I invite my colleagues to show respect to those members who speak in the House. If there is a point of order that concerns me, I will be glad to hear it. However, if a point of order is in no way related to my speech, I would ask members to wait until the end of my speech to raise it, if that is possible.
I was talking about the concept of peoples and nations. I was saying that, if the Nisga'a are recognized as a nation or a people, or if Quebecers are recognized as a nation or a people, there are some specific rights that must be recognized and defined in a partnership agreement.
The Nisga'a treaty is exactly the type of partnership agreement that must exist between peoples. I was always supported in that belief, except by Mr. Flanagan, as I was saying earlier, who believed there was only one people in Canada, the Canadian people. Obviously, it is impossible to go very far in this assessment of reality.
If there is a partnership agreement, that creates some certainty, for people are wondering “What is going on with the aboriginal question, the land claims and the self-government issue?” That may be what creates the uncertainty. When a partnership agreement has been signed, people know exactly where things stand.
As for the question raised by the Reform Party on the importance of certainty and equality, I believed it was my duty to raise those same concepts in order to show that, in our opinion, their fears are unjustified.
I also raised some points that were somewhat controversial throughout the discussions. One of these was the matter of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Some people hold that the charter does not apply.
However, I brought out some interesting sections, including the one I want to quote here, section 9 of chapter 2. In it, it is stated in black and white that:
...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 answer is, therefore, fairly clear to me. Is this agreement subject to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms? Well, that is set out in the agreement itself. There were also some fears expressed that it was not included in the act and that this could mean that it only applied loosely, but I shall explain later the link between the agreement and the act.
It seemed very important to me that an overview of the history of the charter was necessary in order to state that, yes, it is applicable. I have just read the exact passage where it is written that it applies, for those who say that it is not.
Now for the protection of aboriginal women. This is another contentious issue that kept being raised throughout the proceedings and the bill clearly states that the provincial legislation will apply in this regard. The British Columbia legislation deals with all issues relating to the breakup of a marriage, including the division of matrimonial property. There is also similar legislation in Quebec.
There is definitely a major problem for those who are not parties to the Nisga'a treaty. I agree—and we raised this issue in the House before—that there is a problem for all other aboriginals, for all other reserves in Canada that come under the Indian Act. There is a grey area, a legal vacuum, as was illustrated several years ago by the Derickson ruling, in which a woman who had separated from her husband was not entitled to anything.
The court ruled that the matrimonial property act does not apply to reserves. The Indian affairs minister claims that he wants to settle this issue as quickly as possible. We raised it with the former minister and this is an urgent matter. But for the time being, it is also not true that, under the agreement, Nisga'a women are not protected.
Another very contentious issue is territorial overlap. As we know, there are many land claims in British Columbia. Reform Party members said that at the time 125% of British Columbia's territory was the subject of land claims by aboriginals because of this overlap.
There were aboriginal peoples that told us that the Nisga'a land claims overlapped their own. This is what we heard in Smithers, where the Gitksan and Gitanyow came to present their views.
I have a number of comments. First, the Nisga'a also claimed 100% of their traditional lands but the final figure in the agreement was 7%. They settled for 2,000 square kilometres or 7% of what they had asked for.
The Government of British Columbia is taking a somewhat similar view. At the time, Mike Harcourt said that the Government of British Columbia was prepared to give up 5% of the province's territory to accommodate all native land claims in British Columbia.
Seven per cent is not far off. The problem with the Gitksan and the Gitanyow is that they are still going after 100% of their traditional lands and naturally there is a part in the northern area of Nisga'a lands that the Gitksan say should belong to them.
There are A and B categories of lands—and I do not want to get into defining them—but there are lands where jurisdiction is more shared, and some of them are also being claimed by the Gitksan and Gitanyow.
This has been a bit complicated and very emotional because lands are involved. There were some very good presentations and here again I refer to the agreement.
The agreement contains provisions on what is to be done in case of overlapping claims. It must be pointed out that the Nisga'a had repeatedly tried to come to an agreement with the Gitskan and the Gitanyow on how to share this territory.
