moved that Bill C-60, an act to establish the Canadian Centre for the Independent Resolution of First Nations Specific Claims to provide for the filing, negotiation and resolution of specific claims and to make related amendments to other acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House to speak about a bill respecting the specific claims resolution act. Its purpose is to establish an independent claims resolution centre to improve our ability to resolve specific claims of first nations.
We are proposing a centre with two components: a commission to facilitate negotiations on specific claims by first nations, and a tribunal to resolve disputes involving those claims. This is a key step among the legislative initiatives we are taking to clear the way for first nations to play a more comprehensive part in the life of this country.
The principle of the new system is simple. Both the Government of Canada and first nations would rather negotiate than litigate. By having in place this independent claims resolution centre we would speed up settlements and reduce the cost of reaching agreements. We would be able to resolve quickly a number of historic grievances, and by settling these claims, first nations and neighbouring communities could proceed with confidence in a climate of stability.
Our government is fulfilling a pledge. As members will recall, in the Liberal Party of Canada's original red book and in the subsequent 1997 Liberal plan “Securing our Future”, we recognized that delays in resolving land claims were a fundamental barrier to allowing many aboriginal people and their communities to achieve their full potential.
We pledge to have in place a claims body to render binding decisions on the acceptance or rejection of land claims for negotiation and to consult with aboriginal organizations on whether the body should facilitate, arbitrate or mediate disputes that may arise between Canada and the first nations in the negotiation process. The specific claims resolution act would legislate a system to accomplish those precise red book goals.
With this proposed act we would help to fulfill the vision of Canada's aboriginal action plan that we put in place in response to the report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. That vision would see increasing quality of life for aboriginal people and the promotion of self-sufficiency through partnership, revenue generation, responsiveness to communities and values, and a place for aboriginal people and other Canadians. By resolving claims through this new system we would realize this vision and pave the way for greater economic development of first nation communities.
The benefits for aboriginal and non-aboriginal communities alike should be obvious to all members of the House. Experience shows that partnerships between first nations, the private sector, corporations, governments and communities benefit the economic health and prosperity of the entire country.
In the last 10 years the number of aboriginal business start-ups has exceeded those of the rest of the Canadian population by 105%, however these businesses require access to investment and loan capital if they are to grow and prosper.
With the removal of roadblocks to land claims resolutions, the climate for investment can only improve with expanded partnerships and joint ventures with non-aboriginal businesses in the private sector. The results are new markets across our nation and globally with consequent expanded employment opportunities across the board.
Resources now used in settling claims in the current adversarial system can be saved and better applied to this economic development for the good of all. This is truly win-win for aboriginal and non-aboriginal sectors working together, and it benefits all Canadians. In many ways, Canada's specific claims policy, which our new independent claims body would improve, has had a significant measure of success.
Since it was adopted in 1973 first nations in Canada have ratified 232 agreements in every region of the country worth $1.2 billion in total. These agreements will add over 16,000 square kilometres to the reserve land base of first nations. Recently more than double that number of claims has been added to the inventory of unsettled claims and the backlog is growing.
The current system in place cannot move with the speed and independence that both my government and first nations need to see. We must do better. We must settle the backlog of outstanding claims and have in place a new system that will support the resolution of new claims. We must establish a process that is more independent, impartial and transparent. This is about fairness.
First nations believe the existing process lacks fairness and transparency in the areas of research and assessment, that it does not provide a level playing field for negotiations and that it lacks independence, impartiality and accountability. Their lack of confidence in the fairness of the process means first nations are reluctant to accept negative decisions about the validity of claims. Costly court actions causing further delays are the result of that. Every dollar wasted in court is a dollar less for investment in economic development, governance and bread and butter issues. In this atmosphere enhanced partnerships and economic development can hardly be expected to flourish. That is the reason we are speaking here today and moving on this initiative.
Under the proposed act, the commission and tribunal would be established as neutral arm's length claim facilitation and adjudication bodies in law. Transparency would be enhanced. Funding of first nations to participate in the specific claims process would be managed by the commission, eliminating the current perception of conflict of interest.
The existing process would be simplified. An effective alternative to litigating specific claims in the courts would be provided through negotiated settlements through the commission and authority of the tribunal to render binding decisions as a last resort.
Hand in hand with fairness goes accountability. We as a government are accountable to first nations and other Canadians to ensure we have in place a land claims settlement system that is fair, transparent and efficient. The specific claims resolution act contains extensive accountability provisions to help achieve those ends. These include annual audits by the auditor general; annual reports tabled in parliament and made available to first nations and the public for scrutiny; quarterly reports on compensation; and a requirement for a full review between three and five years of its coming into effect.
We have built this legislation through partnership with first nations. In 1996 the federal government and the Assembly of First Nations established the Joint First Nations-Canada Task Force on specific claims. This event marked the beginning of consultations on the creation of an independent claims body. In 1998 the joint task force called for a two stage body consisting of a facilitative commission and an adjudicative tribunal in its set of recommendations.
One key feature of this proposal that has been particularly well received is the emphasis on dispute resolution processes to make negotiations work better.
Under the act the new commission's fundamental role would be to facilitate the resolution of negotiated settlements with authority to apply a full range of alternate dispute resolution processes: facilitation, mediation and non-binding arbitration. Even binding arbitration will be available with the consent of the parties. All claims regardless of size, complexity or value would have access to these processes through the commission.
On June 21 we will mark National Aboriginal Day, an occasion for all Canadians to celebrate the rich contribution aboriginal people have made to Canada. There will be colourful events across our country when young and old alike from all communities and the Canadian family join together for these celebrations. We need to celebrate the participation of first nations in our lives for more than just one day. In order for that to occur we need this act to resolve land claims quickly, fairly and efficiently to resolve historic grievances, to remove economic development roadblocks and to promote self-sufficiency of aboriginal people and a new climate of partnership.
At the current rate we are resolving claims, if we were to leave the system in place, we would be leaving it to our children to deal with the grievances of the past. With this new body and the role it would play, it is hoped that we would resolve grievances of the past quickly and move on with building a future.
I hope that all members would agree with me that this is the right step to take. I look forward to their support in this new act that I am presenting today to the House.