Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his comments. It is clear that all of us here share the goals of which the member has spoken. The goals of economic betterment for aboriginal people are clearly shared by all Canadians.
It has been my experience that even when people agree on a destination, they do not necessarily have to agree on the route to get to that destination. The problem of this suite of proposals under this legislation is that it reveals that the government is headed toward a destination on which we cannot agree.
Where it is headed is toward a Canada which has competing sovereign nations within it. Where it is headed is toward a nation that recognizes 100, or 200 or perhaps several hundred separate sovereign nations within it. Because it is headed in that direction and because it is headed down the route that takes it there, we have to take exception to that, even though we share the goals of which the member has spoken, very strongly in fact.
We would propose an alternate route. This is what I wish to speak a bit about today. We will be proposing a number of amendments to the legislation which we hope will cause the legislation to work effectively without dividing us as people in the country.
This suite of financial institutions will of course not be a panacea for the problems that affect aboriginal communities and aboriginal people across Canada. It really only affects about a dozen first nation communities across Canada. It is only in those dozen or so where the resource base is significant enough and strong enough that own source revenues are available to warrant the ability to borrow, to tax, et cetera.
It would be a wonderful thing to have all first nations communities in Canada able to lever their own resource base effectively and take on the responsibility of building their own infrastructure. However, that is not the reality for perhaps 600 of the first nations communities.
Let us not be misled here. This is not about bettering all aboriginal people. The broad general statements the member made in his comments of course are worthy goals. However the legislation does very little, if anything, to actually achieve those goals for the vast majority of aboriginal Canadians. It profoundly impacts perhaps very few. It is significant in the fact that it ignores the circumstance for most.
The Canadian Alliance has advanced and will continue to advance alternative proposals which will take us on the correct path to building a nation together, by addressing issues of inequality that are fundamental to the economic problems that aboriginal communities and individuals face and by addressing the inequalities of economic freedoms and rights that are a reality under the Indian Act and other pieces of legislation that exist today, which are archaic and perhaps one would describe them as relics of failed experiments of the past. Those should be discarded.
The equality for aboriginal people can best be achieved on a foundation of equal economic freedoms, equal rights and equal protection of those rights. We have and will continue to advance clear proposals which will restore those rights which aboriginal Canadians should enjoy to the equivalent level of all other Canadians. We will advance proposals to guarantee equal human rights as well. We will advance proposals to give equal commercial freedoms to aboriginal Canadians. These do not exist today. These differential rights create and perpetrate a myth and this legislation perpetrates the same myth that it is possible to have separate but equal institutions.
Civil rights leaders across the world have fought against that mistaken belief. I will recount, on August 28, 1963, a quarter of a million people gathered between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial in the United States capital to demonstrate peacefully on behalf of the civil rights struggle. The high point of that day was when Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., in his now famous speech, called upon Americans to work with faith that change would come and that some day all would be judged not by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character. His soaring refrain of “I have a dream” still inspires not only the American conscience but the conscience of peoples around the world. His perseverance and his eloquence were rewarded.
The suite of separate institutions comes to this place not as a response to the frustrations of Canada's aboriginal people. It comes to us as a consequence of a desire to assert the power of cultural differences that have been suppressed throughout much of Canada's history.
The question that should concern all of us is whether the legislation actually assists Canada's aboriginal people and Canadians as a whole, to quote King, “raising from the dark and desolate valley of segregation”, or whether it is heading down the wrong path, a path away from unity, a path away from strength, a path away from the end of racial injustice, and a path away from the solid rock of brotherhood.
Like King, we have a dream and we believe most Canadian's share that dream, that despite the mistakes and the wrongdoings of the past, we can overcome the divisive militancy of the present as much as it is a natural response to the wrongdoings of the past and move beyond that and recognize that our freedoms are inextricably bound to the freedoms of all Canadians.
I dream of a time, just as King did, when aboriginal children, boys and girls, can join together with non-aboriginal children and walk together as brothers and sisters. I have a dream that can happen.
In taking the risk today in speaking against these well-sounding, well-meaning proposals by the government, I speak not out of fear. I speak in spite of the fear that my words will be misunderstood. I have little doubt, as Kipling said, “that my words will be taken by knaves to make a trap for fools”. Nonetheless, I speak them.
