House of Commons Hansard #38 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was agreed.


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12:25 p.m.


Mike Scott Reform Skeena, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I would seek the unanimous consent of the House, since we have the minister here speaking at third reading on the Nisga'a treaty, to have a 10 minute question and answer period with the minister.

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12:25 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is there unanimous consent to have a 10 minute question and comment period?

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12:25 p.m.

Some hon. members


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12:25 p.m.

An hon. member


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12:25 p.m.


Mike Scott Reform Skeena, BC

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the minister speak about the myths and shameful actions of other members of the House. I cannot think of anything more shameful than to deliberately set out to misrepresent to Canadians and British Columbians what this treaty represents.

From being involved in this entire matter for five and a half years, I can say that the Government of Canada, this minister and previous ministers from that side of the House have deliberately set out to misrepresent and mislead Canadians on what the content of the Nisga'a agreement is and what it represents for the future, not only for Nisga'a people but for other aboriginal people in British Columbia and across Canada.

I want to start by talking about the process. I have spoken about it before in the House, but it bears repeating. In 1991 the Government of Canada—

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12:25 p.m.


David Iftody Liberal Provencher, MB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The member for Skeena is using very provocative language, with suggestions that people on this side of the House deliberately misled Canadians. I would ask the member to withdraw those statements.

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12:25 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I have been listening very carefully to the hon. member for Skeena and I do not believe he has used unparliamentary language in his speech so far. He has not suggested that the government misled members of the House, which would be unparliamentary. In my view, he was careful to avoid any such suggestion.

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12:25 p.m.


Mike Scott Reform Skeena, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to talk about the process which led to this agreement.

In 1991 the federal government, the province of British Columbia and the Nisga'a leadership signed an agreement to negotiate a land claim settlement behind closed doors, out of the public eye. I was not even aware that this agreement had been signed. Most British Columbians were not aware that the Government of British Columbia and the federal government were intent on doing this.

I was elected as member of parliament for Skeena, which encompasses the Nisga'a traditional lands, as it does the Gitksan, the Gitanyow, the Tahltan, the Tsimpsean, the Haisla, the Haida and the Taku River Tlingit. I became aware in 1994 that this agreement had been signed and that there were negotiations taking place behind closed doors. I became rather concerned, because any time government wants to negotiate agreements behind closed doors which have the potential to impact the area that I represent, I feel that I have a duty, an obligation and a right to know what is being discussed. I believe the people in the area that I represent have the same right. They have the right to know what is going on.

I wrote to the minister of the day asking to be included in some form in order to keep abreast and be aware of what was being discussed behind closed doors so I could report back to my constituents.

I received a very curt response telling me that there was a secrecy agreement that the parties were bound to, and that I was not privy to the information, as an elected representative of Skeena encompassing the Nisga'a traditional lands, nor was I about to be given any information with respect to the negotiations.

I felt it was my duty at that point to inform my constituents of what was going on. We held a series of townhall meetings throughout Skeena and then throughout British Columbia during the course of 1994 and 1995 trying to make British Columbians aware of the precedent setting set of negotiations taking place. We recognize, as do most thinking people, that this was a precedent setting set of negotiations. It was the first land claim treaty to be negotiated in British Columbia in modern times. It obviously will set the floor and not the ceiling for other land claim agreements in British Columbia, and across Canada for that matter.

The minister and the Government of British Columbia try to tell us that this is not a template, although Premier Clark, in his more lucid moments, did admit that it was indeed a template.

I ask anybody watching the debate on television how anybody could possibly believe that a native negotiator somewhere in British Columbia negotiating a treaty would not look at what the Nisga'a have received and say that they have at least an extremely strong morale argument, if not a legal argument, to say “we are entitled to the same thing”. How can the Government of Canada deny that?

I and many of my colleagues in the Reform Party from British Columbia attempted, to the best of our abilities, to shed some light on what was taking place. The government steadfastly refused to provide any information, not only to me but to any members of the public.

In 1996, with a great deal of fanfare, the government released jointly with the Nisga'a leadership what is known as the AIP or agreement in principle. From that, we started to get a much clearer picture of what was intended in terms of a final agreement because the framework for the final agreement was before us.

It was at that point that the provincial government put together a parliamentary committee, the committee for aboriginal affairs for British Columbia, and went around the province in what I call a dog and pony show, ostensibly to hear the views of concerned citizens in British Columbia and to take into account what the concerns or views might be in relation to the AIP so that the final agreement could reflect those.

