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House of Commons Hansard #99 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was c-37.

Topics

Business of the House

October 22nd, 2001 / 10:55 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Pursuant to Standing Order 81(14), it is my duty to inform the House of the motion to be addressed tomorrow in studying the business of supply.

That, as part of a continental perimeter initiative to secure Canada's borders and protect the security of Canadians and our neighbours, and to protect our trading relationships, this House calls on the government to:

(a) provide both Immigration officers and Customs officers enhanced training and full peace officer status to allow them to detain and arrest suspected criminals or terrorists at the border;

(b) move Customs border officers out of the tax collection agency and into a law enforcement agency;

(c) detain all spontaneous refugee claimants appearing without proper documentation until their identities are confirmed and they have cleared proper health and security checks; and

(d) create a list of safe third countries, including the United States and member states of the European Union, from which Canada will no longer accept refugee claimants.

The motion standing in the name of the hon. Leader of the Opposition is a votable motion. Copies of the motion are available at the table.

It being 11.05 a.m., the House will now proceed to consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

Strychnine SolutionsPrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Leon Benoit Canadian Alliance Lakeland, AB

moved:

That an Order of the House do issue for copies of all studies that were done prior to the banning of the 2% and 5% solutions of strychnine to show the effect that the banning of these solutions would have on Canadian farmers.

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak once again on behalf of Canadian farmers regarding the removal of 2% and 5% strychnine which was very effective in controlling the tens of millions of dollars of damage caused by gophers to farmers' crops and to livestock every year.

The issue was first brought to my attention almost immediately after I was elected in 1993. At that time, the government was moving toward the removal of this product and many farmers were concerned. Many municipal politicians brought the issue to my attention. I wrote a letter to the minister of agriculture regarding the issue at that time.

My involvement in trying to get the 2% or 5% concentrations of strychnine restored to farmers has been a long term one indeed, spanning about 7 years now. I have had motions and bills and have done what I have been able to do to force the issue. I would like to say that I have perhaps had some success because at least this past summer there was an emergency registration of this effective strength of strychnine in Alberta and certain parts of Saskatchewan.

Obviously the issue has been pushed enough by municipal politicians, reeves of counties, councillors, my colleagues from across the prairies and farmers themselves to let government know they cannot afford these losses. I would suggest that these tens of millions of dollars in losses a year have been the final straw for some farmers and have led them to go out of business. It has just been one thing too many that they have had to fight and one loss too much. As a result, I have no doubt that some farmers have been driven out of business and have lost their farms as a result of this order. It is extremely serious.

I wrote a letter to the minister of agriculture back in 1994 asking why the product, which was so effective in controlling Richardson's ground squirrels, commonly referred to as gophers, had been taken away from farmers. I told the minister it would cost a lot of money and would cause serious damage.

Later on I did get an answer to the letter but the answer was not really substantial. Through the House, I then put a question on the order paper for the production of papers and I did receive information on the removal of the product. What astounded me was how little there was in these papers. It was a stack of papers an inch thick but extremely few complaints were made and yet the government decided to remove the product.

Thinking logically that could not have been the reason the government made the decision to follow through on the removal of the product, I assumed there must have been studies done by the department which led to this decision being made.

The order I put on the order paper reads as follows:

That an Order of the House do issue for copies of all studies which were done prior to the banning of the 2% and 5% solutions of strychnine to show the effect that the banning of these solutions would have on Canadian farmers.

I assumed that the complaints certainly would not have sparked this so there must have been studies done. What we are debating today are the studies that must have been done.

I did get an answer from the government and I was asked to withdraw this motion. The answer reads as follows:

No studies were done on the effect (economic impact) on Canadian farmers, of the withdrawal of the registration of the concentrated strychnine solutions (2% and 5%) used by farmers to mix their own 0.4% end-use products.

I am sure the parliamentary secretary will stand up today and ask why we are debating this when there have been no studies.

The reason is it is incomprehensible that this decision, which has done so much harm to Canadian farmers, would be made based on extremely few complaints and without study. Why would a government do this? I believe that there has to be more and that I have not got received all the goods.

I encourage the House to support the motion and I encourage the government, in a very open way, to come up with the information that actually led it to make this decision. The explanation is certainly not in the papers I received.

I will start with a letter I wrote in February 2000 to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, following other letters I wrote. My letter said the banning of the concentration of strychnine effective enough to kill gophers resulted in millions of dollars of losses for farmers who were unable to control the gopher population.

I asked to be provided with the following information. First, I asked for a clear comprehensive explanation as to why an effective concentration of strychnine needed to be banned. As part of the explanation, I asked to be provided with copies of documents and studies which were used as scientific evidence that this effective concentration of strychnine needed to be banned.

Second, I asked for studies that were done to show the effect that the banning of an effective concentration of strychnine would have on farmers.

Third, I asked who specifically was responsible for making this decision to ban this strychnine because it was never clear from the information I received.

Fourth, I asked how much money farmers had lost due to crop losses, since the banning of an effective concentration of strychnine left them unable to effectively control gopher populations.

The response to that was less than complete and did not give an answer to the questions. I was left with information I received before under a request for production of papers. Under the request, I a got a thick stack of papers from the agriculture department that handled the request until it was shifted to the health department.

I will go through a summary of what was in the stack of documents that led to this decision, unless there is more. That is what I am asking for from the government. I want it to tell me what more there is on its decision to ban that effective tool for farmers.

The following complaints were found in the material. There were complaints logged with Agriculture Canada by the Association for the Protection of Fur-Bearing Animals. That consisted of five letters with the names removed of course, to Agriculture Canada, and they concerned wolves. There are no wolves in most areas in prairies where strychnine is used, so is a little difficult to see the connection.

There were other letters from Sheila Burgess and Cindy Hunter to Agriculture Canada, again mainly concerning the welfare of wolves.

Some of the letters referred to the same magazine article. In other words, it seemed that these letters were written mostly as a result of this article which said that the strychnine used to control Richardson's ground squirrels or gophers was killing the wolf population as unintended targets. There were also concerns expressed that strychnine should not be banned.

In terms of the information in the stack of papers that I received, that was what I got. The decision to ban strychnine was based on that, unless the government was not forthcoming in the information it sent to me. It is one or the other.

There were also concerns expressed that strychnine should not be banned. It was not a lot, but this was done in about 1995 or 1994. It was quite early in the process. Letters from the reeve of the rural municipality of Hamiota, the vice president of the eastern region of Able Pest Control, that made the product, and my first letter of 1994 were included in the documents. There was also a letter from the administrator of the rural municipality of Shellbrook, Saskatchewan.

There were no complaints made to provincial governments, at least there were no complaints which were included in this material. Maybe there was some reason why the agriculture department did not include complaints from provinces. I would not know what that would be. That is what I received.

It seems the decision to remove this important tool, which has caused farmers tens of millions of dollars in losses every year, was based on that. I believe the tens of millions of dollars would be an extremely low estimate of the damage done to farmers. I have a lot of reasons for believing that.

Some farmers have taken the time, along with some provincial government officials, to prepare an estimate based on examining their particular pastures or their crops. They have looked at the damage done and have put a dollar figure to it. The numbers for these individual farmers were astounding, and I am talking about a lot of loss for particular farmers. These farmers have been left without an effective tool to control gophers.

In fact, a study looked at the effectiveness of premixes of strychnine which were available still through municipalities or through various retail outlets. That chart showed that these premixes were very ineffective.

One study showed that only 11% of the gophers were controlled through use of this premix product. Another showed that even with three consecutive applications of this premix product, it only controlled about 50% of the gophers, leaving 50% to continue to do the damage.

I guess people who have not been involved in this would not understand all of the labour that goes into each application of strychnine to control gophers. It is extremely labour intensive. To do one 60-acre pasture could take a full day of heavy physical work. Many farmers have hundreds and thousands of acres infected now because of the removal of this product.

The damage is enormous. The reason for removing this product is hard to understand. I am asking today for the government to provide information that it has not provided because there must be more. I do not believe that any governmental department would remove a product based on this information. There has to be more.

What I want to see from the government is the production of all the information that led it to make that decision because it is an important issue to farmers who have crop losses due to not having this product. It is an important issue to cattlemen who have animals injured due to gopher holes and the badgers digging in after them. Animals have suffered from broken legs and that type of damage. Horses have had to be put down because they have broken a leg in one of these badger or gopher holes. Also people have sustained injuries because of this.

All of this results from the removal of a product. There just has to be more. I ask the House to support my motion. Most of all, what I am really asking for is to have this product returned to farmers. All the work I have done has been done for that reason. Let us bring this product back so farmers have access.

We had an emergency return of this product last summer. Let us just deal with this, say yes, that we will return this to farmers so they can deal with this serious gopher problem and that we will do it before next summer.

Farmers have told me that they are more than willing to take a half day course, if they have to, on how to use this product safely. However, many do not understand why they would have to because they have used it safely for decades with really very little evidence of any non-target species being harmed.

What I really want is the return of this 2% or 5% solution of strychnine so that farmers can do the job. If the government feels it is necessary to have a training course, farmers are more than willing to take it. So let us get on with it and have the product returned.

Strychnine SolutionsPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Madawaska—Restigouche New Brunswick

Liberal

Jeannot Castonguay LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member for Lakeland has questioned why Canada's then regulatory body, Agriculture Canada, did not carry out impact studies prior to its withdrawal of liquid strychnine concentrate from the market in 1992.

The fact is, no significant economic impact on farmers was anticipated as a result of restricting access to liquid strychnine concentrate products.

And no impact study done at that time would have uncovered any evidence that farmers' economic well-being would be adversely affected. Farmers would continue to have the same level of pest control to combat ground squirrels, commonly known as “gophers”, after the liquid strychnine concentrate was withdrawn as they had when it was available.

This was a reasonable assumption to make, because there were similar, yet safer ready to use products available on the market, ones that offered an equivalent or greater amount of strychnine compared to bait prepared from liquid concentrate products.

It was only several years after the discontinuation of liquid strychnine concentrate that evidence began to emerge that there were problems involving the effectiveness of the ready to use baits.

Therefore, in 1992 it was reasonable for the government to expect that the withdrawal of liquid strychnine concentrate would not pose an economic hardship on farmers, beyond some slightly increased costs to strychnine users who previously had used their own grain for bait formulation. It was also reasonable, and in keeping with its responsibility for safeguarding the health and safety of Canadians, and their environment, for the government to take action on liquid strychnine concentrate.

Strychnine is, after all, a highly toxic product that has been associated with poisonings of non-target species, including pets, wildlife and possibly humans.

The government's expectation that the discontinuation of liquid strychnine was a reasonable and prudent step was based on the Department of Agriculture's two years of consultation, through the Western Forum and the then Canadian Association of Pesticide Control Officials, with agriculture and wildlife control officials in Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

During that consultation period, no serious economic effect on the farm economy of the west was foreseen as a result of the disappearance of liquid strychnine concentrate; if there had been, then an economic impact study would undoubtedly have been done.

As was explained to the hon. member for Lakeland and this House during the debate on Motion No. 13 held on September 19, it has been verified through analysis that the concentration of strychnine found in today's ready to use products is very similar or actually greater than that found previously in baits prepared on the farm by mixing the liquid strychnine concentrate with farm available grain.

Since the strychnine present in the ready to use bait has been clearly shown to be of a concentration adequate for the control of gophers, it was suggested that other factors, such as baiting procedures, environmental conditions affecting the bait itself and lack of palatability might be responsible for poor performance of the ready to use strychnine baits.

To investigate these factors, the PMRA in 2000 and 2001 granted research permits to Alberta Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, or AAFRD, to assess the efficacy of various baits against gophers. These baits included those made from 2% strychnine concentrate, the standard ready to use bait made with oats, and bait made from more palatable substances such as canary seed.

