Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague from Skeena just spoke quite eloquently about the history and the potential consequences of the Nisga'a treaty. I would like to take this opportunity to address how the government has shut Canadians out of the treaty process with the Nisga'a people.
The hon. minister just mentioned how she feels she has talked long and hard and consulted with everyone. I certainly beg to differ.
In my opinion the Nisga'a Treaty has been a disaster from the outset. The federal government, along with the Government of British Columbia, negotiated, signed and are now ratifying a treaty rife with controversy. I submit that the provincial government, by shutting down debate and ramming it through the legislature in Victoria, did nothing but add to the stigma already attached to this treaty.
There are hundreds of questions that politicians, scholars, journalists and citizens, both aboriginal and non-aboriginal alike, would like to ask and answers have always been in short supply.
Responsible government is a term that has been used throughout our nation's history. It has many connotations but boils down to being accountable to the citizens for the administration of their country.
Responsibility and accountability have been absent in the Nisga'a treaty process from the outset. The treaty sets an enormous precedent for past and future treaty negotiations. It creates a third level of government that is outside the jurisdiction of the Constitution and the charter of rights. My hon. colleague just addressed that. It allows taxation without representation. It divides rights and freedoms based on ethnicity. It abandons the marital property rights of Nisga'a women residing on Nisga'a land.
These are very serious consequences that require explanation. When we ask the government to answer these questions we are called racists and fear-mongers. Tell us a name and the members across the way call us it. These diversion tactics are a disservice to the thousands of Canadians, both Nisga'a and non-Nisga'a, who are directly affected by the treaty.
It is the responsibility of the government to inform Canadians, in particular in northern British Columbia, of the details of the treaty and to allow them a say in how their land is to be used, not just for a year, not even for a decade or so but for all time.
Several bands surrounding the Nisga'a claim have overlapping claims which need to be settled before the treaty is ratified. The Indian affairs minister has been anything but accountable throughout the treaty process and has been irresponsible in her use of words like “self-government” and “aboriginal nations” in response to our questions.
Since the minister is in the House, I will draw to her attention an Ottawa Citizen article of May 31, 1999 by Dan Gardner where he wrote:
—the feds habitually describe aboriginal peoples as “nations”. As Pierre Trudeau has warned, “nation” is a dangerous word because it has two meanings: a discrete ethnic group or a state. Politicians have the ethnic meaning in mind when they speak of aboriginal nations, but their audiences often hear aboriginal states...What is needed is frank public discussion of what is really on the self government table.
I have always refrained from using the term first nations for a couple of reasons. For one, it suggests that these bands are separate countries within Canada. If one listens to the president of the Nisga'a band, that is exactly what he is seeking. There are no mechanisms within the Constitution to create states within a state. In fact it has been the government's position for questioning Quebec's argument for its independence, and rightfully so.
The second reason I do not use the term first nations is that it suggests supremacy. As a member of the Reform Party, I adhere strongly to the principle that all Canadians are equal. Although I recognize that the term “first nations” refers to the fact that the aboriginal people were here first, the connotations can be used to argue supremacy over our constitutional and charter rights.
The Nisga'a treaty delves into areas where the Canadian people are unresolved. The Charlottetown accord addressed aboriginal self-government in the same obscure manner as this treaty and Canadians rejected it soundly. Rather than consulting Canadians on the issue, the Liberals do what they always do and either slip contentious issues in the back door or they ram them through regardless of the consequences. They feel they know better than the millions of Canadians who voted against Charlottetown. To the Liberals, government knows best and the simple-minded public should just fall in line with the changes that are made to their lives without their consent. Canadians are tired of it. If they were not, the Reform Party would never have been born.
We in the Reform Party undertook to consult and inform the people of British Columbia. We shared our concerns with them and in return received hundreds of questions and comments back. What we heard most often was that there was not enough information. Based on the information they have received, the majority are against the treaty.
In March of this year I commissioned a survey in my riding on a number of issues including the Nisga'a treaty. The respondents were asked: First, should the people of British Columbia have a voice on the principles of the Nisga'a treaty through a province-wide referendum? Of my constituents, 75% said yes, 14% said no and 11% were undecided.
The second question was: With the information you now have about the treaty, how should your federal MP vote when it comes before parliament in Ottawa? Of the respondents, 17% wanted me to vote for the treaty, 50% said they wanted me to vote against and 33% were uncertain.
These results tell me a few things: My constituents want to have a say in this treaty, they are opposed to the passage of the treaty and fully one-third of my constituents are uncertain because they have received nothing but whitewash and propaganda from both their governments in Victoria and Ottawa.
The B.C. legislature recently ratified the Nisga'a treaty. In one of the most anti-democratic manoeuvres outside of Ottawa, the NDP government shut down debate with over half the treaty left untouched. Fully 200 clauses were not even discussed in the B.C. legislature. We know all about shutting down debate in this place. The federal Liberals have shamefully used it 53 times since coming to power in 1993.
Why would any democratic government deny open discussion on a bill that changes forever the way land claims and treaties are negotiated in Canada? I cannot think of a legitimate answer that comes close to justifying it. Only that it is too politically sensitive to risk exposure. That must be what the New is all about in the New Democratic Party.
The negotiations were closed, the provincial ratification process was a disgusting farce and off to Ottawa comes the treaty for a rubber stamp and a photo op. The Indian affairs minister thought she could sweep the treaty under the carpet and have it through the House in no time flat. After all, it only affects British Columbia. Where have we heard that before? Oh yes, when the Liberals left B.C. children unprotected against child pornographers.
The Indian affairs minister's plans were spoiled when the members for Skeena and Delta—South Richmond started asking hard questions that were tugging at the cloak of secrecy around the Nisga'a treaty. What happened? The minister signed the treaty for her own vanity before being shuffled and has delayed the process until the fall.
That brings us to the debate today. The House is about to adjourn for the summer, along with the much rumoured prorogation of the House. While the House is in recess we want the government to refer the Nisga'a treaty to the Supreme Court of Canada for its interpretation on the constitutionality and application of the charter of rights and freedoms as they pertain to this treaty.
Just as the issue of the unilateral declaration of independence of Quebec was referred for interpretation, so to should the Nisga'a treaty. This interpretation would clarify most of the constitutional questions we have raised before debating the ratification of the bill hopefully when the House resumes in the fall. Is that not simply responsible? What could be more reasonable?
Lastly, I would like to move an amendment to our motion. I move:
That the motion be amended by inserting before the word “urges”, the word “strongly”.