I attended some of those hearings held by the committee. I can tell the House what happened. There was a long list of people who were put in place by the government, who were set up ahead of time, and who showed up and lauded the treaty's benefits and all of its supposedly wonderful clauses and so on. Anybody who showed up and expressed concern or opposition to any of the elements of the agreement in principle were routinely dismissed and often dismissed with the most degrading kind of attacks on their character and their motives because they disagreed with the direction in which the government policy was going.

It is shameful that British Columbians and Canadians cannot go to a meeting and express their views and opposition to the principles incorporated in the AIP without being treated in that manner. That is the way the government and the Government of British Columbia treated citizens not only in my constituency but right across the province. I was there for it. It is a matter of record because it is in the British Columbia proceedings. All the meetings that committee held were recorded and it is a matter of public record. I invite anybody who has any questions whatsoever to access it through the Internet because it is all there.

In August 1998, the federal government, the provincial government and the Nisga'a leadership unveiled the final agreement. We were very anxious to see it. We looked through it and noted right away that as a result of the committee's work in British Columbia and all the public concern, criticism and so on of various components of the Nisga'a treaty, not one major change was made from the AIP to the final agreement. It was essentially the same. It was just the framework fleshed out with the same principles, the same policy, the same direction.

The rank and file Nisga'a people, who this agreement will affect the most, were given a few weeks to consider this agreement before they had to vote on it in the ratification process. They were given a few weeks to consider a final agreement that is 250-some pages long and 450 pages of appendices. They were supposed to evaluate a new Nisga'a constitution, a taxation agreement and other related documents. They were supposed to review all of this and make a decision within a few weeks as to whether or not this was the right thing for them and their families to go.

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12:35 p.m.


Claude Bachand Bloc Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. This is an extremely important debate and there are not many members in the House. I call for a quorum count.

And the count having been taken:

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12:35 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

I thank the hon. member for Saint-Jean. There is quorum.

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12:35 p.m.


Mike Scott Reform Skeena, BC

Many Nisga'a people have told us that the ratification process was not fair. This charge was made by people such as Frank Barton. He made these charges when he came before the federal standing committee when it was in British Columbia and there has been no response from any of the parties involved.

The minister talked about what he and the government characterize as the myths in the treaty. The minister stood in the House of Commons and, with a straight face, said that when the federal committee held hearings several weeks ago in British Columbia and Ottawa, there was “general consensus” that the Constitution of Canada would not be altered as a result of this agreement.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The minister knows that and he sits there with a smirk on his face because he thinks it is funny when the likes of Professor Stephen Scott from McGill University, a recognized legal expert; Professor Tom Flanagan from the University of Alberta; Mel Smith, former constitutional adviser to the Government of British Columbia for several decades; Gordon Gibson, the former leader of the Liberal Party of British Columbia; Professor Ehor Boyanowsky from Simon Fraser University; and Liberal leader Gordon Campbell of the current Liberal opposition in British Columbia, all appeared before that committee and said exactly the opposite.

How can government members and this minister sit there with smirks on their faces and say that there is general consensus that this agreement does not change the Constitution of Canada? That is a load of bunk and the minister knows it.

How does it change the constitution? There are at least 14 areas in the agreement where the Nisga'a central government will receive legislative authority that goes beyond the reach of parliament and beyond the legislature of British Columbia and that will be constitutionally protected under section 35 of the Canadian constitution. It will be considered an aboriginal or treaty right. It is right in the Nisga'a treaty itself that this treaty exhaustively sets out section 35 rights. Chapter 11 in this agreement, which deals with self-government, will obviously be considered an aboriginal treaty right and it will be constitutionally protected. It will be entrenched in constitutional concrete, never to be changed.

When I look around the House at the opposition parties that have a solemn duty to uphold the Constitution of Canada and I see what they have done in collusion with one another to override the constitution and to go against the wishes of Canadians, because Canadians said no to this very idea in 1992 in the Charlottetown accord, I am appalled. I am sickened by what members of the House have done or are attempting to do. That is not a myth. Those are the plain facts.

