear to the minister that in negotiating treaties we expect good faith and good neighbourliness. If we do not find it, that treaty should put to the bottom of the pile. That is a good principle of operation. The choice is 19 long summers of discontent in British Columbia or a process in which everybody is actively engaged, and that I think is the real choice.
I welcome the fact that the predecessor of the minister of Indian affairs made these changes to the federal enacting legislation which I think settle any remaining constitutional doubts. I have no doubt the new minister accepts in full spirit the engagements made by his predecessor. We will build on what we have learned in the process to date.
Bob Mills Reform Red Deer, AB
Mr. Speaker, I know of the member's great concern for democracy and I know he looks at these issues in great depth. Is he not aware of how this is setting the stage for something that will be much greater than just the Nisga'a treaty itself?
I wonder how he goes back home, as I know he does, and meets his constituents when a recent poll done in his riding showed that 91.45% of his constituents said that there should be a referendum on this treaty. I wonder how he answers them when he says that the government of the day in Ottawa says that there should not be and that he really does not have to listen to them.
I once had a member do that to me in my riding in 1991. He said that he knew what we people thought but that Ottawa knew better, that his party knew better. I wonder if this member does not have a few concerns that some of the members of his constituency might not say the same thing when 91.45% of them said that we should have a referendum on this issue.
Ted McWhinney Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC
Mr. Speaker, I would wonder whether the hon. member and his poll takers are not smoking pot when they come up with these figures. I am in constant touch with my constituents. I receive hundreds of letters every week and we answer them.
I will tell the member one thing that will restore his faith in democracy. We have only had two mean minded letters that had a John Wayne conception of the aboriginal people and wanted to chase them across the frontier with muskets. The people in my constituency are thoughtful, well educated, reasonable people. They are honest, decent people and they respond to facts.
In response to the Nisga'a treaty, when we explain the facts they come back and they accept the facts. They accept that there will be a large degree of public involvement, even larger than before in Nisga'a with their 296 public meetings. The matters will get to the city. We will have a stronger process for review of countervailing interests where there is a contest between aboriginal and non-aboriginal rights. We should have a third party process and compulsory arbitration if needed.
Those are the things my constituents work for concretely. They do not talk off the tops of their heads. They do not read Zane Grey or obscure novels from the 19th century. They are moving into the 21st century. We want a peaceful society in British Columbia. We want to get through those 50 treaties on the basis of general equity and general public consensus.
We have the process going and it is working. That is what my constituents are saying to me. They are not prophets of gloom and doom. They are not afraid of the future.
Gerald Keddy Progressive Conservative South Shore, NS
Mr. Speaker, I will ask the hon. member a question about the referendum principle. There is a principle at stake that we continue to ignore and that we simply do not address, and that is somehow judging the rights of a minority by having a referendum of the majority. How do we protect minority rights in that context?
Ted McWhinney Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC
Mr. Speaker, I gave a more narrowly technical legal answer to that in my opening remarks. The facts are before the Supreme Court of British Columbia. There is a challenge based on the issue that a referendum is not being held within British Columbia and it is based on the B.C. provincial constitution. My statement on that was that it was before the courts. The deference that we owe to a court as a co-ordinate institution of government does not allow us to hold a selective referendum in B.C. while that process is there.
I did pick up, though, the comments of the hon. member for Burnaby—Douglas who quite rightly raised the issue with the Leader of the Opposition about going for a nation-wide referendum, and the Leader of the Opposition retreated.
On the large issue, I have been arguing for 20 years for basic changes in the constitutional system. If we want to go the Swiss way, Switzerland is a different society from ours—what was said—the country that built cuckoo clocks but what else. If we want an analogy there, let us do it, but let us do it as part of a comprehensive constitutional reform and not just pluck it out because it happens to suit us for a passing moment.
Claude Bachand Bloc Saint-Jean, QC
Mr. Speaker, as you know, the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, of which I am a member, has just come back from touring British Columbia.