Bait freshness and the type of bait seem to be important considerations in achieving good bait uptake and successful gopher control. Plans for a definitive comparison study to settle the question of whether a freshly mixed canary seed bait would be the most effective bait are currently being discussed with the provinces.

When the gopher problems in some parts of Alberta and Saskatchewan became so serious this past summer that the provincial governments requested emergency registrations to allow them to use the liquid strychnine concentrate, the PMRA granted these registrations.

Mindful of the risks associated with liquid strychnine concentrate, the registrations were for one season only, and the availability and use of the concentrate was highly restricted. An access program was put in place that allowed only agricultural fieldmen, in Alberta, or pest control officers, in Saskatchewan, to sell and distribute the liquid strychnine concentrate.

On November 16, the PMRA will meet with Alberta and Saskatchewan pesticide regulatory officials to review the further results of research and to assess the program that allowed restricted access to the strychnine concentrate during this summer's emergency registrations of strychnine.

Officials will discuss whether the access program worked, whether it provided reasonable availability, while mitigating any possible adverse effects of using liquid strychnine concentrate. Another topic to be discussed at this meeting will be the use of currently registered alternative products to strychnine.

I believe that the government has taken a justifiably cautious approach to making the liquid concentrate of strychnine available, given the nature of this poison. Strychnine has a very high acute toxicity. It acts quickly on the central nervous system,often causing violent convulsions which eventually lead to death through respiratory failure. And there is no effective antidote for this poison.

Canada is not alone in having taken action on strychnine. All above ground uses of strychnine have been prohibited in the United States since 1988. It is illegal to use strychnine for pest control in most European countries and its use is prohibited by the Berne convention on the conservation of European wildlife and natural habitats.

In closing, I would like to refer to a concern that several members raised in their speeches during the September 19 debate on Motion No. 13. They wondered why a product that utilizes ammonia to control gophers cannot be made available to farmers as quickly as possible as an alternative product to strychnine.

Members may be interested to know that a pre-submission consultation has taken place between the PMRA and the potential applicants in order to help the applicants submit a complete and correct application to register their product. As a next step, the agency is now considering exactly what type and how much information will have to be generated in order to support the registration of a pest control product based on ammonia. Although ammonia is a widely used commodity already registered under the Fertilizers Act, the PMRA must, under the Pest Control Products Act, ensure that a product presents no unacceptable risk to health or the environment before it can be registered for use as a pest control product in Canada.

I want the hon. member from Lakeland to be assured that the Canadian government has acted in consultation with affected provinces and stakeholders in the matter of restricting the availability of liquid strychnine concentrate for use in the formulation of strychnine baits on farms. With their co-operation it has moved to protect the health and safety of Canadians and their environment, and is equally committed to finding the means to help resolve the problem of gopher infestations in our western farmers' fields.

Strychnine SolutionsPrivate Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Bloc

Suzanne Tremblay Bloc Rimouski-Neigette-Et-La Mitis, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to address request P-3 for the tabling of documents, submitted by the Canadian Alliance member for Lakeland, which reads as follows:

That an Order of the House do issue for copies of all studies that were done prior to the banning of the 2% and 5% solutions of strychnine to show the effect that the banning of these solutions would have on Canadian farmers.

Let us first look at the background for this issue. Strychnine is a pesticide that helps, among things, control gophers that attack crops in western Canada. It seems that the product used by farmers is effective provided it contains 2% to 5% of strychnine. However, this product is also criticized because of its harmful effects on water, air and soil. Moreover, it is said to also threaten the health of animals that are not pests and of human beings.

In 1992, the federal government restricted, through regulations, the use of liquid strychnine by Canadian farmers. Now, they can only use a concentrated premixed liquid version of the product that contains a maximum of 0.4% of strychnine.

The Canadian Alliance member for Lakeland is very interested in this issue. He tabled Motion No. 13, which was debated in the House for one hour. That motion asked the government to compensate farmers for damage done to livestock and crops by gophers resulting from the banning of effective concentration of strychnine, thereby removing the ability of farmers to control gophers on their lands.

On March 28, 2001, he tabled Bill C-321, an act to amend the Farm Income Protection Act (crop damage by gophers). I am taking this opportunity to say that the French translation should be revised. While we could write the term “gaufre” with the letters “ph” instead of an “f”, it would be best to choose a more appropriate term.

Indeed, the English term “gopher” was translated in French by “gaufre”, which is “a crisp pancake cooked between two hinged metal pans with a grid pattern” and which is often eaten with maple syrup but, I might add, without strychnine. We are a long way from the ground squirrels called gophers, which are rodents causing the same damage as our groundhogs in Quebec.

Finally, our colleague, the hon. member for Lakeland, is asking that certain studies that the federal government has in its possession be made public. These studies, which were done prior to the strychnine ban, could reveal that the Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food banned this pesticide knowing the devastating effect that such a measure would have on western farmers' crops, yet took no steps to compensate them.

The Bloc Quebecois therefore supports this request for documents. The government that has been running this country since 1993 suffers from acute secrecy syndrome. And the debate over this request is an opportunity for me to highlight the federal Liberal government's chronic lack of transparency.

Every day, democracies are tempted to take the secret way out. These democracies, which are accused of being slow, view secrets as an easy way to speed things up, as a sort of pragmatic art, which cuts short futile discussions. The temptation is understandable. What is less understandable is that so many democrats fall victim to it, because democracy loses its meaning the moment it loses its transparency.

This government, which promised during the 1993 election campaign to be transparent in managing the affairs of the state, probably has the worst dirty habit of hiding things in the entire political history of this country. These are a few examples.

I would like it if the hon. member for Joliette could tell us himself how many times he had to rise in the House to ask the government to make public the FTAA texts. It took us a long time to get them.

When the multilateral agreement on investment, the MAI, was involved, once again no documents were forthcoming. It took a leak via the Internet, originating with the government of France and certain individuals with a strong interest in the matter, before we could finally get our hands on a document, and it was absolutely abominable. Negotiation of this agreement had to be abandoned.

As for the Canada-Costa Rica free trade agreement, which we have just experienced, that most recent agreement, namely Bill C-32, we were again asked to pass it without seeing the texts. We are presented with them, but once again we are confronted with a fait accompli. Once again, we are being asked for a blank cheque. We were not consulted at all on the discussions relating to the agreement.

Going back a little in time, hon. members will recall the sad story of the contaminated blood. After creating a commission of inquiry into contaminated blood, the federal government did its utmost to stop the commission from unearthing the full story and naming names.

Let us also recall the Minister of Finance's budget surplus. Once again, there was a whole set of secrets that had been systematically concealed since the government found the path to a balanced budget.

Let us recall the secrecy surrounding the location of transgenic crops in Canada. Ottawa refuses to reveal the location in one or more provinces where there are experimental GM wheat crops. The Canadian Wheat Board has attempted to obtain a list of these from the Canada Food Inspection Agency, but to no avail.

Let us recall the Access to Information Act, which is nothing more than a toothless watchdog. This act, which is supposed to guarantee access to any document of public interest is as full of holes as Swiss cheese, and totally ineffectual against the Liberal government's propensity toward secrecy. This is why there are complaints from both journalists and MPs, both in opposition and in government. Even the information commissioner is very concerned.

The Liberal member for Ancaster--Dundas--Flamborough--Aldershot decided he had had enough of the way the present government was treating the Access to Information Act. He feels it is far too easy for the government and departmental officials to conceal information of a public nature.

But the bad example comes from the top. In his annual report published in March 2001, Information Commissioner John Reid said that he himself no longer had access to certain documents considered secret. According to the report, the Prime Minister and his closest advisers and ministers keep on ignoring the Access to Information Act. Worse still, the member for Saint-Maurice will not allow the commissioner to see his agendas and has gone all the way to the supreme court to prevent Mr. Reid from doing so.

This sort of attitude at the top encourages the entire bureaucracy throughout the country to make the commissioner's life difficult by putting up fierce resistance to requests, said the same report.

The Prime Minister fell back on this “secret way out” when he refused to testify regarding the demonstration staged in Vancouver for the arrival of the president of Indonesia, thus putting a lid on an essential element of the investigation--whether or not the order to the police to use force came from his office. Doubt breeds mistrust, and all politicians are paying the cost of this lack of transparency.

The Bloc Quebecois finds it unacceptable that the government is behaving in this way, when it had promised the public transparency. The member for Lakeland is calling for the release of documents which would, to a certain degree, compromise the previous government, because the decision was taken in 1992. It would not cost much to release the documents, but it would fulfill one of the 1993 election promises regarding transparency.

Strychnine SolutionsPrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Rick Borotsik Progressive Conservative Brandon—Souris, MB

Mr. Speaker, I rise again to speak to the issue of Richardson's ground squirrels, commonly referred to as gophers in the farming communities of Brandon and Souris in southwestern Manitoba

I spoke to this issue shortly after it was put on the floor as Motion No. 13 under private members' business. At that time I suggested and received agreement from most members on this side of the House that all private members' business should be votable. Had Motion No. 13 been made votable it would probably not have precipitated the issue returning to the House in this form.

I congratulate the member for Lakeland for bringing it forward under Standing Order 97 as a motion for the production of papers. It is an issue that he obviously sees as being very important, not only in his constituency but particularly in Canadian agriculture. It is a way to bring forward the issue again to hold the government accountable and to have a vote on a particular motion for the production of papers.

As the member has indicated the government has demonstrated that there are no studies and papers to be tabled and therefore the member should withdraw his motion.

I find it interesting that a decision of this magnitude could be made when hundreds of scientists involved in these types of decisions with the federal government have not put forward any justification for making this change. I have the order that was put into place on December 22, 1992. There are some backgrounders that indicate why the change was necessary. It went from a 5% strychnine solution down to a 0.4% solution, which has been proven to be terribly ineffective if not useless.

We have the order, but I am sure there had to be in some way, shape or form a justification of why this order was put forward. That is all the member is asking for. He is asking the government under production of papers to give us the studies that were put forward and used as background information to make this final decision.

It is not that difficult as was mentioned by the member from the Bloc. It seems we have grave difficulty in trying to get information out of the government on this side of the House. I do not understand why the government is afraid to give this information out.

This is a very simple matter. It is not that difficult. Let us see the backgrounder and the reasons justifying why that decision was made. Let us vote for the motion for the production of papers and let us see the studies. If in fact the studies support the final decision, the member would be the first to stand in his place and accept that. However, how can we accept that when we do not have any understanding of the decision making process of government scientists?

Access to information is a tool that we use. I use the analogy between access to information and the motion for the production of papers before us. We depend on access to information to generate information from the government. When we get information it is censored to the point where it is useless. A government must be open and transparent to generate the confidence of the people which it governs. I find that the accountability and transparency of the government are becoming eroded day after day.

I have a suggestion for the government. This is not a matter of politics but a matter of understanding why decisions are made. The government should be more forthcoming with information, and this is a prime example. Everybody should stand in their places when the vote is called and make sure this motion for the production of papers is voted on favourably, so the government will come forward with the necessary documents.

I thank the member for bringing the motion forward. The issue is serious and I do not want anybody to think that it is frivolous by any stretch of the imagination.

Coming from western Canada, I do not think anybody can understand the real issue with respect to a gopher population that is out of control. It seems to propagate the Richardson's ground squirrel or gopher population in areas where we have had drought this year. Farmers are looking for an alternative method to control this terrible rodent infestation.

One of those methods is and always has been a 5% strychnine solution. Unfortunately that is not available to farmers right now. Until we come up with something more environmentally friendly and more effective in controlling the pest itself, we have to look at other alternatives. That is why the member has been very vocal in his support of this issue. I thank the member once again for bringing it forward.

Strychnine SolutionsPrivate Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Carol Skelton Canadian Alliance Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, SK

Mr. Speaker, I support my colleague from Lakeland in his request for information on the studies of strychnine that led to the ban of the 2% and the 5% varieties of strychnine poison used against the Richardson's ground squirrel or gopher.

