Debates of Nov. 5th, 2001
House of Commons Hansard #109 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was wto.
- Independence of the RCMP
- Yukon Act
- Infrastructure program
- Mike Weir
- The Environment
- Willard MacPhail
- Humanities and Social Sciences
- Airport Security
- Quebec Municipal Elections
- Foreign Missions and International Organizations Act
- Science and Engineering
- World Trade Organization
- University Football
- Veterans Week
- National Security
- Foreign Affairs
- Public Works and Government Services
- Employment Insurance
- Canadian Economy
- The Economy
- Anti-Terrorism Act
- Depleted Uranium
- Softwood Lumber
- Public Works
- Lumber Industry
- G-8 Summit
- Publishing Industry
- International Trade
- Lumber Industry
- The Budget
- World March of Women
- Presence in Gallery
- Government Response to Petitions
- Vimy Ridge Day Act
- Income Tax Act
- Questions on the Order Paper
- Question No. 65—
- Business of the House
- World Trade Organization
Independence of the RCMP
Private Members’ Business
Pierrette Venne Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC
That, in the opinion of this House, the government should, pursuant to recommendation 31.3.1 of the interim report of the RCMP Public Complaints Commission on the events that took place during the APEC conference, set out in writing the nature and scope of the RCMP's independence in its relations with the government.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to begin this hour of debate on Motion No. 391, which I presented.
While the September 11 events did have a significant impact on the business of the House since the reopening of parliament, the fact remains that even if certain issues have lost some of their priority, they remain as important as they were before September 11.
All the questions relating to interference by the Prime Minister's entourage in RCMP operations during the APEC conference are among these issues. First, since the events that triggered the motion before us occurred over four years ago, I will briefly review the facts.
From November 19 to November 25, 1997, the city of Vancouver hosted the APEC conference. During that event, which was attended by officials from various regions of Asia, the RCMP was the police force responsible for security. That essentially meant ensuring the security of 75 persons, including 12 who required a maximum level of protection.
During the last day of the summit, when conference participants were at a retreat at the Museum of Anthropology, located on the campus of the University of British Columbia, students and others voiced their opposition to the political systems of certain APEC members.
The events that followed and involved protesters and RCMP officers resulted in the filing of 52 formal complaints against the actions of these officers. These 52 complaints were grouped into 17 categories reflecting as many situations and events.
On December 9, 1997, the chair of the RCMP public complaints commission launched an investigation into these complaints. Following that investigation, a panel made up of three members was established on February 20, 1998, to hear the complaints. The hearings began on April 14, 1998 and ended in December of the same year, following the resignation of its members.
On December 21, former justice Ted Hughes was appointed interim commissioner to head an inquiry, which ended in the presentation on July 31 of an interim report of 453 pages plus appendices.
I must criticize the fact that, three months after its release, the report is still unavailable in French. Once again the government is failing to comply with its own laws.
Since the production of the report, apart from the fact that the RCMP, through Commissioner Zaccardelli, has publicly admitted its responsibility, the Hughes report has practically fallen into oblivion.
The terrorist attacks against the United States on September 11 have certainly not helped. However they must not serve as a pretext for the government to avoid matters that might embarrass it.
Given the excessive powers that could be given to the police under the bill, it is all the more important to set out the nature of the relations between the RCMP and the government, if it is to avoid finding itself in hot water once again.
In addition, it is useful to point out that the RCMP's mea culpa was expressed four years after the events in question, and the recognition of its errors has cost the taxpayers nearly $10 million.
The point of this motion is therefore to provide for the codification of police independence in order to set standards for the RCMP's relations with the government.
Despite the fact that this motion will likely never be acted on, for reasons I will explain later, we hope that it will, at least, ensure that the report does not end up forgotten on a shelf under a pile of dust, something that is too often the case for reports criticizing the activities of the government.
To get right to the heart of the matter, let us start with subsection 5(1) of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Act, which provides, and I quote:
The Governor in Council may appoint an officer, to be known as the Commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, who, under the direction of the Minister, has the control and management of the Force and all matters connected therewith.
We see immediately from this that the RCMP is not totally independent from the government. Despite the legislative power the solicitor general retains over the force, the RCMP in fact enjoys substantial independence under common law.
At this point, what appears at first to constitute a conflict with the principle of independence does not in actual fact cause a problem. On the one hand, unless it should become a private police force, which is most certainly not what we want, the RCMP cannot exist independently of a connection with the government. Hence the necessity that it be under the auspices of a department, in this case the department of the solicitor general.
As Commissioner Hughes states in his report, even if the nature and scope of the independence of the RCMP has no clearly defined basis in legislation, the existence of that independence is acknowledged. In a supreme court judgment, Regina v Campbell, it was clearly established that, when its actions are aimed at enforcing the law or carried out within the framework of a criminal investigation, the RCMP is generally totally independent of the executive power.
In this connection, the following is an excerpt from Justice Binnie's decision:
While for certain purposes the Commissioner of the RCMP reports to the Solicitor General, the Commissioner is not to be considered a servant or agent of the government while engaged in a criminal investigation. The Commissioner is not subject to political direction. Like every other police officer similarly engaged, he is answerable to the law and, no doubt, to his conscience.
As far as the law is concerned, we agree with the judge. As far as conscience is concerned however, I prefer to abstain from an opinion. Regardless, along the same lines, in a reference to the Commissioner of Police in R. v Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Ex parte Blackburn, in 1968, Lord Denning stated as follows:
He must decide whether or not suspected persons are to be prosecuted; and, if need be, bring the prosecution or see that it is brought; but in all these things he is not the servant of anyone, save of the law itself. No Minister of the Crown can tell him that he must, or must not, keep observation on this place or that; or that he must, or must not, prosecute this man or that one. Nor can any police authority tell him so. The responsibility for law enforcement lies on him. He is answerable to the law and to the law alone.
Once the premises have been established, the following holds. First, the government must not under any consideration exercise direct authority over the RCMP when it is carrying out its mandate of law enforcement. Second, the RCMP must be accountable.
We can see that despite all of its independence, the RCMP remains dependent on the government to some degree. It must maintain some sort of contact with the government. This is where things get more complex because, while everyone agrees on the issue of independence, there is no consensus when it comes time to define what constitutes an appropriate relationship between government and the RCMP, both in academic terms and legal terms.
Keeping in mind that a state expresses its power of persuasion over its citizens through police authority, it is in the public's interest to ensure that no government be able to interfere in the business of the RCMP. Let us not forget that we live in a constitutional state. If we allow the government to interfere in federal policing activities whenever it sees fit, this constitutional state will give way to a police state.
Conversely, the situation would be just as bad if we gave carte blanche to the RCMP without requiring it to be accountable. In this case, we are talking about the state exercising control, not influence, as was the case with APEC. No matter how we look at it, it is both inevitable and necessary that the state and the RCMP maintain some sort of link.
If we consider all of this as it applies specifically to the APEC events, clearly, the government's intervention, or rather, interference according to the Hughes report, was inappropriate. Obviously the RCMP was not present in Vancouver as a part of its mandate to fight crime. Its mandate was limited to providing security for an international events. In order to carry out this mandate, it had to work in close co-operation with government officials. However, this co-operation should have been based on security considerations, rather than political interests. Unfortunately, we now know that this was not the case. We now know that the problem with the involvement of the RCMP at the conference occurred at two levels.
First, as Commissioner Hughes points out, the performance of the RCMP was noteworthy for its glaring lack of professionalism and standards of acceptable competencies.
He felt that there were two reasons for this: a failure to co-ordinate planning and operations, and an inability to anticipate events.
In addition, in his final remarks, he mentioned that the conduct of the police was inappropriate in the circumstances and completely contrary to the charter. This alone is extremely troubling and worthy of attention. Worst of all is the possibility that political interference may have been one of the causes of this mess.
In his report, the commissioner emphasized that he did not agree with the contention of counsel for the complainants that, in ensuring the personal attendance of Indonesian President Suharto, the government would have taken care to see that he was not embarrassed. Hence the premature takeover of the Museum of Anthropology, the extent of the security perimeter and the noise-free zone.
Questions still remain. Even if the action taken was not related solely to preparations for President Suharto's visit, the commissioner still concluded that demonstrators' rights were violated by the intervention of Jean Carle who, as director of operations in the PMO, also served as liaison between the PMO and the RCMP.