If the government wants to entrench aboriginal self-government as a constitutionally protected right with legislative authority that goes beyond the reach of parliament and the provincial legislatures, it can do it but it has to use the amending formula. It needs seven provinces with 50% of the population to do it. It tried to do that in 1992 with the Charlottetown accord, the same political parties that are here now with the same faces and the same failed ideas, and the Canadian people and British Columbians said “no'. British Columbians had the highest no of all the provinces. Aboriginal Canadians also said no.

What part of no does the government and the other political parties not understand. Why are they colluding with one another to try and get this constitutional amendment through the back door? Frankly, I find that sickening.

In 1950, the Supreme Court of Canada said, in the Lord Elgin Hotel case, if the minister cares to refer to it, “The Constitution of Canada does not belong to the legislatures. It does not belong to the politicians. It does not belong to governments. It belongs to the people of Canada and the people of Canada are the only ones who can consent to these kinds of constitutional changes”. There is an amending formula to determine whether that consent is given or not.

But no, the government and other parties are trying to do an end run around that. They are trying to do an end run around the amending formula and around the constitutional process to entrench aboriginal self-government as a constitutionally protected right with legislative authority that for all time will go beyond the reach of parliament and the reach of the provincial legislatures. That is exactly what René Lévesque was talking about when he spoke about sovereignty association. What this will do is create a semi-sovereign state within the boundaries of Canada.

As a precedent, because the government is pressing ahead with other treaties, not just in British Columbia but in other parts of Canada, what Canadians can expect over time is a large number of semi-sovereign states within the boundaries of Canada where people will live by different rules, different regulations and a different status based on ethnicity. Frankly, I find that idea repugnant.

The idea of legislated segregation has been tried around the world. The minister, instead of sitting there flapping his gums, should get out his history books and read what happened in the United States and in South with legislated segregation. The government can say that this is legislated segregation driven with good intentions. I do not doubt that it is, but legislated segregation driven with good intentions is not acceptable. It is always wrong. That is what the government and the other political parties in the House are in agreement on.

In the history of Canada, from before Canada was a country and before Confederation, in dealing with aboriginal people, there is a history of legislated segregation. Look where it has left native people in the country. We do not have to go any further than the closest reserve. Most reserves are not very desirable places to live. Unemployment is at 70%, 80% or 90%, depending on which reserve we are talking about. There are social pathologies that are unheard of in other Canadian communities. There are people living in squalor, in what amounts to third world conditions, as we have heard so many times in the House.

Why does the government not get the message? Legislated segregation does not work. The people it affects the most are the people this kind of policy is supposed to help. If I were an aboriginal Canadian I would ask the federal government to stop helping me because all the help it has given so far has not been very good. I would ask the government to leave me alone, but it will not.

The Liberals talk about the application of the charter of rights and protecting the rights of Nisga'a women and other aboriginal women in Canada. The minister sits in the House and pontificates. I do not know why he has not bothered to listen to people like Mizie Baker, a Squamish woman who came before our committee because she was not allowed to appear before the minister's committee to testify, or Wendy Lundberg who came before our committee because she was denied the opportunity to go before the minister's committee. He did not want to hear from her. The Liberals did not want to hear from these people. They do not like to hear from anyone who disagrees with them.

It is not unlike some of the more dictatorial regimes we have seen around the world in recent history. They insulate themselves from any kind of opposition or negative feedback from Canadians. People such as Mizie Baker and Wendy Lundberg, as well as a number of other aboriginal women, have told us of their concern and their lack of rights as aboriginal women, as Canadians, not only through this legislation but also through Bill C-49.

Wendy Lundberg wrote a letter to a Liberal member from British Columbia expressing her concern over the fact that her rights as an aboriginal woman were not protected. The response she received from the Liberal member of parliament was that they were working on that. Her letter was written in relation to Bill C-49 and in relation to the Nisga'a final agreement.

How will the charter of rights and freedoms apply? There is wording in chapter 2 of the agreement, the general provisions, which says that the charter of rights and freedoms applies, bearing in mind the free and democratic nature of the Nisga'a government. What do they mean? They sound like innocuous words.

We are not constitutional or legal experts so we took the time to consult with the likes of Professor Tom Flanagan, Professor Steven Scott, Mel Smith and others. We took the time to ask them what it meant in their view. In their view the addition really means that the Nisga'a central government will have a free rein in denying charter rights, bearing in mind the free and democratic nature of the Nisga'a central government.

I do not mean to imply the Nisga'a leadership that negotiated this agreement has ulterior motives. I do not know and I am not trying to make that allegation, but this sets the groundwork for individual charter rights to be overridden in the future.