I spent the weekend in Ottawa and in my area of the city I noticed a tremendous number of squirrels. The little fellows were gathering nuts and burying them. I did not get that close to them, but I want to compare them to Richardson's ground squirrels or gophers.

Tulips were planted this weekend on Parliament Hill. If each one of those little Richardson's ground squirrels ate a tulip it would be a problem in the city of Ottawa. If we look at one pasture in Saskatchewan or Alberta gopher holes are as close as the tulips that were being planted. Members should imagine the kind of devastation that is created for a farmer, rancher or whoever owns a property where gopher holes are as close to each other as those tulips.

The hon. member talked about badgers. Badgers move in and create huge holes that cause extra problems because wildlife falls in them. There are fawns, antelope, horses and cattle with broken legs. This creates economic problems for the farmer or rancher.

My colleague from Lakeland is only asking for information from the government proving that studies were done before strychnine was removed. All that we have received are seven letters. The government removed a product from the market, which is causing great hardship to Alberta and Saskatchewan farmers.

The Government of Canada and the provinces compensate agriculturalists if they have waterfall damage or if deer and elk cause problems on their farms.

Concerns have been raised regarding the impact on other wildlife and the use of strychnine. A fox, wolf or coyote would have to consume 40 to 50 gophers or poisoned animals at one time to be affected. There are also concerns for birds picking at the gophers. They would have to consume approximately 5 to 15 animals. Any of the birds at home could not consume one gopher let alone 5 to 15 of them to be affected. I have concerns about that.

We want the studies and the information. The hon. member for Lakeland wants to know what kind of studies were carried out by the government.

The Richardson's ground squirrel has become an epidemic on the prairies. The gopher or the Richardson's ground squirrel is very well known. The mascots of the Saskatchewan Roughriders are gophers. Gainer and Leonard are the most popular thing on the field in Saskatchewan right now because our football team is having a hard time, but we love the gophers. Gainer and Leonard can be pests at football games because they tend to sneak up behind people and scare them, and they make a lot of noise when we score a touchdown. However the real pests are a great concern to Saskatchewan farmers.

The hon. parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Health said that there are products on the market to control these pests. There are no products at all on the market to control the Richardson's ground squirrel, therefore we are asking for help. There is no proof that non-targeted animals have died because of the use of strychnine. The information from the hon. member for Lakeland showed that the animals that lost their lives were targeted by criminal activity. If there is scientific, absolute proof, we would like the government to release those findings.

We looked at the economic problems that a gopher can cause. We said that 123 gophers, and this has been studied, can consume up to a tonne of feed, which translates into damages of $15,000 to $16,000 per quarter of land. Total losses to farmers are reaching into tens of millions of dollars in Alberta and Saskatchewan. It is a huge problem.

In studies that were done by the Alberta Cattle Commission, and this was another thing that the hon. secretary brought up, in regard to the use of strychnine, the commission used test markets and the values that they were supposed to use. There were eight tests. In one test, it was as low as 11% effective. That is what they were doing in Alberta. For the highest number ranchers had to do three applications of the strychnine mixture and the result was 75%.

Imagine planting those tulip bulbs on a quarter section of land or 160 acres or tens of thousands of acres like a lot of our ranchers have and going into a field with a little bucket of strychnine and oats and dropping it down a gopher hole over and over. I should have counted how many people were planting tulips out in front of the building this weekend. Imagine one farmer or his family out covering let us say 10,000 acres with a bucket of oats. It just does not work. We are not getting effective and real progress from the government in getting help for western Canadian agriculturalists.

We are asking for information, and that is what the hon. member for Lakeland is asking for.

Farmers in Unity, Saskatchewan, have created a gophinator which will look after the gopher problem. It uses anhydrous ammonia, which farmers apply right across Manitoba, Alberta and Saskatchewan every spring. It is a fertilizer.

If I went out with my cultivator in the spring and cultivated my pastures with an anhydrous tank behind my cultivator I could get rid of the gophers, but who wants to cultivate pastures? One just does not do that. It is not natural. If the gophinator could be patented and used properly, that would be done.

I am just asking for the people in the House to approve the hon. member for Lakeland's application for information. That is all we are asking for. On behalf of farmers and ranchers in Alberta and Saskatchewan, I ask that the House do that.

Strychnine SolutionsPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Larry Spencer Canadian Alliance Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, I too wish to give thanks to my hon. colleague for his efforts in raising this issue. It is also a great problem in my riding and we have had quite a number of people address it. Like all problems, though, attention is required if we are to see any solution.

During the last session of parliament I was privileged to lay upon the Table petitions from my constituents and from a number of others in Saskatchewan. There were approximately 300 signatures on the one I had. According to an article in the National Post , farmers sent Ottawa a petition of 5,000 signatures in total asking that they be allowed to use concentrated liquid strychnine to battle an annual gopher infestation. The animals have been causing trouble on Saskatchewan farmlands in growing numbers since 1992 when Ottawa restricted the sale of the poison.

There is an interesting quote from the article. “The poisons being purchased are just not effective”, says Sinclair Harrison, a Saskatchewan farmer. “It makes the gophers sick but it does not kill them. We don't want to see anything suffer”.

Not only is Sinclair Harrison a farmer, he also happens to be the head of SARM, the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities. We will be saying more about that organization in just a moment.

Each of the prairie provinces is susceptible to millions of dollars of damage. In fact the hon. minister, Mr. Vanclief himself, at one time said that gophers--

Strychnine SolutionsPrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

I am sorry to interrupt. We cannot refer to a member by name. I would ask the hon. member to please use the member's title or riding.

Strychnine SolutionsPrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Larry Spencer Canadian Alliance Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

The hon. agriculture minister made that statement. He is also on record as saying that he has no evidence of this affecting the Canadian economy because of the restrictions on strychnine. This is highly debatable, as we are finding out today, because it has a great impact on our Saskatchewan farmers. That is evident.

Of course strychnine poison is perhaps not the only solution. The gophinator has been mentioned and I was interested to hear that the hon. member across the way mentioned that they had to test to see if there would be harmful effects from injecting anhydrous ammonia into the soil. It is interesting to me that we can inject anhydrous ammonia into the soil to raise our food, but when it comes to using it for pest control we have to make sure it is okay. I do not get the logic. I do not really understand it but I guess that is the way some people think.

There are some other chemicals or drugs that would kill gophers, such as anticoagulants. They may be effective if repeated doses are applied in a certain minimal length of time, that is, within two or three days. Perhaps that would be better, but as my hon. colleague has pointed out who wants to go back to all those holes over and over to make the necessary applications? If we examine the evidence I believe we will discover that strychnine is in fact the only truly effective way to control these pests.

Each province has regulations for the use of strychnine. We seem to be so worried about where it is going and what it may do but these regulations are already in place. In Saskatchewan the sale of strychnine is restricted to pest control operators, farmers or persons authorized in government approved pest control programs. Only those people are able to get it at all. They are held accountable and responsible. It seems to me that there is a lot more accountability and responsibility placed upon the people who would use strychnine for gopher poisoning than there is upon people who use a lot of other things that are a lot more dangerous for the general population of Canada.

The vendor of these products maintains a record of sales and has the name, address and signature of the buyer along with the quantity purchased. Detailed records are kept by the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities, of which Sinclair Harrison, as I mentioned, is the president. In Saskatchewan alone there are around 250 pest control officers, one pest control officer for nearly each of the 297 rural municipalities, and they are quite well trained in the use of strychnine.

However, one of the problems with the strychnine poisoning method is that to be most effective it must be used at a certain time of the year, pretty well no later than mid-March. As cute as these little gophers are, they do not all come up out of the ground at one time. The first ones up are the males. They stick their heads up, look around and see what is on the horizon for the new spring. They come up one to two weeks ahead of the females. The females begin to awake from hibernation and stick their heads up and poke around. When the level of female gophers is high enough, that is when the chemical needs to be put down. It needs to be put down early in the year, before we have hundreds more little gophers later on. There can be five to ten gophers in a litter. For effective control, it must be done at a certain time.

We are having trouble at the municipal level in getting the supplies on time. There needs to be a distribution system that would get them there on time. This would include strict control methods as to how they are stored, proper training for those who use them and those kinds of things. These things need to be done. There is no reason we cannot be prepared and have that ready.

The government needs to have some sort of assigned mechanism in place and enter into talks with the municipal governments on how these kinds of things can be put in place and controlled. The government needs to talk to cattle organizations and various farm organizations to reflect their concerns and implement appropriate measures to control the increasing costs gophers are afflicting on our farm economy.

There is no direct pipeline held season after season to handle these kinds of things. Nonetheless these are problems that can easily be addressed. They need to be if that is the only way we have of controlling the gopher population.

It seems the government would want to know what the effects of the restriction on strychnine are. We are asking that this information be put out. If we need to find other solutions then the government should know that. This is a drastically increasing problem.

My hon. colleague mentioned gophers popping out and taking down all the tulip bulbs. I was here a few days ago when we had the memorial service for the police officers and firemen who lost their lives. I was wondering what would happen if the front lawn contained the population of gophers required to get all those tulip bulbs. Let us think of all the holes. How many of those firemen and policemen would have been injured, like our cattle are, by falling into the holes as they marched through the parade grounds blowing their bagpipes?

Strychnine SolutionsPrivate Members' Business

Noon

Canadian Alliance

Roy H. Bailey Canadian Alliance Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, this issue is of grave concern to western Canada. The government has totally ignored the loss of millions up to billions of dollars. If people in the west lose their crop as a result of deer or elk they are paid for it. If they lose their crop because of water fowl they are paid for it. This year on the prairies more crops were lost to gophers than any other thing yet the government came out with something that did not kill the gophers. As I said in the petitions I read in the House, if anything it made them more virile.

It is time we did something about this other than just getting the papers back. Let us be armed next spring so we can at least have a chance in this infestation to grow a crop.

Strychnine SolutionsPrivate Members' Business

12:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

It being 12.05 p.m., the hour provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

Claim Settlements (Alberta and Saskatchewan) Implementation ActGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

Kenora—Rainy River Ontario

Liberal

Bob Nault LiberalMinister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

moved that Bill C-37, an act to facilitate the implementation of those provisions of first nations claim settlements in the Provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan that relate to the creation of reserves or the addition of land to existing reserves, and to make related amendments to the Manitoba Claim Settlements Implementation Act and the Saskatchewan Treaty Land Entitlement Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I rise to address the House on Bill C-37, the claim settlements (Alberta and Saskatchewan) implementation act. I welcome the opportunity to inform hon. members about the intent of Bill C-37 and explain how it fits into the government's broader aboriginal agenda.

Members will recall that the recent Speech from the Throne committed the government to strengthening Canada's relationship with aboriginal people, supporting aboriginal governance and bringing the benefits of prosperity to aboriginal communities. We are also implementing the pledges made in “Gathering Strength--Canada's Aboriginal Action Plan”, Canada's response to the report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples.

Bill C-37 is another important step in these ongoing processes, one of many we will take in collaboration with aboriginal people and other stakeholders in the coming months and years.

The proposed legislation addresses a number of goals set out by the government including, most fundamentally, fulfilling our historical obligations to aboriginal peoples to live up to the promises that have been made not only by our government but by others before us going back 200 years or more.

Bill C-37 is about strengthening the capacity of first nations governments to make decisions about their lands and communities. It would give them additional tools to pursue economic development opportunities that would generate jobs and income for first nations people. In this way Bill C-37 would protect and enhance the rights of other parties and lead to partnerships between first nations communities and private sector interests throughout the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Although the proposed legislation is somewhat technical in nature, its objective is simple: to facilitate the transfer of lands to reserve status in Alberta and Saskatchewan. Our goal is to improve existing processes which lead to uncertainty and missed opportunities for all parties and which can be unnecessarily time consuming and cumbersome.

