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House of Commons Hansard #149 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was c-46.

Topics

Immigration and Refugee Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

11 a.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

moved that Bill C-436, an act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (sponsorship of relative), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am proud to rise in the House to speak for the first hour of debate to my private member's bill, Bill C-436, an act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (sponsorship of relative).

I thank the member for Winnipeg Centre for supporting the bill. I know it is an issue that he supports very much. He has had a lot of feedback in his riding about the bill and I am very happy that he is seconding the bill today.

The bill before us would allow a Canadian citizen or a permanent resident to make a once in a lifetime sponsorship of a relative who would not otherwise be considered under the family class sponsorship rules that exist today.

I brought forward the bill because one of Canada's key immigration objectives is to help families reunite in Canada. In fact we just received information from the minister a couple of days ago showing us that 28% of Canada's new immigrants are under the family class.

Upon examination of the current provisions, it becomes very clear that the current legislation defining the family class is quite restrictive, leaving many potential relatives ineligible for family reunification. I know in Vancouver East, my own riding, and indeed across the country, because I have heard from many people, many families are desperate to reunite with a family member who is still in the country of origin.

The bill is actually a very modest one. It does not change the system in any dramatic way. It lays out that a permanent resident or a Canadian citizen could sponsor, once in a lifetime, on a one time basis, a family member who would not otherwise qualify under the existing rule. It is that straightforward and it is that simple.

Just to give some context to this proposal, the Liberal red book has long put forward a goal to move immigration levels to 1% of the population, which would be about 300,000 people per year. However, as we all know, we have never come close to meeting this target. On average about 219,000 immigrants arrive each year in Canada.

In 1993 the number of people sponsored under the family class provision reached a peak of 110,000. Today the projection for family member sponsorship is around 60,000. We can see that there has actually been a decline from that peak in 1993.

The federal NDP and our leader, Jack Layton, have been very outspoken on this issue and very supportive of the bill. We do support the government target of 1% of the population for immigration. We consider immigration to be a powerful and positive contribution to the economic, social, cultural and political life of our country. We are a party that has always stood for supporting immigration.

We have seen too often a backlash against immigrants. I read a front page story in the Vancouver Sun last Thursday, the day I held a press conference in my own community around the bill, which linked immigrants to terrorists. We all know we are in an environment where there is increasing hostility toward immigration.

I am proud to say that in the federal NDP we have always supported immigration. We want to see the federal government meet its own targets. We know there are Liberal members who support those goals as well. We can help achieve the goal of 1% by supporting the bill without drastically changing the system.

Currently, under the family class section of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, only the following relatives are eligible for sponsorship, and it is quite restrictive. For example, one can sponsor a spouse, a common law or conjugal partner who is at least 16 years of age. One can sponsor a dependent child who is under 22, is a full time student, is dependent on a parent for financial support or has a disability. One can also sponsor a parent or a grandparent.

My bill would allow a further step such that someone not eligible under those restrictions could be sponsored. A brother or a sister over 18 years of age could be sponsored. A first cousin, an aunt or uncle or a niece or nephew over the age that now provides the restriction could also be sponsored. A child over the age of 22 could also be sponsored. My bill gives more flexibility.

I want to make it very clear that my bill is not opening up the floodgates to family class sponsorships. Sponsorship would be on the basis of somebody being able to do this once in a lifetime.

I am sure that all members, based on their own experiences in their own ridings, have heard of heartbreaking cases of families spending years in the system trying to get a family member to Canada from their country of origin. I find it heartbreaking to see the psychological impact and sometimes the economic impact that hits these families that have been broken up. I feel that if my bill were supported and acted upon it would be a small step in helping to provide family reunification.

Bill C-436 has received tremendous support. When this idea first came up from the former minister of immigration in 2000, 15,000 signatures were collected in Vancouver alone in support of this policy change. Unfortunately, the then minister decided not to go ahead with the change.

Even today the bill is gathering a lot of support across the country from groups like MOSAIC in Vancouver, Storefront Orientation Services, Falun Gong members, the B.C. Latin American Congress, the Inland Refugee Society of B.C., members of the Fijian community, the Iranian-Canadian Community of Western Canada, the Vancouver Association of Chinese Canadians, and well known writers like Lydia Kwa and Sook Kong, a writer, a poet and a teacher. There is also support from groups like SUCCESS, which is the largest organization in the lower mainland of Vancouver serving the Chinese and was one of the organizations that obtained those 15,000 signatures in 2000. Just yesterday I was advised that the all presidents' meeting of the Chinese Canadian National Council voted to support this once in a lifetime bill.

Word is now going out across the country that Bill C-436 is being debated in Parliament and in due course will be voted on. I think there is very strong community support. Groups and agencies that support new Canadians understand how difficult this issue of family reunification is. They understand families' desperation at trying to bring family members over. No matter how hard they try, the rules are so restrictive they are not able to accomplish it. I think this bill would help move us toward family reunification.

When we held a press conference in Vancouver on Thursday some local media were there, after which a story appeared in the Vancouver Sun. A couple of immigration lawyers were quoted as saying that the family class is “traditionally a net drain on public funds”. I was actually quite alarmed by these kinds of statements and by the fact that anybody who works with new Canadians and families would say that new immigrants and family class sponsorships are a net drain on public funds. We know that under the existing rules financial support has to be provided for anywhere from three to ten years. All kinds of existing provisions are in place to ensure that there is no financial drain on society generally. None of those rules are being proposed for change. All my bill would do is ensure that someone could sponsor one additional relative.

Other comments were made that if the bill were passed it would somehow trigger a backlash. I was very alarmed to read those kinds of comments, particularly from immigration lawyers who should be familiar with what we need to do.

It seems to me that as members of Parliament we should be supporting and advocating for family reunification. This is actually one of the core programs of the government's immigration program. It is something that is based on compassion and on the well-being and wholeness of families. Any of us could imagine what it would be like if we were here in Canada and wanted to have a relative who was a very important part of our family in this country yet were prevented from doing so.

I will be the first to say that clearly there have to be rules and regulations. My bill would not change any of the provisions around medical requirements or even the definitions of family in the existing bill. Based on the conversations I have had, there are many people who actually would like to change those definitions because they think they are too restrictive. However, that is another debate and maybe another bill for another day.

This bill is actually quite limited in that it takes in the existing definition of family class and the existing provisions for approval. It would simply allow someone, once in a lifetime, to sponsor an additional family member who would not otherwise be eligible under the sponsorship rules.

