Mr. Speaker, we will have opportunities in questions and answers throughout the day to debate parts of the bill.
Bill C-49 was introduced on June 11 in the House. During parliamentary debate and review by standing committee the government has continued to put forward the benefits of the bill. However, the official opposition has repeatedly tried to seek to scuttle the bill, even today. It has continually tried to misrepresent the real intentions of the first nations by way of misinformation and fearmongering, as evidenced today by the comments with respect to real estate agents making very unhelpful comments to the leaseholders.
They have tried to confuse the citizenry of the country by trying to raise the fears of average Canadians with respect to the development of first nations and their legitimate desire to take control over their lands and to manage those that are held in trust.
At this time I would like to set the record straight on these matters. I am sure that when I am finished the real story will be before the House and all Canadians.
The minister has expounded quite well on questions of expropriation, but let me reiterate some of the most important points of this portion of the bill.
Members of the official opposition would like everyone to believe that this power is an extreme power in the hands of first nations and one which they believe would be abused to the detriment of existing interest holders on first nations land. There are supreme court decisions which make this impossible to happen. This is nothing more than fearmongering.
As members of the House know, the power of expropriation is a power available to all levels of government and one which all governments take seriously with care and great caution. It must be first noted that the exercise of this power by any of the first nations is optional. In other words, although the bill would provide the power to expropriate, the community would have to decide whether to exercise that legitimate power. It is a community decision, as I said, one that is not taken lightly. In their codes these first nations must decide whether or not they wish to include the power of expropriation.
As parliament knows, three first nations have already ratified their codes. Of these, two have opted not to exercise this expropriation power. The third, the Muskoday First Nation, has spelled out in detail the extent to which it will exercise those expropriation powers. It was done with care and proper due diligence to its neighbours and indeed to the community itself.
The member for North Vancouver specifically referenced the Muskoday land code in his remarks of the other day as being a model for other first nations to follow. Of the three land codes now in preparation in the communities, one wishes not to exercise expropriation powers and the other two are following the Muskoday model.
In the exercise of this power the first nations must establish the rules and procedures. In addition, these are based on rules and procedures found in the Canadian Expropriation Act.
Indian reserve lands are currently subject to expropriation by British Columbia with the consent of the governor in council. There are at least 19 statutes where expropriation powers might be exercised in the lower mainland of British Columbia today. Any expropriation power that the first nations in B.C. may wish to exercise is not unique.
I would like to respond to specific concerns raised in debates concerning the matter of the 30 day expropriation time limit. This has been raised a number of times in debate as a threat to the security of interest holders on first nations land. It should be noted that this period is similar to the time set out in the 19 statutes to which I just referred. Under these sample statutes, the 19 B.C. statutes, the timeframe can be as little as 10 days or, in limited situations, no notice. The Railway Act statute is an example.
Consultation has again been repeatedly raised. Apparently some members of the House would like us to believe that the 14 signatory first nations to the bill do not talk to their neighbours. In fact, it has been implied that no first nations consult with their non-aboriginal neighbours. This is completely and categorically false and strongly needs to be addressed.
In direct relation to Bill C-49, the five first nations from B.C. have entered into a consultation process with the Union of British Columbia Municipalities to establish a consultation protocol with all the affected municipal governments. In fact, in British Columbia alone there are over 100 service agreements between first nations and their non-aboriginal neighbours.
I would also like to refer to a letter that was tabled by the chair of the Union of British Columbia Municipalities aboriginal affairs committee. The letter supports the discussion paper on a consultative protocol with the five B.C. first nations and touts the benefits of working in a partnership with first nations.
The letter says:
I believe that entering into preliminary dialogue with the (five B.C. first nations) on principles for reciprocal consultation as set out in the attached discussion paper at this time is what the UBCM has been working towards in consultation with first nations over the past two years and may pay back dividends in the future.
Furthermore, at a regular meeting of the district of Squamish held on February 15, 1999, the council passed the following motion:
That council support the amended draft discussion paper on reciprocal consultation between first nations governments and municipalities on land use planning and related issues.
There is another point that I would like to address. Numerous members opposite have continually raised the notion that municipalities must consult with first nations. In their discussions they cite the B.C. municipal act as setting out a mandatory consultation process which first nations would be legislated to follow.
The truth is that the so-called requirement for B.C. municipalities to consult with first nations is not a requirement at all that is imposed on the municipalities. It does not apply when the land and other developments are proposed in those municipalities.
The argument that the B.C. municipal act imposes the requirement to consult with first nations is spurious and categorically inaccurate. It is a myth. It does not exist as a requirement in the B.C. municipal act.
In fact there is no statutory requirement for municipalities in B.C. to consult with first nations with respect to land development. The municipal act provisions for consultations only arises when a regional district board proposes a development strategy. Therefore the cities of west and north Vancouver, which are not the district board, have no obligation to consult with first nations. There are no laws in the other five provinces where nine of the fourteen land management first nations are located that make any provision at all for consultation with first nations in respect of land development or servicing.
The chief of the Squamish nation has written to me and has indicated other examples of how the member for North Vancouver has misinformed the residents of British Columbia. I would like to quote from the chief's letter when he says that he would like to formally go on the record to say that the comments of the member for North Vancouver are outright fabrications and, further, that he should have to resign his position as a Reform Party representative from British Columbia.
