Mr. Speaker, I move:
That Bill C-61, an act respecting leadership selection, administration and accountability of Indian bands, and to make related amendments to other acts, be referred forthwith to the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs, Northern Development and Natural Resources.
Mr. Speaker, I am rising in the House today to speak about the first nations governance act, a bill I introduced a few days ago. With the consent of the House, I would like to refer the bill to committee immediately, prior to second reading. I would like to explain why I am making this request, but in order to do that I think we should take a few minutes to discuss the bill itself.
The first nations governance act is the foundation of our work together in building a prosperous and sustainable future for first nations. I believe the bill meets the government's commitment in the Speech From the Throne to work with first nations to develop the tools they need to build a better future for themselves and their communities.
The current Indian Act denies band governments the most fundamental tools needed to manage their own affairs in a modern society: tools for governance, tools necessary to build strong economies and healthy societies, tools other communities in Canada take for granted.
Our government has committed to strengthening our relationship with first nations people. As I have said, the bill has been written by over 10,000 first nations people who worked in partnership and in good faith with my government. We see this legislation as the foundation for a series of legislative initiatives that will help improve the lives of first nations people and their communities.
With the launch of Bill C-61, we are proposing to establish a new statutory and regulatory framework for first nations governance, a framework that would put the authority and decision making power that the Indian Act took away 126 years ago back into the hands of first nations people.
The bill provides for the creation of governance systems for first nations by first nations. It represents a fundamental shift away from the colonial approach of the Indian Act. This legislation will replace the roadblocks of the old Indian Act with modern tools of governance and a bridge to self-government. Let me be clear right from the start: Bill C-61 would not replace existing treaties or affect self-government and treaty negotiations, although it will help us move forward on both fronts. Neither would the act have any impact on the crown's fiduciary responsibilities.
With that, let me get back to some of the fundamental calls for change that have resulted in the proposed legislation before the House today. We all agree that the status quo is not acceptable. Certainly both first nations people and all Canadians recognize the need for change, and increasingly they also recognize the link between good governance and socioeconomic development.
Further, in the supreme court's decision in the Corbiere case, the court used the charter to strike down the on reserve residency requirement for voting in Indian Act elections. Now we have the amended the Indian band election regulations under the act to facilitate off reserve voting in the short term. However, we were faced with the choice of modifying only the elections regime under the Indian Act or trying to address the larger issues that face first nations through improving governance under the Indian Act. The bill reflects the feedback we received from first nations, our Speech From the Throne commitments and our decision to work with first nations to address the larger Corbiere decision issues.
We also acknowledge that self-government is the goal for many first nations. In fact, it is also the goal of this government, but it is important to remember that self-government must be negotiated and that negotiations do take time. In fact, at the current rate of negotiations, we are still 60 years away from the last self-government agreement.
While we continue to work toward self-government at over 80 negotiating tables with many first nations, we must not forget those who are not yet ready to come to the table. Are we to abandon efforts of capacity building and improving quality of life in their communities? Definitely not. This is yet another reason why this proposed first nations governance act is so important: to build a bridge to self-government together with those communities that are not yet at the negotiating table.
Part of that bridge is the proposed legislation before us today. It has been drafted with extensive input from first nations people. The bill reflects our dialogue with the people we serve and their feedback. When we launched the first nations governance initiative over a year ago, we purposely set out to consult with the people who would be most directly affected by this legislation.
First nations people understand the connection between effective governance and economic progress. They realize that leaving the Indian Act as it is means leaving their communities without the tools they need to make the progress they want. More than two-thirds of first nations people recently polled by Ekos said that citizens should have a voice in decisions affecting them and 71% agreed that providing the tools for effective governance will improve conditions for social and economic development. Just as important in the same poll, only 13% supported completely scrapping the act and a full 86% supported changing the act.
The proposed first nations governance act has been built from the ground up. It is based on the most extensive consultations ever undertaken with first nations. We held an unprecedented 470 consultations and information sessions with more than 200 first nations communities. Ten thousand first nations people participated. Just for comparison, when the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples held its meetings, it took four years to complete less than 100 meetings. When I state that 10,000 first nations people participated in governance discussions, we must keep in mind that if proportionately the same number of Canadians were consulted it would add up to nearly a million voices.
We also consulted with chiefs, both independently and through their affiliation with the Assembly of First Nations. We created a joint ministerial advisory committee made up of representatives from the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples and the National Aboriginal Women's Association to provide technical advice and help ensure that the legislation reflects the needs of the people it will serve.
In short, this process and this bill must be about people, not politics. It must be about sharing best practices and about focusing on progress, not problems. It is precisely because the first nations governance act was built on their input and advice that I am therefore asking today that the House support a motion to refer this legislation to committee for its review before second reading. This will enable committee members to examine the principle of the bill prior to second reading. For those who worked with us and those who want to join in the process, it will provide the maximum opportunity to provide input. In other words, I believe that the committee will hear important testimony from the people and I feel that the committee must have the ability to change the bill to ensure that it reflects the needs and requests of those who come to speak before it.
Mr. Speaker, you are giving me the one minute sign, but I have an unlimited amount of time, do I not?