I will begin by saying that, when this decision was taken in committee—and it had been taken in the House earlier by the government House leader—I immediately accused the Liberals of doing the tango with the Reform Party. There are tangos that can be very graceful, with the two partners following each other's moves perfectly, and there are tangos that can be more difficult; it is, after all, a fairly complicated step. On this trip, the Reform-Liberal tango was a forced affair. The two partners found themselves forced to dance with one other and more than once stepped on each other's toes. It was, I think, a painful exercise.
We know what happened. Simply put, the Reform Party invited the Liberals to come along on this tour in British Columbia, and the Liberals had no choice but to agree. Otherwise the Minister of Finance would not have been able to put on his big economic show in London, Ontario.
The first tango was quite a challenge for both partners. There is another one in the works, which will be a far more graceful event, because the two partners are accustomed to each other. I will read part of the motion:
That, in the opinion of this House, the federal government should conduct a province wide referendum in British Columbia...prior to [—]
I must admit that Quebec is beginning to know something about referendums decided on by Ottawa. This is paternalism taken to the extreme. How can the federal government tell British Columbia that it is going to hold a referendum in this province?
The leader of the official opposition raises a good point in commenting that the Liberal government is in the process of cooking up all sorts of things relating to a future referendum in Quebec. We heard it last week, and we heard it again today. There is even talk of a motion or bill being introduced before the end of the week. I believe Quebec is capable of deciding its future for itself. Quebec does not need Ottawa to tell it how to proceed.
We are told that the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs is in the process of looking at the possibility of having the percentage be 60% rather than 50%. What next? It may say “Here is the question to be imposed on Quebecers” and so on.
The Reform Party and the Liberals make a lovely couple dancing to the tune of paternalism taken to the extreme. This country needs to accept the existence of people who are different. I will get back to that later.
As for the question of a constitutional amendment, opponents of the agreement, particular the ones on the Reform side, are saying that this is a constitutional amendment, that it will create another level of government and that consequently, since it will shape the future of British Columbia, a referendum must be held in order to ask all of the people of British Columbia to learn about the issue, take a position, and vote on it.
The problem, in my opinion, is that this is not a constitutional amendment, any more than it was one when the people of the Yukon accepted their land claims and self-government—and this was debated here. There was no referendum, either in Canada or in the Yukon, to find out if there was agreement on that.
Certainly, the aboriginal nations affected hold referendums. The Nisga'a held a referendum, but not the Yukon nations or the James Bay Cree. There was never a call in Quebec to vote or hold a referendum on the future of Quebec in relation to the treaty with the people of James Bay. I am speaking of before 1982, when we did not have the new Constitution. The James Bay treaty dates from 1975. For us, therefore, this is not a constitutional amendment.
Another thing has been raised by our opponents. They claim there was not enough consultation. I have here a few notes on the consultations held. In my opinion, the best consultations do not involve just statistics and reports of what went on. When one is a member of a touring delegation—I had to go, myself—there are many ways of listening to people. A person can just listen to the witnesses or take the opportunity, as well, at mealtime or after hearings, to go and speak with them.
I was not at all impressed by the Reform Party mobilizations in the five cities in British Columbia. A handful of people wanted to prevent witnesses from speaking and parliamentarians from deliberating.
I saw a few in Prince George, very few in Smithers. In Vancouver, there were a few more, because they made an effort. There were some 200 demonstrators outside. These people came in to disrupt the work of the committee for almost one hour on the last day, on the Friday. Unfortunately, this was not a popular initiative among the general public.
If these hearings had been televised in British Columbia, the Reform Party would have sunk to an all-time low. This is not the way to proceed. The way to proceed is to bring in witnesses— these people had the opportunity to send witnesses to the aboriginal affairs committee—and to let them testify. One does not gather people in a room to try to continually interrupt others, which is what went on all week.
I was not impressed, either by the size of the protest or the way these people tried to defend they views which, in my opinion, are undemocratic.
Let me now take a look at the consultation process. I have some figures here. Since 1991, federal and provincial negotiators have held 250 public consultation and information sessions in northwestern British Columbia. This is quite impressive. The forestry sector held close to 30 meetings, while the fisheries sector committee held 25. The Nass Valley Residence Association also organized meetings.