Hon. members will be familiar with the rationale for the legislation from the debate respecting part 2 of the Manitoba Claim Settlements Implementation Act which was passed by the previous parliament. Bill C-37 would essentially extend the Manitoba process to the other two prairie provinces.

To put the issue into perspective, hon. members should be aware that the Government of Canada has numerous outstanding commitments to provide additional reserve lands to first nations in Alberta and Saskatchewan. These commitments have arisen out of two types of settlement agreements. Treaty land entitlement settlements are intended to address historical injustices involving more than 30 first nations in Alberta and Saskatchewan that did not receive all the land they were promised when they signed treaties.

Canada has also made commitments to expand reserve lands as part of 13 specific claim settlements in Alberta and Saskatchewan, most of which deal with alleged wrongs over the administration of first nations lands or assets under the Indian Act.

The government has been working to implement these settlement agreements for the past several years. We are making progress but it is clear to everyone involved that we need quicker and better ways to add lands to reserves. A million hectares, or 2.5 million acres, are yet to be added to reserves as a result of claim settlements in Alberta and Saskatchewan. More reserve expansion commitments are on the horizon as we continue to negotiate treaty land entitlements and specific claims in both provinces.

There are two principal reasons for the current backlog in reserve expansion commitments. First, in all provinces but Manitoba, thanks to the Manitoba Claim Settlements Implementation Act, creating reserve land under claim settlements requires an order from the governor in council. First nations have suggested that the process be streamlined. We agree with this objective.

More significant, however, is the need to accommodate existing third party interests when processing land selections. Canada's additions to reserve policy require that any such interests be either bought out with the agreement of the third party or somehow accommodated in a manner acceptable to Canada, the third party and the first nation. Only then could the land be transferred to Canada and granted reserve status.

Bill C-37 addresses both these issues as the Manitoba Claim Settlements Implication Act has done in Manitoba. First, Bill C-37 would empower the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development rather than the governor in council to grant reserve status to lands selected by Alberta and Saskatchewan first nations under claim settlements. This would replace the current process of obtaining an order in council and would shorten the time needed to approve additions to reserves. This would in turn allow any economic benefits associated with the lands to be more immediately realized by first nations.

Second, and more important, Bill C-37 would streamline the way third party interests such as leases or mineral rights are dealt with in lands selected for additions to reserves under claim settlements.

The changes proposed in Bill C-37 would essentially allow first nations in Alberta and Saskatchewan to agree to continue an existing third party interest or negotiate a new one on such lands before the lands became part of a reserve or were purchased.

This is not possible under the Indian Act. Although the Saskatchewan Treaty Land Entitlement Act provides a pre-reserve interest granting power by way of what is called a designation, under that power first nations can only agree to continue existing interests. They cannot accommodate new development proposals that may arise while the land is being processed into reserve status. Moreover, this power can be used only in relation to treaty land entitlements and not to specific claims. It can be used only when the first nation has already purchased the land.

The pre-reserve designation power contained in Bill C-37 does not, I repeat, does not, have these limitations. The improved pre-reserve designation power could be used for all Alberta and Saskatchewan claim settlements and not just treaty land entitlements. It would give first nations access to a broader range of land that has development interests or potential. Because these lands could be selected and acquired more quickly, any third party interest associated with them would contribute more quickly to economic and social progress in the community.

These changes would obviously benefit first nations. However I would ask hon. members to consider the issue from the other side of the fence, so to speak. The new approaches set out in Bill C-37 would provide a higher level of commercial certainty for all concerned parties, not only first nations but private sector developers, land owners and people, companies or institutions that hold interests in land in Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Bill C-37 would enhance protection for third parties by bridging the gap between non-reserve and reserve status for lands, thereby avoiding potential interruption of access to or use of the lands. In other words, the proposed legislation would provide businesses and investors in Alberta and Saskatchewan with certainty of tenure for any third party interest they might hold in lands to be added to a reserve.

Bill C-37 would also provide the certainty, stability and predictability first nations and businesses needed to negotiate new commercial arrangements and economic development partnerships. This is clearly a win-win solution to the legal uncertainties and delays inherent in the current process for adding lands to reserves.

These new mechanisms to deal with third party interests and the ministerial authority to grant reserve status are the major thrust of the proposed legislation but I would like to bring a couple of additional points to the attention of the House.

The first point is that individual first nations will be able to elect whether or not to adopt the provisions of Bill C-37 in relation to their claim settlements. For existing settlement agreements, all that will be required is a simple resolution by the first nation council to opt into the new processes.

Settlements negotiated after the legislation comes into effect will need to state explicitly that the first nation wishes to adopt the provisions of Bill C-37.

As well, it is important to note that this opt-in provision will apply only on a settlement by settlement basis. In other words, any first nation that has both a specific claim settlement and a treaty land entitlement settlement must make a separate election for each settlement agreement and is free to make a different election in each case. In this way maximum freedom of choice is afforded to individual first nations.

As I noted earlier, Bill C-37 is modelled on the recently enacted Manitoba Claim Settlement Implementation Act. During the process of developing the current legislation, we saw an opportunity to bring needed minor improvements to the language of the previous bill. Bill C-37 therefore proposes to amend the Manitoba Claim Settlement Implementation Act to make these language improvements so that the two bills remain consistent with each other.

The proposed amendments are minor in nature, either removing a grammatical ambiguity or bringing precision to the post-reserve administrative regime that would apply to third party interests.

These amendments have the support of the aboriginal association representing Manitoba first nations most effected, namely the treaty land entitlement committee of Manitoba which represents the 20 first nations that are party to the 1997 treaty land entitlement framework agreement for that province.

Similarly, Bill C-37 proposes related amendments to the Saskatchewan Treaty Land Entitlement Act of 1993. One amendment would ensure that any agreement, past or future, to release the province of Saskatchewan from its obligation to provide unoccupied crown land as part of a treaty land entitlement settlement is expressly confirmed by the Saskatchewan Treaty Land Entitlement Act.

As hon. members may know, this obligation dates to the natural resources transfer agreement negotiated between Canada and Saskatchewan in 1930. Saskatchewan was released from this obligation respecting certain first nations in 1992 under the terms of the Saskatchewan treaty land entitlement framework agreement and the Nekaneet treaty land entitlement agreement, and this release was recognized in the 1993 Saskatchewan Treaty Land Entitlement Act. We are simply extending this legislative confirmation to any similar releases, whether given before or after the coming into force of this act, which are concluded as a result of post-1993 treaty land entitlement settlements in Saskatchewan.

Bill C-37 would also amend the Saskatchewan Treaty Land Entitlement Act as it relates to the pre-reserve designation power I mentioned earlier.

As I have noted, Bill C-37 would provide a similar but improved mechanism for granting a third party interest in land before the land has been set apart as a reserve.

The proposed amendments to the Saskatchewan Treaty Land Entitlement Act would establish clear rules for determining which mechanism will apply depending on the first nations' opt-in decision I alluded to earlier.

I want to make it clear that Bill C-37 would not give effect to any claim settlement in Alberta or Saskatchewan. Nor does Bill C-37 create new institutions of government, new regulations or new financial obligations for Canada.

The goal here is simply to ensure that claims agreements, including those that may be negotiated in the future, can be implemented more quickly and efficiently.

There is nothing contentious about this proposed legislation. In fact it was developed in close consultation with the affected stakeholders.

The underlying principles for the bill were first discussed with first nations in Alberta in 1997 when Canada was negotiating treaty land entitlement agreements with the Alexander First Nation and the Loon River Cree First Nation.

It should be noted that Bill C-37 has since specifically been endorsed by both of these Alberta first nations whose treaty land entitlement settlements included commitments by Canada to recommend such legislation.

Given the level of support for the proposed approach in Alberta, our government seized the opportunity to make the same mechanisms available to first nations in Saskatchewan.

To that end, we initiated discussions with the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations and the government of Saskatchewan in December 1999, and again we received a very positive response.

To broaden the consultation process, a draft of the proposed legislation was distributed in February 2000 to all Alberta and Saskatchewan first nations which currently have claim settlements with reserve expansion commitments to implement.

The governments of both provinces as well as Alberta treaty organizations and the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations also received this draft. An updated version was sent out in April of this year to all these same stakeholders.

Some minor improvements have been made to Bill C-37 based on feedback received from these stakeholders. I am pleased to say that the proposed legislation now has the full support of all parties from the provincial governments of Alberta and Saskatchewan to first nations and their treaty organizations in both provinces.

As I noted earlier, the minor amendments to the Manitoba Claims Settlement Implementation Act are also supported by treaty land entitlement first nations in that province.

Between them, the Manitoba Claims Settlement Implementation Act and Bill C-37, will cover fully 97% of existing reserve expansion commitments under claim settlements across Canada.

We are proceeding with the legislation in Alberta and Saskatchewan for the same reason we went forward in Manitoba: we know a better process is needed and there is strong consensus among stakeholders in these two provinces that this approach is reasonable, responsible and effective.

Bill C-37 would benefit first nations in Alberta and Saskatchewan and would benefit third parties that hold interest in land selected for additions to reserves under claim settlements in these two provinces. It would also move Canada forward in fulfilling our outstanding commitments to aboriginal people.

It is the right solution for everyone and I trust we can count on the support of hon. members from all sides of the House in voting to send the legislation to committee for review.

Claim Settlements (Alberta and Saskatchewan) Implementation ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Roy H. Bailey Canadian Alliance Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, I was pleased to hear the minister announce the bill. I wish we would have had a little time to take a look at it. It was introduced last week and now it is Monday and it is here.

I think it is incumbent upon the minister to make sure people understand the different terminology in the bill. I come from a rural area where there are at least seven first nations. People understand the term reserve but, other than the first nations people, they do not understand the terms specific claims, additional land and so on.

The minister mentioned that Bill C-37 had the consent or approval of the government and provincial governments. I want to say something about the bill that will need to be mentioned in committee. Does the bill have the understanding and support of local governments? In the past we have run into some real difficulties, as the minister knows.

Let us say that 10 sections are added to a given reserve. The taxes from those 10 sections would no longer be available to the local government which would have that many fewer dollars to put toward road, schools and so on.

The minister should be cognizant of this if he wants clear passage and total acceptability of the bill. We need to do some work with the local governments. I know that in Saskatchewan it is the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities and the municipal governments at the places from which the land is being extracted. We have a problem there.

We also have another problem. As most members know, Saskatchewan and Alberta were not added to Confederation until 1905. While the minerals in other areas remained with the land or purchaser thereof, in Saskatchewan the minerals remained for the most part with the crown. I believe the hon. member mentioned 1930. One of the difficulties we have, even in my constituency, is that the minerals on lands in the eastern portion belong to the crown. As immigration and settlements moved west after 1905, the minerals went with the land when it was purchased.

Conceivably we would be adding 10 sections of land to a current day reserve. Under the previous owner the minerals belonged to the crown. The property owner did not have the minerals. As the property is moved to a reserve the minerals will go to the crown and there could be some problems with that.

I have some real concerns but not about the expansion. I agree with the minister, I think most people in general want the treaties to go forward, to get them out of the way and, for lack of a better word, to get on with the show. Let us make this happen but in doing so let us make sure we notify all partners and that everybody is aware of what is going on. That is very necessary.

To draw an analogy, my constituency had its first anthrax scare way out in a rural area in a village with maybe 20 people.I do not want to get into the details but they have never been told anything. Nothing has gone out as to what to do, who to call or what to expect. There is a lack of government information and explanation, a lack of printed government policy, a lack of PR with the newspapers, particularly in the area concerned. Those things are imperative.

I hope the minister will take my advice. As he goes into the specific land claims and the addition to the reserves, he would be well advised that people in that area have an understanding. Once there is an understanding there is more apt to be agreement with what is going on. That is necessary.

We will let the bill go to committee. We will support it at this point. However I am quite sure that when the bill gets to committee there will be a lot of questions. We will be asking questions not just on the part of the first nations, but also on the part of local government.