I have toured aboriginal communities, as have my colleagues. I have toured and visited reserve communities extensively. I have visited dozens of communities in the past year since being named the chief critic of this portfolio. I can tell the House that in many respects I know that aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians do live in separate worlds, and that is a tragedy. However there is growing overlap and if we nourish our commonalties then perhaps that can be a source of strength for us.
This area of aboriginal policy is considered by many to be dangerous territory. The number one piece of advice I have received since my appointment has been to be careful, which means be afraid, but I will not be afraid because it is not wise to have fear be one's master at any time. The fear of dealing with these issues, the temptation to avoid debates, the tension and sometimes bitter exchanges in this emotional policy area should be resisted at all costs. The fear of talking about the problems facing aboriginal people and our relationships is the most dangerous decision of all because it increases the likelihood of continued failure if it does not guarantee it.
We must not be afraid to disagree. We must not be afraid to agree either. We must avoid cynicism, although it is hard. We see a government that has been taking an approach to aboriginal policy that could be best described as ad hoc. It is loaded with contradictions. On the one hand, colonial, and on the other hand, fighting for separate sovereign status.
The proposal for a first nations governance act was brought to the House. It was the result of a continuation of the old style, top down, pre-ordained colonialistic approach of the past. It was full of good intentions and advanced in spite of its almost universal opposition among Canada's aboriginal people. Contrast that piece of legislation, which proposes to put a top down solution on all aboriginal communities and governments, to this piece of legislation, which places separate aboriginal ownership of four new fiscal institutions in the hands of aboriginal people. The purpose of one, to provide training, accounting and financial management; another to secure debt; another to establish taxation policy; and yet another to set up a separate statistical institution. Each of these proposals would give more control to aboriginal people to shape their social economic future, and that is a worthwhile goal and a goal we share.
However it is hard not to be cynical. We have followed a model in this country, up until recent years, for perhaps three decades, that was a miserable failure. If one can summarize the government's plan, it seems to be advancing that model to aboriginal people for duplication and replication. It is encouraging aboriginal communities to tax, borrow, account for and keep statistical records of their operations and aspects of their lives.
Taxing and borrowing has led to numerous, well-documented problems in this country. Passing on that power to aboriginal communities certainly has the potential for additional perverse outcomes. We have seen that in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, for example, where half our bands are under co-management or under third party management.
The challenges are very real and should not be made light of, yet the government does not seem to recognize those challenges.
Canada's Indian people remain at the negative extremes of all our social, economic and health indicators. They have the lowest per capita income, the highest rates of unemployment, the shortest life expectancy and a suicide rate among the young people that is six times the national average.
What aboriginal people want for their children is not hard to understand. They want a better standard of living, a better quality of life and equality of opportunity equal to other Canadians, yet this legislation, like other government legislation, fails to address the aboriginal people's reality and their goals.
We have and we will continue to advance proposals that we feel will be far more effective in empowering aboriginal Canadians. We believe that because our members have been so much in contact with aboriginal people, we have been listening and chronicling the real experiences of aboriginal Canadians, that we are very much in touch with the priorities of aboriginal Canadians.
A recent survey done by the government supports that. The government's own Department of Indian Affairs identified the major priorities of aboriginal people through an eco-survey which was released last year. The question was: Thinking about the issues facing Canada today, which one would you say the Government of Canada should focus on most? The answers were health care, education, social services, unemployment, the environment and so on.
Aboriginal self-government and aboriginal sovereignty struggles did not make the top 10. That does not surprise me because the members of aboriginal communities with whom I have spoken, on and off reserve, do not rank separate sovereign nationhood as a high priority. It is a low priority for them. The government's own study showed that, yet this suite of financial institutions plays to the agenda of a separate sovereign nationhood for aboriginal people. This concerns us.
The reality is that when aboriginal Canadians and leaders of aboriginal communities, whether on or off reserve, call for more resources for things like water infrastructure, educational programs or treaty resolutions, the government responds, as the minister did in committee just the other day when he said that there were very limited resources and that we should accept the fiscal realities of the modern age. That is quite true, but that being said, why then would we spend additional resources on these institutional structures when we could be addressing the real priorities of aboriginal Canadians? Why not build on the foundations of shared institutions, institutions we have created, that have capabilities, that we have invested in and have asked taxpayers to support, some for decades? Why not build on that foundation? Why start anew with separate, race based institutions?