We have a letter signed by the eight hereditary chiefs of the Gitksan people showing that they had reached an agreement under which the northern border of the Nisga'a land was to be drawn the way it is today. We have no qualms about people making claims, but we are not always in a position to rule on everything.
The sections I am going to read say what is to be done. I will start with section 34.
If a superior court of a province, the Federal Court of Canada, or the Supreme Court of Canada finally determines that any aboriginal people, other than the Nisga'a Nation, has rights under section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982 that are adversely affected by a provision of this Agreement: a . the provision will operate and have effect to the extent that it does not adversely affect those rights; and b . if the provision cannot operate and have effect in a way that it does not adversely affect those rights, the Parties will make best efforts to amend this Agreement to remedy or replace the provision.
The section that follows, section 35, is very important: a . Canada or British Columbia, or both, as the case may be, will provide the Nisga'a Nation with additional or replacement rights or other appropriate remedies;
This is very clear. Whenever there is overlapping, the Gitskan and the Gitanyow can go to court. I just mentioned the various courts they can appeal to. If the courts tell them “You are right, these lands belong to you”, then what this section says to the Nisga'as who entered into this agreement and who will be dispossessed of these lands is that through British Columbia and the Parliament of Canada, they will receive other lands and compensation to make up for the loss of these lands.
In our opinion, this was enough to say that one could not prevent the conclusion of this final Nisga'a agreement based on possible overlapping we find it very difficult to assess. Let the courts rule on such matters. If the Gitksan and the Gitanyow feel they are disadvantaged and that part of their lands have been taken from them, they may go to court. If they make a good case and the courts decide they are right, then the Nisga'a will be compensated for losing part of these lands.
It was very important to be able to put this issue aside because it was one of the major issues we were faced with.
Many people could say to me “As the member for Saint-Jean, you are referring to the final agreement, but that is not the act”. Some people say “We would like the provisions in the agreement to be transferred in the act”. On that point, the bill is again very explicit. I must point out two very important clauses stating that this final agreement is included in the act and even takes precedence over the act. I will read clause 4:
- (1) The Nisga'a Final Agreement is approved, given effect and declared valid and has the force of law.
The agreement I was referring to earlier has the force of law. Clause 6 goes even farther:
- In the event of an inconsistency or conflict between the Nisga'a Final Agreement and the provisions of any federal or provincial law, including this Act, that Agreement prevails to the extent of the inconsistency or conflict.
This is clear. The final agreement takes precedence over the act. It is included in the act, and in case of misinterpretation or if there are interpretations to be made between the act and the agreement, the latter will prevail. It is very clear and this refutes one of the arguments of our adversaries who say “What is included in the agreement is not necessarily included in the act”. I have just demonstrated the opposite.
I could dwell on several provisions of the agreement, for example the whole issue of the fishery, where we will at last have some certainty about the fishery issue. It is not a quota. There is no determined number of pounds of salmon or shrimp or any other kind of fish that will be allowed, but a percentage of the fish stock in the Nass River, I think, is 27%.
That means that protection of the resource has been taken into consideration. The stock is protected in the sense that if, in a given year, the stock is low, the allowable catch will still be 27% but the amount of fish caught will be lower. If in the following year there is plenty of fish, the allowable catch will stay at 27%, but in that case the amount of fish caught will be higher.
The part on migratory birds is a very interesting one. The fish sector is also interesting because under the agreement the Nisga'a will have their say in developing the Canadian position in international negotiations. We believe that it is very important for a people, a nation, to have its say in the signing of international treaties.
Considering the numerous provisions included in the agreement to manage the situation, we believe that they will translate into certainties when the agreement is implemented after third reading and adoption in the Senate.
Provisions concerning Nisga'a governments and relations with third parties are clear and precise.