Under section 35 of the constitution the Nisga'a final agreement will be considered an aboriginal or treaty right. Under section 25 of the constitution in applying the charter of rights and freedoms, aboriginal and treaty rights take precedence over individual rights as expressed in the charter. That is not a myth. Any Canadian can read the charter of rights and freedoms and section 25 of the Canadian constitution. I do not think the minister has read it but I urge him to do so. From the way he talks in the House, I do not think he has read the agreement or is familiar with it.

There is no question that the individual rights of Nisga'a people are seriously diminished as a result of this agreement. There is no doubt about that whatsoever.

Not only Nisga'a people but more and more aboriginal people in British Columbia are coming to understand that. They are concerned about it. They are asking how they can deal with a government that will come along in the future, for example, and ban trade unions like the Kamloops band recently attempted to do in British Columbia.

What happens if a future Nisga'a central government or some other aboriginal government that is working within the same kind of self-government framework as in this document happens to say that trade unions are culturally incompatible with Nisga'a tradition? They have legislative supremacy in the area of culture. In the self-government provisions they have the absolute right to regulate and ban businesses, professions and trades on Nisga'a land. That is not a myth. It is right in the agreement.

If a Nisga'a central government takes that position, what would be the recourse of the people who have attempted to organize the trade unions? They could go to court if they have the money but likely they will not have it to do that. However, if they go to court and say that their charter rights have been violated as a result of the law that has been passed by the Nisga'a central government, the Supreme Court of Canada will have to look at the section 35 rights.

The court will have to apply those rights as they relate to section 25 of the constitution. It will have to look at the wording bearing in mind the free and democratic nature of the Nisga'a government. It will have to look at the provisions that say that the Nisga'a central government has the absolute right to regulate and ban businesses, professions and trades on Nisga'a lands. With all those taken together it is easy to see that the court will have a difficult time upholding the charter of rights of Nisga'a individuals under those circumstances. That is just one set of circumstances.

The Nisga'a will have legislative authority to determine Nisga'a citizenship. That legislative authority goes beyond parliament and provincial legislatures. In other words it is up to the Nisga'a central government to determine who is a citizen and who is not.

What happens if one is a Nisga'a living in the Nass Valley in one of the four Nisga'a communities who happens to disagree vociferously with the Nisga'a central government on an issue or on a range of issues? One becomes what is known as a dissident. This has happened in other aboriginal communities in Canada. We have had letters from people on reserves in the prairies and so on where leadership has determined that in some cases the easiest way to deal with dissidents was to excommunicate them or attempt to pull their band membership.

Right now under the Indian Act and under the current system, which I do not mean in any way to defend, at the very least there is the ultimate protection of the Parliament of Canada for those people if the Parliament of Canada chooses to invoke it. However, under the Nisga'a final agreement that is lost forever.

If in the future the Nisga'a central government determines that people are not citizens for whatever reason, they are no longer entitled to be considered Nisga'a or to receive or partake in the benefits of this treaty. In fact they become exiles in their own lands. Aboriginal people in British Columbia have told me of their concerns about being exiles in their own lands. That is an absolute fact.

In terms of principle, individual rights versus collective rights is at the core of this treaty. Fundamentally that is what is the most wrong with it. The province of British Columbia and the Government of Canada, but primarily the Government of Canada, see aboriginal people as collectives. They do not see them as individuals.

They do not realize or choose not to realize that the 400,000-odd aboriginal Canadians who live on reserves in Canada today are all individuals. They do not think the same way. They do not want the same things. They are like everyone else. They have many different aspirations, hopes, dreams and goals.

How will they be able to reach those aspirations, dreams and goals when collectivities with centralized decision making will have enormous control over assets, land and wealth? Very little of it will flow to individuals. Most of it will flow to collective ownership. How will these people tap into that as individuals and get ahead?

I talked about legislative segregation a few minutes ago. Collectivities have been tried all over the world. In east bloc countries it was known as communism or state socialism. It has been a demonstrated failure everywhere it has been tried.

What makes these people so arrogant as to believe that they somehow have a new formula for recreating a failed idea and making it work? Who will suffer the most? It will be the very people that the agreement ostensibly sets out to help.

