Mr. Speaker, my time is short and I have many things to say about the bill and the motion to refer the bill to committee but I will take the opportunity to make three quick points.
I want to refer back to a statement made by the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations upon learning about the referral of the bill to a standing committee. He pleaded:
If members of the standing committee are genuinely interested in hearing about the vision, the hopes and the dreams of our people then they should hold hearings in all of our communities and listen to our people.
It is not surprising that aboriginal Canadians right across the country have been very alarmed at the manner in which this whole process has been conducted and how the legislation was brought forth. We know from the discussions earlier in question period about freedom of speech and freedom of the press being threatened, that they are not the first examples. It has been truly shocking to see the pressures brought to bear on the Assembly of First Nations by the massive withdrawal of funding, which has been a not very subtle attempt by the government to quash dissent and the kind of leadership that is very much wanted from first nations communities across the country.
The member for Winnipeg Centre, the NDP aboriginal affairs critic who spoke earlier, expressed his revulsion at the way in which the official opposition has in many ways egged the government on to introduce this repugnant legislation. I could not help but think that it was an irony that so much of the legislation was inspired by the mistaken notion that there was massive mishandling and mismanagement by the leadership of the first nations and band management across the country.
When we look at the facts, they are otherwise. Over 96% of the bands are operating without management problems. Only 4% are under third party management. We have to ask ourselves whether it is not the government that should be under third party management for the ways in which it has been mismanaging the nation's finances and flaunting the rules of ethical standards of conduct. We wonder about the double standard.
We will be supporting the motion to send the bill to committee because we support the widespread call from first nations people to be truly consulted. It would be naive of us to think that the standing committee would in good faith agree to that broad consultation, which is why the suggestion from my colleague from Winnipeg Centre is a very sound one, that an ex officio member from the first nations, who can play a part in the process and have direct input into the work of the committee, be added to the committee.
Le us make no mistake that we have a very big fight on our hands. I stand proudly and say that the New Democratic Party stands in solidarity with the first nations people when they ask for the dignity owed to them, of being full partners in charting the future governments of their first nations communities.
It is very worrisome when we hear the leadership of the first nations summing up the legislation as being nothing more than a dragging back to the worst aspects of the Indian Act. We need to get rid of it but we need to get rid of it with a positive vision of the dignity of our first nations people. Surely the first priority for the government and the people of Canada is to meet its obligations to the first nations people. If we cannot get that right then we do not deserve the reputation of a country that is concerned about justice, equality and peace.