Whatever the reasoning, the result was the same: Carle's interventions had the same repercussions as what could be described as interference in RCMP security operations.
Even at that, certain doubts remain because, when describing the reasoning behind Carle's actions and, therefore, those of the government, Commissioner Hughes used the phrase “I do believe”, which is a very subjective way of putting things. In short, the second observation can only be that the RCMP violated charter rights, following government interference.
That having been said, it is vital that the government set out in writing the nature of its relations with the RCMP. This morning, the Bloc Quebecois is calling on it to comply fully with recommendation 31.3.1 of the interim report of the RCMP Public Complaints Commission on the events that took place during the APEC conference. This recommendation reads as follows:
The RCMP should request statutory codification of the nature and extent of police independence from government with respect to:
existing common law principles regarding law enforcement; and
the provision of and responsibility for delivery of security services at public order events.
Above all, and in the circumstances, the RCMP must be accountable under law and it is with this in mind that we are putting forward this motion, which is fully consistent with this principle.
Since the next G-8 summit will be held in Kananaskis, Alberta, from June 26 to June 28, 2002, it is vital that the government comply with recommendation 31.3.1, as formulated, of the Hughes report.
Independence of the RCMP
Private Members’ Business
Stephen Owen Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to respond on behalf of the Government of Canada to the motion brought forward by the hon. member for Saint-Bruno--Saint-Hubert concerning recommendation 31.3.1 of the APEC interim report of the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP.
It is extremely important to underline the fact that this is an interim report and therefore an interim recommendation that we are considering.
Before commencing on the particulars of the motion, I would like to remind the members of the House that this is just one among several recommendations set out in the interim report. That report also represents just one stage in the civilian oversight process for dealing with public complaints about the RCMP.
What is the civilian oversight process for the RCMP and does the House play a role in it? Let me begin by answering the first part of the question.
The Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP was created by parliament in 1986. It is a fair, impartial civilian board designed to act in the public interest. The commission is mandated to conduct independent inquiries into complaints about the RCMP and to reach objective conclusions based on available information.
Does the House play a role in the oversight process? In responding to the second part of the question, let me quote the chair of the commission, Shirley Heafey, from the commissioner's last annual report. She stated:
In creating this Commission, Parliament acknowledged the need for a fair, impartial and independent agency that would ensure that the rights of both complainants and RCMP members are respected.
She further stated that the process “must maintain the confidence of the public, members of the RCMP and parliament and reflect a clear understanding of the diversity and complexity of Canadian society”. In short, the commission's work must be unfettered by government interference if it is to meet the very purpose to which was created.
To ensure the impartiality of this commission, it is incumbent upon all members of the House to allow the commission to complete its investigation into the APEC complaints. To date, Mr. Hughes has released his interim report and the RCMP commissioner has responded to it. However the process is not yet finished. It is now up to the chair of the commission to consider both the documents and compile her final report with final findings and recommendations.
Civilian oversight is an essential safeguard in ensuring the integrity of the police. There are times when police must take necessary measures to apprehend criminals to ensure public safety. There are also times when police conduct is called into question. The freedom to question any perceived wrongdoing is fundamental to a law enforcement system that reflects and protects our core values of freedom, democracy and equality.
Police work must therefore be transparent and the police must be held accountable. That is why it is essential that we respect the independent civilian review process that is currently under way.
I believe that we can be assured of this independence through the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP. The commission has 13 years of experience with a solid record for just and thorough deliberations. The government is confident that the commission will diligently review all the information brought before it to date and complete a fair and comprehensive final report.
It would therefore be both premature and improper for the House to endorse this motion because it pre-empts the conclusions of the commission chair. The commission must be given the opportunity to complete its work by using the process put in place by parliament.
The government acknowledges that the APEC public interest hearing is the longest and most complex in the commission's history, but that is why the commission must have the time it needs to thoroughly assess the complex issues before it. Let us not second guess the final recommendations. Let us allow the chair to complete this legitimate independent process and convey her recommendations.
I would now like to comment briefly on the substance of the motion which calls upon the government to set out in writing the nature and scope of the RCMP's independence in its relations with the government.
In his interim report Mr. Hughes recommended that this independence be reflected in statute. He also proposed five principles concerning the RCMP's independence from government. These principles recognize the RCMP's complete independence from government when it is performing law enforcement functions and its accountability to government when performing other functions unrelated to criminal investigations. They also emphasize the RCMP's accountability to the law and the courts in all situations and the RCMP's responsibility for weighing security requirements against the charter rights of citizens.
Who would disagree with any of these principles? In his public response to the interim report of Mr. Hughes, RCMP Commissioner Zaccardelli announced that these principles would form the basis for a clear national policy statement. Commissioner Zaccardelli gave the assurance that:
All members of the RCMP, particularly those involved in the delivery of security arrangements at major public order events, will be expected to have a clear and thorough understanding of this issue.
I commend the commissioner for taking this step. It will be particularly timely as the RCMP prepares the security arrangements for next year's G-8 summit in Kananaskis.
In conclusion, let me repeat that it would be improper for the House to endorse the motion. It is the role of the commission chair to consider both the interim report and the response of Commissioner Zaccardelli. The commission represents the public interests by ensuring that the issues raised from all sides are considered fairly and answered fully. This process should unfold without any influence by parliament. Let us support the civilian oversight process as parliament had intended by giving the chair the opportunity to make her final recommendations.
Independence of the RCMP
Private Members’ Business
Kevin Sorenson Crowfoot, AB
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to participate in the debate on private member's Motion No. 391. I thank and commend the hon. member for bringing this motion to the House. To date the government has escaped criticism or questioning regarding the report released by Judge Ted Hughes.
Conveniently for the Liberal government, parliament was recessed when the findings and recommendations were released following the public hearings regarding complaints against the RCMP. Since the House resumed sitting on September 17, we have been preoccupied, and rightfully so, with the horrific events of September 11.
The unprecedented attack on America, and terrorism in general, has caught the attention of this country and the world. Canadians are anxious about the safety and security of our country and its people. They are concerned about the well-being of our friends and neighbours to the south as well. Therefore, all our efforts in the last two months have been focused on appeasing these concerns.
Despite this preoccupation, it is important that we address the issues raised by the Hughes report and discuss his many recommendations. Again, I commend the member for Saint-Bruno--Saint-Hubert, Quebec for providing this opportunity. It was a pleasure for me to second this motion.
If enacted, the motion before us today would have the government set out in writing the nature and the scope of the independence of the RCMP in its relation with the federal government, as recommended by Judge Hughes.
In his report Hughes concluded that the federal role at APEC was improper and that the RCMP succumbing to government influence was not appropriate. Therefore, Hughes recommended that the federal government bring in legislation to spell out the RCMP's independence from government interference.
In section 10 of his report, Hughes said that currently the nature and extent of police independence is not clearly defined in Canadian law. Furthermore, he stated “there is no consensus, either in academic writing or in judicial decisions, as to what is the proper relationship between the federal government and the RCMP although it is generally agreed that the RCMP does enjoy a measure of independence”.
In fact, Hughes believes that the RCMP Act suggests that the force is not entirely independent of the government by stipulating that the commissioner of the RCMP is appointed by cabinet and controls the force under the direction of the solicitor general. Indeed, the commissioner of the RCMP is a deputy minister in this cabinet serving under the solicitor general.
After reviewing the English approach and the supreme court decision in R. v Campbell, Hughes stated “it is clearly unacceptable for the federal government to have the authority to direct the RCMP's law enforcement activities, telling it who to investigate, arrest and prosecute or other purposes. At the same time, it is equally unacceptable for the RCMP to be completely independent and unaccountable, to become a law unto themselves”.
Based on this conclusion, Hughes recommended, under recommendation 31.3.1 of his report, that the RCMP request a statutory codification of the nature and extent of police independence from government with respect to two areas: first, existing common law principles regarding law enforcement; and, second, the provision of and responsibility for delivery of security services at public order events.
Responding to the Hughes report, RCMP Commissioner Zaccardelli dismissed this key recommendation saying that there was no need in his opinion for statutory recognition of police independence. To date the government has not embraced the recommendations, although it has accepted and is attempting to enact the second part of the Hughes report under Bill C-35.
Canadians must have confidence that the RCMP can do its job. That includes doing its job in respect to investigating the government in suspected cases of wrongdoing without the fear of there being reprisals or interference.