Something has to be clarified. The first nations people want to be called first nations. The result of mammoth research and, I believe, the 1988 booklet was that they want to be called first nations. Throughout the bill the minister refers to first nations, but the word Indian is still being used. They no longer want to be called Indians. Throughout the Indian Act, which we are going to look at, that word is used. Both terms are being used. We should not be doing that. Let us be consistent in using one term.

Finally, let us hope that in committee we will allow enough time to carefully look at not only the first nations people but other people who are affected. We must carefully look at the rural municipalities or other landowners who lose property or have the property consumed and what their rights are and what provisions will be given to local governments so that they may carry on their work. In the past in settling land claims the relationships between the parties have soured in many of the rural municipalities in my constituency and they remain that way today. Let us hope we can avoid that in the future.

Claim Settlements (Alberta and Saskatchewan) Implementation ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Bloc

Richard Marceau Bloc Charlesbourg—Jacques-Cartier, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to rise to speak in this debate. Bill C-37, the claim settlements (Alberta and Saskatchewan) implementation act, which the House is currently considering, is, as its name indicates, intended to facilitate the implementation of territorial agreements reached between the federal government and the first nations.

The bill is very technical and does not bear the usual characteristics of the initiatives of the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, which tend to be rather controversial or at least to cause some flurry. In fact, the minister appears to want to assume his responsibilities fully and demonstrate the leadership needed to ensure the full development of the first nations.

I have a hard time understanding why the Bloc Quebecois would oppose quick passage of this bill, since the minister is finally proposing constructive action in support of the first nations. The position the Bloc Quebecois has taken on the bill is very much in keeping with the party's line on the first nations' right to self-government.

I, in fact, recognize the minister's, or rather the department's, openness. It seems now to be giving greater consideration to the real needs and deep aspirations of the first nations.

As such, Bill C-37 facilitates the implementation of land claim settlements, which we know are the result of long and difficult negotiations designed to bring about greater self-government and increased accountability for first nations.

It is important to point out that the legislative measure being discussed today is limited exclusively to the results of the negotiations in Alberta and Saskatchewan. Incidentally, similar legislation was adopted one year ago concerning Manitoba.

Bill C-37 will considerably reduce the time required to grant the lands negotiated real reserve status. Aboriginal people in these areas would be able to use the legislation to accelerate the land transfer process. This is a key element of the notion of self-government, as it would allow first nations to benefit sooner from the natural resources on their lands. Their economic space would be strengthened and everything seems to indicate that the legislation would have a positive effect on these communities.

In closing, while supporting this bill and hoping to see it adopted speedily and efficiently, I would like to express my desire to see the recommendations of the Erasmus-Dussault report, made public in 1996 at a cost of $50 million, adopted as quickly as possible to deal with the problems plaguing the first nations in a comprehensive manner, as opposed to limiting ourselves to a piecemeal approach.

The government must not limit itself to bills such as this one, which deals with a specific part of the problem, but it must develop a comprehensive policy and a clear direction to ensure that the recommendations made by the Erasmus-Dussault royal commission be implemented as quickly as possible.

Claim Settlements (Alberta and Saskatchewan) Implementation ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, as the NDP caucus critic for aboriginal affairs, I am pleased to join the debate regarding Bill C-37.

We welcome any measure that will speed up the implementation process of the many outstanding claims and treaty land negotiations that are under way. We recognize that in both the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan there is an enormous backlog and an enormous level of frustration on the part of aboriginal peoples, first nations communities and other interested third parties in the tedious and painfully slow negotiation process that has been under way for decades, if not centuries.

We recognize that Bill C-37 very closely resembles the Manitoba act of a similar nature which was passed only last year. As a member of parliament from Winnipeg I did seek advice from those parties that are affected by the Manitoba settlement claims process. We got a positive report. People are generally satisfied that what was implemented in Manitoba can and should serve as a model for the other two prairie provinces as they address very similar issues. I understand it will.

We note with interest that the minister for aboriginal affairs pointed out that Bill C-37 addresses 97% of all the outstanding treaty land entitlement negotiations and specific claims settlement negotiations which are currently underway. We welcome that. If we can clear up 97% of the unbelievable backlog, then when those administrative and bureaucratic details are put behind us we can look forward to the day when aboriginal communities can take real steps toward true self-government as contemplated in the recommendations of the royal commission on aboriginal peoples.

The aboriginal affairs critic for the official opposition failed to point out any of the specifics in the bill. It is incumbent upon somebody in the House to deal with some of the substance and to comment on the actual details surrounding the bill. I would have hoped that someone in the official opposition would have read the briefing book and would have gone through some of the specific details which people in the rest of the country are very interested in.

For people who may be watching and for aboriginal communities who realize that this is their day to have this issue dealt with in the House of Commons, I would like to go through some of the details of the bill. On behalf of aboriginal communities I will explain to the general public what we are talking about when we introduce a bill that would result in the addition of lands to reserves. I look to the manual that was provided to all members of parliament which explains quite clearly under what circumstances the federal government would seek to add to the land mass of reserves or to create new reserves.

A lot of non-aboriginal people may feel that this process was finished and done with at the turn of the century. Most of these treaties were signed between 1874 and 1906. However, there are circumstances under which for two reasons these lands are expanded by creating new reserve lands or allocating new pieces of land to existing reserves. One is to meet with the entitlement issue. The Indian Act specifies that based on the size of a family or the size of a community a certain amount of land will be allocated to that first nations community.

There are historic shortfalls. Some go right back to the day of the original signing of the treaty and some because the size of the community has grown and the land mass of the reserve no longer meets the needs of the size of the community. These things need to be addressed. It could be to address social concerns or another reason that is cited is to improve the geographic integrity of a reserve.

Some of these reserves were put together and mapped out in a period of time when there was less understanding as to what the ultimate usage would be of the first nations community, whether it was a geographical barrier like a river or a mountain range or a social or a cultural barrier like the development of industry in certain areas of a reserve. Those were not accommodated between 1874 and 1906, and now there are good arguments why they should be accommodated. That is another rationale under which we would improve the geographic integrity of a reserve by changing its physical and geographical shape.

Sometimes there is a need to compensate the first nations communities for the public takings of reserve land. For instance, if a bi-pole hydro-electric line was slated to go through reserve land, there would be a loss of land usage directly underneath those wires and for a right-of-way on both sides of those wires. This may constitute hundreds of thousands of acres on that reserve property. We believe it would be only fair to compensate that equal amount of land with usable land. This is another reason why we may see a situation and why we believe there are righteous claims made to the federal government to justify the expansion of existing reserves.

Finally, the rationale is to fulfill Canada's legal obligations under a court order or the terms of a claim settlement with the first nations relating to such matters as treaty land entitlements and specific claims.

To answer the question from the member from the official opposition who asked if non-aboriginal people in the community understood why it was necessary to introduce legislation that would contemplate expanding reserves and even creating new reserves, the rationale is cited in the briefing book should he have the time to read it. That would be useful for everybody concerned.

Not only should I point out what is in the bill in terms of what enabling measures it gives the minister, but I should also point out, for the comfort level of other people and of third parties who are affected by these expansions of reserves, what is not affected in the proposed legislation.

Again, to answer many of the questions raised by the critic from the official opposition, perhaps for his behalf and for the sake of people with legitimate concerns and to raise the comfort level of those who may criticize the expansion of aboriginal and first nation communities, such as rural municipalities, private property owners, third parties and non-aboriginal people who are affected by the expansion of a reserve, let me cite some of the things that are not affected by the legislation.

First, the bill would not automatically ratify any claim settlements. It would simply put in place the enabling measures or a process by which those settlements may be settled in a reasonable, fair period of time instead of the undue lengthy, tedious process that we have come to accept as the norm. The purpose of the bill is not to ratify these settlements but to facilitate the process by which the reserve creation commitments of these settlements can be implemented. That should address at least one of the points that was raised by the hon. member.

Another question that legitimately should be asked about the bill, and one thing that we can put to bed right now, is that no expropriation of private land or interests is contemplated by the bill or enabled by it. It does recognize that there are third party claims to land that we may seek to make a part of a reserve. Sometimes there is competing and compounding third party claims to resources or even the actual ownership of land which we seek to use to expand reserves.

Again, the legislation does nothing to actually expropriate any private land ownership. Third parties can take comfort in the fact that we as the opposition party in the House of Commons recognize that this is neither the intention nor the result of this legislation. In fact, we will find within this legislation specific protection of third party interests that did not exist before. Before we had to be subject to the vagaries of the settlement in the courts, now there some accepted and predictable processes under which a claim or a legitimate objection, as a third party, will be dealt with.

We should also point out that nothing in Bill C-37 deals or interferes with the taxation of on-reserve third party interests, which is another legitimate concern that could be and should have been raised by any critic of the bill. Having read the bill and the briefing books, we are satisfied that the bill does not affect first nations' ability to tax on-reserve third party interests. If it did, we would have to vote against the bill.

I point these things out only because they are predictable things that should and probably will be raised by people who present before the committee or the general public who may be concerned that we are taking steps in the House to expand the reserve system and to settle outstanding treaty entitlement and specific claim settlements in the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan.

We are used to hearing opposition to any steps that may move forward the legitimate aspirations of first nations communities to achieve self-government. It is a common theme that we in the NDP caucus have been opposing for a number of years. We hope that people in the House of Commons can set aside their biases and prejudices for or against, as is the case of the official opposition, aboriginal first nations' self-government. We hope they can see that the bill is not threatening in any way. It is an enabling measure which would clean up a bureaucratic backlog of outstanding claims, and having put those issues to bed, would allow us to deal with the more salient and pertinent issue of true aboriginal self-government. We all look forward to the day we can move on with that as well.

Some of the background information that was given to us is helpful as well. We recognize that Bill C-37 is advantageous in another way that was not pointed out by the official opposition. We note that the bill will facilitate the selection by first nations of commercially viable lands rather than simply lands that are encumbered by other interests. In other words, it could be looked upon as an economic development tool. For those who are always saying that aboriginal communities must become more self-sufficient, that they must promote business and that they must get more with it regarding the economic realities of Canada, the bill could enable first nations communities to access lands that have economic development potential. This is a real plus which we have not heard raised here before.

We are not saying that the only way we can expand the reserve is by choosing land that borders or is close to the reserve which is completely unused, unclaimed or undeveloped. It may result in choosing land that has economic activity on it. We would then have to negotiate some kind of compensation for the third party using the land. The land would then be transferred within the first nation.

In closing, in Manitoba we find that the steps to enable the process to move along more quickly has been quite a satisfactory experience. We have no hesitation in recommending a similar model for the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan. I believe that 30 first nations will benefit in the province of Alberta and as many as 16 in the province of Saskatchewan, and 97% of the outstanding entitlement and specific claims can be remedied and settled under this enabling process. That in itself is reason enough for us to support it at second reading to go to committee.

Claim Settlements (Alberta and Saskatchewan) Implementation ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

Waterloo—Wellington Ontario

Liberal

Lynn Myers LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Solicitor General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to the member opposite. It is fair to say that he made some very excellent points with respect to Bill C-37. I want to congratulate him for that.

I also want to congratulate the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. Under his steady hand and leadership, he has been able to bring this bill forward and make the kind of inroads and efforts that are required in this all important area.

This is a very important area that deals exclusively with reserve land proposals that arise under claim settlements, either existing or in the future both in the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan. As such, it is very important not only in those two provinces, but it sets the right tone across Canada. The minister and the government need to be congratulated because it underscores our commitment to do the right things in this very important area.

As the opposition is saying right now to the minister that he did a good job, I too want to add to that. I think it is excellent and really well worth noting.

What would the member opposite scope out as being the most important aspect of the bill? He referenced his own province and other areas in the west. If we listened closely to what the member said, it was very wise. Could he expound a little further on that and give us more insight? Especially given the fact that he is from Manitoba and knows some of these things, it would be insightful for us to hear a little more from the member for Winnipeg Centre.

