Mr. Speaker, I wish to advise you that I will be dividing my time today with my colleague, the hon. member for Vancouver East.
My colleague, the hon. member for the Yukon, who attended the hearings on this matter, unfortunately is not able to participate in the debate today. She has played a very important and critical role on behalf of New Democrats on this very important issue.
I rise today on behalf of my colleagues in the New Democratic Party to strongly oppose the motion which the Reform Party has brought before the House of Commons. I regard this as a desperate, last minute attempt by the Reform Party to subvert the Nisga'a treaty.
One of the hon. members from the Reform Party has talked about a scientific poll that he did in his constituency on the Nisga'a treaty. The Nisga'a leadership made it very clear on November 4 when they appeared before the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development that there are two treaties being debated in British Columbia today.
According to Chief Joe Gosnell, one of the treaties was actually negotiated in a process lasting several years. This is the treaty referred to by the government and by the other opposition parties other than the Reform Party.
The second treaty, which is now the subject of debate, was what they called the make-believe treaty. This is the treaty described by the Reform Party, by the British Columbia Liberal Party, by a variety of editorialists and by other individuals. If Reform Party members are polling their constituents about a make-believe treaty, a treaty that does not exist, a treaty that has been invented to try to scare British Columbians, it is no wonder they would vote against that treaty.
When the truth comes out, when British Columbians are informed of the actual content of this treaty, as I had the opportunity to do at a public forum in my constituency very recently, they will support the contents of this treaty.
It is no wonder particularly in some of the rural communities of British Columbia that there are British Columbians who are not getting the facts, when we look at where they might get those facts from. There are Reform Party members of parliament who are engaged in a campaign of systematic distortion of the contents of the treaty. What do they say about the treaty? They say it is like apartheid. It is one of the most offensive and appalling distortions of history when the Reform Party talks about this treaty as in any way being akin to apartheid.
I worked for many years, as did a number of members of the House, fighting against apartheid. Indeed Your Honour was in the forefront of that struggle and will recall our visit to South Africa to celebrate the triumph of democracy in South Africa.
Those who understand history will know that if anything, apartheid in fact was at least partly based not on this kind of nation to nation treaty, but on the reserve system in the Indian Act which this treaty would finally rid us of. To talk about apartheid in the context of the Nisga'a treaty is totally dishonest.
We know as well that the media coverage in many of the rural and smaller communities on the Nisga'a treaty has been distorted. It is no wonder when David Black who publishes over 60 community newspapers serving some of those smaller communities gives orders to his editorial writers that they are not allowed to write editorials in support of the Nisga'a treaty. David Black the publisher is forcing his newspapers to tell one story. It is no wonder that kind of distortion takes place.
The Reform Party says that it believes in consultation. Yet the member for Skeena himself has not met in six years with the leadership of the Nisga'a people. He represents that community. He has represented that community since 1993. I defy any member of the Reform Party to stand in the House today and tell me one occasion since 1993 when the member for Skeena has met with the leadership of the Nisga'a people whom he represents. Reform members are phonies when they talk about consultation. The only consultation they believe in is talking to themselves.
There has been extensive consultation with the people of British Columbia on this treaty. Before the 1996 provincial election, an agreement in principle was signed. That agreement in principle was signed and a 13 point mandate for provincial negotiators was presented. Where was the provincial Liberal Party then? Where was the federal Reform Party then? Were they calling for a referendum? No. There was not one word calling for a referendum.
Not only was the Reform Party silent on any suggestion of a referendum but Mike de Jong, spokesperson for the B.C. Liberal Party, the kissing cousins of the Reform Party on this treaty, said:
I think it would be unfair at this point to inject the referendum card into the ratification process involving the Nisga'a treaty. Those negotiations have been ongoing.... To say at literally the eleventh hour that it will now become a component of that ratification process would be, I think, unfair.
Unfair indeed it would be. We in the New Democratic Party say that there has been extensive debate and consultation on this issue, including the longest debate in the history of the B.C. legislature, 116 hours. No bill in the B.C. legislature has ever been debated longer than the Nisga'a bill. There were extensive community hearings. There was the aboriginal affairs committee. There were 116 hours of debate in the B.C. legislature.
The time has come for parliament to respond not just to the historical rights of the Nisga'a people, but to respond to what I believe the majority of British Columbians who were informed of the contents of the treaty actually want. They want fairness and certainty.
It was a Reform Party member of parliament who said, “Uncertainty directly related to the Nisga'a treaty is hurting the economy of northwestern British Columbia”. That was said by a Reform Party member of parliament, yet Reform members want a referendum that would drag this out.
Let us say hypothetically that the referendum were to result in a no vote. What then? Would we go back to the drawing table and start the negotiations again? Why would the Nisga'a people negotiate in those circumstances? Why would any aboriginal first nation negotiate in those circumstances? They would say that they would go to the courts. We have seen what happens when we leave it to the Supreme Court of Canada. We saw the chaos which resulted in the east coast fishery. Let us negotiate in good faith as this Nisga'a treaty has done.
My final point is with respect to the notion of a referendum on minority rights. In my view it is profoundly unacceptable and dangerous to suggest that the rights of minorities should be subject to a referendum of a majority. In a democracy we respect minority rights. We elect democratic provincial MLAs and federal members of parliament to reflect the views of their constituents and at the end of the day to respect the rights of minorities, and those should not be subject to the whim of a majority in a referendum vote.
The Reform Party quite clearly does not believe in equality for aboriginal people. That is very clear. We know it does not believe in equality. This motion is all about a last minute, desperate attempt by the Reform Party which is trying desperately to salvage some vestige of credibility as it slips away more and more. We saw it slipping away in the byelection in Saskatoon. It was losing support there. Reformers are desperately grasping for power, trying to press the buttons, but the people of British Columbia will say no to that kind of agenda. They are saying no now and they will say no in the next election when that member from the Fraser Valley will be history.