I hope members will consider the bill and look at it as a step toward actually accomplishing what I believe we all support and agree on, which is support of families and reunification. I hope members will agree that it should go to the next step, to committee. Then we would have a further discussion and there may be all kinds of suggestions about how to improve the bill, which I would certainly welcome.

One of the things I hope we can draw visibility to in putting forward the bill is the real difficulties people face in dealing with the immigration system. In our party we are actually setting up a website so that Canadians can tell us first-hand about the experiences they have had with the system. I know that many of us are familiar with that because of the cases that too often, unfortunately, we are compelled to take on.

We want to draw attention to the facts about just how difficult it is to deal with this system. Some of it is a question of resources. I think one of the reasons we do not meet the 1% target is simply that government offices overseas do not have the kind of staff resourcing they need to actually process applications. This is actually something that the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration has investigated and documented in a very thorough way. I think many of us are very concerned about the fact that while these goals exist, we are not able to meet them because we simply do not have the resources, particularly in some key offices, or we do not even have enough offices to make sure that these applications are processed in a timely way. This becomes a sort of backdoor way of keeping a gate closed on the system. I think members on that committee are very well aware of that systemic problem that exists now.

I will close by saying that I think the bill is a small step to help families with reunification. It is a very modest proposal. It would not dramatically change the system in any way. It was actually proposed by the former minister of citizenship and immigration at one point in 2000. It has tremendous support in the community. I think people see it as a practical and concrete step which they would be able to use. I look forward to the debate. I encourage members to think about the issue and to support in principle the idea of what is being put forward. I look forward to further debate at committee.

Immigration and Refugee Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Brampton Centre Ontario

Liberal

Sarkis Assadourian LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, I was following the hon. member's speech very carefully. As a member of the immigration and citizenship committee, she works very hard on this issue.

Basically I think the concept is a very good idea, but the problem is in the details. As the expression goes, the devil is in the details.

Based on her proposal, I wonder if the hon. member could inform us of what she thinks is the maximum capacity of immigrants we are ready to absorb in the country. Would it be 100,000, 200,000 or 500,000 a year? What impact would that have on our society as a whole? I do not think we have enough capacity in the system to absorb and integrate the potential millions who may come to Canada. If we accept this rule, that is a possibility we have to face. We have to address that issue.

Immigration and Refugee Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his question, as I know that he as well has worked very hard on the citizenship and immigration committee. I am glad to hear that he thinks this is a good idea.

Of course a number of details would need to be worked out, but I would point out that at one point we did have over 110,000 new Canadians who came under the family class provision. We are now down to about 60,000, so if there is some increase in the family class provision through a measure like this, I absolutely cannot not see any evidence that somehow it will have a huge impact in a negative way. In fact, I would advocate that it will have an impact in a positive way in actually helping to strengthen families in local communities. Surely this is something we should be supporting.

In terms of what number we might arrive at, again I would point out to the hon. member, and I think he knows this, that we are far short of the target actually set by the government.

In any report from the citizenship and immigration committee or any government report, members will read information and evidence about the evaluations and studies done over the years which show that immigration is of huge benefit to this country in terms of the workforce, the labour market and cultural, social and economic contributions.

I think we have to look at this bill in that context and say that it would strengthen our immigration system. It would not detract from or undermine it.

Immigration and Refugee Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Sarkis Assadourian Liberal Brampton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I wonder if the hon. member would comment. We did not reach our 1% target in the last few years although that is the Liberal policy, but how would the bill help us to achieve that target without regulating this? Also, how can the government reach that target without making it difficult for society to absorb new Canadians? If we cannot do it with 225,000 because of, as my colleague said, limitations on funding, how does she expect us to do such a thing in a massive way?

Immigration and Refugee Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is just a matter of political will and commitment. Those targets exist. I think the governing Liberal Party has shown its support for immigration policies, but as I have said, there has been this backdoor way of keeping a limit on the numbers because of staff resources.

There is a way to do this. There may even be a way to forward this bill without additional staff resources, but generally that is a huge question. I know the member is very aware of that because of his work on the committee. It is something the government has to address. If we believe in immigration and if we support immigration and we want to come anywhere close to what these targets are, then we actually have to provide the training, the staff supports and the settlement programs to actually facilitate it. It comes down to a question of what the government priority is on that question.

Immigration and Refugee Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Brampton Centre Ontario

Liberal

Sarkis Assadourian LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, family reunification has long been a key objective of the Government of Canada's policy and legislation. It helps ensure the well-being of each newcomer we bring to Canada and it substantially contributes to community growth and prosperity. Debates on how to strengthen this important cornerstone of Canadian policy to allow more family members to sponsor their loved ones from abroad therefore have a long and rich tradition.

In June 2002 Canada opened a new chapter in this regard with the passage of regulations to significantly enhance the family reunification program, which more closely reflect today's social and cultural realities. These changes reflect extensive public consultation as well as the government's commitment to expand the family class and balance the number of family members we bring to Canada each year with a sustainable plan.

The new regulations allow individuals in a common law or conjugal relationship with a Canadian to be sponsored. They broaden the definition of dependent child by including children under 22 years old, up from under age 19 in the previous regulations. The regulations also reduce the age at which Canadian citizens or permanent residents are eligible to become sponsors from 19 to 18 years old, and they decrease the period of sponsorship undertakings from ten years to three years in most cases.

These changes are based on careful deliberations and reflect the recommendations of individual experts in the field as well as stakeholder organizations in every region of the country. They support our commitment to the family. They also help ensure that Canada maintains the appropriate balance of economic and family class immigration.

As part of the public consultations concerning the new regulations, the government gave careful consideration to a number of options to further expand the family class, including a suggestion that each Canadian or permanent resident should receive a one-time opportunity to sponsor a non-family class relative. The once in a lifetime sponsorship option was found unworkable for a number of reasons, all of which apply to the private member's bill before the House today.

Bill C-436 would amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to grant Canadian citizens and permanent residents the right to sponsor, once in a sponsor's lifetime, one foreign national who is a relative but not a member of the family class. The bill contains no definition of relative nor any apparent restrictions or limitations on intake beyond its once in a lifetime provision. Such a wide open approach would significantly increase processing delays and the size of existing backlogs for every immigrant category. It would place an unsupportable burden on existing resources, and it would help to undermine the integrity of the entire immigration program by increasing the opportunities for fraud.