Why cannot the government think outside the box? Why can it not stop for a few minutes? Why cannot the minister and the department stop and re-evaluate where they are going with aboriginal policy, where they have gone, where they would like to go, and do it in a manner that is intellectually honest? With this agreement and with the policy coming from the government we have seen a tremendous amount of intellectual dishonesty.

We have seen a government that routinely tries to downplay and conceal the extent of accountability problems on reserves, which exist because the government has set forth policies that allow them to happen and create the environment for them to happen.

Why cannot the Government of Canada just once look at aboriginal people as individuals, not as collectives? Why cannot the government resolve these claims which we all agree need to be resolved with a generosity of spirit, a fairness of mind, and bearing in mind the horrible position in which aboriginal people have been placed as a result of legislated segregation in the country? The real crime perpetrated against aboriginals in Canada is legislated segregation.

Why cannot the government look at individuals and come up with a policy that says in resolving these outstanding claims and in trying to set things right it will try to the greatest extent possible to compensate individuals with land, cash and other assets? At the end of the process aboriginal people who freely choose of their own accord to stay together in communities will be provided with a municipal style government not unlike that of the city of Toronto, the city of Brantford or the city of Kamloops, British Columbia. What is wrong with that?

Why does the federal government and the province of British Columbia insist on having a form of government which can only be called a semi-sovereign state with legislative authority that goes far beyond that of any municipality in the country? Why cannot they see aboriginal people as individuals? Why cannot they go in that direction?

I do not think most Canadians would object in any way to a true municipal style of aboriginal self-government for aboriginal people. It would give aboriginal people who choose to stay in aboriginal communities the tools they need to run their communities as much as it gives the people who freely choose to live in the city of Ottawa as a group of citizens the tools they need to have a city that functions, that provides transportation corridors and transportation services, snow removal, and all other things we expect from a city.

At the same time it would also provide them with the absolute protection of the Canadian constitution, most particularly the charter of rights and freedoms. It would also break from the notion of centralizing collective ownership and decision making in the hands of a few people.

I am puzzled, frustrated and completely unable to understand why the Government of Canada cannot see that. Why can it not pause and go through an intellectual debate that is honest and willing to look at history, even recent history, and look at the failure in that recent history and learn from it rather than repeat it over and over again? I am appalled that the Government of Canada wants to continue to march down this road; damn the torpedoes, not a care about what British Columbians think or what other aboriginal people think.

The rudest comments are made about those who disagree with it. Their character and motives are trashed. They are called bigots, anti-Indian, racists. I could go on and on. That is what the other parties in the House either imply or sometimes directly say when they talk about anybody who expresses opposition to the principles contained in the agreement.

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1 p.m.


Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I respect the right of the hon. gentleman from Skeena to give his point of view, but to indicate in any way, shape or form that our party would call him or his party racist in a public forum would be completely out of line. I would like him to retract that statement, please.

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1 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

It is a matter for debate. I was listening very carefully to the member for Skeena. He made the comments in a reflective manner. He was not impugning motive. He was saying what has happened. In my opinion the words as presented were quite in order.

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1 p.m.


Mike Scott Reform Skeena, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have respect for the hon. member who just rose. However, I would like to point out that the member from Kamloops, who is not here right now, not a week ago in public, in a widely circulated media interview, said exactly that. I would ask the hon. member in all fairness to look up what the hon. member from Kamloops said. I am not making it up.

And it was not just once. It has been over and over again. Members on this side of the House have said this about Reformers in the House. That is a matter of public record. I am sorry if it offends people, but it is the truth. That is what happened and it happened with the member from Kamloops not 10 days ago in an interview. They should be ashamed of themselves. We should be able to engage in honest, intellectual debate without getting into that kind of mudslinging and name calling.

I will conclude my remarks by saying that at the end of the day in discussing this treaty the people we ought to be considering the very most is the Nisga'a people themselves. They are going to have to live with this for all time because it will be set in constitutional concrete.

I say that individual Nisga'a people, and I think there are more of them who are coming to understand it, are going to recognize that this is not a good deal for them. It is not a good deal for their families.

It is going to be a good deal for people who are involved in Nisga'a central government for sure. It is going to be a good deal for lawyers as my colleague points out. It is going to be a good deal for all those hangers on in the Indian industry in this country who have been sucking millions upon millions of dollars out of the taxpayers' wallets and out of the aboriginal communities for decades now. It will be a good deal for them.

It will be a good deal for the courts. The Marshall decision was based on a treaty that was half a dozen pages in length. Imagine the amount of litigation that will come out of this kind of an agreement.