Canadians must also be confident that the commissioner of the RCMP, although a high ranking public servant, is not and does not simply become a puppet of the current government supporting its policies and programs even when it may be detrimental to our national police force and to the very frontline police officers.
A couple of weeks ago Commissioner Zaccardelli appeared before the justice committee as a witness in regard to Bill C-36. During his testimony and subsequent questioning Mr. Zaccardelli said:
Obviously, we are very pleased with the resources we have been given by the government. This is not just with respect to the terrorist activities--
The commissioner went on to say:
Could I use more? Yes, I could. The government, as I said, has been very responsive to our needs as we deal with this.
In direct contradiction to Commissioner Zaccardelli, the Canadian Police Association which represents 30,000 officers across Canada including some RCMP officers told the justice committee that the $9 million recently given to the RCMP as part of the government's anti-terrorism initiative was not enough to meet the exceptional demands placed on the Mounties since the September 11 attack.
The $9 million would only allow the RCMP to hire 72 new recruits as 2,000 officers are pulled off priority organized crime cases and frontline community policing duties.
While the commissioner said the RCMP could always use more staff, Michael Niebudek, Canadian Police Association vice-president, told us there clearly is a staffing shortage. He says there are insufficient resources for the RCMP to work on both terrorism and organized crime investigations and that the RCMP has shelved important organized crime work across Canada. Mr. Niebudek said:
Under this flavour of the month approach, enforcement resources are allocated based on shifting political priorities. We have been robbing Peter to pay Paul, and the shell game has to stop.
While the commissioner praised the government and said it had been responsive to RCMP needs, Mr. Niebudek said the government must move swiftly to repair gaping holes in Canada's security and enforcement capabilities.
In response to Mr. Niebudek's comments the solicitor general denied the RCMP was unable to do its job properly because it lacked money and staff. According to an article in last week’s National Post the solicitor general said:
What I've received from the RCMP Commissioner is that they are certainly able to fulfill their mandate.
While the top police bureaucrat and his boss say one thing, our frontline officers are saying something quite different. Clearly Mr. Zaccardelli is supporting or siding with the federal government when he should be supporting his frontline officers and defending the safety and security of our country's citizens.
It was only this spring that we brought witnesses to the justice committee in regard to a bill dealing with organized crime. We understood the severity of organized crime in Canada. We should not be shelving or putting on a back burner investigations that may lead to the apprehension of organized criminals, drug traffickers and other like-minded criminals.
We have a war on terrorism, unquestionably. However we have a war on organized crime as well. This war is a concern and it is bringing down our society as we see it. For the commissioner of the RCMP to be taking people off the organized crime file is irresponsible.
The commissioner of the RCMP should be fighting for the necessary resources so the RCMP can effectively meet the demands being placed on it because of the September 11 attack. For Mr. Zaccardelli to be doing otherwise and accepting the pittance provided to the force by the federal government demonstrates that he is a puppet of the solicitor general. This must be changed.
RCMP independence from the government must be statutorily codified as recommended by Judge Hughes. I therefore support private member's Motion No. 391.
Independence of the RCMP
Private Members’ Business
Dick Proctor Palliser, SK
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in the debate on this private member's motion. I congratulate the member from the Bloc for her initiative in the matter. I associate myself with the remarks not only of the hon. Bloc member but of the previous speaker in fully supporting the motion.
I will use my few minutes today to focus on three aspects: first, the findings of Commissioner Ted Hughes; second, the response of RCMP Commissioner Zaccardelli; and third, what the RCMP has or has not learned as a result of the Hughes inquiry.
I have read the final report of the Hughes inquiry. It is clear that Commissioner Hughes pointed some pretty blunt fingers not only at the RCMP but at government officials. For the record I will go through some of those.
Mr. Hughes acknowledged in his closing observations that many of the examples of substandard performance reflected failures in the planning process. I will not go into detail but he referred to briefings and late buses at the UBC campus on November 25, 1997.
Referring to the open space in front of Green College, Hughes said there was a:
—failure to realize that the grounds of Green College located outside the secure zone were an obvious gathering place for those residents of Green College who had previously indicated a desire to protest, with the result that no contingency plans were in place to address the presence of protesters at that location.
Regarding the march to the fence which we kept seeing over and over on television, Mr. Hughes said there was a:
—failure to have anyone in a command role at the well publicized noon rally who was aware of the protesters' planned civil disobedience and was in a position to realistically evaluate late-breaking information of dubious credibility about the expected actions of the protesters.
I find this particularly significant. Mr. Hughes said:
My inability to determine who made the all important decision to allow protesters to have unobstructed access to the security fence tells a great deal about the state of readiness of the police to meet the challenges of the day. I will always believe that, but for that decision, based on dubious information, the events on campus from noon until 4.30 that afternoon may well have been non-violent throughout, though boisterous, noisy and challenging for the police. It was the violence that broke out at the flagpole at noon that set the stage for many of the subsequent events that unfolded over the remainder of the afternoon.
There are also references to the blockage of exit routes, the involvement of local RCMP detachments and the arrest of Jaggi Singh. Here Mr. Hughes said:
Had the UBC Detachment been properly integrated into the security planning process, I believe that Mr. Singh would not have been arrested on November 24 or at any other time for the November 7 megaphone incident. Had the UBC Detachment been required to consult on its plan to eliminate Mr. Singh from campus on November 25 with wise and seasoned heads with full knowledge of the background of the leaders' meeting, I believe that the plan would never have been implemented.
Similarly regarding the arrest of Mark Brooks, another frontline protester, Commissioner Ted Hughes said:
This was a precipitous arrest made in an atmosphere of crisis, directly attributable to the chaos that resulted from inadequate police planning to ensure the orderly and safe exit of the world leaders.
There were also negative references to the strip searching of all female protesters at the Richmond cells. Mr. Hughes was very condemnatory of the RCMP or police action at that time.
Mr. Hughes identified two areas where he believed the federal government acted improperly. The first was the removal of tenters from the grounds of the Museum of Anthropology that has been alluded to earlier. Mr. Hughes wrote:
I am satisfied that it was because of the government's intervention that the tenters were removed that evening. Were it not for that involvement, the contrary view of Site Commander Thompsett would have prevailed. As it happened, his view did not carry the day because of the acquiescence of other RCMP personnel, principally Supt. May, who had succumbed to government influence and intrusion in an area where such influence and intrusion were inappropriate.
Mr. Hughes was critical of the improper and inappropriate level of federal government involvement in the RCMP's provision of security with respect to the size of the demonstration area adjacent to the law school. He noted that the government's efforts did not prevail due to the intervention of others such as Site Commander Thompsett on behalf of the protesters. Had those intervenors not prevailed Mr. Hughes noted that the security challenges the RCMP faced on November 25 may well have increased.
In his final comments Mr. Hughes said:
It is inescapable that in most instances where I have found police conduct to have been either inappropriate to the circumstances of inconsistent with charter rights, the primary responsibility rests with those who held key offices in security planning for the APEC conference. That may go to the highest level of RCMP headquarters in Ottawa. This seems to have been the source of approval, if not direction, that security services on November 25 would be delivered by officers who were, at best, on the periphery of the two year planning process, while those intimately involved in that process were out of command from the moment the APEC conference opened.
Regarding gate 6, Staff Sergeant Stewart and the incident involving pepper spray, Commissioner Hughes wrote:
I feel very much the same way about the involvement of Staff Sergeant Stewart and those on site with him at Gate 6. He never should have been placed in the position of having four minutes to clear the road. Given the pressure he was put under, he made some unfortunate decisions but far more culpable, in my view, are those in positions of responsibility who allowed the Gate 6 events to develop and unfold as they did.
We need to point that out in the context of the former solicitor general's remarks in an unguarded moment a few years ago. In reference to Staff Sergeant Stewart he said “Hughie may be the guy who takes the fall”. It is pretty clear from the report of the commissioner that this goes right to the top in Ottawa. Staff Sergeant Stewart should never have had to take the fall. Nor has he as a result of the Hughes report.
I think Commissioner Zaccardelli is supportive of the report although, as has been noted earlier, he does not agree with Ted Hughes that there is a need for statutory codification. That is perhaps shortsighted on the part of the commissioner of the RCMP.