Canada's recent experience with the removal of limitations on sponsorships clearly demonstrates the flaws in the private member's bill under consideration. In 1988 the government of the time changed the sponsorship rules to include all unmarried sons and daughters in the family class. Total intake in this category nearly doubled over two years, going from 53,033 in 1987 to 104,199 in 1989. When the government cancelled the program in 1993, it was after an eight year processing backlog had been incurred at some Canadian missions, and some of the effects are still being felt today.

Think of it this way. The increase from 1987 to 1989 consisted almost entirely of never married children of any age. If the proposal under debate today were limited to never married children, family class intake would at least double in the next two years. However, if all distant relatives are included with their spouses and children, family class intake could increase even more. Since the newly landed relatives could themselves sponsor any relative as soon as they were qualified to do so, the family class could potentially overwhelm the immigration program. This is clearly not in the best interests of Canadians or the newcomers we bring to our shores.

We agree with the concept of expanding the family class and making it easier for families to reunite with their loves ones in Canada. We agree with the idea of strengthening families in general. Our recent actions clearly support and reinforce this commitment, but the government has also a duty to properly manage the immigration program and ensure that the principles of fairness, integrity and balance are upheld. We therefore cannot support Bill C-436 or any other special provision that fails to take into consideration all that I have mentioned earlier.

Immigration and Refugee Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Diane Ablonczy Canadian Alliance Calgary Nose Hill, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to commend my colleague from the New Democratic Party for bringing forward this private member's bill. I know she has a very caring heart and has worked closely with immigrant communities.

The difficulty I have with the bill is twofold. One is that there has been a concerted effort by a number of other parties to label our party as anti-immigrant. That is not the case. However, because that perception is out there, it is sometimes very difficult for us to speak on these kinds of matters because no matter what we say, we are attacked with that perception in mind.

Therefore, I would like first to make it clear that our party is very pro-immigrant. In fact we have a very diverse ethic group in our caucus. Many of our members of Parliament in the Canadian Alliance were not born in Canada. They are in fact immigrants, children of immigrants, including myself. Therefore, we are very pro-immigration, and I want to enter the debate with that very clearly in mind.

The second difficulty I have with the bill is on some practical matters. It would be wonderful if we could move ahead, as my colleague has suggested, with each person being able to sponsor someone once in a lifetime to come to Canada. That would certainly be a wonderful gift to many people, but there are some results that would flow from that kind of change in policy. Therefore, we need to look at those carefully before we decide whether this matter should go ahead.

The main concern I have, and I know a lot of immigrants to Canada have, is the huge backlog that exists in our immigration system. I have had some heartbreaking cases in my office. I imagine that each one of us, as members of Parliament, could stand in our place and tell stories of people who have tried so hard to get their spouse, their fiancée, their children, their parents to Canada under the family class sponsorship but have had the most horrendous roadblocks put in their way with a huge backlog.

I have had many such cases. One that was recent was a constituent who worked very hard to get his wife to come to Canada. She was pregnant at the time. The application started in May 2001. He was told, though a letter from the immigration department, that the whole process would take about 15 months, which would have brought his wife to Canada about the summer of 2002. Unfortunately, their child would not be born in Canada and that was a real concern to him. He was very proud of Canada and wanted his child to be born here.

I do not have time to go over the horrendous series of events that took place between the time my constituent made his application to bring his wife to Canada and when she finally arrived in September 2003. That was two and a half years from the time he made his application, and there was such heartbreak for this man, his wife and his little daughter.

My concern is that immigrants, who are in these situations, who want to bring elderly parents, many of whom are not well and need family to care for them and to be with them, or who want to bring their children or their spouse to Canada, already have such a difficult time. By loading up the queue, so to speak, with new categories of entrants, new categories of people who are able to make an application to come to Canada, we have to think about the impact on those who are already in the queue. That is a tremendous concern to many citizens and immigrants who are already trying to get close family members into Canada.

Both my colleague in the New Democratic Party and the government member, the parliamentary secretary, spoke of the lack of resources in our system. It is a real concern for all of us. The lack of resources are impacting newcomers to Canada very severely.

We all know that settlement services continually are cut back. That really means newcomers to Canada do not have the kind of language training they require. Newcomers to Canada do not get the employment counselling that is so important to them. There is a lack of resources in housing, so we have cities like Vancouver and Toronto where the housing costs are so horrendous that newcomers find it difficult to establish themselves and their families.

Resources are being cut back for counselling overseas. It used to be that our people at missions abroad would take at least a half hour with everyone intending to come to Canada and counsel them on things like the climate, the tax system and some of the cultural expectations when it came to disciplining children, which is a huge concern for newcomers to Canada. They would give them some idea for what they needed to prepared.

Now, because of lack of resources and the huge backlog, individuals are simply pushed through the queue without having the kind of preparation that is so important. When they come to Canada, they find that their family members are so busy and tied up in making a living and establishing themselves that the extra help we want to give immigrants simply is not available to them.

Therefore, we need to think very clearly about whether loading the system further really will be a benefit to newcomers in Canada, to families in Canada and to our country or whether it simply will exacerbate the problems that in my opinion ought to be fixed first.

Once in a lifetime has been suggested but that is a very arbitrary limit. Why is it only once in a lifetime? If we are to open up a new category, why would it only be once in a lifetime? We will have some tremendous problems in administering that.

An immigration lawyer, who was the former head of the Canadian Bar Association immigration subsection, said to me that immigrants were able to sponsor a relative with a one page document, supported by another one page document their about financial resources, but now there was different criteria for specific countries and it was a bureaucratic nightmare.

I would suggest we need to start streamlining our system so there is not such a nightmare for people wanting to come to Canada, before we add to categories of sponsorship. We also want to ensure that we have the resources to care for and establish people in our country so they can succeed very quickly, as many of them work hard to do but the tools are not there for them.

My colleague knows that one of the real concerns we all have in the House, from all parties, is the lack of recognition of foreign credentials. We have horror stories of people coming to our country and not being able to establish themselves in their trade and profession such that they can really succeed. They struggle to survive at low paying jobs.

I have a constituent who was brought to Canada because he had two masters degrees: one in education and one in science. He taught ESL in his country of origin and was very fluent in English. He found to his horror and dismay when he got to Canada, and no one had told him this, that he could not teach. He is now working stocking vending machines, with two masters degrees.

These situations need to be looked after. They need to be cleaned up and cleared up before we bring more people in to suffer the same frustrations that so many others have experienced.