The minister even said in his remarks a few minutes ago in the House that people have access to the courts. What kind of answer is that for a minister of the crown to be giving? It is almost as if the Liberals are inviting and expecting legal challenges. They want to see it happen. Maybe all their friends in the legal profession are rubbing their hands together waiting for this to get passed so they can all make a buck on it.

This will not be a good deal for Nisga'a people. That will become evident very quickly. It will not be a good deal for other aboriginal people in Canada because the precedent has been set in terms of the government's provisions in this treaty, in terms of collective ownership of land and collective control over finances. At the end of the day it is supposed to be the Nisga'a people who benefit from this.

Let the record show that the Reform Party was the only party that stood in the House and said that not only is this deal unprincipled, not only is it unconstitutional, but it is wrong for the country and for all Canadians. Let it be said and never forgotten that the Reform Party was the only party that stood in this parliament and said that this agreement is bad for Nisga'a people. History will prove us right.

We know the Liberals have the majority. We know that they can ram this through. That is the way our dysfunctional parliamentary system is operating in Canada these days. We know that the Liberals can get away with it. We have mounted the best opposition that we could. We have done everything within the powers that are granted the official opposition to highlight the defects in this deal and to bring it to the attention of Canadians.

Let the history books show that we did our jobs while other members of this place sat in their seats. They would not hold the government accountable. They were in collusion. They were intellectually dishonest. At the end of the day they failed not only to serve Canadians, but they failed to serve the best interests of the Nisga'a people.

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1:05 p.m.


Claude Bachand Bloc Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, I usually begin my speeches on Indian affairs by saying that I am very pleased to address the issue, but today it is with somewhat mixed feelings that I do so.

I am pleased because this is a historic day—and I know that a number of Nisga'a are in the gallery today—a day when we will finally vote to give the Nisga'a the opportunity to shake off a yoke called the Indian Act. The Nisga'a have been constrained by that act for over 100 years, and today the Bloc Quebecois, along with other parties in this House, will enable the Nisga'a to free themselves from that act.

I have mixed feelings however because, while we are about to do this for the Nisga'a, the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs wants to put Quebecers under a yoke. This threat is the reason why it is somewhat difficult for me to be totally pleased on what should otherwise be a happy occasion.

The Nisga'a will understand that if the Bloc Quebecois supported their quest for self-government, it must also protect the Quebec people, another very important people in Canada but who many in this House will not recognize. I will elaborate toward the end of my speech.

I first want to salute Joe Gosnell and Harry Nice, who co-ordinated the entire negotiation team which is here today. I know this is a very important day for them, bringing to a close a long negotiation process.

Earlier I listened to the hon. member for Skeena, who said that negotiations first began in 1981, but in fact we must go back much further than that. We must go back to the end of the 19th century.

Even then aboriginal leaders were trying to convince the British crown in London of the importance of greater autonomy. This dragged on for over 100 years. I agree with the member that the pace has picked up in the past 20 or 25 years. Now we are reaching a conclusion with the signature of a final agreement and the necessary endorsement of the Parliament of Canada.

I first heard about the Nisga'a people at the time the agreement in principle was signed. I went to their territory and was shown around. These people were very happy about the signing of the agreement in principle, but I do not think they had any idea that, even after signing an agreement with the federal government, a whole series of stumbling blocks would remain before the final stage of third reading in the House of Commons, not to mention Royal Assent in the Senate. Today, they have made it through all these hurdles and the Bloc Quebecois has been with them all the way.

When parliament signed the final agreement last spring—the former Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development signed it—I again visited the Nisga'a territories and received the same welcome. It is an amazing area, with the Nass River that I mentioned earlier.

This far north in British Columbia, the water is the most amazing shade of blue-green. This is the result of mineral salts in the water. The Nisga'a attachment to the land of their birth, to the Nass River and the entire river valley, which is of extreme importance to them, is understandable.

Every time I have been there, I have had a chance to see what they call the lava beds. There is a fable relating to these waterways. I have read this fable; nearly 2,000 Nisga'a died 500 years ago because of a volcanic eruption.

According to the fable, the children had lost contact with nature and were mistreating animals. They were extremely cruel to the animals. The elders apparently told them “Stop your cruelty or the Creator will get angry if we are too cruel to the animals.” According to the fable, the volcano then erupted and two whole villages were engulfed by the lava, killing close to 2,000 Nisga'a villagers, who now lie under the lava beds of the volcano.