Claim Settlements (Alberta and Saskatchewan) Implementation ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, as uncomfortable as I am with that kind of introduction, I do not mind speaking a little longer about a bill in which I see a lot of good qualities.

To take the hon. member's question seriously, the most important single thing that Bill C-37 could do is alleviate the backlog of unsettled claims that exist on the two prairie provinces so that we could use our energy and resources in a more positive way and take serious concrete steps toward the larger issue of aboriginal self-government. In other words, the sooner we rid ourselves of these bureaucratic, almost nuisance claims, where we have lawsuit piled upon lawsuit waiting for resolution. Ten, twenty or thirty years go by, generations go by before first nations communities can avail themselves of the land to which they are entitled by court order. However with third party complications they simply cannot address it.

That would be the first single biggest advantage that I see. In Manitoba we are managing to cut through some of that bureaucratic backlog that has piled up on people's desks. If we can accomplish that for the 30 first nations in Alberta and the 14 first nations in Saskatchewan, who support the bill and endorse this process, that in itself would be progress, and I support that.

Claim Settlements (Alberta and Saskatchewan) Implementation ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, just so that we do not get too carried away in thanking and complimenting the government in the interest of keeping some balance, I certainly agree that the bill before us today addresses a backlog that has been created, which is a very positive sign. I know this is a very common concern that has been voiced by first nations about the amount of bureaucracy, paperwork and process that these issues have had to go through.

However we also need to recognize that there are many other issues that need to be addressed within first nations governance and within the claims process.

The member is very knowledge on this issue as our critic for aboriginal affairs. Could he comment on whether he thinks there are any aspects of this bill that could applied, for example, in British Columbia where I know there have been a lot of issues around the treaty negotiation process and claims process. Does the hon. member think there are other things that could be undertaken, as a result of the bill, to address concerns that have been put forward by first nations?

Claim Settlements (Alberta and Saskatchewan) Implementation ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Vancouver East for the opportunity to expand on that point somewhat. Had I had more time in my original speech, I would have pointed out that we have some reservations about the bill. One aspect of the bill we are critical of is a recurring theme that we see in much of the legislation introduced by the government. It expands and enhances the powers of the minister.

This is such a recurring theme that I cannot think of one piece of legislation in the four years I have been in the House of Commons in which the Liberal Party, the government party, has not sought to expand the discretionary authority or discretionary power of the minister. I remind ministers and others that they will not always be ministers.

Even if I have no personal problem with the current minister of aboriginal affairs having expanded authority because there might be a sense of trust there, God forbid we could look at a day when the official opposition might be the government and the powers of people vehemently opposed to aboriginal self-government might have been expanded. They might use that power in a way that we would not be satisfied with at all. We have to consider that as the powers of the current minister of aboriginal affairs are expanded.

We are dealing with a situation where the official opposition is on record saying things like the famous quote of the aboriginal affairs critic for the Reform Party about living on an Indian reserve being like living on a South Seas island being supported by a rich uncle. That was the attitude we heard put forward by the Reform Party, now the Canadian Alliance.

I want to be accurate because I do not want to misrepresent what the member for Athabasca actually said, but he said that we should not say we did not defeat those people just because we did not beat them in a war, that they are in fact vanquished; otherwise we would not have been able to force them on to these godforsaken little reserves they live on. That is the tone of the comments we get from the Canadian Alliance, from the official opposition, when it comes to aboriginal issues.

I caution the government and the ruling party. As it enhances the powers of the minister perhaps they should be sunsetted just in case there is a change of government some day and that authority or that power could be abused.

I do not know if I am out of time, but the hon. member asked me about the British Columbia experience. We have been dealing with the occupation of lands in the Sun Peaks area in the interior of British Columbia. We have met with the aboriginal leadership in the interior and the Kamloops band in that area.

Many outstanding issues will not be affected or enhanced or even improved in any way, shape or form by this legislation, but we hope the sentiment expressed in the legislation will have a desirable effect on other outstanding issues in other provinces.

Claim Settlements (Alberta and Saskatchewan) Implementation ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Deborah Grey Canadian Alliance Edmonton North, AB

Mr. Speaker, some of the last comments made by the member for Winnipeg Centre seem unfortunate. I certainly have no idea how dredging up things from years and years gone by, probably taken out of context, has anything to do with building and being positive.

As the first ever Reform Party member elected to the House of Commons in 1989 I remind the member for Winnipeg Centre that I taught school on a reserve at Frog Lake. I had several native foster children in my home. I was a lighthouse for the Reform Party. I tell him that there is sweet nothing to be gained by this kind of behaviour and debate in the House of Commons.

Let me tell him exactly what the Canadian Alliance position is in its policy paper. It states:

Our position in land claims negotiations will be to ensure respect for existing private property rights, affordable and conclusive settlement of all claims, and an open and transparent process involving all stakeholders.

Is that not what the NDP just said? Is that not in some measure what the government is trying to do right now? That is what we should be discussing right now.

On behalf of members of the Canadian Alliance, the official opposition, as someone who has represented them for quite some time, and on behalf of every member of the House of Commons, it is foolish to even go down that path. Shame on them.

Let me get to the bill at hand, Bill C-37, and talk a bit about some of the pros and cons in that legislation. Obviously there is a history in this regard. The minister talked about it earlier this morning. If we had any choice it would have been to have the bill longer because there is so much to study in it. It was just brought in last week. I know that it was to be debated this coming Thursday, but because of Bill C-33 respecting the Nunavut water board and tribunal this bill is coming into the House earlier today.

So keen was I to make sure that I did get something to say about it, I travelled on the all-nighter last night so I arrived here at about 8.25 this morning. I am glad to be here while we are participating in this debate. I am also glad that we can change our flights around.

If we look at the history in this regard, the minister alluded to the Manitoba land claims agreement and made some changes to that as well. That came in, in 2000. To be able to make changes to that legislation to tighten it up, to make it more efficient and more streamlined, as the minister said, is a good thing. With the ongoing land claim settlements we need to be able to make sure they are swiftly and positively resolved. If this bill is in any way able to do that it is a good thing, not just for first nations but also for third party stakeholders. The minister talked about them.

Life is a balance. We always need to be able to come up with some sort of a balance that we can strike with regard to the stakeholders, whether in oil, gas, minerals or whatever, on reserve land or on future reserve land, as the minister talked about.

Let us look for a few moments at some of the general observations of the bill. Native reserve claim settlements normally require the accommodation of existing third party interest. That is there already.

Before land can be set apart for reserve creation or expansion the existing third party interests on that piece of land must be cleared either by buying out that land and cancelling it, or by accommodating the interest in a manner agreeable to Canada, the particular first nation and the third party. Only after that can the land be transferred to the government for reserve purposes.

Again that process looks like it is a good one, but of course the trick is how lengthy that process can be become. I think my colleague said that it could go on for years and years, sometimes even a generation for sure. Usually the additions to the reserve process takes between one and three years, but all kinds of outstanding land claim settlements can go on for many years.

Hopefully Bill C-37 will speed up that process. It would allow a first nation to consent to the creation of interests on land proposed for reserve status rather than waiting until after the land has been purchased by the federal government and granted reserve status.

We look at the timelines on it, give checkmarks and say that is a good thing.

We have to look at some of the pros and a few of the cons in the particular bill. We need to draw a column. It seems to me we all do that in our lives when we have a decision to make. We look at the pros and the cons. Then we weigh them off against each other because life is obviously just a series of tradeoffs and balances.

Some of the pros are that Bill C-37 would allow the minister to set lands apart for reserve creation expansion rather than doing this by the more time consuming order in council. Not only will this hasten the settlement of outstanding reserve claims, but with the large numbers of reserve creation orders expected in the future this will also avoid taxing the order in council process. I am sure that gets to be fairly lengthy on its own.

We could flip that pro into a con and say that as with so much legislation, as the member for Winnipeg said, the minister seems to get a great deal of power regardless of who is in power. We have to make sure that there are checks and balances on the power of the minister.

I am sure the minister would agree with that. We have both sat in the House for many years. It would be a pity to think that he would become omnipotent or something like that. I am sure he would never want that to happen. We have to make sure we balance out the pro with the con in that regard. Yes, it does give the minister more power, but let us make sure that there are checks and balances.

The predesignation provision allowing a first nation to consent to third party interest on land proposed for reserve status will significantly reduce the time required for Saskatchewan and Alberta to fulfill their reserve expansion commitments. Dear knows this whole process goes on and on. Perhaps the bill can hurry that process along, again making sure that all aspects are taken into consideration and that all stakeholders and third parties, regardless of what their interests are, are not getting the short end of the stick or shafted in any way on either side.

A speedier implementation process would encourage on reserve economic activity benefiting the first nation and provide commercial certainty for the third party that has an interest in proposed reserve land during the transfer process.

What a smart thing it is to have economic development on reserves. Hopefully the idea of complete dependence on government is waning across the nation. For first nations and reserves to be totally dependent on government is not a happy situation for anyone. None of us like to be completely dependent. If this in any way gives economic self-sufficiency or economic development for reserves across the land, it would certainly be seen as a good thing.

The legislation accommodates existing third party interests to give the first nations the opportunity to welcome new interests during the reserve creation process. It is interesting that while the bill is before the House we are talking about the pipeline in the Northwest Territories. That is also important.

All the kinks have not been worked out of it. That is for sure, but as we are watching this process evolve right now there are private oil companies which are taking in the aboriginal community in a one-third profit sharing idea. That whole idea of economic development cannot hurt anyone for sure. It is interesting that those events are going along a parallel track to make sure that third party interests really are considered and yet they are able to share the benefit of using native lands as well.

This will give the first nations a chance to select commercially viable lands for reserve expansion rather than simply those lands which are already cleared of existing interests. Again, that appears to be a benefit.

We have a couple of concerns. I have already mentioned the explicit one, not total but certainly more power for the minister. We need to make sure we keep that in check.

Although we support facilitating a quicker resolution of first nation claim settlements, we have concerns regarding the effects of the legislation on third party stakeholders with interest on proposed reserve lands.

I just mentioned the pipeline through the north coming down into Canada. Alaska also wants to get in on that. However, to make sure we are not all on one side or the other, there needs to be a balance. As I have said many times in my remarks as well as in the past, we need to make sure that there is concern for both sides here, that we do not just take off our glasses and say we want this side or that side to benefit. It needs to be mutually beneficial.

That is the only way in life it works. To me it is the only way this piece of legislation can work. We have to work together and make sure we get the aboriginal community as well as the third party stakeholders to the table.

We are not trying to pull the wool over anyone's eyes or pull a quick one and say to them that they have missed their chance, because we know these things always have ramifications. Sooner or later those concerns will come up, or there will not be any goodwill for third party stakeholders to even work with the government or to believe that a piece of legislation like this will really help them. We want to make sure that the third party stakeholders feel they are being listened to, that they, as well as the first nations, are being given not just the benefit of the doubt but the benefit of the whole situation, because I know that many of them over the years have had concerns that they have been railroaded or whatever.

Again, the minister has a huge responsibility to live up to. I know there are frustrations across the country right now and he faced frustrations this summer. These surely are difficult times for him to be working through. I know he will realize how important it is to strike that balance. We in the official coalition are in the opposition now, but sooner or later, as the member said, someone else will be in government and we want to make sure that there are reasonable and rational processes in place, as well as transitions that would take place for any government of the day.

I know the minister understands that because when he and I first started in the House we were sitting in the opposition corner. The opposition coalition wishes him well with this. I suppose if we can give any advice or caution it would be to make sure that he deals with this sensitively on both sides of the issue. I know it is a tough tightrope to walk but at the same time I do believe it is important. If he does not, obviously down the road he will end up with problems far more serious than those he is facing now.

The opposition coalition gives qualified support. We say to the government that we want to move ahead with these land claims settlements and we trust that this Alberta-Saskatchewan land claims agreement, which is modelled after Manitoba's, will go well, that it will go speedily and that we will see some true benefits both for the first nations and the third party stakeholders.

