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House of Commons Hansard #237 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was treaty.

Topics

Canadian ForcesRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Pontiac—Gatineau—Labelle Québec

Liberal

Robert Bertrand LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 32(2), I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the annual report of the provost marshal of the Canadian forces.

Government Response To PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Peterborough Ontario

Liberal

Peter Adams LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36(8), I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the government's response to four petitions.

Income Tax ActRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Reform

Ken Epp Reform Elk Island, AB

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-518, an act to amend the Income Tax Act (deduction of property taxes paid in respect of a principal residence).

Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to introduce this private member's bill today because it illustrates one of the greatest areas of double taxation in this country, where we pay taxes on taxes.

This particular bill will amend the Income Tax Act in such a way that property taxes can be deducted from taxable income so that we stop giving the federal government 66% of the amount of money we pay in municipal taxes.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Reform

Ken Epp Reform Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, I have double delight in presenting a petition today because the very first name on it is the name of my daughter.

She is a parent who chooses to be a full time mom, who is discriminated against by our Income Tax Act. Her family has to pay more taxes because of the choice that she makes to stay at home with our two wonderful grandchildren.

I am pleased to present this petition on behalf of some 60 voters from Regina, Saskatchewan. She got all of those people to sign this petition and I am very pleased to present it today to call for fairness in taxation for those families who choose to have one parent stay at home.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Don Boudria Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to indicate to the Chair that it is my belief that either reading the names into the record of those signing a petition or saying whether an MP agrees with the petition he is tabling have both been ruled out of order countless times by the Speaker in the past.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I was listening to the hon. member for Elk Island and, while he sounded sympathetic, I do not believe he expressed his support or otherwise for the petition. Had he done so he would have been properly admonished by the Chair as the government House leader knows because the Chair does tend to admonish members who do that.

On the other hand, I think the hon. member for Elk Island did slightly step over the line in saying who had signed the petition. Normally the names of the petitioners are not revealed. However, in the circumstances, since it was his daughter, the Chair overlooked it. The government House leader is quite correct in pointing out that it is not proper to read the names of the petitioners into the record. Had the member for Elk Island named anyone else, the Chair would have admonished him and rebuked him properly for this breach of the rules.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

Peter Adams Liberal Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise to present another petition on behalf of citizens of Peterborough who are concerned about the debt of the world's poorest nations.

They believe it is time to cancel the backlog of unpayable debts by those nations. They urge the leaders of lending nations to write off those debts by the year 2000. They also urge that Canada promote sustainable, economic and social development instead of supporting measures demanded by international financial institutions.

Therefore, they urge the Parliament of Canada to support the cancellation of debt owed by the poorest countries and to take effective steps to prevent high levels of debt from building up again.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

Peter Adams Liberal Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have another petition concerning rural mail couriers.

The petitioners call upon parliament to repeal section 13(5) of the Canada Post Corporation Act.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

Peter Adams Liberal Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have a final petition and, again, I have presented a number of petitions on this subject.

It is from citizens concerned about Canada's involvement in the bombing campaign in Yugoslavia. They suggest that the bombing campaign is ineffective in its purpose of helping the people of Kosovo and that its impact is having the opposite effect.

They call upon parliament to immediately stop Canada's involvement in the bombing campaign and to work toward a diplomatic solution before any more lives are needlessly and tragically lost.

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Peterborough Ontario

Liberal

Peter Adams LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I would ask that all questions be allowed to stand.

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

Is it agreed?

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

SupplyGovernment Orders

10:10 a.m.

Reform

Mike Scott Reform Skeena, BC

moved:

That this House recognize that there is significant public concern in British Columbia with respect to how modern treaties and Aboriginal self-government initiatives may affect individual rights, including Aboriginal people; and given the recent controversies, such as the Musqueam Leaseholders controversy and the Kamloops Indian Band's intention to ban trade unions, this House urge the Government of Canada to refer the Nisga'a Treaty Agreement to the Supreme Court of Canada and ask for a judicial ruling clarifying: a ) whether the terms of the Nisga'a Final Agreement constitute an amendment to Canada's Constitution, and b ) whether the self-government provisions of the agreement could be used to usurp, diminish or subrogate the individual rights of Nisga'a people as defined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms;

And, further, that all activity leading to the introduction of legislation to ratify the Nisga'a Final Agreement in the House of Commons be held in abeyance pending judicial clarification.

SupplyGovernment Orders

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

Marlene Catterall Liberal Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I think you would find consent for the following motion:

That at the conclusion of the present debate on today's Opposition Motion, all questions necessary to dispose of this motion be deemed put, a recorded division deemed requested and deferred until the expiry of time provided for Government Orders Tuesday, June 8, 1999.

SupplyGovernment Orders

10:10 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Does the hon. deputy government whip have the unanimous consent of the House to propose this motion?

SupplyGovernment Orders

10:10 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

SupplyGovernment Orders

10:10 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

SupplyGovernment Orders

10:10 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Motion agreed to)

SupplyGovernment Orders

10:10 a.m.