It was all explained to me during my visit. I was told about the importance of fishing, especially salmon fishing using the famous salmon wheel. When the salmon swim upstream, they swim into a sort of paddlewheel, which scoops them into a box where they can be kept fresh for days until they are caught. I thought this was an invention of the native people of the Yukon, but the Nisga'a have assured me that they are the ones who invented it. This goes to show how important fishing and this wheel is to the Nisga'a.

My guide on my latest visit was Eric Grandison, and with the usual warm welcome one gets from the Nisga'a, he took me to his mother's home to see the family smokehouse, where we sampled some excellent smoked salmon. This was not frozen smoked salmon like Price Club salmon. This was salmon that had been caught only a day or two before and then fully smoked. The taste was exquisite and this was something that one can rarely, if ever, get here.

Unfortunately, I would have had the opportunity to taste it again here last week but the Bloc Quebecois Christmas party was the same night as their salmon party so I could not attend.

During my two visits there, I could see that a rush on the natural resources on the Nisga'a lands was under way. The first time, when I visited the lands of the Chilcotin and Carrier Sekani, hundreds of trucks were hurrying to cut down the forests as quickly as possible before the land was handed over to the aboriginal people.

The Nisga'a will now have control over their own forests, but I also want to speak up for the Carrier Sekani and the Chilcotin, whose land claims are ongoing and who are unfortunately the victims of this rush on natural resources.

The agreement in principle and the historic bill were presented. After second reading, we travelled to British Columbia. We went to Terrace, Prince George, Smithers, Victoria and Vancouver. I will admit that it was a bit of a shock to Bloc Quebecois members. The hon. member for Manicouagan was also with me.

Of course, we asked for interpretation services. The witnesses who spoke in support of aboriginals and aboriginal people themselves were treated shoddily at the hearings. Bloc Quebecois members were stunned whenever they were asked to “speak white”. This was very shameful.

I do not want to make any generalization, but I think those who said that are best described as “rednecks”. My feeling is that these people came out to treat the Nisga'a, the aboriginals and French speaking people in a malevolent way. However, after speaking with many people in Terrace, Victoria and Vancouver, I am convinced that these rednecks were a very small minority.

I raised these incidents with Phil Fontaine, the first nations chief, when he made his presentation on the Nisga'a. His response was “You were told to “speak white” during one or two days, while this is the attitude we have been confronted with all our lives. How do you feel when you are being treated like that?”

We did not like it, of course, but it helped us better understand the Nisga'a issue and understand how long aboriginals have been in that situation, and what should be done to correct that situation, to change it and turn the page so that these people can now decide their own future.

The Bloc Quebecois showed its compassion and understanding. I think the Nisga'a will agree that we have always supported them. There are Nisga'a representatives here today, but I must warn them that they are in a turbulent zone and that the turbulence will keep increasing.

I can promise members of the federal Liberal Party that this will get worse, probably tomorrow, if the minister introduces his bill. We are warning them. They need to tighten their seatbelts because I think we are in for quite a ride. If they have never seen what stuff Quebecers are made of, they will now. We are as proud to defend our people as the Nisga'a were to defend theirs. That is all I wanted to add.

As to the concept of a people, I also heard the member for Skeena earlier cite an eminent constitutional expert by the name of Tom Flanagan. Mr. Flanagan tabled a brief before the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development. Throughout the trip, I brought up the concept of peoples with those I met. Opponents of the bill have always thrown two arguments at us: the uncertainty caused by this debate and the agreement's lack of equality. We often hear that everyone must be equal in Canada.

I asked Mr. Flanagan whether he believed that there were several nations and several peoples in Canada and his answer was that, like Pierre Elliott Trudeau, he thought that there was only one people in Canada, the Canadian people. So there was no point in supplementary questions on the rights of these nations, if we were hung up on that.

I think that this is the trouble with the Reform Party. It does not think that there are other peoples and other nations in Canada. It is proving its point with the Nisga'a issue, as well as its stand with the members of the Liberal Party to put Quebec into a straitjacket. Reformers no more believe in the concept of a Nisga'a people than they believe in a people of Quebec. For them, everyone must be treated equally. Quebec is as important as Prince Edward Island.