Commissioner Zaccardelli said a co-operative relationship between the police and peaceful protestors is essential. I would challenge Commissioner Zaccardelli and the current solicitor general to take that comment in the context of what happened in Quebec City several years after the APEC inquiry. They should tell that to the mostly young people who were detained arbitrarily for several days before either being charged or sent on their way.
Three young people from my riding of Palliser were in Quebec City. They insist they were doing absolutely nothing wrong. They were sitting on the grounds outside the perimeter fence and security area when they were arrested by the police.
Our caucus in its entirety was in Quebec City. We saw tens of thousands of peaceful protestors. Yes, we acknowledge that some were bent on violence and disorder. However the overwhelming percentage of people were there to protest a cause they felt strongly about. I am concerned that the RCMP learned virtually nothing from its APEC actions.
They will not follow through with the security at APEC because of the flaws that have been identified by Hughes and others but they have stepped up security a lot more. We have seen that with whatever WTO protest is involved. This is all even before Bill C-36, the bill on anti-terrorism.
Independence of the RCMP
Private Members’ Business
Jay Hill Prince George—Peace River, BC
Mr. Speaker, like it is for my colleagues on both sides of the House, it is a pleasure for me this morning to address Motion No. 391 put forward by my hon. colleague from Saint-Bruno--Saint-Hubert. As was noted the motion would set out in writing the independence of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police regarding its relationship to the government.
It has been four years since the riotous Asia-Pacific economic conference was held in Vancouver, an event that will forever be a black mark on the way our government interacts with our national police force. Despite the conclusion of a formal inquiry and various legal challenges, little has been done to change the intimate relationship between the RCMP and the government. In fact every effort seems to have been made to maintain the status quo.
It would be reasonable to expect that in a country such as ours there would be a very clear delineation between our politicians and our national police force. Therefore it would be unreasonable, one would assume, for a developed country to have its national police force influenced or controlled by elected politicians.
Likewise one would expect that in a developed country the rules regarding the control, interaction and scope of authority for the national police would be enshrined in legislation strong enough to prevent any future government from an abuse of power. Were this the case in Canada, we would not be having this debate.
The RCMP has earned a reputation as one of the finest policing agencies in the world. The men and women who wear the red serge do so with pride, and their professionalism and integrity serve as an example to all Canadians. This is a national institution that Canada should be striving to protect, not undermine.
As the national police force the RCMP will undertake duties within its scope and mandate. To enable it to do so effectively the mandate must be free from political interference. Regrettably the present accountability structure does not allow for this. The inherent difficulty in the accountability structure of the RCMP is that the commissioner reports to a single minister rather than to cabinet or to an oversight committee. It is here that we have a clashing of ideologies.
The commissioner of the RCMP is focused on law enforcement and national security, the core principles of any police agency. The minister, on the other hand, as an elected official is quite naturally concerned with re-election as well as the political impact the actions of agencies within his portfolio may have on the popularity of his party.
The introduction of politics is an intolerable situation. Any time the RCMP has to weigh the political impact of any decision it is called upon to make, its ability to do its job is undermined.
There are also reasonable concerns regarding the misdirection of the RCMP by the minister responsible. At present there are insufficient safeguards against the use of the RCMP for investigations which may find their basis more in political retribution than in fact, a potentially expensive undertaking, as Canadians discovered with the Airbus fiasco.
The RCMP is our single national police agency and as such cannot continue to be run as another branch of the civil service. It must be free from the influences of the government of the day. To be effective it needs to be independent. It is time for the government to examine its relationship with the RCMP and to draft rules regarding the nature of its relationship with the agency.
Previous speakers have talked about Commissioner Zaccardelli appearing before the justice committee. I was present the day he spoke to Bill C-36. He clearly identified one of the conflicts he has. On the one hand he is viewed as the deputy minister and on the other as the head of our national police force. To be quite honest I think it is an intolerable situation to place anyone in.
That is why I think the motion brought forward today is very appropriate, especially at a time when the country is debating Bill C-36 and where, by extension, there will be more powers given not only to the RCMP but to other police forces in the country, such as new powers to detain and to wiretap, and there is certainly at least the potential loss of privacy rights for Canadian citizens. Given all of that, I think it is appropriate that we are debating the motion today.
In conclusion, I am pleased to support the motion before the House as a means of increasing transparency and accountability. Again I congratulate my colleague from the Bloc Quebecois for bringing this forward. It is extremely unfortunate that members will not have the opportunity to vote on it, which opens up a whole different can of worms in regard to how many times members take on issues and go through all the work of bringing forward motions and bills to the floor of the House of Commons only to see what we are seeing again this morning, a very worthwhile initiative that unfortunately will have one hour of debate and then in all likelihood that will be the end of it as far as the government is concerned. I say that is unfortunate.
Independence of the RCMP
Private Members’ Business
Jim Abbott Kootenay—Columbia, BC
Mr. Speaker, I also would like to congratulate the Bloc member for the motion. As the previous speaker indicated the motion is very timely in light of the fact that we are presently considering Bill C-36. Bill C-36 gives tremendous power, power that in a free and democratic society under normal circumstances we would never, ever consider. It is a bill that is draconian in nature and one that is of deep concern, I am sure, to every member of the House. Therefore this motion is singularly timely.
Let us go back to the events of APEC in 1997. Flowing from those events, the activities of the police and the apparent interference of the Prime Minister and his office, there were two questions. The first question was about the actual conduct of the RCMP. As has been mentioned by the former ombudsman for the province of British Columbia, the member for Vancouver--Quadra, the point is that the public complaints commission established in 1986 indeed was the correct venue to be able to determine what happened, what the activities of the police were and indeed if they were appropriate, but there was an equally pressing second question that the government to this day has never answered. The question is, did the Prime Minister and his office interfere with the RCMP enforcement activities at APEC 1997?
I spent a fair amount of time at the hearings. In listening to the testimony of the people who came before the commission and in seeing the way in which the commission was actually started up, I saw that it was clear that there was the hand of the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister's Office, even through the public complaints commission, even through commissioner Heafy at the beginning of the public complaints commission process, to ensure that the people of Canada would never, ever receive an adequate or a true answer to the question, did the Prime Minister and his office interfere with the RCMP and its enforcement activities at APEC 1997?
We recall that at the beginning of the public complaints commission process there were three commissioners appointed, a chair and two commissioners, for a total of three people who were involved in that process at the beginning. What was very clear was that there had been interference. There was interference with the original chair of the public complaints commission. He said so himself. There is evidence that there was interference by the head of the public complaints commission, Shirley Heafy, into the process at that time. The question about that has never been answered: Why did she interfere with that process?
Let us fast forward to the end of this process, where commissioner Hughes has come forward with some innuendo, and that is all he can do, about the involvement of the Prime Minister in interfering with the RCMP. Why can he only do it by innuendo? Because that is the way the Liberal government set this up. It was to protect the Prime Minister. It was set up so that the public complaints commissioner himself, Hon. Justice Hughes, was incapable of getting to the bottom of the question of whether the Prime Minister and his office interfered with RCMP enforcement activities at APEC 1997.
Justice Hughes came forward with the portion of his report which has been noted by my Bloc colleague. Now the government says we must make sure that the commissioner and her reporting is unfettered by government interference. It is a little bit thick because in spite of the fact that she uses the words fair, impartial and independent, the fact of the matter is we know that at the beginning of the public complaints commission process she was not fair, impartial or independent because of the way in which the first three commissioners of this ended up crashing and burning.
We can fast forward to section 33.3.1 of Justice Hughes' report. Commissioner Zaccardelli of the RCMP was not standing up for the RCMP. He was being an apologist for the government. He was ignoring the involvement of the Prime Minister and the political aspect of the decisions that were made at APEC.
Colleagues before me gave a very good explanation of why he was doing this and I agree with them. He has to recognize as a top government official, the equivalent to a deputy minister, which side his bread is buttered on.
That is a very harsh thing to say and I am well aware of that. However it is my judgment that the Prime Minister of Canada got away with the fact that he interfered with the RCMP and its enforcement activities at APEC in 1997.
As a matter of principle there must be an absolute barrier between politicians and police in a free democracy. I say that as a politician, but as I take a look at other politicians, particularly people like the Prime Minister and other ministers of the crown in positions of authority who can directly influence the police without a clear line of delineation between politicians and police, they can continue to do that.