While I applaud my colleague and her generosity of spirit, which I think is shared by all Canadians, I think in practical ways we need to clean up our system to make it more effective and efficient before we add to the categories of sponsorship.

Immigration and Refugee Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

Bloc

Madeleine Dalphond-Guiral Bloc Laval Centre, QC

Mr. Speaker, there are certain debates in this House that require making decisions in the light of a particular context and realities that cannot be ignored. Today, I have the opportunity to speak on a question that demands serious thought in order to arrive at our position. Here we see reason clashing with passion.

Bill C-436, sponsored by the hon. member for Vancouver East, seeks to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. The proposed amendment reads as follows:

Subject to the regulations, a Canadian citizen or permanent resident may, once in their lifetime, sponsor one foreign national who is a relative but is not a member of the family class.

We are well acquainted with the hon. member for Vancouver East. This proposal reflects her humanitarianism and her great generosity. We commend her on the spirit behind this bill.

Unfortunately, we cannot support her bill as it is currently formulated. Three major reasons underlie our position: the lack of clarity of Bill C-436; immigration priorities, particularly Canada's role in refugee protection; and finally, budgetary constraints and the resulting choices for the allocation of resources.

What do we mean when we say that the hon. NDP member's proposal lacks clarity? What does she mean by a “foreign national who is a relative but is not a member of the family class”? What are the acceptable limits of the definition of “a relative”? For example, is a third cousin counted as a relative? Is there a requirement that they share a genetic ancestor and, if so, to what percentage? What is the dividing line between an acceptable relative and one who is not, if the list of admissible persons has not been defined?

We easily see that there is a great deal of room for arbitrary decisions. If the hon. member wishes to broaden the family class to include other specific family members, she should state that in her bill, because without that, it is too vague and does not make it possible to determine which cases are admissible and which are not.

For example, we know that certain cultures consider family much more broadly than blood relations. For some people, a very close friend or neighbour is like a brother or at least like a member of the family.

The current list of persons admissible in the family class is already well defined. How could we justify an amendment this far-reaching without including some limits?

That way, the hon. member should be able to show how many people would be affected by this new measure. Has she any credible and relevant studies on this? For now, we can only presume that this kind of proposal would have allowed 229,091 additional sponsorship applications in 2002.

This piece of the pie, which is Canada's immigration plan, is split 60-40. In other words, immigrants are selected as follows: 60% are economic immigrants, meaning business people, and self-employed and skilled workers; the remaining 40% are family class immigrants, asylum seekers and so forth.

Of this 40%, approximately 30% are family class immigrants, 10% are refugees, and 1% other. If the number of individuals who qualify for family class is increased, who will pay? Since the total is split 60-40, asylum seekers will clearly pay the price of these new measures.

Those members interested in reducing the 60% should remember that, before family members of a permanent resident or Canadian citizen can be brought over, the primary applicant must qualify to enter Canada as part of the 60% in the economic class. So, this proposal, which would reduce that percentage, does little to improve the situation.

With respect to the 40%, headlines show deportation cases for asylum seekers being dismissed almost every week. Clearly, the numerous conflicts and civil wars in a growing number of countries—Colombia, Algeria, Palestine, Israel, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Afghanistan—should make democratic countries pay closer attention to refugee claimants. Every year, small budgets cause Canada to turn away thousands of asylum seekers whose lives are in danger in their country of origin. With bigger budgets, Canada could further meet its obligations as a signatory of the Geneva convention with respect to protecting refugees.

By allowing more immigrants to sponsor relatives, we are using resources that could save lives by accepting more asylum seekers. Politics and public administration are no exception, as with daily life we have to make responsible choices while taking various constraints into account. Would it be better to bring a distant cousin to Canada or offer asylum to a Colombian family whose members might be tortured or killed if they were returned to Colombia? In an ideal world we could do both, but for now this is not possible.

Although the humanitarian intent of the NDP member is praiseworthy, her bill does not take into consideration the realities of Citizenship and Immigration Canada's budget.

Canada's immigration objective is to admit the equivalent of 1% of the Canadian population, or 310,000 immigrants annually. There are two key reasons for this: compensating for the recorded drop in population and filling the need for skilled workers, particularly with economic category immigrants.

In 2002, Canada admitted 229,091 immigrants, compared to the 2001 figure of 250,484. The drop was in part a result of the department's inability to process any more because of budget restraints and the costs related to settlement and integration. It is not enough just to admit people into the country; it is also important to ensure that they receive proper services for a smooth integration into the host society.

This past spring, the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration's trip across Canada gave us a good idea of the inadequate funds available for settlement of newcomers and the unfortunate consequences of this situation. The quality of services to new arrivals is as important as, if not more important than the quantity of newcomers. What is the point of bringing in distant cousins and neighbours, if we are not even in a position to properly service those already here in Quebec and in Canada?

It is important to clearly understand that the Bloc Quebecois recognizes the humanitarian aspect of Bill C-436, and if the hon. member agrees to take it back to the drawing board and fine tune her proposal, particularly by improving its focus and clarifying those who would be eligible, it is possible that we might support it when time comes to vote. For the moment, however, common sense and responsibility dictate that we instead favour providing proper settlement services for those who are admitted. As well, our humanitarian duty toward asylum seekers requires us to afford them priority when resources are being allocated. For them it is often a matter of life or death. As the old saying has it, “You should not bite off more than you can chew”. We are better to not bite off so much that we develop problems later.

Immigration and Refugee Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Inky Mark Canadian Alliance Dauphin—Swan River, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise this morning to take part in the debate on this important and interesting bill.

In principle, I believe the member for Vancouver East has her heart in the right place and the bill has the right intent. I have a lot of questions to ask about the bill which I will bring up later on in my remarks.

First of all, I wish to thank this country for having a family sponsorship program because I would not be standing here today if that sponsorship program had not been put in place. In fact, I would not be in Canada at all if it were not for the program. However, if it was not for the Chinese Exclusion Act, I would have probably been in this country a lot earlier.

Using myself as an example, I am actually a third generation Canadian by immigration because my family was excluded from this country. When my father came here, he just escaped the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1923. It was not repealed until 1947. That tax was put in by the Liberal government of the day. I came in the fifties under the family reunification program. The doors were opened and people were allowed to come to this country to join their families.

