Madam Speaker, I am pleased to take part in the debate on Bill C-61 representing the PC Party of Canada.
Let me begin by saying that the PC Party supports the motion to refer Bill C-61 to committee before second reading, in the minister's own words, for extensive consultation from coast to coast.
The status quo is not acceptable. We have heard that mentioned many times and certainly it has been echoed on numerous occasions by the minister himself. Most Canadians would agree with that statement. Most Canadians believe that it is time for change.
The key words that we find in the first nations governance act are transparency, accountability, leadership, administration and financial management. The minister also says that the new act will give aboriginals the tools needed to improve the quality of life in their own communities. If that is the case, who could disagree with that? These intentions are certainly principled and democratic.
We are also reminded that the Indian Act is 126 years old. It is antiquated and should be thrown out according to many Canadians, including aboriginal Canadians.
Bill C-61 in my opinion should be separated into two components, content and process. Both components need to be evaluated very closely and thoroughly.
I will begin by looking at what most aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians would agree on concerning the subject of governance. Essentially the bill is about governance by aboriginal communities.
The first point I would like to make is that elected officials should be accountable to the electorate. What is preventing that from happening in aboriginal communities? Some say that the Indian Act is preventing that from happening because band councils are only accountable to the minister or his agents.
Second, the funds spent by the elected officials belong to the communities, not to the leaders of the communities and the band councils. On this point the Liberals need to be reminded that the tax money they spend belongs to the people of Canada, not the Liberal Party.
Third, all elections should be honest, fair, open, transparent and by secret ballot.
Fourth, the business of governing should be open, transparent and accountable to the electorate.
Most Canadians, including aboriginal Canadians, would agree with these four basic democratic principles.
I do not believe that the opposition to Bill C-61 is based on content. Most of the content of the bill is acceptable in a democratic society. My opinion is that the opposition is over the process that the Liberal government is following. The minister says that he consulted high and low to the tune of $10 million.
This spring two consultation meetings were scheduled to take place in my riding of Dauphin--Swan River. I was looking forward to attending them, but as it turned out both were cancelled for lack of participants.
The Assembly of First Nations believed that the consultation process the minister followed was faulty. In fact it stated that more than $10 million was spent on consultation which attracted less than 3% of the first nations population. Entire regions of the country refused to participate. Manitoba literally refused to take part in the consultation process. Participants were not representative of the Indian population directly affected by the proposal. In Ontario the Ontario Metis Association whose members are not under the Indian Act co-ordinated the consultations.
The consultation report distorts the findings by emphasizing comments relating to the first nations governance mandate. It virtually ignores comments about the vast array of issues many of the participants found to be of greater importance, such as housing, land and aboriginal rights. Many participants felt they were ill-informed about the issues.
Another concern raised by the Assembly of First Nations was that the joint ministry advisory committee, called JMAC for short, did not reach a consensus. JMAC was established to provide the minister with technical advice for possible amendments to the governance provisions. Yet after dozens of meetings its members are still far apart on key areas targeted for change. The fact that a group of first nations participants motivated to make the process work could not reach more agreement with their government counterparts demonstrates that much more work needs to be done. It suggests that the amendment should not be constrained to the arbitrary and flexible timelines imposed by the government.
I would like to briefly point out the position of the PC Party regarding the issue of aboriginal affairs. Our position will certainly contrast with that of other parties in the House.
There is virtually no more complex a public policy issue facing both government and the people of Canada than establishing policies to deal with the issue faced by aboriginal people in Canada. The Progressive Conservative Party has endorsed the inherent right to self-government within Canada for Canada's aboriginal people.
There are many issues facing aboriginal people in addition to the task of achieving self-government through negotiations with the federal and provincial governments. These include determining a sound economic base for aboriginal people to grow, flourish and benefit from being part of Canada. The legal and cultural roles of aboriginal women need to be addressed, especially in the movement toward self-government.
Among the most pressing concerns to be addressed are the complex issues facing aboriginal youth and those aboriginal individuals who live in cities and do not have a land base. More than half of the aboriginal population of Canada is under 25 and live in cities. Most often they experience poverty and function alone without direction. Without significant steps being taken by governments in partnership with Canada's aboriginal people, these young people will become a generation lost to Canada.
Government must respond more energetically to the co-operative settlement of outstanding land and other claims with aboriginal people ensuring that they have full opportunity to grow, develop and prosper within Canada.