There is another point I really must deal with. Some people said that there should be no taxation without representation. It is another myth that we have been hearing for a long time. Some people who are not Nisga'a will live on Nisga'a lands. They will not pay taxes to the Nisga'a government. They will continue to pay their taxes at the federal, provincial and municipal levels but they will pay no taxes to the Nisga'a. Therefore those people cannot demand to be part of the Nisga'a government if they do not pay taxes.
This was another argument that was often raised by the bill's opponents and I had to refute it.
There are also many other areas, such as economic and political activities defined in the accord, that ensure that there really is a partnership between parliament and the Nisga'a nation.
We white people often tend to have a certain conception of values. I recall that when Mr. Bouchard named me critic for Indian affairs, I wondered what I was going to do. I discovered that the issue of Indian affairs was an extremely important one because it forces us to look into our hearts and it greatly changes us.
I think it also changes our values system. For us, the measure of one's success is often having a Mercedes, a mansion, a cottage and a big bank account. The Nisga'a and other native peoples do not have the same values.
I am really happy when these people give me the opportunity to discover new values. It makes me happy when they take me fishing salmon in their boat for part of the day. For me, that is very important. It is a concept of values that we white people forgot long ago.
If more of my colleagues went fishing with the natives there would be less arguing in the House. People's values would probably change and animosity would probably disappear.
One has to see how these people react to animosity, to all those rednecks yelling at them to speak white or telling them to go back to their reserves, as we heard before. Almost all of these people went to residential schools. They have a great inner peace because they all experienced a lot of problems. Today they are enthusiastic and determined to conclude these agreements. They are immune to all the snide remarks and insults hurled at them. They are convinced that they will succeed, and having been around them, I too am convinced that they will.
It is the Mercedes versus the small boat to go salmon fishing, the Mercedes versus the moose hunt, the fishing camp versus the mansion. But, as far as I am concerned, one can certainly be as happy in a fishing camp as in a castle on the Loire because communing with nature is easier.
These people taught me that. As for gathering berries, they have always taken me to the places where the best berries are to be found. They are probably better than the ones served at banquets in the Château Laurier here in Ottawa because they are eaten in the wild and in a traditional way that we do not know about.
I find that the values that these people help us discover are important. Nature is important for them. It is important for them to live happily in the wild and in perfect harmony with nature.
I started my speech by saying that the Bloc Quebecois was willing to take one of the keys and to open the cage in which the Nisga'a people have been locked for several centuries now. The Indian Act is at least 125 years old. They have been subject to this act since the beginning. It is important for us to accompany the Nisga'a people on the road to self-government. In fact, we said, in the language of the Nisga'a:
[Editor's note: The member spoke in Nisga'a]
That means “We walk with the Nisga'a people”.
We never stopped walking with the Nisga'a people since the beginning, but now I also want the Nisga'a people to understand, and they are here today, that we are going through some turbulence, as I said this earlier, and if we are happy that they obtained their autonomy, the greatest autonomy possible, we, the Bloc Quebecois, are very unhappy with the turn of events concerning our own people. People must understand each other.
As I said earlier, the Reform Party denies the existence of several nations in Canada. It is quite obvious that the Reform Party wants to gag Quebec, to lock it up, like the Liberal Party, in the cage of status quo. We, too, want out of this cage. The Nisga'a people must understand that Quebec wants out of this cage, that it wants to free itself from this trap, that it wants to look to the future from a different perspective, from the perspective that I explained earlier, whereby a sovereign Quebec will maintain a partnership with its Canadian friends and with the native people with whom we have shared the same territory for a very long time.
Consequently, we have to increase the opportunities for partnership. It is not acceptable to say to Quebecers “We are locking you up in a cage and throwing away the key; you will stay there and nothing will change”. We gave up the idea of changing things a long time ago. We believe that we must achieve full independence now, and that is why we have some mixed feelings today.
We are happy for the Nisga'a people. Obviously the Bloc does not want to block this bill. We cannot do that to a people that is moving toward self-government. However, as I mentioned earlier, there are distortions and zones of turbulence.
That is why I move the following motion:
That the House do now adjourn.