It is important that we be serious about family unification. All the excuses I heard this morning throughout the debate were just that, excuses. I do not think there is anyone in this House who does not have a relative or who does not know someone personally who came to this country through the family sponsorship program at one time or another, if not in the last decade, certainly 20, 30, 40 or 50 years ago.

We believe that families are the foundation of this country. Who built this country? It was built by families and immigrants who came here, certainly the first and second generations. They came here not to use the country and ask for hand-outs. They came here to contribute to this country, much like the pioneers of the early days in the 1600s, 1700s and 1800s. We must not forget that.

We believe that uniting families is important. It is just like our own immediate families. That is how important it is. Imagine being separated from them for decades and not being able to have them come home: our own children, our nephews and nieces. If we were to put a reality perspective on it, I think most members in the House would agree that it makes sense.

I do not believe immigrants or their family members want to come here for a free ride. They want to come to contribute and help this country grow. That is why conditions need to be put in place.

I had a private member's bill put together on the same topic back in February 2002. I did not take the time to table it. In that bill, I qualified the definition of citizen making an application. A qualified citizen meant a person who had been a Canadian citizen for 25 years or more. In other words, people had to show credibility. They had to have contributed to this country, to its growth, and to its success.

Under section (b) qualified citizens would have to satisfy the minister of their ability to provide for the necessities of life and fulfill the legal obligation of a person sponsored under section 2.2 for 10 years following the person's arrival in Canada, either financially, partly financially or partly in time, and undertake in the prescribed manner to do so, if necessary. Also, that the qualified citizen had not previously sponsored a qualified person under that same section. In other words, the citizen had to guarantee that the family member or individual would be looked after, not at the expense of the country, but at the expense of the sponsor.

When we look at families that probably makes sense and is rational, because if we want family members to be here then we should be obligated to look after them.

On the numbers side, even according to the Liberal records, roughly 25% of family members who come to this country annually are sponsored under the family class. This year we are looking at something like 44,227, which met 75% of the target. When the Liberal target is something like 300,000, 1% or roughly a quarter million is the annual average, 44,000 is not a lot of people.

If we put in a qualifier in terms of who is qualified to make the sponsorship, I do not believe we would get an onslaught of applications. First, as I indicated, people should have been citizens who have helped generate wealth in this country for 25 years, which is a number I picked out of the air. We could make it 10 years if it would be more applicable. I do not believe we would get a huge onslaught.

It is so ironic that the Liberal government over the last 10 years has wanted to take the credit for all the immigration numbers, as the member for Vancouver East alluded to earlier in her speech. In the 10 years the Liberals have been in power they have actually lowered immigration levels. That is hard to believe. They are the ones who have been promoting that it should be 1% or 300,000 people. The intent of their proposal is that all these new immigrants will vote Liberal. They are more interested in their vote than how they will contribute to the creation of wealth in this country.

Over the last 10 years the Liberals have actually lowered immigration levels in the range of 232,000 to 257,000 in the last three years. During the last three years of the former Progressive Conservative government, they were actually a lot larger. In fact in 1992-93 immigration levels were about 0.9% of the population and right now they are just over 0.7%. How does the Liberal government explain that? It has been the government for the last 10 years that has promoted immigration and yet the actual levels of immigration are less than they were in 1992-93.

In principle I agree with the intent of the bill. I know that with the diverse population base, the people who are watching this debate, I am sure, support the bill. Diversity and family reunification creates wealth but it has to be done in a qualified and right way.

Immigration and Refugee Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

Noon

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I for one could not be more proud or honoured to be a seconder for the bill introduced by the member for Vancouver East regarding family reunification.

Her idea of once in a lifetime, where new Canadians who would otherwise be unable to sponsor a family class member would, under the bill, be able to do such a thing. The bill meets a need that I am certain has been brought to the attention of virtually every member of Parliament in the House. Who among us has not had people come to our offices who wish to reunite with a family member but who find the rules so restrictive that they are unable to do so?

I believe it is the position of the hon. member for Vancouver East, and I concur, that the current rules under family reunification fail to recognize the reality of many traditional cultures from source countries, from immigrants who have extended families who perhaps live in a far closer network than we are used to in North America.

I can use, as an example, one case I know of quite well where a non-married aunt in a family unit actually was the primary caregiver for the children when both of the parents were out of the house scraping by to earn an income. This reference is from the Philippines. The aunt raised the children in that case. It was very important for those children, who now reside in Canada, to bring that family member to Canada to join them as she was reaching her senior years. That would be one case in point where the current rules do not accurately address the reality of the family structure in the source immigration countries. The hon. member's bill is sensitive to that issue.

Other members from other parties have raised details as to why this may be a problem in terms of resources. I do not accept that by allowing the hon. member's bill to go forward it would open the floodgates and cause a rush of immigration that our system would not be able to handle, for the simple reason that her bill does not change anything else in terms of who would be eligible and how a person would qualify. The sponsoring family, or the sponsoring new Canadian, would still have to meet the very onerous issues regarding income and the financial aspects to the current system.

One of the biggest barriers to more family reunification into the inner city of Winnipeg is that we are held to the same standard in terms of the amount of annual income the sponsor must have in order to sponsor another person. It, more than anything, is the barrier to more family reunification sponsorship.

I believe, as I think all members here recognize, that the family reunification aspect of our immigration system is one of the key pillars on which our system is built. I would wholly support this measure which I believe would enable more families to sponsor more immigrants without putting an undue burden on the current system or adding to what I do accept is an unreasonable backlog.

I have often heard the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration deny that there is a backlog in the system. That is simply putting one's head in the sand. The previous minister said, in a very creative way, that it was not a backlog but a waiting list. Whether it is a backlog or a waiting list, it has the same net effect that people are waiting years.

I will point out one other basic unfairness in the existing system that the hon. member's bill would recognize. While people are waiting in this country to get their earnings up to a sufficient point to sponsor, for instance, a child from the Philippines, that child may pass the age of 18, or the current age of 22. As the years tick away, this family has to make the most gut wrenching choice of their lives, which child to sponsor at which time, while the child is getting older. Ten years can go by before the new Canadian can get the earning capability to sponsor enough of their family members to truly reunify that family and by then the person may be over 22 years old.

In the case of this simple rule change, that family could now sponsor that 25 year old adult child who was no less valued but was forced to be separated from the family unit for whatever reason in terms of the way that the family came to this country.

This is an issue of basic fairness. It creates opportunities. It does not create an undue burden, I believe, on the system. I wish more members would realize that.