About 30 public information meetings, including open houses, fairs, presentations to school boards and chambers of commerce, were held throughout the region. The Kitimat-Skeena regional advisory committee, the Nass Valley Residents Association and the Treaty Negotiations Advisory Committee expressed their views to negotiators.
Over 50 consultation meetings took place during the negotiations on the Nisga'a final agreement. Also, the provincial legislature's standing committee on aboriginal affairs held hearings in a number of British Columbia communities. In addition, our own committee held a week of public hearings there. I would remind the House that again this week another thirty or forty people will appear either in person or via videoconferencing.
Furthermore, as I have already said, the British Columbia legislature debated for some 120 hours. This is the longest debate that has ever been held in the history of the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia. So we do not want to hear it said that they are calling for a referendum because they want to consult people. I did consult the people, in the various restaurants and other places we visited in British Columbia, both in the north and in the south of the province. Those people seemed fairly satisfied, and we have proof of that.
As a former union member myself, I can tell the House that, on the last day, representatives of Treasury Board and of unions came to the table to tell us that they had consulted their membership. When unions use the word consult, that means a lot: consultations at the local, regional and provincial levels, usually. CLC President Ken Georgetti told us “We debated the issue, and there was far from unanimity. A number of points did not get past our membership very smoothly, but there has been consultation and there is union agreement on this”.
What struck me even more, however, was that many representatives of the economic community and the Vancouver chamber of commerce came to tell us that they had no problem with that, because it would finally resolve the whole issue of uncertainty.
In a few minutes, I will talk to you of the problem of uncertainty, because it is another tactic our adversaries use to say things will be terrible, that it will be the end of the world for British Columbia. I even heard it being likened to Bosnia and Chechnya a few minutes ago.
I do not agree with that. I had given as an example the WTO negotiations, which are to begin this month, and our disputes with our major economic trading partner, the United States. It is usual to have disputes with people, but they are resolved through negotiation.
So, making statements that it will be like the cases of Bosnia and Chechnya is like saying the Americans will drop an atomic bomb on Canada if they are not satisfied with the WTO agreement. I do not think the discussions should be viewed this way. It is not through litigation or confrontation but rather through negotiation and consultation that this is achieved. And that is what has been done, in my view.
Our opponents keep telling us—and I heard them again this morning—the importance of equality, the great importance of equality. For them, it is pretty simple: everyone should be equal.
I said that at second reading and I repeat it. Quebecers will not agree to being equal to other Canadians. I have showed a schema to a number of witnesses and they agreed. In fact, they said that was the way it is, and I think we have come to an agreement.
How can I go about taking apart the whole argument of equality and uncertainty? I would first like to explain something to the Reformers. We have to start with the question “Do they recognize for the aboriginal peoples?” Do they recognize that there are aboriginal peoples and nations?
We in Quebec have already introduced a motion in the National Assembly to recognize the 11 first nations. But once the first nations are not recognized, because this is what the Reformers are calling for, once the distinct character of Quebec is not recognized, because according to the Reform Party, Prince Edward Island has the same power in Canada as Quebec and Ontario do, then we have many reservations.
Obviously, there is not agreement on complete equality, and once that is the case, the same thing happens that is happening with the Reformers: there is an attempt to frighten people, to tell them that some people have specific rights, but that they do not. We are all too familiar with this scenario.
I for one agree with recognizing aboriginal peoples, just as I would agree that Quebecers represent a distinct nation. Unfortunately, there are not many people in the House who are prepared to allow Quebec that recognition; not even among the Quebec members.
What happens if someone like myself or my party recognizes aboriginal peoples? Automatically, not everyone is equal. They have specific rights. We are seeing quite a few such rights being imposed. The courts themselves are imposing them.
The other day, when we debated the motion on Atlantic fisheries in relation to the Marshall ruling, I listed all the cases that we are losing one after the other. Calder, Sparrow, Delgamuukw are all supreme court rulings that support aboriginals and thus give them specific rights. Today, we as legislators have the opportunity to grant specific rights, and we will do so if we adopt the treaty that is now before us.