Reform

Chuck Strahl Reform Fraser Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I would like to inform the Chair that during today's debate the Reform members speaking to this motion will be dividing their time.

SupplyGovernment Orders

10:10 a.m.

Reform

Mike Scott Reform Skeena, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise to speak to this motion today and to apprise the House of the seriousness of the nature of this motion and why Reform has advanced it.

First, I would like to say that after 130 years of waiting this should be a great time of celebration for the Nisga'a people. It should be a time of putting history behind us, for the Nisga'a people to put their history behind them and to step forward with the new arrangement with the Government of Canada and the province of British Columbia.

This treaty is also the source of much controversy in British Columbia because both the provincial government and the federal government have not bothered to listen to the people of British Columbia and the other people of Canada.

As a matter of fact there is another modern treaty in British Columbia known as the Sechelt agreement. It is very instructive to note that the Sechelt agreement does not generate nearly the same controversy as the Nisga'a agreement because of the self-government provisions in the Nisga'a treaty.

In 1987 the Sechelt people entered into a self-government arrangement with the province of British Columbia and the federal government. It was done through an act of legislation, but it is specifically not included as an aboriginal right within section 35 of the constitution. Therefore it is not protected by the constitution. It is not a constitutionalized third order of government.

The Nisga'a treaty, or the Nisga'a final agreement as it is known, is primarily a self-government deal. This is interesting when we take it against the backdrop of other treaties, the numbered treaties as they are called or the historical treaties, because those treaties are not about self-government at all. They are about the exchange of land, resources, cash consideration and other considerations in return for the surrender of lands for the benefit of all Canadians. That is the history of the numbered treaties in Canada.

The Nisga'a treaty is not about that. It is primarily a self-government arrangement. It is a relatively new initiative, this self-government initiative. The concept of it has been around for about two decades now. It came to flower in the Charlottetown accord in 1992. It was one of the five key components of the Charlottetown accord.

The people of Canada, and I might add the people of British Columbia, defeated the Charlottetown accord. In British Columbia, members might be interested to know, it was defeated by almost 70%. It is also instructive to note that aboriginal people in British Columbia defeated it at about the same percentage level. This was not an aboriginal-non-aboriginal divergence of views. This was a common view that was held in British Columbia.

One of Canada's most pre-eminent scholars or experts on the constitution, a man who was well known to this side of the House, had some very instructive points to make about the Charlottetown accord and about the aboriginal governance provisions in that accord in 1992 in a speech to Cité Libre in Montreal, and that man was Pierre Elliott Trudeau.

He warned of the dangers of unfettered aboriginal self-government where there was no provision for charter rights for aboriginal people and where there would be such a division of powers between governments and the creation of a new third order of government that we would eventually end up with a chaotic system of governance right across Canada.

This was a man who was leader of the Liberal Party for almost two decades. Whether or not people on this side of the House agreed with all of his policies, we certainly respected his ability to understand, discern and speak about the constitution. He made that his life's work. He was a professor of law and a constitutional expert before he ever became a parliamentarian and before he became prime minister.

After the defeat of the Charlottetown accord we would think that the Liberals and other political parties in Canada would have understood that Canadians did not agree with this concept because they specifically voted no.

The government does not get it. It immediately adopted an inherent right policy. It was in its red book. Everybody remembers the infamous red book in 1993: 200 pages of small print that very few Canadians actually ever read. The Liberals have used that red book to justify an inherent right policy. That inherent right policy means that it has adopted a policy of recognizing an aboriginal inherent right to self-government. Until Nisga'a came along we really did not know what it meant.

I recall writing letters to the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development back in 1993, 1994 and 1995 asking what was meant. We never got an answer. We got a bunch of mumbo-jumbo, airy-fairy, pie in the sky motherhood answers, but we did not get a specific answer as to what they had in mind. Now we see it in the Nisga'a agreement and what we see goes against the express wishes of Canadians including aboriginal people from coast to coast and for what they voted in 1992 on the Charlottetown accord.

I want to get into some of the specifics. The federal and provincial governments in the Nisga'a treaty have agreed to cede legislative authority in at least 14 specific areas for all times. I remind the House that the Supreme Court of Canada in 1950 in the Lord Nelson Hotel case had the following to say about the division of powers in Canada's constitution vis-à-vis legislative authority of the provincial and federal governments. I quote Chief Justice Rinfret:

The Parliament of Canada and the Legislatures of the several Provinces are sovereign within their sphere defined by the British North America Act, but none of them has the unlimited capacity of an individual. They can exercise only the legislative powers respectively given to them by sections 91 and 92 of the Act, and these powers must be found in either of these sections.

The constitution of Canada does not belong either to Parliament, or to the Legislatures; it belongs to the country and it is there that the citizens of the country will find the protection of the rights to which they are entitled.

Chief Justice Kerwin further wrote:

The British North America Act divides legislative jurisdiction between the Parliament of Canada and the Legislatures of the Provinces and there is no way in which these bodies may agree to a different division...To permit such an agreement would be inserting into the Act a power that is certainly not stated and one that should not be inferred.