Immigration and Refugee Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

12:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired, and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the Order Paper.

The House resumed from October 31 consideration of the motion in relation to the amendments made by the Senate to Bill C-6, 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.

Specific Claims Resolution ActGovernment Orders

November 3rd, 2003 / 12:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Maurice Vellacott Canadian Alliance Saskatoon—Wanuskewin, SK

Mr. Speaker, I assume we have moved on to Bill C-6 and we can commence from there. However I wonder if we could have quorum in the House first. I have some important things to say and wonder if that could be established before I commence my speech.

Specific Claims Resolution ActGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Obviously there is not a quorum. The bells shall not ring for more than 15 minutes.

And the count having been taken:

Specific Claims Resolution ActGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

We have quorum.

Specific Claims Resolution ActGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Maurice Vellacott Canadian Alliance Saskatoon—Wanuskewin, SK

Mr. Speaker, I know they will be watching from the TV monitors out in the lobby as they are eating their lunch and hearing the very important things that are being said this hour in response to the report from the Senate with regard to Bill C-6.

When I left off on Friday in terms of this rather important bill under consideration, I was saying that I do not dispute the point that making the centre independent not to mention giving it the appearance of independence is no small challenge. It is a challenge. As I said last week, it is clear to me that the government is not up to the challenge.

Proposals to help give the centre independence and the important appearance of independence are staring the government in the face from the pages of the joint task force report, to which I will refer later. There are large blocks of that document that are very helpful. There is another document by Leigh Ogston Milroy which talks about the need for independence with this particular body.

A number of amendments were put forward in committee by the Canadian Alliance and there were some from other parties as well. There were a significant number of amendments from our party, yet those were completely ignored and swept aside.

Another Senate amendment is a transitional provision to ensure that those who are claimants under the current specific claims policy are also entitled to make representations regarding appointments to the new claims centre.

Another Senate amendment will allow first nations to make representations as part of the government's three to five year review process mandated in the bill. This will affect clause 76 of the bill. Unamended, Bill C-6 does not obligate the government to seek anyone else's input into the review process or to document their thoughts.

Even with the Senate amendment, nothing forces the government to make public and be accountable for concerns that the many first nations have with the claims resolution process. How does the government expect to win over the confidence and the trust of first nations when it ignores them in such an obvious manner? How does the government expect to convince people that the claims resolution centre is independent when it is keeping such tight control over every aspect of the process?

Indian chiefs from across the country as well as the Assembly of First Nations have made their position very clear, that the appointment process mandated by Bill C-6 undermines any claim that the centre will be independent and impartial. If they use it at all, the first nations will not accept rulings against their claims because they lack confidence in the impartiality of the centre.

The government has set up a process that will not resolve anything in terms of producing closure or finality to a claim.

The parliamentary secretary told us in committee that the minister would consult first nations. Having said that, he was unable to explain why the minister is unwilling to put that promise in the bill. The review process sends the message that the government is only interested in the effectiveness of the centre from its own perspective, rather than understanding its impact on all parties concerned.

I believe that is a major flaw and a major problem in the bill. If the bill is not looked at in terms of the other parties involved, in terms of getting the proper resolution, saving us all kinds of tax dollars if we have to use the more expensive and extensive process of going through the courts, this is not taking into account those considerations.

The concerns about trust and lack of independence of the proposed claims centre have been raised numerous times in the Senate as well. I frankly confess that I am surprised that the Senate report to the House did not include any stronger amendments to rectify the situation.

For example, Progressive Conservative Senator Terry Stratton noted at one point:

Under the present system Canada is already the judge and jury. Bill C-6 retains this concept and adds elements to this conflict.

The federal government retains sole authority over appointments to the commission and tribunal and retains authority over possessing the claims, which undermines any concept of independence. Appointments are made on recommendation of the minister, the same minister responsible for defending these claims. Obviously, this system is ripe for political patronage considering that the commission appointees have no qualification requirements.

Liberal Senator Gill told his colleagues:

I have trouble seeing how this tribunal or the appointed commissioners or judges would be independent. I have a lot of trouble seeing that independence.

At one point Senator Nick Sibbeston, speaking in defence of the bill, argued:

There is no other system. No other approach is possible in our system of governance, where the government appoints people to tribunals and boards. We have to live with that system and trust that the appointees are not in a conflict of interest situation. We must trust that they can make judgments based on their best ability without regard for who appointed them.

Senator Sibbeston and others speaking on behalf of the government on this issue are arguing that we are dealing with an either/or situation, making no room for a middle ground.

Elsewhere in Senate debate, Senator Jack Austin, also speaking in defence of the bill, objected that the Assembly of First Nations and other aboriginal groups were demanding veto powers over government appointments. The Assembly of First Nations has indicated that it can live with the recommendations that are in public view for all to see in the joint task force report.

As I indicated in my speech last week, although it gives aboriginal groups much more input into the appointment process than they would have under Bill C-6, it would still give the government the final decision making power. First nations can be given far greater opportunity for input into the review process as well without giving them veto powers over the final release of the government's report.

Mr. Speaker, as you well know from your many years in this place, there is a mechanism in Parliament whereby in the case of committees, opposition parties can release dissenting reports. No doubt, Mr. Speaker, you were in on that process when you sat on the opposition side.

Opposition reports, or dissenting reports, are not uncommon in this place. Those dissenting reports are given when individuals do not agree with a committee's final report. Those opposition reports are tabled and made public. They have official status but they do not stop or obstruct the government's legislative agenda from moving forward.

I do not understand why there is such a lack of creativity on the government side when it comes to the specific claim centre that it cannot come up with something comparable to that such as dissenting reports or whatever one wants to call them in the three to five year review process mandated in the legislation.

Senator Sibbeston raised an interesting point in the comment which I quoted a few minutes ago. He talked about trust and about how important it was. We are supposed to “trust that the appointees are not in a conflict of interest situation”. He said that we must trust that appointees can make judgments based on their very best ability without regard for who appointed them.

The hon. senator talked about trust in the context of the industry minister's interesting relationship with industry giant Irving Oil. We would not want to forget the special perks that other ministers have received from Irving. When we are told to trust the government, we should not forget about the Minister of Human Resources Development and her admission regarding Irving perks. That minister is already famous for the HRDC boondoggle that was exposed under her watch. Trust indeed. There is also the involvement of the environment minister and who knows who else will admit to an unethical relationship with Irving later on today, tomorrow or sometime during the remainder of the week.