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1:10 p.m.

Liberal

Gérard Binet Liberal Frontenac—Mégantic, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise to address the House on Bill C-37, claims settlements (Alberta and Saskatchewan) implementation act. I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak in support of this proposed legislation.

At first glance this may appear to be a somewhat technical bill, with limited scope and applicability but first impressions can be deceiving. The reality is that the changes proposed in this legislation--as minor as they may appear--will have a big impact on first nations communities throughout Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Hon. members should know that Bill C-37, when it becomes law, will make a difference in the lives of first nations people and communities. It will make a difference to landowners, developers and people who live and work near existing reserves.

What is so important about this proposed legislation? After all, the existing process for adding lands to reserves works, does it not? It is a little slow and cumbersome but the job gets done.

If that is the approach we wish to take, then yes, the current process does work, but it hardly works well. In fact, it is severely impeding progress in resolving outstanding settlement commitments that have been made to first nations in Alberta and Saskatchewan--some of which date back a decade or more.

Let me state for the record that this in not the approach this government intends to take. We are not prepared to accept the status quo because first nations deserve and want better, and Canadian taxpayers as a whole deserve a more efficient process.

The government intends to move quickly in fulfilling Canada's commitments to aboriginal people. This is really what Bill C-37 is all about.

“Gathering Strength”, our response to the report of the royal commission on aboriginal peoples, included a number of specific commitments. Notable among these was a pledge to honour Canada's treaties signed with aboriginal people.

This goes to the very heart of Bill C-37 because the key objective of this proposed legislation is to implement better, more expeditious ways to meet our reserve expansion commitments, most of which arise out of treaty land entitlements.

Perhaps some history is in order to help put this issue into perspective. As members will know, between 1874 and 1906, the Government of Canada signed several numbered treaties with first nations in Alberta and Saskatchewan. As a general rule, these treaties required Canada to allocate reserve land to a first nation based on its population--generally, the first nation was to receive a certain acreage for each family group.

For one reason or another, many first nations involved in this treaty making process did not receive the full amount of land promised to them. In some cases, the shortfall can be blamed on inaccurate counts of band members; in other instances, not enough land was set apart when a reserve was first surveyed.

Regardless of the cause, there is no question that insufficient amounts of reserve lands were provided to some first nations. Therefore, while some of the treaty land entitlement obligations were fully satisfied long ago, many first nations in Alberta and Saskatchewan did not historically receive their full land entitlement.

These century old injustices must be resolved and our government has been tackling the problem with renewed energy over the past several years.

Treaty land entitlement settlement agreements have been signed with six first nations in Alberta. In Saskatchewan, a treaty land entitlement framework agreement is in place covering most of the affected first nations, and several others have signed individual agreements. In total, 36 first nations in the two provinces are encompassed by these agreements.

Clearly the will exists on all sides to move forward on this issue. Appropriate resources have been earmarked for these settlements by the governments of Canada, Alberta and Saskatchewan. First nations have been identifying lands they would like to add to their reserves. However, despite the best of intentions and the full co-operation of all parties, this is where progress has bogged down.

Almost invariably, the lands being selected by first nations have existing third party interests. Under the terms of claim settlements, these interests must either be cleared or accommodated in a way that is satisfactory to everyone involved before the lands can be added to a reserve.

Unfortunately, with the exception of the Manitoba Claim Settlements Implementation Act and, to a lesser extent, the Saskatchewan Treaty Land Entitlement Act, existing federal laws simply are not geared to accommodating third party interests with any degree of certainty or timeliness.

In fact, the current additions to reserve process create a classic catch 22 situation. Third party interests must be addressed before lands can be granted reserve status. But with the exceptions I just noted, first nations can only agree to permit a third party interest on land that is already part of a reserve.

The end result is that processing selected lands into reserve status takes a great deal of time and energy, which is one reason why settlements signed some time ago are not yet fully implemented.

Bill C-37 will address this situation by providing for more efficient and commercially certain ways to accommodate third party interests. Essentially, a first nation will be able to consent to such an interest--either existing or new--before lands have been granted reserve status.

Recent experience has shown that the sooner third-party interests can be resolved, the quicker lands can be added to a reserve, and the quicker first nations can begin to reap the economic benefits associated with those lands.

It is interesting to note that the catalyst for Bill C-37 was a commitment by Canada to recommend such legislation under treaty land entitlement settlements concluded in 1998 with the Alexander First Nation and the Loon River Cree First Nation.

In other words, the proposed legislation is fulfilling commitments to specific first nations, while at the same time addressing longstanding issues of concern for more than 30 other first nations in Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Bill C-37 extends beyond the scope of treaty land entitlement agreements. With the approval of first nations and the affected provincial governments, the legislation has been crafted in such a way that it may benefit any other existing or future claim settlements containing reserve expansion commitments in both provinces.

For example, Canada also has reserve expansion commitments arising out of specific claims settlements in Alberta and Saskatchewan. Although these commitments involve significantly less land than treaty land entitlement settlements, they present the same implementation difficulties.

I want to emphasize that the bill is not being forced on any first nation in Alberta or Saskatchewan. It would apply on a per claim basis, and only when the affected first nation agrees to opt in to its provisions. First nations that wish to continue to add lands to their reserves using existing processes will be free to do so.

In closing, let me say once again that Bill C-37 is an implicit part of this government's commitment under “Gathering Strength” to address Canada's historical obligations to aboriginal people and to pave the way for their greater economic self-reliance.

The bill would also strengthen the capacity of first nations governments to make decisions about lands selected for addition to reserves under claim settlements in a way that is effective, timely and accountable to their membership.

Bill C-37 would help Canada move beyond historic grievances with first nations people while ensuring that past agreements were honoured and fulfilled. It is a positive step into the future, a step that is supported by first nations in Alberta and Saskatchewan and by the governments of these provinces. It clearly deserves the support of this House as well.

Claim Settlements (Alberta and Saskatchewan) Implementation ActGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I will begin by answering the questions from the opposition parties. I think I can deal with virtually all of them, which I hope will speed the process through committee.

I was of course delighted to hear the member from the coalition talk about the futility of dredging up the past. I eagerly look forward to seeing how the Alliance and the coalition bring that sentiment into question period today.

The NDP and the Bloc were basically in support of the bill and outlined some of its good points. Several questions came up, mostly from the official opposition, and I will address some of those points. The first point was about providing the public with more and better information on some of the concepts. My colleague from the NDP did a very good job of that. For people who may not have been aware of them, he explained some of the provisions in the bill.

The opposition member mentioned that one definition that is not covered is specific claims. Just so members know, these are items that come up over and above the regular treaty obligations, which may have come up over the years as isolated incidents that do not hold up under the Indian Act and that we have to deal with.

The second point the member for the official opposition mentioned was related to municipal claims. He specifically mentioned SARM, but SARM has been involved along the way with these claims and has been dealing with the government in a good working relationship. SARM is quite familiar with the claims. Although it is not an issue in Alberta, there have been claims by municipalities, school boards and other taxing authorities for alleged loss of tax revenues due to establishment under a claims settlement.

However in Saskatchewan the tax loss issues were dealt with in two ways. For Saskatchewan, the treaty land entitlement framework provides that Canada and Saskatchewan shall contribute equally to a fund which is to be used to compensate rural municipalities. It also compensates school boards for tax losses experienced as a result of reserve expansions under that agreement. For the specific claim settlements which the member for the opposition mentioned, tax loss is largely the responsibility of the government of Saskatchewan by virtue of a bilateral agreement signed in 1999 between Saskatchewan and Canada. This is well in hand. I hope the member will be happy that it has been dealt with.

The last point he raised is related to mineral claims. He is right when he says that in some cases mineral claims will revert to the crown for the benefit of the first nation. That is good because that will help first nations economic development.

That is all I can remember of the member's points. If there were any others perhaps the member could bring them up in question period, because if all the questions have been dealt with hopefully the bill will go quickly through committee.

There was a point brought up by the NDP and the coalition that related to the powers of the minister, in particular the powers to allow the minister to make these decisions as opposed to having an order in council. This was requested by a number of first nations and also will speed up the process of this administrative function so that they can get on with their economic development with these third party interests.

The last point I want to comment on relates to the pipeline. It was mentioned by the coalition. Because the Alaska gas pipeline would go through my riding, I am delighted that this was raised. There would be great benefits for aboriginal people through employment and perhaps in taxes in different parts of the north, but in the Northwest Territories and Yukon there are different legal regimes, different treaty regimes, so it is not that relevant to those areas.

However, if it goes through Alberta through the natural gas pipeline which would bring Alaskan gas from Prudhoe Bay through Alaska and the Yukon, and if it happens to go through a reserve, it could possibly apply and once again would help first nations speed up their economic development with those added assets.

This is important legislation not only for the first nations in Alberta and Saskatchewan but for all residents of those provinces and indeed for all Canadians. I would like to take a few minutes to explore the issues of how changes proposed in Bill C-37 would foster economic development in the affected first nations communities. I want to focus on this because it is a fundamental argument in favour of the proposed legislation.

I think hon. members on all sides of the House would agree it is vitally important that aboriginal communities from coast to coast to coast have opportunities to become more fully engaged in the Canadian economy. A strengthened aboriginal economy would help to address the many difficult issues that face first nations and Inuit communities across the nation. That is not to say that progress has not been made already. I can cite dozens of examples of successful aboriginal companies. In fact, there are more than 18,000 aboriginal owned businesses in Canada, ranging from small home based enterprises to multimillion dollar companies that do business around the world. Many of these are located on first nations reserves where they not only provide essential goods and services but are a vital source of employment and revenue.

The aboriginal community is diverse and vibrant. Aboriginal businesses operate in all sectors of the economy. They include resource industry firms, transportation and construction companies and retail and service outlets. They include manufacturing operations, management consultants, computer companies, arts and crafts enterprises and environmental and cultural tourism businesses.

However, more needs to be done to foster economic development in aboriginal communities, particularly on reserves. Despite the progress that has been made over the past couple of decades, aboriginal people continue to be among the most economically disadvantaged of all Canadians. There is still far too large a gap between the employment rates among first nations people and among other Canadians.

First nations still face special barriers to economic development, including legal obstacles, lower levels of education and lack of business experience and capital. These barriers are affecting social conditions in reserve communities. They are affecting families and children, and the effects are not positive ones.

What does all this have to do with Bill C-37? In my mind, having a sufficient land base upon which to engage in economic activity is the key to achieving prosperity in first nations communities. Since the claim settlements that would be facilitated by this proposed legislation concern reserve expansion, these settlements are an incredibly important vehicle for supporting aboriginal economic development. Treaty land entitlement and specific claim settlements do more than address past wrongs of first nations people. They pave the way for a better economic future by providing a secure land base and, in some cases, a financial package that can be used by the claimant group to fund economic development activities.

As consideration of the bill progresses, we will hear repeatedly of the legal and technical obstacles in the current additions to reserves process, which are impeding progress in implementing settlement agreements. These obstacles have resulted in an enormous backlog of commitments to add lands to reserves in Alberta and Saskatchewan, a backlog that is certain to grow unless action is taken to address some of the basic underlying problems. This is the objective of Bill C-37.

The proposed legislation would expedite and facilitate the additions to reserves process in two ways: first, by authorizing the minister rather than the governor in council to confer reserve status on lands and, second, by introducing new and better ways to accommodate third party interests in lands that are being converted to reserve status under claim settlements in Alberta and Saskatchewan.

I would like to consider three ways in which these elements of the bill would encourage economic activity in reserve communities. First and foremost, the proposed legislation would demonstrate to investors and others who engage in activities on lands proposed for reserve status that transactions can be concluded with greater predictability for both the first nation and third parties.