It is scary that Bill C-36, the anti-terrorism bill, gives so many powers to the police. It tips the balance away from our free and democratic society, the very freedoms we are trying to protect. We are having to set some of those freedoms aside so that we can protect the freedoms we must keep. It is a terrible situation for us as politicians to be in.
I commend the Bloc Quebecois member for her motion. I consider it a crying shame that it has not been permitted to come to a vote. This is an action that the Prime Minister and the government should be bringing to the House, if only for good faith reasons, as part of Bill C-36 so that we would understand that there could never be a breakdown of the barrier between politicians and police.
Independence of the RCMP
Private Members’ Business
Pierrette Venne Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC
Mr. Speaker, to conclude this debate, I would like to make a few comments. First, I strongly doubted that this motion would find an attentive government ear. The government would have had to eat humble pie and acknowledge that it had interfered inappropriately as the result of its improper relations with the RCMP. However, the statutory codification we are proposing is the only way to ensure that the mega mess of November 1997 could never recur. However we can legitimately ask ourselves whether there would be government support for this.
In view of the increasingly extraordinary discretionary powers the ministers are giving themselves with each new bill, the policy of silence that reigns throughout the government, its lack of respect for parliament during this crisis and its closer co-operation with the media than with parliamentarians, an unbridled arrogance toward the opposition, especially that part of it representing Quebec's interests, through its mockery of the unprecedented consensus in Quebec over Bill C-7, it is not surprising that the Liberal government wants to dilute the mandate of the RCMP to make it its political police, as was the case in the 1970s when the RCMP was given the task of ridding Quebec of the sovereignist heresy.
Moreover, as if the obstacles faced by this motion were not enough to have it tossed under the table, it will not even be voted on, as several members pointed out earlier.
I have always believed that motions and bills presented by members of parliament should be votable items, otherwise we feel that we are treated unfairly and that our initiatives have little importance. It is easy to quickly lose faith in the system. We get to the point where we wonder if it is worth investing so much effort in drafting motions or bills and in preparing speeches to defend them.
By working on issues that may well not be acted on, we waste our energy, effort and time, and also those of the House. In such a context, a member does not bring any added value to parliamentarism. For example, since the beginning of the 34th parliament, in 1988, when I was first elected, 1,670 private members' bills have been introduced and, out that number, 17 have received royal assent and been enacted. One can imagine the interest that a motion like this one, which is not even a votable item, is likely to generate with the government.
With a system that kills initiative in this fashion, it is not just members of parliament who become frustrated, but also the public which, given such situations, is becoming increasingly cynical about our role.
Recently, on two different occasions, I talked to people about my private member's initiatives. When I told them that all private members' initiatives must go through a draw to be included in the order of precedence, these people were flabbergasted.
Members can easily imagine these people's reaction when I explained that, once an item had been selected, it had to go before a committee that would choose, depending on its mood, a few of these initiatives to make them votable items. Then, even if this motion had been selected to become a votable item, given the probabilities that I just mentioned, the chances of getting actual results are very slim to say the least.
Sadly, I can only conclude that private members' business is used much more to kill time than to help our society move forward in a democratic fashion.
Independence of the RCMP
Private Members’ Business
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)
The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired. As the motion has not been designated as a votable item, the order is dropped from the order paper.
Bob Nault Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development
moved that Bill C-39, an act to replace the Yukon Act in order to modernize it and to implement certain provisions of the Yukon Northern Affairs Program Devolution Transfer Agreement, and to repeal and make amendments to other acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, this is a very important piece of legislation.There has been one constant since I assumed this portfolio and that is my commitment to change. I have been resolute in my determination to forge a new relationship with the people of Canada's north, a relationship that respects the proven capacity of northerners to manage their own affairs.
Mr. Speaker, as a northerner yourself, you would understand that those of us who are from the near north have always wanted more input. This very much follows the belief that northerners, given the opportunity, can create that new partnership that would see the northern territories evolve into self-managed and prosperous regions that would make strong contributions to the Canadian federation.
This partnership would recognize that governance, economic development and environmental stewardship in the north should reflect the priorities of the people who live there. A responsible partnership would carefully balance the interests of aboriginal and non-aboriginal residents of the region, promoting sustainable development and increasing the accountability of northern governments to their constituents. An inclusive partnership would empower northern people to exercise political independence, putting an end to the error where decisions about northern resources were determined by public servants in Ottawa.
I have the honour of being able to fulfill those promises and turn ideals into reality. It is with great pride that I rise before the House today to talk about the legislation that would demonstrate in a real way our commitment to putting Yukoners in control of decisions most important to the future of the territory.
I will be speaking briefly because I asked for unanimous consent of the House of Commons last week to allow my colleague from Yukon to deliver the majority of the speech. It is quite fitting that it should be a Yukoner, a northerner who was directly involved in making sure that the bill got to this place to complete the development of the kind of relationship I am talking about. Shortly I will be seeking unanimous consent to allow my colleague from Yukon to deliver his most important speech since he was elected to the House of Commons.
Bill C-39, the Yukon Act, would start the new century with a new way of governing the Yukon territory. We would deliver on our pledge to accelerate the devolution of provincial-like powers and responsibilities to the Yukon government by transferring the administration and controls of lands, water and resources.
We would bring the existing act, last overhauled in 1953, into the 21st century, formalizing in law what is current practice and reflecting the existence of representative and responsible government in Yukon. With unanimous consent of the House I would now like to hand things over to my hon. colleague from Yukon.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)
Is there unanimous consent for the minister to transfer his remaining time to the hon. member for Yukon?
Some hon. members
Larry Bagnell Yukon, YT
Mr. Speaker, I thank the opposition for giving its unanimous consent. Since I have been in the House the opposition has always been very positive when I bring forward the aspirations of Yukoners and I very much appreciate this.
The bill is a bold step forward to a better future for all Yukoners. At such a forward looking time in our history, it would be remiss of me not to acknowledge my predecessors in this place, former members for Yukon: the Hon. George Black, Martha Louise Black, James Aubrey Simmons, the Hon. Erik Nielsen, the Hon. Audrey McLaughlin and Louise Hardy, all of whom have played a role in the political evolution of Yukon.
I would like to make it clear that Bill C-39 has a wide cross-section of support from Yukoners. The act is a result of extensive consultations with Yukon residents which began in 1996. We spent the past five years consulting and negotiating with the Yukon government and with first nations. Successive drafts of the bill were shared and discussed with our territorial partners throughout the negotiations. We have taken the necessary time to ensure that the bill protects and promotes the needs and interests of all parties.
I am pleased to report that the Yukon government and the Council of Yukon First Nation chiefs support proceeding with the Yukon devolution initiative. This essential milestone paved the way to the agreement which was signed by Yukon premier Pat Duncan and the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development on behalf of Canada. It is now up to parliament to turn over comprehensive new powers to Yukon where the powers rightfully belong.
The new Yukon act would give effect to a number of provisions negotiated in the devolution transfer agreement. It would give the Yukon legislature lawmaking powers to manage land, water and other resources.
The bill would also modernize legislation to reflect the existence of responsible government in Yukon and the structure and responsibilities of public institutions consistent with current practices.
Let me explain what that means in practical terms. If approved, the bill will transfer the lawmaking powers over most of the public lands and resources, including forests, mines and minerals, in addition to water rights in the territory to the Yukon legislature. This will result in the Yukon government having decision making powers over matters fundamental to the economic well-being of the territory.
Once devolution takes effect, proposed for April 1, 2003, the Yukon government will have the necessary financial resources to carry out its work. The Yukon will collect the royalties, rentals, dues, service fees and other charges currently collected by the Department of Indian affairs and Northern Development. The agreement also ensures that the Yukon government will receive a net fiscal benefit from these new resource revenues.
Land and resource management responsibilities are in many ways the most important component of the devolution process because this places development decisions in the hands of the people most knowledgeable about local conditions and those most affected by the consequences of those decisions: northerners.
Devolution of these powers also acknowledges that local residents have a vested interest in and a commitment to sustainable development. They recognize that responsible management of the north's wealth of resources means ensuring that as development proceeds, the full impact on people, their communities and the environment are all taken into account.
The devolution transfer agreement sets out detailed understandings reached with the Yukon government and first nations on various aspects of the transfer of power. We have resolved a wide range of complex issues and overcome a number of obstacles to reach this agreement.