When we think about trust and the current government, we might also keep in mind the flagrant abuse of taxpayer dollars through the billion dollar boondoggle gun registry. There has been no end to the ink used to write on that exposé of scandalous waste of taxpayer dollars and then we use the word trust.

That scandal in respect to the gun registry has been brought to us by the current industry minister. Everything he touches seems to turn to scandal and boondoggle it would appear, at least in terms of the number of portfolios he has had.

There are the current health minister, the justice minister and now the solicitor general, and there are all of these different problems in respect to the kinds of perceived conflicts and scandals they have been involved in.

Speaking of the justice minister, this is an individual who is presently sacrificing our parliamentary democracy on the altar of judicial activism and so we had hearings all across the country. We listened to good, qualified, competent people who presented considered, reasoned opinions to the committee and at the end of the day when it was just about to release its report, it was pretty much shut down. Other individuals were brought in to stack the committee. It did not matter that the members did all this good work over some considerable period of time in attempting to get an understanding of the crucial issue of marriage in the country.

As well, there is no question from the vast majority of witnesses that the way in which the government is going in terms of homosexual marriage is not the direction the committee wants. In fact, it would have been along a different line, possibly civil or domestic partnerships or something like that but certainly the retention of heterosexual traditional marriage was the way the committee obviously would have gone.

At the end of the day the government threw that out or did not even appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada. A pretty good body of opinion is asking why it did not do that. It is because it knew in fact it would have been upheld; the traditional heterosexual time honoured definition of marriage in the country would have been upheld.

The Minister of Justice at that point did not trust at all what the committee did. He was not to be trusted because he really sabotaged and hi-jacked the whole process to his own end, to his own purpose and to his own agenda. Instead of taking it to appeal which would have upheld the traditional heterosexual time honoured definition of marriage, the whole thing was sabotaged.

The justice minister was trying to get in the way and obstruct others who were going to come forward in lieu of the government on that particular issue, defending in our country what has long been held to be the proper definition of marriage. It is as constitutionally valid today as ever.

I say that simply because there is the issue of trust. Can we trust? Ought we to trust? Ought we to be so naive as to trust when we have things like that going on in our country? I would say it would obviously be very naive.

Getting back directly to Bill C-6, that is why when Senator Sibbeston talks of trust, either he is thinking that we are a little bit naive and fairly stupid in this whole thing or he believes it himself and that is not even a strong statement in respect to his own credentials for his role.

Trust in the current government is probably at an all time low because of a number of these things. We cannot simply trust the government.

How would it go over, Mr. Speaker, if you showed up at a place in your riding, or if any of us did for that matter, and walked in saying, “Trust me, I am from the government”. I think it gives a little sense of it if you, I, or any member here did it.

I am slightly shielded at this point because I can say, “Trust me, I am from the official opposition party, the Canadian Alliance”. But if I were to walk in and say “Trust me, I am from the government,” I can imagine what kind of a response that would get from constituents. “Trust me, I am from the government” is not an assurance that goes very far today, not with the government engaged in permanent damage control due to unethical behaviour and gross incompetence.

Canadians want to make their government accountable by seeing their promises stipulated in legislation. They do not want a verbal statement that the government is going to do such and such; they want it in legislation. Let us defend it, make sure it is entrenched there and then they will be more likely to believe it. Verbal assurances are not good enough, certainly not when there is the kind of legacy that the Liberal government has.

What is so difficult about putting some bottom line, minimum standards in place in terms of the credentials required by a claims centre employee to mitigate against the risk of patronage and conflict of interest? That could be done, it should be done and it is necessary for it to be done. Such a move would increase the confidence of Canadians, including the aboriginal claimants involved in these claim disputes.

At the same time, to bring my comments back specifically to the three to five year process, let us give first nations a better mechanism to have their voices heard, especially if they do not agree with the government's report.

The Senate has made another amendment that seems designed to address concerns over conflict of interest. It may be of some benefit in that respect, although that remains to be seen. We are not quite sure. The amendment in the words of the Senate Standing Committee on Aboriginal Peoples chair, the hon. Thelma Chalifoux “seeks to protect the impartiality of the commission by limiting employment with claimants for certain appointees following the completion of their term”. It also imposes a temporary employment restriction with the Department of Indians Affairs and Northern Development for prior appointees.

The government should make further amendments to deal with the independence and the impartiality of the claim centre before sending the bill back to the Senate for final approval, instead of simply accepting the Senate report as written.

Bill C-6 states that the majority of the adjudicators, including either the chief adjudicator or the vice-chief adjudicator, must be members in good standing of the bar of a province or la Chambre des notaires du Québec. As I mentioned a few minutes ago, the bill says nothing about the professional qualifications of those eligible for appointments to the claims commission. In a saner time one might be able to trust the government to make competent appointments, but the scandalous revelation of out of control bureaucrats that have been surfacing in recent months lead to some real concerns about the need for greater clarity as to the credentials of potential appointees to the claim centre.

It might also be worth examining the length of the terms that the appointees hold with the centre. First nations have expressed concern that the appointment periods for the chief and the vice-chief commissioners and adjudicators are only five years and for the regular commissioners and adjudicators the period is three years, with the possibility of reappointment available in all these cases. First nations, and rightfully so, fear that these short periods of service will tempt the officials to rule in favour of the government that appointed them so as to ensure they are reappointed. That concern was also raised during Bill C-6 debate in the other place, in the Senate. If the appointee sits for such a short term and has the option of being reappointed, will his or her interest in being reappointed affect his or her commitment to impartiality when hearing the claims?

The final amendment proposed by the Senate adds to the tribunal's authority by amending section 47. Section 47 deals with some of the responsibilities of the tribunal. The Senate amendment adds to the tribunal's responsibilities. If this amendment passes, the tribunal will be able “in relation to a specific claim that is before the commission to summon witnesses or to order production of documents”.

In other words, if one of the parties is not forthcoming with information deemed important by the commissioners to resolving the particular case at hand, the commission can request the intervention of the tribunal for the purpose of requiring witnesses to appear before the commission and to require the production of documents that would help in evaluating the claim. That on the surface seems like a reasonable amendment. I might be able to support that if we were to get that far, but I am not so inclined to think we will at this point.

Although not reflected in the amendments from the Senate, the question of transparency with the specific claims resolution centre was a significant topic of debate in the Senate. I found it very interesting to note and to understand what was said there on this matter. It was the subject of some observations which the Senate added to the end of its report to this House.