Hon. members can appreciate that certainty and stability are prerequisites for economic development. Regardless of whether an activity would be taking place in a reserve community or in downtown Edmonton or Regina, Bill C-37 would provide businesses and investors in Alberta and Saskatchewan with certainty of tenure for any third party interest they might hold in lands to be added to a reserve. It would also provide the certainty businesses need to negotiate new commercial arrangements with first nations communities.

Equally important is that the changes proposed in Bill C-37 would significantly reduce the amount of time needed to process lands into reserve status. Dealing with third party interests under the current process is problematic and time consuming. Sometimes it takes up to two years or more. This would all change if Bill C-37 becomes law. Because lands would be selected and added to reserves more quickly, the lands themselves and the revenues generated from any third party interests preserved on them would contribute to more immediate economic and social progress in the community. In fact, the pre-designation powers included in Bill C-37 would allow first nations to begin to enjoy these economic rewards even before the selected lands have been granted reserve status.

Finally, I support the bill 100% because making the accommodation of third party interests easier would give first nations access to a broader range of land that has development interests or potential. I think the member from one of the opposition parties mentioned that positive point.

In other words, these changes would facilitate the selection by first nations of commercially viable lands rather than lands that are simply unencumbered by existing interests. As first nations acquire better lands we can expect to see increased economic activity in these communities.

Although this proposed legislation may appear to be minor in the overall scheme of government activities, I do not think we should underestimate its impact. The vast majority of land selections under claim settlements in Alberta and Saskatchewan would be affected by one or more third party interests, whether that be a right of way for an access road, resource rights or a leasehold. Bill C-37 would have the potential to come into play for virtually every one of these claims. With the likelihood of even more settlements in the years ahead, the legislation's importance to the additions to reserve process in Alberta and Saskatchewan would only increase over time.

Obviously I am very supportive of the proposed legislation. I believe Bill C-37 would contribute to improved quality of life in first nations communities throughout Alberta and Saskatchewan. It would contribute to a growing economic base to support first nations self-government and it would help first nations communities further distance themselves from economic dependency on government.

Bill C-37 is yet another step the government is taking to live up to its commitments in “Gathering Strength”, including our commitment to support strong communities, people and economies. It is another step toward a better future for aboriginal people in Canada.

With these important benefits in mind, I would encourage hon. members to support the proposed legislation so it can proceed quickly through the House and to the other place.

Claim Settlements (Alberta and Saskatchewan) Implementation ActGovernment Orders

1:35 p.m.

Liberal

Murray Calder Liberal Dufferin—Peel—Wellington—Grey, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened with a lot of interest to the speech of the member for Yukon and would like to tell him that in the past I have had a chance to work with the minister of Indian affairs. In 1995 we worked on the privatization of CN, so I see a lot of good things in Bill C-37 right now, having worked with the minister previously.

I would like the member to explain some points to me. In Bill C-37 I see basically a lot of components of the Manitoba land claims act and settlement. I would like him to explain to me what he would like to see when the bill goes to committee. There are some strong points in the bill. Could he highlight what points he would like to see drawn out in committee immediately to go along on this deal making process he was talking about?

Claim Settlements (Alberta and Saskatchewan) Implementation ActGovernment Orders

1:35 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, as a new member, I would like to know is why this particular member always asks me questions. I remember the first time I made a speech he asked me a question about farming and I am probably the least likely riding in the country to have farms. I thought he was on my side but this is a particularly good question.

I hope I have answered most of the questions that the opposition parties brought up. They made some good points. They supported things and brought up some concerns. I tried to elaborate on those points and I am anticipating that the bill will go through committee very quickly, especially since I happen to be on that committee. We are dealing with a number of other serious issues and complicated bills some of which are coming from my riding in the Yukon.

The most important point for people to understand is that because the land will be transferred to a reserve there could be economic considerations. As all the parties have said, it will be very beneficial for first nations. Hopefully most of this land has some good economic potential. Rather than waiting for the long protracted process of getting approval to do things and getting the certainty for the land, the businesses and the first nations can start right away and keep it economic.

That will help both the business and the first nations. From the first nations’ side, this land is in limbo because of all sorts of bureaucratic steps. For the businesses, especially if they already have interests on that land, they can continue to get quick revenue from that land without an interruption and without the uncertainty. They will just have a new landlord and they can continue to take in funds.

I hope it is brought up in that context as sort of an administrative bill but it has some very sweeping benefits that are so needed to develop the economies of first nations.

Claim Settlements (Alberta and Saskatchewan) Implementation ActGovernment Orders

1:35 p.m.

Oxford Ontario

Liberal

John Finlay LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Mr. Speaker, I rise to address the House on Bill C-37, the claim settlements (Alberta and Saskatchewan) implementation act.

I join the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development in urging hon. members to recognize the merits of the legislation and to help us move it quickly through the legislative process. As the hon. member for Yukon mentioned, that means the committee. We are looking forward to getting it as soon as possible.

I, too, feel that it is an essential bill that would help very much in the recognition and respect for which our native people are looking and also in the economic development in which they want to partake.

As the minister made clear this morning, the bill addresses a number of commitments and goals consistent with the government's aboriginal agenda. It would affirm and honour treaties which are a cornerstone of Canada's relationships with aboriginal people. It would help foster economic development in first nations communities throughout Alberta and Saskatchewan so that the communities can become more self-sufficient and sustainable.

Mr. Speaker, there are a number of areas in your riding and mine, and in the ridings of many members on both sides of the House, that would benefit from extension of the act to all provinces. That may be something we will see within a short space of time.

It would facilitate the process by which Canada is living up to its commitments to the first nations people. It would accomplish all this primarily by ensuring that better means exist to recognize and accommodate third party interests in lands selected for additions to reserves in Alberta and Saskatchewan. In other words, the powers being accorded first nations under the proposed legislation do not come at the expense of any individual, business, institution or government, and that is often the sticking point in some of our negotiations.

In fact, the opposite is true. Bill C-37 would provide the certainty of tenure that third parties with existing interests need. The minister has stated that this is truly a win-win situation for the current backlog of current reserve expansion commitments in Alberta and Saskatchewan. At the present time there is close to a million hectares, which is 2.5 million acres, of land being considered for this very purpose.

It is a good solution for first nations because the pre-reserve designation and permit granting powers provided for under the legislation would allow them to select and acquire the best lands available, regardless of encumbrances, instead of taking what is left over and the worst lands available.

First nations would be able to enter into better agreements with third parties and more quickly which means that the economic benefits of land ownership will flow to communities sooner rather than later.

However, developers, investors and others who have third party interests in lands selected by first nations to fulfill a treaty land entitlement or specific claims agreement, would also benefit from the commercial certainty provided by Bill C-37.

I want to focus on the issue of accommodating third party interests for two reasons: first, it has been the main stumbling block to moving more quickly in meeting Canada's reserve expansion commitments in Alberta and Saskatchewan; and second, I know the protection of third party interests is an important consideration for hon. members on all sides of the House.

The minister has advised us that Canada currently has a commitment to add a million hectares. More such commitments will be made as additional claims are settled.

Land to fulfill these commitments is typically contributed from unoccupied federal or provincial crown lands. Alternatively the land may be purchased by the first nations on a willing seller, willing buyer basis. Herein lies the problem: the vast majority of land being selected by first nations for additions to reserves has existing third party interest.

These interests may range from rights of way and hydro line easements to mineral permits and leases, timber licences, commercial and residential leaseholds for tourism, recreation, vacations, et cetera.

Regardless of the nature of the interest, it must be accommodating in some way that is satisfactory to all parties: Canada, the first nation and the interest holder. This is one of the key issues that must be addressed under the federal additions to reserves process.

Unfortunately, as we have heard already, with the exception of the recently enacted Manitoba Claim Settlements Implementation Act and the 1993 Saskatchewan Treaty Land Entitlement Act, existing federal laws were not designed with the requirements of the additions to reserves process in mind. In other words, they are not geared to accommodate third party interest in a way that is either commercially certain or commercially expeditious.

Under the current provisions of the Indian Act, for example, a first nation can only consent to the creation of interest on reserve land if the land is already part of the reserve. This does not include land that is being merely proposed for reserve status. Of course first nations, like any land owner, can grant leases on land they own privately, but if a first nation wanted to transfer such land to Canada to be made into a reserve, any third party interests on the land could not legally be carried forward. They would have to be terminated and then reinstituted.

Land must exist as reserve land before leases or any other third party interests can be voted on by the membership of the first nation.

What this means is that a third party must surrender its interest in land, even if only temporarily, before the land can be added to a reserve. In exchange, the first nation at present is only able to offer the promise or undertaking that it will vote to re-grant that interest once the reserve is created. At the snail's pace that some negotiations move, that could be a long wait and someone might lose interest.

Most interest holders are understandably reluctant to do this because it puts their future rights at risk. As a result, the addition to reserve may be effectively stalemated and the affected first nation may have to abandon its preferred choice of land and accept land that has far less development potential.

Manitoba first nations have been released from this cumbersome process under the Manitoba Claim Settlements Implementation Act, providing the additions to reserves commitment arises out of a land claim settlement. The situation has also been addressed to some extent in Saskatchewan where the Saskatchewan Treaty Land Entitlement Act of 1993 allows first nations to consent to the granting of interest on lands that do not yet have reserve status.

However experience since 1993 has taught us that this power under the Saskatchewan Treaty Land Entitlement Act has not proven as advantageous as it could have been since it is limited to the granting of existing interest. It can only be used in treaty land entitlement situations, not in specific claim situations, and it can be only used when the first nation has already purchased the land.

Such limitations have been avoided in the wording of both the Manitoba Claim Settlements Implementation Act and the provisions of the present bill.

Bill C-37 would essentially extend the pre-designation powers now available in Manitoba to first nations in Alberta and Saskatchewan. Under this proposed legislation, a first nation will be able to consent to a third party land interest either existing or new during the reserve expansion process and indeed even before purchasing the land itself. In this way first nations will be free to then purchase the land knowing the encumbrances have been settled in advance and where they will not present a hurdle to reserve designation.

To achieve this, Bill C-37 borrows from a variety of existing federal legal mechanisms for granting third party interests but adjusts each in minor ways to facilitate their use when applied to additions to reserves. The effect will be to provide first nations and third parties with commercial certainty in their deal making while land is being processed as reserve land.

This new approach will help avoid situations where the first nation is forced to negotiate the buy-out and closure of an ongoing viable operation simply to clear the land of encumbrances, thereby forgoing any future revenues that might have been derived in terms of royalties or rents, or the holder of that third party interest is asked to risk temporarily surrendering that interest while a parcel of land is being processed into reserve status.

The bill will give developers and investors, both existing and potential, the assurances they need to enter into agreements with first nations. At the end of the day, both parties, the first nations community and the holder of the interest, will benefit from these business arrangements.

Hon. members can appreciate that these proposed changes are designed to make the additions to reserves process as smooth and simple as possible for all parties in Alberta and Saskatchewan. Bill C-37 will put real estate transactions related to reserve expansions on a level playing field with non-reserve transactions in these two provinces. At the same time it will provide clear-cut legal mechanisms for protecting third party interests in land selected for addition to a reserve.

Having said that, it is important to acknowledge that the first nations with claim settlement agreements in Alberta and Saskatchewan will not automatically be bound by this new legislation. First nations will have complete flexibility in deciding whether to opt into these provisions.

I assure hon. members that Bill C-37 will not impose any additional restrictions or requirements on land owners or third party interest holders. No land owner will be forced to sell property to a first nation to fulfill a claims settlement agreement nor will a third party interest holder be forced to enter into agreements with first nations. Both these types of transactions will continue to take place on the basis of a willing buyer and a willing seller. The bill simply allows agreements to be put in place where both parties desire it.

This is clearly a good piece of legislation. It will protect third parties while giving way for new partnerships with aboriginal communities. It deserves the support of hon. members and I urge them to join me in voting to send Bill C-37 to committee for review.