If we give specific rights to aboriginals and recognize them as peoples and nations, then we must agree with them on some kind of partnership agreement, and the Nisga'a treaty is a perfect example of such an agreement. It sets out powers and determines which are Canada's and which will be the Nisga'as'.
We must put this in an agreement if we want to reconcile everybody's interests and ensure that we will not get all tangled up in laws that contradict one another.
Jurisdictions over areas such as culture or language are often delegated. In this case, we will even have a Nisga'a government and a constitution that will include provisions on citizenship.
There is no doubt that the agreement goes very far. But I remind all those who are listening to us that other agreements have also gone quite far. Negotiations on self-government and Yukon land claims went very, very far. The agreement obviously goes beyond a private citizen joining with the Canadian nation, because this person already has every power. Here we agree to give these people partial powers and to see how it can all be reconciled.
By negotiating a partnership between two nations, between Canadians and the Nisga'a, certainty has been created. The final argument of our opponents has been done away with, that being that supposedly terrible uncertainty will result.
The treaty contains everything relating to natural resources, forestry and fishing. Everything. According to the witnesses I heard, including the biologists, there is no problem because a percentage is given for fisheries. In a given area, the Nisga'a may have 26% of the take, but that 26% is not a set figure. If the fishery resources decrease, it will be 26% of the take at that time. The figure for the next year could be different. It could be more, or it could be less, but it is always 26%.
It seems to me that we have found the way to negotiate between one nation and another, saying “This is the way we will go about things together”.
It is important for me to give this explanation, because I have heard all kinds of things said. In my opinion, overall the witnesses were in favour of the agreement. Some came to tell us that they were not, and why not, but I feel that their opposing arguments did not take them far.
As far as this being a constitutional amendment is concerned, I say it is not. As for saying that equality must come first, come what may, I do not agree with that as a Quebecer and I know the Nisga'a do not agree either. As far as creating uncertainty is concerned, I do not agree because the treaty defines with certainty all areas of jurisdiction it has been agreed to hand over to the aboriginal people.
We will not change opinion on the Nisga'a. We have told them we will walk with them. The translation into Nisga'a of “We will walk with the Nisga'a” is:
[Editor's Note: Member spoke in Nisga'a]
We have not changed our viewpoint. We have heard the opinions of certain nations, such as the Gitanyow or the Gitksan. It was in fact the Bloc that offered to mediate to see whether agreement was possible. We are currently looking at various formulae with the Nisga'a as well, but we support the entire matter and the action.
As I was saying at the start of my speech, the Reform motion is outrageously paternalistic. We cannot agree with it. They cannot say to the Nisga'a, 61% of whom accepted the agreement “Now that that's all done, we will water it down in a massive referendum.”
People have raised the issue of the majority imposing it on the minority, but there is also the fact that the work was well done. When they talk about nation to nation, there are representatives in parliament. There are representatives in this parliament and there are representatives of the people in the British Columbia legislature. I think these people have done a good job.
We must also bear in mind that 50 more agreements are yet to be negotiated, and it is not true to say the Nisga'a agreement will create a precedent. There may well be passages other nations will pick up, but my experience as critic for aboriginal affairs tells me that there are about as many agreements on self-government as there are nations, because each nation has its point of view.
Many people condemned the whole issue of taxation, because the Nisga'a will waive the tax exemption to which they are entitled. They will start paying taxes in 8 or 12 years.
Many nations told us “We would not have accepted that”. Some might say this is a terrible precedent but, in my opinion, that precedent is no worse than what the Yukon nations or the Cree have negotiated. If we must hold a referendum each time a self-government agreement is concluded with a nation, the process will never end.
For these reasons, the Bloc Quebecois will oppose the Reform Party motion, and I tell my Nisga'a friends who are listening, including Joe Gosnell, Harry Nice and Eric Grandison that we will certainly see each other again this week to try to see how we can work out the final details. They can rest assured that the Bloc Quebecois and myself will vote against the Reform Party's motion.