In addition, certain members opposite would have us believe that the municipalities would automatically have to provide services to the first nations. The truth is that if the first nations want municipal services provided the two parties must negotiate those agreements.
We strongly believe that the bill and the framework agreement will pave the way for a better understanding of partnerships between the first nations and their municipalities. I think it is worth mentioning that 500 of these service agreements now exist across the country, with 100 existing in British Columbia.
Let me quote excerpts from the Snake Island Cottagers Association located in southern Ontario which represents a few hundred cottage owners, if I am not mistaken, who feel that Bill C-49 is a way for them to protect their relationship with the first nations people:
We strongly support the Chippewas Band's quest for self-government and feel that the swift passage of Bill C-49 will facilitate a new leasing arrangement between our members and the Chippewas band. SICA and the Chippewas Band have over the years developed a friendly working relationship and we look forward to dealing directly with the Band. The time for self-government is now. Please do not delay the passage of Bill C-49 any longer.
The minister spoke extensively and very well and thoroughly to the question of matrimonial property, but I will touch on it very briefly to reinforce and reiterate what she has just said.
This is a very complex issue because the provincial land laws respecting the division of matrimonial property upon marital breakdown do not apply on reserves. That is clear. Why? Reserve lands are unique because they are held by Her Majesty for the use and benefit of the band, not by or for individuals. In other words, it is communal land. Provincial laws cannot be replicated in their entirety to reserve lands.
As the House is aware, the 14 first nations that signed the agreement are anxious to spell out these rules. As the minister said, many of the signatories of those 14 bands are women chiefs, elected ostensibly by the men in their communities as well.
The bill before us and the agreement spell out that the signatories must establish a community process. It is also important to put on record that the equality section of the charter of rights and freedoms will apply, that there will be no discrimination based on sex under sections 28 and 35 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
According to the bill before us the legislation requires that first nations solicit the input of all on and off reserve members of their communities, including aboriginal women. Nothing precludes a community from addressing the issue at the beginning of the land code development process. The important point here is that the community decides.
Federal officials through our minister are now working to establish the fact finding process. Letters of invitation have been sent to the aboriginal partners to participate in a meeting where the terms of reference for the fact finding process will be discussed. The minister will make further announcements on this initiative in the near future. Finally, during the recent debates I have raised a number of comments of which the hon. member for Skeena challenged the accuracy. I would like at this time to respond to this challenge with some important facts.
First, the Musqueam tenants were indeed approach by the Musqueam Nation regarding prepaid leases. I am reading from a copy of a letter dated May 14, 1980, sent to all the tenants:
Your lease is based on fixed rental payments until June 7, 1995 with reviews of rental for the three succeeding twenty year periods and one final nine year period. For a number of reasons, we see merit in considering “conversion” to a prepaid basis for this lease.
We make it absolutely clear that participation in the prepaid rental proposal will be entirely your own choice. Having said this we have to also mentioned that the perhaps obvious fact that, unless at least half of you show positive interest, there will be no point in going ahead. If at least half of you do show positive interest in the proposal, it is our intention to retain a professional appraiser to advise us upon the present value of the right to receive the flow of income provided for in your lease. Once that is finalized, we will face the task of agreement with you a mutually satisfactory prepayment figure.
I would like to give the House the results of this offer of the Musqueam band for the sake of the member for Skeena. A total of 38 of the 76 tenants were required to respond positively for this to proceed. The response was as follows. Ten were in favour, nine were undecided and required more information and eight were opposed to a new lease agreement. The possible 19 in favour was far short of the required 38 or 50% and I would like to inform the House that approximately 40% of the tenants residing at Musqueam today were residents at the time of this letter in 1980.
These are important facts, along with the other fact that was raised as an inaccuracy about arrears. I am told by the band and through its documents that 15% of the leaseholders are still in arrears to the tune of $334,000. I say this to clear up the record because I did receive a letter from the member for Skeena addressed to me with very strong and somewhat personalized language. I feel it is my obligation to respond to that letter and to the House with the facts of the case.
I say this in concluding my comments with all due respect to the leaseholders of the Musqueam leasehold land who have had a very difficult and trying time over the past number of months. I say to them it is the wish of the first nations, it is the wish of the government and I believe the House on vote on concurrence of 171 to 35 just the other evening on this bill that we as Canadians, the House of Commons and our first nations people work together to resolve these issues in a compassionate, fair and equitable way so that our communities can live together.
This is my wish. I know is the expressed wish of the minister in her role as minister responsible for first nations people. She has advocated for that repeatedly and this is one that we support.
I think this is a good bill. It is a great opportunity to move forward in a new relationship where first nations people have the opportunity to seize control of their own lands, to do business with other first nations people or non-aboriginal people if they wish, to proceed beyond the 100 years, beyond the dark past of subjugation where first nations people were unable to leave their small plots of land on reserve in which they find themselves able to participate more broadly in Canadian society. This is what they have asked for. This is what we are trying to accomplish within the framework and broad underlying principles of this bill.
It is not to drive a wedge between Canadian people and first nations people, that we have disruptions and we become the international embarrassment that Canada is viewed in the United Nations and globally as treating unfairly its most vulnerable citizens.
This is an attempt to pull those parties together and I believe we do that in the bill. The first nations believe we do that in the bill and Canadians, as represented by the majority of members of parliament in the House of Commons who have supported it, believe that as well.