We disagree completely on this and that is why we are perhaps in a better position to understand the native peoples' move toward autonomy because we are taking those same steps ourselves. It is easy for us to understand them. When aboriginals approach the Bloc Quebecois and announce that they are working for greater self-government, it is only natural that we understand where they are coming from.

During my tour, I tested their concept of nation by asking people whether they believed that there were several nations and peoples in Canada. Their answer was yes. If there is recognition for this concept, it follows that these nations and peoples have specific rights. This is recognized in international law. With recognition as a people or nation comes recognition of specific rights.

Defining specific rights requires partnership agreements. As we see it, the final Nisga'a agreement is a partnership agreement between two, even three peoples.

Nisga'A Final Agreement ActGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.


David Iftody Liberal Provencher, MB

Mr. Speaker, I rose on a point of order a few minutes ago with respect to the comments of the member for Skeena who, in reference to the minister and the government, used the words “deliberately” and “misrepresent”.

In normal situations it is regretfully normal that one may, I believe, refer to the government or political parties, but I will read for the Chair the Hansard blues which I obtained a few minutes ago. The member for Skeena said: Mr. Speaker, when I listened to the minister speak and talk about myths and shameful actions of other members in the House, I cannot think of anything more shameful than to deliberately set out to misrepresent to Canadians and British Columbians what this treaty represents.

It goes on to say in the next paragraph: This minister and previous ministers before him have deliberately set out to misrepresent and mislead Canadians on the content of the Nisga'a agreement.

That is the end of the quote from the Hansard blues. I ask, based on the new information before the House, that the member for Skeena apologize to the minister of Indian affairs and withdraw those unparliamentary comments.

Nisga'A Final Agreement ActGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

The Deputy Speaker was in the chair when the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development rose on his point of order and subsequently waited to have the draft blues of Hansard to review.

Before the Deputy Speaker left and I took the chair we discussed exactly that because it was, in his opinion, very close to the line but it did not cross the line. It did not cross the line because of the tone and the context. It was a question of what had brought us to this point today.

I have discussed this at great length with the Deputy Speaker because it is a question worthy of being discussed at great length.

I invite the hon. member for Skeena, only if he chooses, to clarify those remarks to ensure that I and the Deputy Speaker have interpreted his remarks accurately. I would invite the hon. member for Skeena to do so, if he so chooses.

Nisga'A Final Agreement ActGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.


Mike Scott Reform Skeena, BC

Mr. Speaker, first, in my remarks I was responding to the government's position that the Reform Party was propagating myths, and I did not ascribe my remarks to any individual in particular. I was ascribing my remarks to a government policy and position that I felt was going over the line in terms of how it was trying to represent an issue to Canadians which was not correct.

Nisga'A Final Agreement ActGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.


John Williams Reform St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I find it rather unfortunate that a member, in this case the member for Skeena, has to stand to defend his remarks in the House. As he has since pointed out, he was clearly talking about government policy and the way that this whole treaty has been handled. It is rather unfortunate that a parliamentary secretary would cast aspersions on the member for Skeena. I think this whole matter should be laid to rest. The government should withdraw its allegations and let the member for Skeena—

Nisga'A Final Agreement ActGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

We are not getting into debate on this matter. The Deputy Speaker ruled at the time that in his opinion it was not unparliamentary. I am ruling, after reviewing exactly the same draft and after having heard the interventions, that it was not unparliamentary. We will resume debate with the hon. member for Saint-Jean.

Nisga'A Final Agreement ActGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.


Claude Bachand Bloc Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have serious questions regarding the relevance of points of order that have nothing to do with me. I was making an important speech for my Nisga'a friends and I was interrupted by a parliamentary secretary who raised a point of order about something another member had said. I hope you counted the time this exchange took and that you will extend my time accordingly.

I was wondering about the relevance of a point of order that does not concern me. Can you clarify that for me? I am talking about the point of order. Is it relevant to interrupt my speech to raise a point of order that does not concern me? I would like you to clarify that for me before I go on with my speech.

Nisga'A Final Agreement ActGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

The point of order was in order.

Nisga'A Final Agreement ActGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.


Claude Bachand Bloc Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, if I understood your signal correctly, you will be extending my time to compensate for the time lost during this point of order. How much time do I have left?

Nisga'A Final Agreement ActGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

You have 25 minutes left.

Nisga'A Final Agreement ActGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.


Claude Bachand Bloc Saint-Jean, QC

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. (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:

  1. 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.