Gary Lunn Reform Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC
Mr. Speaker, I would like to respond to a few of the comments made by the Bloc member, much to my absolute disbelief.
I would like to tell the House the exact truth of what happened. I was at that meeting in Victoria with the committee listening to the witnesses.
The member stated that the Reform Party was blocking, preventing, or stopping the witnesses from speaking. The truth be known that every single witness on that list when I was there got their entire allotted time and more time.
He left us with the notion that he heard words spoken, such as Bosnia and Chechnya. He put that in the context that the Reform Party was this or that. What he is not telling the House is that it was aboriginal people from the Nass Valley who used those words. These were the words of aboriginal witnesses from the Nass Valley who testified before the committee, their words and nobody else's. The House should take note of that. That is the absolute gospel truth.
He also used the words “a paternalistic motion”. Imagine that, a paternalistic motion. Can anyone imagine that a vote is paternalistic?
I would like to leave the House with one last thought. The sole purpose in this House of the member who just spoke is to divide this country in two, to create division. That is exactly what the Nisga'a agreement is going to do and that is probably why the Bloc is supporting it. It wants to create division and to divide the country in two. The hon. member has no other reason for sitting in this House. That is why he is here. His party has stated that on the record. It is no wonder the Bloc is supporting the agreement, because it is going to create division.
The unfortunate part is that what has happened with the aboriginal people in Canada over the last 30 to 50 years has not worked. They deserve to have a solution that does work.
An hon. member
What about the Indian Act?
Gary Lunn Reform Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC
Yes, it does away with the Indian Act and it creates the Indian Act II and will create only more wishes.
The member stated that the Reform Party was stopping or preventing the witnesses. Would the hon. member stand in the House and name one witness that was on the government invited witness list that did not get an opportunity to speak? I do not think he can.
Claude Bachand Bloc Saint-Jean, QC
Mr. Speaker, the hon. member really does not get it. Yes, some witnesses were prevented from testifying and yes we were forced to adjourn on several occasions. It just so happens that those who forced us to interrupt our discussions were all wearing a Reform Party button, or a T-shirt or big hat with the word “Reform” on it. These are the people who prevented us from holding discussions.
Of course the witnesses were given back the time originally allotted to them, but we were forced to adjourn on a number of occasions for several minutes. On the Friday, when we were in Victoria, we were forced to adjourn for almost an hour, and it was not Bloc Quebecois people who were in the room to boo the witnesses and members of parliament present.
As for paternalism, that is what it is. If Ottawa decides how a province is to behave, or how the Nisga'a are to behave, that is paternalism. It is just as I said earlier. The government wants to adopt a paternalistic approach with aboriginal peoples, as well as in British Columbia. I said that the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs wants to do the same in Quebec. It is the same thing, and the same word applies.
As for the expression “nation to nation” and for our wanting to break up Canada, we have been saying for months and for years that we want a partnership agreement, like the one the Nisga'a will sign with the Parliament of Canada and have already signed with British Columbia. We want the same approach.
It is only natural that we would be in favour of the approach taken by the Nisga'a in their quest for autonomy. I say to all first nations in Canada and in Quebec that, should they need the support of the Bloc Quebecois in moving toward autonomy, they can always count on us.
Garry Breitkreuz Reform Yorkton—Melville, SK
Mr. Speaker, I want to take what my Reform colleague has said one step further.
The hon. member from the Bloc said clearly that Quebec does not believe in the equality of all Canadians. The Bloc is here to promote separation. The government said that there was a process whereby everybody was actively involved. It now becomes obvious that was not the case. Everyone was not actively involved.
Here we have the Bloc members making it absolutely clear that they support this because it will lead to the separation of groups, and the government is also supporting this.
The Globe and Mail put it very well when it said that the government's aboriginal policies would lead to separation, both political and economic. That is why the Bloc supports this. Now the government goes along with it.
The government said very clearly that the minister consulted all sides. It has in fact created the sides. It is responsible for dividing up our society into all of these various groups because of the improper process, because it does not allow the moving toward equality. I think that is the problem. That is probably why the Bloc is doing this.