The Supreme Court of Canada's ruling, which was unanimous and unequivocal, says one order of government could neither give away to nor receive from another order of government its rights and jurisdictions as defined under sections 91 and 92 of the constitution.

The federal government did not consult Canadians on this matter. It did once in 1992 but it did not listen to the answer. British Columbia as a result of the federal government's unilateral decision has agreed to give up this legislative jurisdiction and authority, going precisely against what the Supreme Court of Canada said in 1950 in the Lord Nelson Hotel case that it was not permitted to do.

How does this affect real people on the ground in British Columbia and in the rest of Canada? This will have implications. This will reverberate back and forth across the country before all is said and done.

The charter rights of Nisga'a people have been put in peril as a result. Even though it says in the agreement that the charter applies, it also says in the charter when speaking about rights and freedom, that the guarantee shall not be construed as to abrogate or derogate from any aboriginal treaty or other rights or freedoms.

By constitutionalizing the self-government arrangements the government has made the Nisga'a treaty an aboriginal right. It has therefore put the aboriginal right ahead of the charter rights of Nisga'a individuals. There is no doubt about that whatsoever and there will be profound implications for Nisga'a people down the road.

We will be talking about this subject more today, but our concern is the unconstitutional initiative the government has taken against the Supreme Court of Canada ruling in 1950 and the diminishing of the charter rights of Nisga'a people.

SupplyGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

Brant Ontario

Liberal

Jane Stewart LiberalMinister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to ask the hon. member a question, particularly around his original assertion that we have not listened to or consulted people.

Has the hon. member talked to the Nisga'a who live in his riding of Skeena? How will he respond to their belief that this is a good treaty?

Has the hon. member talked to the mayor and the council of the city of Terrace who, I would note, made a particular week in April Nisga'a appreciation week in honour of the Nisga'a treaty?

Has he talked to the 133 businesses in his riding that support the Nisga'a treaty? In fact they made financial contributions to the latest general assembly of the Nisga'a. Has he listened to those people? If he has, how will he respond to them when they strongly support the Nisga'a treaty?

SupplyGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

Reform

Mike Scott Reform Skeena, BC

Mr. Speaker, the minister asks if I have talked to the Nisga'a people. Yes, I have talked to the Nisga'a people on many occasions. It might interest the minister to know that Chief Joe Gosnell and I had a two hour televised debate on treaty making back in 1996, I believe it was. It was carried all across northern British Columbia. I have also talked to many small business people in my community. As a matter of fact I am talking to them all the time.

I would point something out for the minister's benefit. She seems to think that Nisga'a people are a homogeneous group who all think the same way and all want the same things. She should recognize that 40% of the Nisga'a people did not support this agreement. Sixty per cent is hardly a big mandate to proceed forward with this kind of treaty.

The minister also asked about the support of the mayor of Terrace. In our community we recognize that the mayor of Terrace is a good Liberal. We would expect that he would fall into line and support whatever the minister and the government come up with. That is hardly a surprise.

SupplyGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

NDP

Peter Mancini NDP Sydney—Victoria, NS

Mr. Speaker, Alice was right: things get curiouser and curiouser here in Wonderland.

I look at the resolution introduced by the Reform Party and I must say it is a conversion of faith in the supreme court that is worthy of the conversion of Paul on the road to Damascus.

I have been in the House for two years. I have been on the justice committee for two years. Repeatedly members of the Reform Party have said that parliament is supreme. They have repeatedly criticized applications to the supreme court allowing the judiciary to interpret the charter of rights. Here they are today quoting the former prime minister and leader of the Liberal Party as a constitutional expert.

Does the resolution today signal a profound change of direction on the part of members of the Reform Party and indicate faith in the judiciary of the supreme court and its interpretation of proposed laws and laws that come before parliament, or have they abandoned their idea that parliament is supreme?

SupplyGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

Reform

Mike Scott Reform Skeena, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is interesting to note that this government and the government before it deferred to the Supreme Court of Canada every time. When the Supreme Court of Canada comes out with a ruling we know that the government will not have the backbone to use the notwithstanding clause or to take firm action to protect individual rights.

In this instance we are not asking the Supreme Court of Canada to chart us into uncharted territory in terms of social policy or anything else, which is our primary concern with the courts. We are asking it for a judicial interpretation of the charter of rights vis-à-vis the collective aboriginal rights the Nisga'a people will have in advance of this treaty being implemented. Then the Nisga'a people and other Canadians will know how the Supreme Court of Canada views that potential conflict. No doubt there will be conflict. We would like to know now and we think it is the responsible thing to do.

We would also like to have the supreme court's interpretation of whether this is even a constitutional agreement. There are four separate legal challenges in British Columbia right now. Three of them speak to the very heart of the issue of whether or not this agreement is even constitutional. How can the government be responsible and proceed until it has the supreme court's ruling on that very critical issue?

SupplyGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

Reform

Jay Hill Reform Prince George—Peace River, BC

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”.