Our concerns are clear. The Liberal government has failed to address the waste, the overlap and the duplication within its own bureaucracy. Just recently we saw a mammoth growth in the number of government employees being hired, most of them, 80%-plus, employed in the capital region. The government has focused here, not on the communities and not on where they would be in close contact with the people receiving the services.
The government again has shown its inability to deal with the overlap and waste that exists within its own departments. Certainly that is true with the 13 departments that deliver services of various kinds to aboriginal Canadians.
We are concerned that this bureaucratic waste diminishes and erodes the effects of tax dollars that should be allocated to aboriginal people in an effective way. We do not wish to support legislation which, if enacted, would further result in an expensive erosion of such resources or would result in a potential devolution of a government's obligations to other agencies without the assurance of long term commitments.
Duplication and a lack of long term commitments will guarantee that the hardships of Canada's aboriginal people, not only are not addressed by the legislation but could potentially be made worse.
We have a real opportunity, a rare circumstance, where choices can be made and choices must be made. The Canadian Alliance is concerned that if we simply drift into the future we will simply achieve the same results that we had in the past. Those results were the results of inertia.
We agree with the remark of the previous speaker that the status quo is not acceptable, but neither are ad hoc policies all over the map. That is not what Canada's aboriginal people deserve and not what Canadian taxpayers deserve. A directionless path risks repeating the failures of the past.
In the past, aboriginal peoples were marginalized. Now many aboriginal people are speaking out, and that is good. The real task is to better define interrelationships between Canada's aboriginal and non-aboriginal people, but to never lose sight of the fact that we are in this together, that we must foster a sense of commonality and a shared political community while at the same time respecting and recognizing that differences do exist. If we only focus on our differences, we will simply create indifferent strangers and these strangers will be indifferent to one another's well-being. That indifference is not something from which aboriginal people will benefit in the long term.
We need to recognize two fundamental requirements for aboriginal policy. First, we need to be sensitive to the fact that aboriginal people's history has set them apart and has, I believe, created different degrees of consciousness toward the Canadian national identity. Some degree of self-governing power is essential in order to recognize that reality, but we need to recognize that aboriginal people's future does not lie outside of Canada.
As much as some, both within the government and within the leadership of the aboriginal community, increasingly seem to be pushing the agenda that aboriginal people want out, that stands in stark contrast to those who have fought for equality, civil rights and civil liberties around the world. Martin Luther King's struggle was to get American Negro people in; not out, but in.
Nonetheless, it is important to remember, in spite of that multi-advocacy, that the future of aboriginal peoples lies within the Canadian state and that total independence and separate sovereign nationhood is not a realistic goal.
Therefore the right policies have to include some concept of our shared citizenship. Creating a third order of aboriginal government does not itself deal with our shared citizenship. The task is to encourage an understanding that we are not divided entities, that some can be aboriginal and Canadian at the same time. The old approach was assimilation, and that was wrong. The new approach is parallelism, and that is equally wrong. Both approaches will fail.
The assimilationist paradigm focused on a standardized citizen but it had no sympathy for any positive recognition of aboriginal people. Differences were to be overcome. We were homogenous. Policies, such as Indian reserves and Indian residential schools, were designed to keep aboriginal people outside until they could be assimilated. We know today that those policies were horribly counterproductive.
However the emerging paradigm, which the government at times seems to embrace, is called parallelism. It shows some sensitivity to aboriginal people but it pays little attention to what we share, to what holds us together and to what prevents us from being strangers.
By establishing separate institutions, the government seems to be respectful and compassionate, but what it is doing is it establishing parallel, duplicitous bureaucracies which perpetuate our differences.
It creates an image of a railway track in my mind. When I was a boy I stood on the railway track that ran through our farm and I imagined that down in the distance those lines came together at some point, but they did not. The ties were not ties to bind, they were ties to keep those rails distant and apart. If we embrace this model I think we fail to recognize what is the best hope for aboriginal Canadians.
Perhaps the image of compassion is one the government would like to project but there is nothing compassionate about separation. If we cannot accept it for Quebec as a sovereign nation, why would we expect that Canadians would accept the model of 600-plus separate sovereign Indian nations?
The danger in parallelism is that it has very little to offer Canadians of non-aboriginal descent and very little to offer the growing urban aboriginal population. Parallelism does not address the reality of the fact that we intermingle, that we are together and that we are interdependent. Parallelism makes us separate. Such is less the case today than it has ever been since the formation of this country.