The government said that the courts are criticizing members of parliament for speaking up and criticizing some court decisions. Many Canadians are concerned that the courts are dictating legislation. Do the courts have the right to tell members of parliament how they shall speak on an issue like this? I would the member to answer that. I would also ask him if he agrees with the Minister of Justice who says “We have one law for all but it is flexible in its application”?
The government makes a big point about treating everybody equally, but the Minister of Justice says “We have one law for all but it is flexible in its application”. Does the member agree with the government when it makes those statements?
Claude Bachand Bloc Saint-Jean, QC
Mr. Speaker, the more I listen to the Reformers, the more I come to the conclusion that the problem I pointed out earlier boils down to this: they do not recognize the aboriginal peoples, and they do not recognize Quebecers as a people. They do not recognize that they themselves are part of the Canadian people.
I do not recognize Canadians in the Reform Party. That is not what I saw in British Columbia. Those who booed us and prevented us from speaking were sporting Reform Party T-shirts, hats and buttons. Ordinary people in the street agreed.
As for flexibility, I am in agreement with that. Once it is acknowledged that there are aboriginal peoples, that there is a Quebec people, that devolution of responsibilities is going to be accepted, flexibility is needed. This does not mean getting around the Criminal Code. This is not what it means.
It means that they may have ways of administering justice that differ from ours, the sentencing circles for one. This shows that the aboriginal nations are different. I find that this agreement acknowledges this.
I say to my Reform colleague that I hope he will always manage to understand the importance for Canadians and for Quebecers of recognizing the aboriginal nations.
As long as this is blocked, we will run into the problems we had, people who come to boo us, people who understand nothing more than the fact that everyone must be equal and alike, no one must be one iota different from anyone else. This is not the way I see things, and unluckily for the Minister of Justice, who has said “far more flexibility is needed”, I share her opinion.
Jim Gouk Reform West Kootenay—Okanagan, BC
Mr. Speaker, I, along with the hon. member, were in British Columbia last week at the Nisga'a hearings. Last Tuesday, we were in Smithers and listened to presentations by the Gitanyow Band who expressed extreme concern over their land being put into the Nisga'a agreement. The Bloc members at that time seemed to listen with great concern and indicated that they would be prepared to support an amendment to the treaty which would take the questioned land out of the Nisga'a treaty until such time as it was settled.
Obviously they would like the native people to see them as native friendly people so the aboriginal people in Quebec will not be concerned when the next referendum question comes up.
Did the hon. member say that simply to seem friendly to the Gitanyow while he was there or will the Bloc stand by that and support at least an amendment to this treaty?
André Bachand Progressive Conservative Richmond—Arthabaska, QC
Mr. Speaker, the hon. member is absolutely right. The Bloc Quebecois are the ones who told the Gitanyow, and even the Gitksan who have joined with the Gitanyow in some proposals. And that will occur this week.
That did not stop me the day after from picking up the phone the next day to call the Nisga'a and asking “How could we accommodate everybody?” It is important to accommodate everybody.
Certainly the Reform Party is trying to find all areas of tension and to focus on them to prevent this bill from passing. We can see what they are doing. But our way is a constructive one and, if necessary, we will sit down with the Gitanyow, the Gitksan and the Nisga'a, and we will eventually come up with a proposal that will be agreeable to everyone, with the additional information that the Nisga'a will have to provide to us on this issue. It is true that witnesses see things from their own perspective, but so do those who will benefit from this bill.
The Bloc Quebecois cannot be criticized for having a constructive approach on this issue and for ensuring that everyone's interests are taken into account. I must, however, condemn those who purposely draw attention to existing tensions, in an attempt to prevent the bill from being passed. The Bloc Quebecois prefers to have a constructive approach rather than a destructive one.
Garry Breitkreuz Reform Yorkton—Melville, SK
Mr. Speaker, the member neglected to answer the question I posed with regard to a statement the government made with respect to the courts being able to tell members of parliament how to speak on this issue. Does he agree with the government's position that the courts should be able to dictate to us how to speak on these aboriginal affairs?