Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in the debate on Bill C-60, the specific claims resolution act, on second reading, representing the PC Party of Canada as an independent Conservative member of the House. It is rather unusual to debate two bills on aboriginal affairs back to back. As we know, yesterday we debated the first nations governance act, Bill C-61.
I made reference during yesterday's debate on Bill C-61 to the fact that the member for Winnipeg Centre made a recommendation to the minister that aboriginal representation be included during the hearing process of the standing committee. I can certainly say at this time that the PC Party of Canada supports that recommendation. In fact, we would suggest that the recommendation be extended to Bill C-60 as well.
We all know that the land claims issue in Canada has been longstanding and has not been easy. Aboriginal treaties and land claims are part of Canada's history. I believe that Canadians want these outstanding land claims to be resolved in an expedient manner. It is in the best interests of all Canadians, including aboriginal Canadians. Bill C-60, in the PC Party's opinion, is a progressive step.
My first involvement with land claims was in 1995 with the Rolling River first nations band in my riding of Dauphin--Swan River. The then chief, Dennis Whitebird, who is now the grand chief in Manitoba, was one of the leaders involved in the entitlement land claims initiative in Manitoba. As the mayor at the time I learned a lot about land claims through the process and supported the Manitoba entitlement claim initiative. In fact, Dauphin--Swan River is fortunate to have 13 first nation communities as well as 88 other municipalities.
The land claims process, as I found out, is not as simple as it sounds. At this point I would like to relate some of the basic information that I had to learn to understand and I believe it would be in the interest of the viewers following this debate.
First nations in Canada have signed agreements with the crown that are called treaties. There are three groups of treaties: pre-Confederation treaties, numbered treaties, and modern treaties, which we designate as land claims. In July 1817 the Selkirk Treaty in my own province of Manitoba was signed by the Saulteaux and the Cree First Nations and the Government of Canada.
The pre-Confederation treaties include King George III's royal proclamation of 1763. Those treaties were negotiated in Canada before Confederation. Also included are the Robinson Treaty of 1850, Treaty No. 13, and the additions to the Robinson Treaty which are known as Treaty No. 12 and Treaty No. 14. Numbered treaties are the treaties numbered 1 to 11, which were negotiated between 1871 and 1877 with first nations people across Canada.
The third group of treaties is known as the modern treaties, or land claims as we know them today, which consist of land claims negotiated according to Canada's land claims policy established in 1973. The land claims policy recognizes two broad classes of claims: comprehensive claims and specific claims.
I will explain briefly what comprehensive claims are. Comprehensive claims are based on the assertion of continuing aboriginal title to lands and natural resources.
Comprehensive claim settlements are negotiated to clarify the rights of aboriginal groups to lands and resources in a manner that will facilitate their economic growth and self-sufficiency. Settlements are intended to ensure that the interests of aboriginal groups in resource management and environmental protection are recognized and that claimants share in the benefits of development.
These rights and benefits usually include: full ownership of certain lands in the area covered by the settlement; guaranteed wildlife harvesting rights, which I will come back to later and discuss in a little more depth; guaranteed participation in land, water, wildlife and environmental management throughout the settlement area; financial compensation; resource revenue sharing; specific measures to stimulate economic development; and last, a role in management of heritage resources and parks in the settlement area.
I would like to speak about how guaranteed wildlife harvesting rights has impacted both aboriginal and non-aboriginal individuals in Dauphin--Swan River this past winter.
No one disagrees that aboriginal Canadians have the right to fish and hunt on a sustenance level. In real terms, sustenance means putting food on the table, in the absence of aboriginal commercial rights to fish.
This past winter in Dauphin--Swan River we saw a small group of aboriginal net fishers net fishing on an unlimited basis in stocked lakes under the guise of sustenance. That is wrong. This illegal activity is not supported even by aboriginal people. Most of this illegal catch ended up on the commercial market through the Manitoba freshwater fish marketing board, which is a creature of the federal government.
Unfortunately this issue is still unresolved. Manitoba has no provincial regulations pertaining to unlimited net fishing by aboriginals. In fact, the Manitoba conservation minister is himself an aboriginal Canadian. He wants band bylaws on resource management to be applicable outside the boundaries of the reserve. This goes against the Sparrow decision.