The advocates for parallelism are biased toward strong recognition of aboriginal difference. In fact they are promoters of aboriginal difference. They are not trying to break in to Canadian society; they are trying to break out. This rhetoric has dangers because the strategic requirements for breaking out are the reverse of the requirements for breaking in, for becoming a Canadian citizen with equal rights and equal responsibilities. If we want those equal rights we can do what Martin Luther King did and talk about common goals and common membership, and shared institutions, not separate ones.
The words of the bill would argue that these four institutions simply provide services available to other non-aboriginal communities, that surely, municipalities tax and provincial governments borrow, that there are accounting and financial management training facilities available for non-aboriginal governments and we of course have Statistics Canada, so therefore it should follow that these same services should be available to aboriginal governments. But of course the price we pay when we set up separate aboriginal institutions is that we emphasize the very differences that were at the heart of the concerns that anti-segregationists such as Martin Luther King fought against. The danger of establishing separate institutions is simply that we perpetuate our separateness.
Neither the assimilationist paradigm nor the parallelism paradigm is capable of handling difference and similarity simultaneously, and that is the problem. Neither of them is an adequate recipe for a future order, an order that must recognize and respect differences but also be able to recognize and reinforce similarities.
The assimilationists say to aboriginal people that they can become full members of Canadian society only if they stop being aboriginal. The parallelism advocates say to non-aboriginal Canadians that they cannot expect to share a sense of citizenship with aboriginal people, that they are different from aboriginal people, that they are not travelling together. Both are wrong. We can no longer deny our differences, but if that is all we have and if we are unable or unwilling to try to transcend those differences we have no reason or basis to reconstruct a common country. There is the confusion, because the reality is that there are many values that are shared by non-aboriginal society and aboriginal society.
The reality is that the differences between our values are declining and that there is more commonalty in our value systems now than there ever has been. There is probably more plurality among aboriginal cultures than there is between aboriginal cultures and non-aboriginal cultures, in fact. In a 1992 study the overall out-marriage rate for status Indians was 34%. For off reserve status Indians this figure was over 60%.
These marriage rates suggest a pretty high level of cultural exchange between Canadian non-aboriginal and aboriginal people and they certainly weaken the assertion that it is impossible, that there is an impossible cultural degree of difference between us for us to overcome. In a way it is ironic that many years ago, when aboriginal and non-aboriginal differences were arguably considerably higher, there was more of a call to come together for commonalty of purpose than there is today when those differences are small.
The clear preference among most aboriginal communities I have visited and among members of those communities I have spoken with is that they want to develop as aboriginal people but they want to at the same time integrate with and work within the larger Canadian society. The question we have to ask ourselves is this: Is the bill going to assist us in that larger task?
Our challenge is to strike a balance, a balance between the sensitivity we all feel for aboriginal differences but the equal concern we have for the cohesion of a greater Canadian community. If we mistakenly believe that by setting aboriginal people apart, whether it is by establishing separate institutions that duplicate the work already being done by national institutions or through some other method, if we believe that by doing this we are accomplishing something positive in the sense that we are supporting and recognizing aboriginal people, we do risk a perverse outcome. We may find that such initiatives will be counterproductive if they are not accompanied by or do not lead to a sense of Canadian solidarity based on shared and equally valued citizenship. We are not there yet, but that is where we need to be.
The legislation would establish a tax commission to formalize taxation policy for aboriginal bands, but let us not portray this as a panacea for all that ails aboriginal communities. Very few bands have tax regimes in place and most of them are designed to tax non-band members. Very few bands have escaped from the reality of dependency on transfer support from the federal government. The reality of ongoing partnerships with other levels of government will continue to be, to varying degrees, the reality for the vast majority of Canada's aboriginal communities.
Let us not ignore also the reality of smallness. Approximately a third of Canada's 600-plus first nations communities have populations of 100 or less, with 80% having less than 2,000. To set up bureaucracies and bureaucratic structures that compete with one another, battling bureaucracies, as is proposed under the government's other legislation, the first nations governance act, for example, is totally ineffective and totally cost ineffective as well.
The bill does not address the needs of the vast majority of Canada's first nations communities. Our proposal will address the needs of those aboriginal citizens in the communities and off reserve.