Certain Yukon first nations would prefer to see their land claims settled before we transfer the lawmaking powers to Yukon. That is why the Yukon devolution transfer agreement contains protection measures for Yukon first nations that have not yet completed land claim agreements. Just this weekend another first nation went through the process to ratify its agreement.
I believe the people of Yukon have waited long enough for these important powers. We all know that local control leads to empowerment and development. We also know that it must be carefully balanced to protect the rights and interests of all the parties involved.
I can assure the House that this agreement is fully consistent with the land claims and self-government agreements in Yukon, with the constitution of Canada, with responsible environmental practice and with fiscal management.
The process which enabled us to achieve this accomplishment embodies the spirit and partnership laid out in “Gathering Strength--Canada's Aboriginal Action Plan”.
The Yukon devolution transfer agreement stipulates that Yukon first nation governments will continue to have jurisdiction over natural resource management on settlement lands. This agreement includes a number of bilateral arrangements and commitments for joint action between the Yukon government and first nations.
I am confident that these arrangements will lead to further enhanced government relationships between the territorial government and first nation governments in Yukon.
I also want to point out that the agreement contains measures to ensure that first nation rights and interests are not derogated and not abrogated by the transfer of powers to the Yukon government.
The Government of Canada will continue to have a fiduciary relationship with the aboriginal peoples of Yukon.
Finally, existing third party rights and interests issued under federal legislation up to the date of devolution will be continued undiminished by the Yukon government.
Until now the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development has been performing many provincial type powers in the north. After devolution the department's northern affairs program will cease most of its operations in Yukon. It will, however, retain responsibility for the existing contaminated mine sites.
Consequently, the federal resource management acts, namely the Yukon Quartz Mining Act, the Yukon Placer Mining Act, the Yukon Waters Act, will all be repealed. The Territorial Lands Act, which currently applies to the three territories, will no longer be applicable in Yukon. The Yukon Surface Rights Board Act will also be repealed at a future date.
The Yukon government will pass its own legislation to mirror the federal acts which will be repealed under the new legislation. The repeal of the federal acts and bringing into force the Yukon government's acts will be synchronized to ensure that the transfer is seamless.
With the passage of the bill, the Yukon government, in consultation with first nations, will be free to develop different resource legislation to reflect its own unique priorities.
I mentioned at the outset that the new Yukon act would provide lawmaking powers to the Yukon legislature over land and resources. These powers are similar to those of a province under the Constitution Act, 1867. Changes being proposed in this package will not change the constitutional status of the Yukon territory. It will continue to be a territory of Canada and the federal government will retain its authority in areas of international and national interest.
Title to public lands and waters will remain vested with the federal crown. Should it be necessary, the bill sets out a process to take back the administration and control of public land in the national interest, such as the creation of national parks or a conclusion of land claims.
The federal government will also continue to hold responsibility in such areas as environmental assessment and remediation of health and safety hazards, as well as the costs associated with environmental remediation at mine sites where these hazards were created prior to the date of devolution.
I mentioned earlier that the operations of the Department of Indian affairs and Northern Development in Yukon will be significantly reduced after the bill comes into effect. I am pleased to note that the measures have been taken to ensure the fair treatment of the federal public service.
Approximately 240 indeterminate federal employees currently working in the northern affairs program will receive permanent job offers from the Yukon government at a position, salary and compensation package comparable to their current federal levels. The provisions in the agreement meet all the requirements outlined in the workforce adjustment agreements between the treasury board and the public service unions. This means that federal employees who now make their home in Yukon will be able to continue to work and live in the territory. Equally important, their corporate knowledge and experience in the programs areas being transferred to the Yukon government will prove invaluable as it assumes these new responsibilities.
I can assure the House that given the lead time until the new act comes into force, in the spring of 2003, that we are working with our partners to ensure a smooth transition for industry, for the general public and for our employees. Government business in Yukon will continue uninterrupted.
As well, the Yukon government will continue to provide land and resource management services in both official languages, at the current level of service.
As important as the various clauses in the bill are pertaining to the devolution transfer agreement, other proposed legislative changes are also of high symbolic value to the people and the government of Yukon. They send a clear signal to Canadians to recognize the legitimacy of their government and have full confidence in their ability and responsibility to manage their affairs. They reinforce the fact that the Yukon government has taken on increasingly greater levels of responsibility and proven its capacity to administer territorial affairs. They acknowledge that there is responsible government in Yukon with a system of government similar in principle to that of Canada.
These provisions in the Yukon bill would bring the legislative framework into line with what has been common practice in Yukon for the last 20 years.
Consistent with governments elsewhere in the country, the bill would extend the term of the assembly from four years to five years, and would provide for the dissolution of the assembly by the commissioner rather than by order of governor in council.
The bill would modernize the powers of the Yukon legislature consistent with the objective of successive governments to transfer all remaining provincial type programs and responsibilities to territorial governments. The bill would also change the names of public institutions. For example, the council would be renamed the legislative assembly and the commissioner in council would be renamed the legislature of Yukon. The legislation would also formalize the practice that the commissioner of Yukon will act with the consent of the executive council, consistent with the conventions of representative and responsible government in Canada.
The package of increased powers and legislative changes in front of the House recognize that the people of Yukon have valuable contributions to make to the social, economic and political fabric of Canada and provides them with the tools to get on with the job.
In conclusion, I am tremendously proud of the bill. It fulfills our promise to provide teeth to modern governments in the north. It solidifies the structures that reflect the priorities of the territorial government and helps to set the stage for positive, constructive relationships across government in Yukon for decades to come. The bill would create certainty and establish conditions for further economic development and prosperity. It would reinforce environmental stewardship, a key to sustainable development in Canada's north.
Most of all, the new Yukon Act underscores our commitment to nation building and affirms our determination to put decision making powers into the hands of northerners. It reinforces our conviction that the key to building a strong, prosperous communities is to foster local solutions to local challenges.
This is a long-awaited bill, Mr. Speaker. The legitimate aspirations of the residents of Yukon will start to assume concrete form with the passage of this bill.
After decades of trying to advance these goals, I am sure we all agree that the time has come to turn good intentions into concrete actions. I call on my hon. colleagues to adopt Bill C-39 so we can get on with the work of creating a strong Yukon and, in turn, a better Canada for all of us.
Masi Cho. Gunalchish.
Reed Elley Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise today to speak to Bill C-39, an act to replace the Yukon Act. Let me put on the record that the Canadian Alliance will be offering support for the bill. The underlying principle of the devolution of power to the territory of Yukon is certainly one that we can support, and it perhaps is long overdue.
While we offer our support, we also have questions and concerns that will need to be addressed by the minister, departmental officials and, most important, representatives from Yukon itself.
In reading the act, I see that there are three main features: first, to implement provisions under the devolution transfer agreement; second, to recognize the existence of responsible government in Yukon; and third, to make a number of consequential amendments to other federal acts.
I am not concerned at this point with the latter one, but as we debate both in the House of Commons and at committee, I am certain the details of the amendments to the other acts will naturally be determined and derived out of the clause by clause discussion at the standing committee.
As we look at the first two features, I believe that members of the House should be sure that as they go through the bill they understand it and that we do it well.
I am pleased that the devolution transfer agreement has been agreed to by the Yukon government, the first nations of Yukon and the federal government. I believe that this is an area of specific interest to all parties in the House and that we will therefore devote some of our time and energies to looking at this.
As I understand the context of the bill at this time, the devolution agreement is to be consistent with the long standing objective of successive governments to transfer provincial type programs and responsibilities to a territorial government.
One critical goal of this objective is that with the transfer of responsibilities to the Yukon government the authority and accountability must also be transferred. This can take place through a staged process, but the end objective of the devolution of powers must include both responsibility and authority. To offer the responsibility of power without the authority to back it up would prove to be fruitless and pointless to any future Yukon government.
For instance, I have questions about the Canada-Yukon formula financing agreement and how it will work. As I currently understand the legislation, Yukon would now collect all royalties, rentals, dues, fees or other charges previously collected by the northern affairs program for these programs. Yet the federal government would continue to pay approximately $34 million annually for the administration and control of land and resources in Yukon from funds previously allocated to the northern affairs program.
While I support the premise that Yukon should become more financially independent, I also want to ensure that all Canadian taxpayers benefit under the agreement. I will want to better understand from the minister and departmental officials how this portion of the agreement fits and compares with the current transfer agreement with the provinces. Of course, to do that we need much more information on this particular subject.