The issue of unlimited net fishing by aboriginals in stocked lakes will not go away unless all stakeholders in Manitoba meet and come up with a solution. The provincial minister currently picks and chooses who should sit at the table. If humans do not agree, fish and game will be the big losers. We will all lose if we lose our wildlife resources.
Most specific claims are related to land other than a loss of reserve lands without lawful surrender by the band concerned or the government's failure to pay compensation where lands were taken with legal authority. Other specific claims arise with respect to the administration of Indian moneys and other assets such as timber and mineral rights.
This brings me to Bill C-60 dealing with specific claims. Before I talk about the bill I would like to put forth the Progressive Conservative position. We would respond 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.
The position of the Progressive Conservative Party differs from the Liberals in that we would work with aboriginal people to expressly define aboriginal rights as a matter of public policy in a non-confrontational balance and interest based negotiations. We believe that the ineffective, paternalistic, colonial approach of the Indian Act must give way to greater self-reliance through effective education, economic development, social justice and local control.
The PC position is very clear. We do not share the position of another party in the House that believes special rights for any targeted racial group is contrary to the principle of equality and that they should be indistinguishable in law and treatment from other Canadians.
The minister said in committee that something was wrong when legal fees outstripped settlement targets. In principle the PC Party supports Bill C-60. On the matter of litigation we support the policy that Canada will not entertain a claim or participate in negotiations if first nations have active litigation on the claim.
The existing claims process has been criticized by many over the years. These are some of the criticisms. This was a backroom process hidden from the public. There is a lack of fairness and transparency in the area of research and assessment. It does not provide a level playing field for negotiations. Finally, there is a lack of independence and partiality and accountability. The new bill, Bill C-60, hopefully will address these concerns.
Canada's specific claims policy was first established in 1973. Over the years this policy has been amended several times to reflect the evolving legal and policy environment. Despite its shortcomings, it has settled many claims. In fact, 232 claims were settled, totalling $1.2 billion, averaging $5.3 million per claim and adding 16,000 square kilometres to the reserve land base. Approximately 580 claims, with an estimated contingent liability of $2 billion, have been added to the Indian and Northern Affairs Canada inventory of unsettled claims.
Calls for the government to establish an independent claims body have been numerous over four decades by three parliamentary committees: the parliamentary joint committee 1946-48; the joint committee of 1959-1961; and the Commons standing committee on aboriginal affairs in 1991. There was also draft legislation introduced twice in the House in 1963 and 1965. They all failed.
Three independent reports made similar recommendations for an independent claims body: Gérard La Forest in 1981; the Canadian Bar Association in 1987; and the royal commission on aboriginal peoples in 1995. There are other advocates who recommended the same point of view: the Indian Specific Claims Commission in 1991 and the first nations Canada joint task force created in 1996.
All stakeholders agree that establishment of this independent body is long overdue. The centrepiece of Bill C-60 is the establishment in law of the Canadian centre for the independent resolution of first nations specific claims. It will be comprised of a commission division to facilitate the negotiation of claims settlements between the parties by providing a range of dispute resolution processes and a tribunal division as a last recourse to adjudicate the validity of and compensation for claims where negotiations and dispute resolution processes have proved unsuccessful.
The commission and the tribunal will establish neutral arm's length claim facilitation and adjudication bodies, enhance transparency, remove the funding of first nations to participate in specific claims process from the minister's jurisdiction, simplify the existing structure and bring greater rigour to the process and provide an effective alternative to litigating specific claims, which are expensive for both parties, by actively promoting negotiated settlements and/or exercising its authority to render binding decisions.
One area in Bill C-60 which calls for debate is the fear of patronage appointments process. Why does the government get to pick all the commissioners in both divisions? How can it operate at arm's length and be impartial and away from political influence if this occurs? Does the aboriginal community have representation on those commissions?
June 21 is an important day as we celebrate National Aboriginal Day. Aboriginal history is a part of this country's history. How many Canadians know that during the war of 1812-1814 the aboriginals in central Canada, through their efforts in aiding the British, basically prevented the takeover of this country by the Americans?
Two weeks ago I had the privilege to help open the first annual parkland aboriginal festival in Dauphin, Manitoba. I am sure the festival will become an annual event and will continue for many years to come. I applaud the Dauphin Friendship Centre for taking the initiative to organize the event, with the full support of the aboriginal community.
In closing, Bill C-60 is needed. The PC Party supports the bill in principle. I look forward to the upcoming hearings by the standing committee.