Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to address the amendments to Bill C-14, an act respecting an agreement with the Norway House Cree Nation for the settlement of matters arising from the flooding of land, and respecting the establishment of certain reserves in the province of Manitoba.
This bill includes two parts. The first one deals with the Norway House Cree Nation, while the second one seeks to facilitate the implementation of the land claim agreements in Manitoba, including the ones on future land claims.
Many aboriginals affected by this legislation were concerned about their aboriginal and treaty rights. The Manitoba northern flood agreement was signed in 1977 by Manitoba, Manitoba Hydro and five first nations of the province. That agreement was reached following the flooding of land used by first nations. It listed the conditions for compensating first nations affected by the flooding of their traditional land. It is not for me to say whether this agreement is considered to be a treaty, or if it will be in the future.
The first amendment seeks to protect treaty rights, should the Manitoba northern flood agreement be considered to be a treaty some day. The problem I see in supporting this amendment is that it would protect any right or claim resulting from the agreement. The key word here is the term right.
The word right is not defined in the Manitoba northern flood agreement. In this bill, this is not a problem, because there is a definition of right or claim in the Manitoba northern flood agreement. If we introduce the definition of this term, I believe that would allow some new interpretations and would broaden the scope of the bill.
Another amendment, the second one, also includes the terms right and claim. Primarily, its intent is to ensure that the Manitoba northern flood agreement continues to be the document that takes precedence in compensating the Cree of Norway House.
In this bill, the comprehensive implementation agreement would also take precedence over claims by the Norway House Cree. With the amendment, the Manitoba northern flood agreement would be amended as far as rights and claims are concerned. This therefore reinforces the protection of treaty rights and the original conditions of the Manitoba northern flood agreement.
I can understand the reasons for demanding protection of treaty rights, as in the case of the first amendment, but I do have difficulty with the idea of introducing a term that is not defined. As I have said, the term right is not defined in the Manitoba northern flood agreement.
Furthermore, the people of Norway House Cree Nation voted in a referendum to accept the terms of the master implementation agreement. While we heard from a number of concerned Norway House members about the process used in the referendum and their fears that they will lose rights afforded to them by the northern flood agreement, the fact remains that treaty rights are constitutionally protected. Discussions about the accuracy of the referendum were never completely explained, which means that one has to accept that the people chose to accept a resolution to a claim that is more than 20 years old.
It is the Norway House Cree Nation that should ultimately make decisions regarding compensation for their flooded land. They chose to accept the terms of the master implementation agreement and, with the constitutionally protected treaty rights, they should be in a position to finally realize the compensatory benefits afforded to them by the northern flood agreement.
Amendment No. 3 would add another clause to the legislation dealing with the Norway House Cree Nation and the master implementation agreement they signed in December 1997. This amendment would provide a security feature to the legislation to ensure that nothing in the act or the master implementation agreement is meant to “abrogate or derogate from the existing aboriginal rights or treaty rights of the first nation”. That is a quote from the amendment.
While this amendment has some merit since it is meant to protect aboriginal rights, these rights are already protected in the Canadian constitution. This legislation should be a positive move for the Norway House Cree Nation. Their members voted to accept the terms of the agreement and the chief has recognized the benefits of the agreement for the band members.
The PC Party supports legislation that allows first nations to become more self-reliant and financially independent. This legislation does exactly that. It will provide funds to be managed by a trust fund on behalf of the first nations. We support the legislation because of the positive advantage it provides to first nations in Manitoba but we do have reservations regarding the amendments.