The area that I wish to explore at further length today, and which my colleagues and I will follow most closely is the second feature; the recognition of responsible government and all that the term entails.
The documents refer to the conventions of responsible government being similar in principle to those of Canada. While I understand that there are legal definitions attached to these phrases, let us remember that these words also have meaning to the citizens of both Yukon and indeed all Canadians.
As this is a tripartite agreement signed by the Yukon government, the Council of Yukon First Nations and the Canadian government, I believe that we should further explain and confirm what should be included under the term responsible government. Furthermore, these basics tenants should apply equally to all three parties of the agreement.
Responsible government must first reflect to whom it is responsible. From our point of view, it is and must be responsible to those it governs. Under the act, these would be the citizens of Yukon, Yukon first nations and then all Canadians.
The citizens of these three jurisdictions are the voters and taxpayers for each of these levels of government. Without the citizens and their respect, the government has no jurisdiction.
While many in the Chamber could add particulars to the much needed aspects of responsible government, accountability must be primary. Accountability may be discerned in many different ways, including governmental, financial and electoral.
For government to be accountable to the people it must be transparent. The decision making process must be clear for all to see and follow. This does not mean that everyone will like the final decisions, but it does mean that the rationale will be obvious for all to see.
Government decisions should not be based on special interest groups, favours or personal gain. Rather government decisions must be made that reflect the will and the needs of the people. Nor does it mean that some of these decisions will be easy. I am sure all my hon. colleagues in the Chamber know that many of the decisions we made may not always be popular, but they have to be made. They are often very difficult decisions made in the best interests of all Canadians.
I must say that one of the greatest concerns many of us in the opposition ranks have had is the transparency of the federal government in decision making processes. When members of the House are not able to follow the process, it is virtually impossible for members of the public to likewise see transparency in many government decisions. I sincerely trust this is not what the government is intending when it refers to the responsible governments similar in principle to that of Canada. Surely the Yukon government will start off in a better way than we often see displayed by the government in Ottawa where transparency is often not forthcoming.
There is also the aspect of financial accountability. There can be no greater control over the people than what a government does with the revenues derived from its citizens. Whether we like it or not, fiscal policy can be used to greatly assist citizens or seriously harm them. The best intentions of special interest groups, political alignments and even the government itself can have major impacts upon the decision making process.
I ask and even challenge the governments, which have signed the tripartite agreement, to analyze their roles and influences in light of financial decisions and fiscal accountability. Are they making decisions based on sound fiscal foundations both now and in the future? Will their decisions stand up to the test of time? In a free and democratic country such as Canada, no one government will be in power forever. Others will follow along and decisions will be reviewed and challenged. Ensure that decisions now will be viewed by the majority as being based on sound and transparent fiscal foundations.
Furthermore, the act specifies that the federal Minister of Indians Affairs and Northern Development will consult with the executive council in respect of proposed amendments in the future. Once again, we will hope that consultations will actually result in positive change and not just rhetoric. All too often in the past many Canadians in their own particular consultations with government have come to the conclusion that the consultations do not really change anything if the government has made up its mind.
For instance, during the Nisga'a debate over 1,200 submissions were made to the government, none of which changed the final agreement. Imagine what that does to the citizens of a country who try to make some kind of impact upon government only to find that in actuality the government did not listen to them. We hope that is the standard for future consultations and that there will be open and honest debate reflecting the needs and concerns of its citizens in the Yukon government.
One particular aspect of the act that I am pleased to see is the preference by Yukon first nations is to settle all land claims before the devolution of power to the Yukon government is implemented. With the current plan to implement the new Yukon act by April 1, 2003, there is a need to move these settlement negotiations along. I believe there is sufficient time to reach the goal, but certainly the negotiations should not be delayed at all. I encourage all parties involved to actively pursue this goal, keeping in mind the need to reach a settlement that is affordable, achieves finality and meets the needs of all parties and their respective citizens.
This is a large bill and will have an effect on every single person living in Yukon. It will affect the employees of the northern affairs program and the Yukon government as well. While I generally believe that this is a positive move, I believe that all members of the House need to proceed cautiously to ensure that all aspects and conditions under the act have been fully considered.
There are a number of positive aspects to the bill. For instance, I am pleased that the powers granted under the act resemble provincial powers as outlined in the Canadian constitution. I can think of nothing better than to work toward the independence of Yukon as a province in due time. We will be very pleased to see it take its place alongside the other 10 provinces of this great country in the years to come.
I am pleased that the devolution of power under this act will cause the cessation of operations of the northern affairs program in Yukon. It has been the belief of the Canadian Alliance and our predecessor, the Reform Party, that the Indian and Northern Affairs Canada should be phased out over a period of time. In our opinion, this move in Yukon is a very promising first step toward that goal.
Recently, the leader of the official opposition spoke with Premier Duncan of Yukon and expressed our party's position on this act. I am pleased to hear of the Yukon government's support for this act as well.
I also have a few concerns about the bill. I trust the government will be willing and open in its anticipated briefings, its appearances before the standing committee and during debate in the House to listen to and accept all appropriate amendments that are proposed by hon. members from all sides. It would be reassuring to see the government actually actively consulting and implementing changes that would improve this bill rather than just proceeding without due care and attention.
I would like to hear if the government has a plan regarding the application by Yukon to apply for and achieve full provincial status. Obviously, the territory is coming closer to achieving this. Will this legislation speed up or slow down the application process?
The background of the bill clearly states that Yukon will be deriving powers parallel to those outlined for provinces in the Canadian constitution. I will be very interested to hear comments from the minister and members of his department on this issue in particular when they appear before the standing committee.
I will ask the government to further clarify the financial arrangements, whereby Yukon will receive new taxation funds to a maximum of $3 million annually. My understanding is that these are funds that the federal government previously received. While these various taxes are applied to primarily natural resources belonging to Yukon, it is also my understanding that Indian and Northern Affairs Canada funds will also be redirected to Yukon.
While I support the move for Yukon to achieve financial independence, I believe that the governments involved must provide further clarity on this particular financial agreement. Yukon should retain the taxation revenues derived from its own resources and should not incur financial hardships due to this devolution of power. However, it appears that the federal government of course will be losing revenue and not decreasing its corresponding expenses. Somehow the minister should offer clarification in this matter as it goes before committee.
My last concern today regarding the bill specifically is whether or not the bill can actually be changed. All too often in the recent past legislation has come before the House for debate but the bottom line is that no changes can or will be made to the legislation especially if proposed by the opposition. The duly elected members of the House of Commons can debate this bill forever, but if no changes can be made to the agreement, our debate really amounts to nothing more than empty rhetoric.
I would like to take this opportunity to broaden the debate out generally to the minister and the Department of Indian affairs and Northern Development. I must give credit where credit is due. I am generally pleased with the more approachable aspect of the minister and his departmental staff in recent months.
However, as I am certain that my colleagues on this side of the House will attest, it is difficult to speak to such an important bill without sufficient time to study the bill itself. On Friday my office received a five inch binder. The departmental staff did a good job of compiling the information regarding the legislation and the related items in it. However to receive and speak indepth on a bill as important as this one without the opportunity to fully research the bill shows somehow a lack of trust on the part of the government.
The bill refers to changes for employees from federal to Yukon status and the procedure for this to occur.
There are all kinds of things in here for which we needed the time to sit down, read and digest before we came to the House with them. Might I suggest that it would be in everyone's best interest to introduce the bill into the House of Commons, set departmental briefings with all those who want them and therefore ensure that all interested members of the House, particularly the opposition, are able to speak knowledgeably. If the House truly wants open and full debate, then the government must do its part to ensure that all members are given the tools to perform their tasks adequately.
The legislation affords me the opportunity to talk on the issue of consultations. Full and complete consultations are needed with all parties affected by the agreement. The government indicates that it has had those discussions. I look forward to hearing from the other parties involved in this agreement in order to ascertain that all parties agree with the government's perspective on consultations.
As I close, I wish to confirm my party's position on the bill. We see several advantages and progressive moves forward under the legislation. We also have a number of questions that require answers, clarifications or perhaps amendments. We are willing to lend our conditional support to the bill at this time and look forward to discussing it more fully in committee.