Here is where the Progressive Conservative Party differs with the Liberal government. A Progressive Conservative government would work with aboriginal people to define and express aboriginal rights as a matter of public policy in non-confrontational, balanced and interest based negotiations. We believe that the ineffective, paternalistic, colonial approaches of the Indian Act must give way to greater self-reliance through effective education, economic development, social justice and local control.
We believe that in order to ensure fairness and equality the charter must apply to aboriginal self-government. We also believe that aboriginal self-government must occur within the context of the Constitution of Canada.
The Progressive Conservative Party believes that the performance and accountability of aboriginal self-government is enhanced when those who are receiving services contribute to the cost of those services. Giving aboriginal people the power to raise their own revenues will also reduce the cycle of dependency.
My constituency of Dauphin--Swan River has 13 aboriginal communities. Over the last decade I have spent much time working closely with many of the bands. For the record, I want to read some of the communications I have received from the aboriginal community in my riding of Dauphin--Swan River.
The first communiqué was received from Chief Dwayne Blackbird. This is what he thinks about the minister's consultation process:
The Minister's remarks to you and the Standing Committee about consultation lack honesty. He spent $10 million money--not counting the time of his officials--to end up with a consultation process which his officials admit is useless and discredited. The Minister prescribed the narrow issues he wished to discuss and refused to permit discussion of the broad agenda required to bring about change.
At this time I would like to read into the record part of a speech given by Chief Roberta Jamieson in Winnipeg on March 12 on the topic of colonial thinking:
This is the kind of simplistic jingoistic thinking that is behind the government's fixation on a “new” Governance Act as its contribution to the legacy of colonial thinking. Sure--too often there is a lack of accountability out there. What else would one expect of a century of an Indian Act which held chiefs and councils accountable only to the Indian Agent and his successors? The last thing that government wanted then were chiefs and councillors accountable to their own people.
The PC Party believes that in an inclusive process, no matter how important the grand plan may appear, people must always have a say. Is this not what democracy is all about?
I also received a communiqué from National Chief Matthew Coon Come. This is what he had to say about the first nations governance act:
From the outset of the process launched by [the minister], First Nations leadership have expressed concerns on both the process and content of the proposed FNGA. In addition, the First Nation leadership expressed a willingness to engage in the process as meaningful partners starting with the development of the cabinet mandate, design of the consultation process, and drafting of the proposed bill on mutually acceptable concerns.
First Nations support the need for accountability, transparency and leadership selection. The majority...of the First Nations comply with auditing requirements contrary to the negative media reports over the past year. Political accountability is also paramount. We are however, greatly concerned with the issue of legal standing and capacity that will have fundamental implications to our relationship with the Crown, including the diminishment of the fiduciary obligations, amongst others.
It appears that the process which created the first nations governance act is under attack. National Chief Matthew Coon Come raised an interesting question last week: Why is it that the minister chose to amend the Indian Act over writing a separate piece of legislation dealing with aboriginal self-government outside the act? Indeed it is an interesting question.
Let me bring my portion of the debate to a close with a few additional comments. The Liberal government has pushed aside the conclusions of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples seen by all as a good first step and has replaced them by a consultation process tailored to say what the minister wants to hear. There are a number of ways to deal with the first nations governance and amending the Indian Act is probably the worst. Piecemeal changes likely would do more harm than good. A one size fits all approach to policy and legislation does not work for first nations.
Let me also say that the Liberal government is in no position to talk about greater transparency and accountability when its credibility has been stained by scandal after scandal. As I said earlier, the Liberal Party and the Liberal government have to realize that the money they take from the people really does not belong to them. It belongs to the people of Canada.
The bill does not address the most important issues facing first nations across Canada, namely the poor standard of living in first nations communities, health, housing, clean water and education. I have visited many of the aboriginal communities in my own riding and some of the living conditions are deplorable.
The minister is practising the politics of confrontation, not consultation. This appears to be where all the opposition to his bill comes from. It is the process the minister and the government is following. It is not one of inclusion but one of exclusion. The minister has also cut funding to the Assembly of First Nations. After the group positioned itself against amending the Indian Act the minister made it a policy of handpicking or even creating groups who said what he wanted to hear while shutting the others out.
The PC Party supports the motion to refer the bill to committee before second reading. The committee looks forward to visiting this country coast to coast and we invite all Canadians, aboriginal and non-aboriginal, to express their opinions, apply to the committee throughout the summer, and take time to study the bill. We hope that many amendments will be made to this piece of legislation.