We do not want to see increased borrowing ability used as a means by the federal government to in any way escape its responsibilities to aboriginal communities in terms of infrastructure investment on reserves. In particular, the Canadian Alliance is concerned about water quality and water and sewer services in aboriginal communities. We need to fully understand what the consequences are of the federal government's future obligations should this legislation go forward and should bands make the decision, as a few may be able to do, to issue bonds and to borrow for the benefit of their own investment and their own infrastructure.
Certainly the vast majority of aboriginal leaders I have had the privilege of meeting have a full understanding and desire not only to be accountable but to be seen as being accountable. Yet is true that accounting skills and methods vary, and so the financial management board has the potential to assist, if properly structured, in facing the challenge of more accurate, consistent and transparent documentation of first nations expenditures practice. However, each of these institutions has within it, if not properly structured, the danger of duplication, waste and overlap, so we will be advancing amendments to ensure that accountable practices in each of these institutions maximize the benefits to aboriginal people while at the same time achieving effective use of all taxpayer dollars. This is in the best interests of all Canadians.
It is the scattered use of taxpayer dollars that causes us to ask the question, why a separate first nations statistical institute? The backgrounder and business plan summary for the statistical institute talks about producing first nations friendly statistics and promoting a first nations agenda, which raises a question not only about the reliability of such agenda based statistical evidence but also about the degree to which it could possibly influence anyone.
Certainly Canadians now pay over $600 million a year for Statistics Canada. Can we not work together as Canadians to achieve our shared goals within a cooperative institution of that magnitude, with that degree of corporate memory, with that degree of respect around the world for its capabilities? Can we not possibly work together to use the services of that statistical service for the benefit of both aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians? Certainly the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples suggested that it was possible. That was the recommendation it made.
On one hand, I can understand the frustration of aboriginal people who, for example, when the Assembly of First Nations raised its concerns about the first nations governance act, saw the minister cut its funding by 53%. I can understand them being frustrated. The Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs clearly was not pleased with first nations opposition to the imposition of his wrong-headed first nations governance act, so I can understand that there might be a natural desire to see separate first nations institutions established to make sure that such control is in the hands of someone other than the minister. However, at the same time these agencies will all be funded by the taxpayers of Canada, so therefore it would seem to me that the accountability mechanisms would still have to be in place.
We have to make sure on behalf of all Canadians that we manage resources that have a cost benefit. If that benefit is not there, then that expense is unjustified. So I ask the question, then, could these funds not be better used in addressing the high priority problems of aboriginal Canadians in health care, in water quality, in advancing education and in resolving more treaties and outstanding claims? Perhaps we could provide more resources to those genuinely in need rather than establishing more bureaucracies to compete with other bureaucracies to compete with other bureaucracies. Funding battling bureaucracies is not helping the situation for aboriginal people who live in poverty in our country.
We are concerned that though we understand aboriginal people once inhabited this land in relative isolation, they and we now co-exist in a complex system with people who have come here from all over the world. As tempting as it might be to try to simplify that system, to set up parallel institutional models that perpetuate the separation between people who increasingly share common goals and common aspirations, it is a bad road to follow. What we need to do instead is follow the road that links us. Perhaps we can find that link better by making our existing institutions function more effectively than we can by hiving off separate ones under aboriginal control.
We cannot thwart self-government aspirations, nor would we, but at the same time we must expect aboriginal people to invest in common enterprises only if we do and, reciprocally, the willingness of non-aboriginal majorities to provide the assistance, financial or otherwise, that self-government will be requiring. If we do not build such an environment where non-aboriginal Canadians feel they are in a genuine partnership, a shared relationship with aboriginal Canadians, how can self-government be anything more than form? And form more than substance is not the goal that aboriginal Canadians have for their own self-government structures.
We cannot think of one another as strangers. The practical task that we have is to enhance the compatibility between aboriginal nationhood and Canadian citizenship. That is the dream of the Canadian Alliance and I believe that is the dream of Canada's aboriginal people and most Canadians. Therefore I move the following amendment:
That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word “That” and substituting the following:
Bill C-19, An Act to provide for real property taxation powers of first nations, to create a First Nations Tax Commission, First Nations Financial Management Board, First Nations Finance Authority and First Nations Statistical Institute and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, be not now read a second time but that the Order be discharged, the Bill withdrawn and the subject matter thereof referred to the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs, Northern Development and Natural Resources.