Richard Marceau Charlesbourg—Jacques-Cartier, QC
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in the debate on second reading of Bill C-39 on the revision of the Yukon Act. I am particularly pleased because my duties as the Bloc Quebecois critic for Indian Affairs and Northern Development have increased since the recent introduction of two other legislative measures by the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development.
In fact, since I was appointed to this position by the leader of the Bloc Quebecois, I have had very little opportunity to comment on matters under the jurisdiction of the minister in question, since he has done virtually nothing since his appointment to Cabinet.
I am not aware of the causes of his recent motivation to raise his profile, but I must congratulate him nevertheless. It is good to finally see a minister putting forward some concrete legislative proposals that will, for once, lead to greater transparency and, particularly, to a degree of decentralization of the federal government's powers.
I am all the more pleased to take part in this debate because it also gives me an opportunity to really perform my primary duties as Bloc Quebecois intergovernmental affairs critic. In fact, were it not for the continued extreme paternalism of the federal government with respect to aboriginal communities and the people in Canadian territories such as Yukon, Nunavut and the Northwest Territories, this bill might very well have been sponsored by the Minister for Intergovernmental Affairs rather than the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development.
I could discourse on this for hours, but far be it from me to subject the House to an endless recital of the exponential disaster of the Liberals' handling of aboriginal affairs. The department was left to its own devices for decades, for lack of decent political leadership, leadership which, oddly enough, began with the appointment of the current Prime Minister as minister of that department thirty or so years ago. In fact, one could even see in that leadership the considerable legacy of the Prime Minister throughout his impressive career.
Fortunately for the first nations and for all aboriginal communities, the Prime Minister did not, in those days, have to play the same role and exercise the same influence as minister of Indian affairs as he did as minister of justice in the early 1980s.
I would be remiss if I let this day, November 5, go by without acknowledging the sad and sombre 20th anniversary of the famous “night of the long knives”, when the Prime Minister, mandated by former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, plotted in the back kitchen of a hotel with his good friend Roy Romanow, to isolate Quebec and make his mentor's dream to patriate the constitution from Great Britain to Canada come true, despite fierce opposition from all political parties in Quebec. That is another subject I could discuss for a long time, this dark episode of Canadian history, and more importantly, of Quebec's history. Since I will have the opportunity to do so in different circumstances, let us focus on the bill that is now before the House.
Bill C-39 will essentially modernize the political and democratic institutions of the Yukon territory. Also, this bill will implement certain provisions of the Yukon northern affairs program devolution transfer agreement, which came under the authority of northern affairs until now. Numerous other acts will also be amended consequently.
The will replace the current Yukon Act, principally by reflecting responsible government in Yukon. As such, the bill renames a number of public institutions to reflect current practice, and to provide the legislature of Yukon with new powers over public real property for instance.
The bill renames the “Council”, which designates the legislative branch of the Yukon, as the “Legislative Assembly of Yukon”, the “Commissioner in Council” as the “Legislature of Yukon” and “ordinances” as “laws of the Legislature”. While the Yukon government will be able to appoint its own independent auditor at a future date to be fixed by the governor in council, the Auditor General of Canada will remain the auditor of the Yukon government, as set forth in the Yukon Act.
The bill also contains a preamble which states that Yukon is a territory that has a system of responsible government that is similar in principle to that of Canada. Establishing this fact specifies the relationship between the commissioner and the executive council of Yukon.
As Yukon does not enjoy the same constitutional status as the provinces, a musty holdover in Canada, the commissioner of the Yukon, appointed by the federal government, will retain his executive duties as representative, consistent with the current conventions of government.
In addition, Bill C-39 will amend no fewer than 90 statutes of Canada, affect seven bills currently before either the Commons or the Senate and repeal six statutes pertaining to the government of Yukon.
The statutory provisions giving the legislature new powers will ensure the implementation of certain articles of the Yukon northern affairs program devolution transfer agreement. Among other things, it will transfer the administration and control of public real property.
The minister's desire to modernize the institutions of Yukon is a good thing. And so we consider it a step in the right direction in order to decentralize the powers of the federal government in the day to day administration of communities so far removed from Ottawa and whose political aspirations are at the mercy of the declining political leadership at the head of the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development.
In closing, as the government of Yukon, whose premier I had the pleasure of meeting recently, wants this bill passed and since it has no effect on the constitutional jurisdiction of Quebec, the Bloc Quebecois will not oppose its quick passage.
Peter Stoffer Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore, NS
Mr. Speaker, as a former Yukoner who lived in Watson Lake, Yukon from 1979 to 1988, it is a pleasure to rise in the House today and compliment the government and the member for Yukon on their speeches. I would also like to compliment the minister of aboriginal and northern affairs for allowing his colleague from Yukon to really get the debate going. I compliment my colleague from Yukon on his great speech. I am sure everyone in Yukon is very excited about today's dialogue.
I also thank my former colleague from the House of Commons, Louise Hardy, who served in the House from 1997 to 2000. She was a great member of parliament. It was a close race. She is probably watching the debate or hearing about it and is very pleased with the government's actions toward her territory.
Also there are a couple of local territorial leaders of the New Democratic Party in Yukon from back in the 1980s and 1990s whom I would like to point out, Mr. Tony Penikett, and more recently in the 1990s, Piers McDonald. They were very supportive of this legislation many years ago. As well, there is my colleague Audrey McLaughlin and as has already been mentioned, the infamous 25 year member for Yukon, Mr. Eric Nielsen. There is a long line of parliamentarians who have come here. Our former leader of the party, Audrey McLaughlin, came from Yukon and served our party for many years. All of these people are very excited about this legislation.
One of my favourite things is to encourage everyone to visit us in Nova Scotia and the maritimes, but I also encourage everyone to visit Yukon. They should have a look at what is up there. It is an excruciatingly beautiful part of Canada. Once someone is there it is hard to turn the car or plane around and go back. It grabs hold of someone. As Robert Service said, it is a stillness that fills one with peace. Once it gets hold of people it is hard for them to leave. While I do not live there anymore a large part of my heart is with Yukon and many Yukoners who live there today.
One thing which I am very pleased about is the consultation with first nations groups. The first nations people of Yukon are getting it right in terms of co-operative dialogue with the territorial and federal governments. I am sure I speak on behalf of many of my friends who live in the aboriginal community in Yukon. They may not be pleased with the speed of the dialogue that is going on; things could move a little quicker, but we could have that debate another day. However they are very pleased that more power in making decisions will be with the territorial government in Whitehorse, not necessarily in Ottawa, although Ottawa will have some control in that regard.
As the member for Yukon and the minister know quite well, anyone who has been there or lived there for a while knows how precious Yukon's environmental concerns are. We encourage the government and those of the territories and all members of the House of Commons when development concerns come up, as they did in Faro on forestry issues and the Liard basin, that we keep in mind how precious the environment is north of 60, especially in Yukon.
I am convinced that the hon. Pat Duncan, the leader of the territory government, along with other members of the Yukon territorial government will deliver very sound and positive environmental concerns when it comes to any other development.
In 1942 Yukon was just a place on the map, not very many people had heard of it. Then the American corps of engineers told the Mackenzie King government that a road was needed from Dawson Creek all the way to Fairbanks. The engineering marvel of that century was probably that they were able to build 1,500 miles of road out of virgin territory from Dawson Creek right to Fairbanks. I lived in Watson Lake which was known as mile 635. That road was built in nine months fearing Japanese invasion of the Aleutian Islands. It was a tremendous economic benefit to the north as well as a wonderful engineering marvel.
Since then Yukon has welcomed millions of visitors. It is home to the largest mountain range in all of North America in Kluane park. Again, I encourage everyone who gets the opportunity to visit Yukon.
There is a dialogue among all the political parties. We understand that the Yukon party may not be supporting the legislation in full. I am sure that if it carefully read the brochure and understood what benefits, economic and otherwise, this would bring to the people of Yukon, it would change its mind and understand exactly what the member for Yukon was saying earlier.
I do not have too much more to say on this except that I encourage the government to ensure, and we have heard it in the House today, that the federal servants are well looked after, that their economic needs and their job prospects are not deterred in any way. It must also ensure that all first nations groups have a continuous dialogue and full and open access to the governments in order to ascertain their needs. The government must also ensure that the environment is protected along with development to encourage job and economic growth and tourism for Yukon.
I am proud to stand on behalf of the federal New Democratic Party and support the legislation. I would be willing to entertain any questions or statements the House may have.