That is another area of the bill that needs to be dealt with to build confidence and trust in the government by our first nations aboriginal people across the country.

What we are talking about regarding transparency are provisions to make the process effective and efficient. I think everybody concerned in this process would like that. We want a process that is expeditious, not one that is full of delay, obstruction and stonewalling. Sadly, we see the very opposite in Bill C-6. In the legislation there are far too many opportunities available to the government to stall and to delay the process of considering a claim.

As individuals well noted, it has been said numerous times in speeches delivered here and elsewhere, that justice delayed is really justice denied. There is no question about it. If we hold off people indefinitely and obstruct, stonewall and delay, then justice delayed is simply justice denied. That is a sad statement.

The comments from the Senate are remarkably similar to the concerns that we raised in the House and in the aboriginal affairs committee earlier this year. Let me read the Senate comments into the record today. I quote:

One of the primary goals of this Bill is to provide for more speedy resolution of claims. Nonetheless, there are many areas of potential delay built into the process. Most notably, there is no requirement on the Minister to make a decision on whether to accept a claim for negotiation within a set time period. We have been told that this flexibility is necessary because of the complexity of many claims and the limited legal and other resources available to the Minister to make these determinations. As well, the government may be limited in the number of claims it can address because of the budget available for settlements. We would therefore urge the government to allocate significant additional resources to the process of validity determination, negotiation and settlement of claims so that the admirable goals of the Bill can be met.

We would ask that the Minister, in the review of the Act in three to five years, pay particular attention to the impact of the issues of delay and resources that have been allocated to the process of validity determination.

We, of course, believe the government should make the necessary amendments to the bill immediately and not put it off. As I noted earlier, the government has protected itself fiscally by establishing a budgetary limit to the funds it can distribute each year to settle claims. Then to go on to say that it needs to build on such protections at other points in the bill is really nonsense.

There is nothing stopping the government from resolving claims in any given year that total an amount greater than that which has been set aside in the budget to allocate to such claims. In such a situation the resolution process could include a provision to add an appropriate amount to the claim payout to take into account the fact that it cannot be allocated until the next fiscal year or whatever subsequent date on which the payment would be made. Therefore, if the total is used up within a year, that is fine, then there is an agreement, a written legal binding part of the text, that says it will be paid out of another year's or maybe the total amount could be increased altogether. However, I would say that it is fairly uncreative. I can attribute other things to it as well, but do not say that it cannot meet these bigger claims because it does have the total allocation, when it could be paid out in the subsequent years. I am sure that would be acceptable to that band rather than setting it aside altogether.

I am sure that the simple fact of resolving a claim would be a step forward for peace of mind and security for many native people, even if the payout for that claim had to be delayed by a year or two based on prior knowledge of budget constraints. To leave first nations claimants in a state of insecurity and flux over the final outcome of their claims simply because the money is not available to pay it out in any given year is quite frankly an indefensible position.

I want to take some time now to remind the House of the numerous specific areas in the bill in which the government has built in opportunities to delay and obstruct the claims resolution process.

The minister, for example, if he decides not to negotiate the claim is nowhere obligated to explain his reasons for that decision. If the claimant decides to challenge the minister's decision, the minister has to provide disclosure in his defence at a later date before the claims tribunal or the court. The claimant on the other hand is required to provide a full accounting of his position and rationale for it at the outset of the process.

One would expect that in a context that is supposed to be conciliatory and guided by alternative dispute resolution mechanisms rather than the more adversarial environment of the courts, that Bill C-6 would make clear the responsibility of both parties for full disclosure at the earlier point in the process.

The government has also built many mechanisms into the bill to enable delay and obstruction in the process of considering a claim. It has avoided the establishment of tangible timelines contrary to recommendations in the 1998 joint task force report, which we want to make some reference to later, to ensure a speedy resolution of claims.

That 1998 joint task force report had some very good, notable and worthy recommendations. The government has also rejected joint task force report proposals that would have given the claimant or the commission the ability to move the process forward if the government seemed to be taking excessive time to consider a claim.

The first example of what we might call a stalling clause is the provision for multiple, preparatory meetings. It is probably fair to call it a stalling clause because that is the net effect of what results here. Following the initial preparatory meeting, the commission is authorized to hold additional such meetings at the request of either party. The minister can conceivably use this provision to delay the process.

Indian representatives who spoke with us said that one preparatory meeting was generally enough and therefore the option for additional meetings was not likely to be a provision found useful by first nations. Concern was raised that it existed more for the benefit of the government for use as a stalling mechanism. People were pretty wise to that from all sides of the table. I think the government was also aware of that, but would obviously not want to concede that or publicly fess up to that.

The bill does not require the commission to hold additional meetings at the request of either party, and one could imagine the government using this point in its defence to try to defend the indefensible here. However, without protections in the bill to ensure that the commissioners are competent and free from conflicts of interest, this really means very little. As we have said before, we need those specific protections in the bill along the lines of the competence of commissioners free from conflict of interest and so on. We need those in writing. It is not good just to have verbal assurances of same. A handshake, unfortunately, is not adequate for the job in this case.

Later in the process where the bill discusses the minister's need to consider the merits of the claimant's case and to make a decision as to whether he will negotiate the claim, the bill gives him six months to report back with a decision. Clause 30 of the bill also states that the minister can come back to the commission in six months and instead of reporting his decision, he can say that he needs more time.

This might seem like a reasonable provision on the surface, if it simply extended the government's deliberation for another 6 to 12 months. When we look at it more closely, we find out that timelines and final deadlines are completely absent. They are nowhere in there, not in respect to a 6 to 12 month deadline. Therefore, the government could theoretically ask indefinitely for additional six month extensions carrying on to eternity, I assume. Obviously, that is a real problem.

Earlier in committee, the Canadian Alliance attempted to amend this section with a one year limit on the process, but the government rejected that amendment as it did with pretty much all of our amendments. Hansard records indicate that this aspect of the process was a topic of some debate and concern in the Senate, but unfortunately that concern was not translated into an amendment in the Senate's report to this House.

The amendment that we in the Canadian Alliance proposed would have required the minister to apply to the commission for more time rather than to simply declare that he needed more time. That is how it stands now: that he simply needs more time. Rather, what I think was our very reasonable amendment stated that the minister had to apply for more time, thereby essentially giving the commission the right to deny the government's request, enabling it to say no, it has had time enough. As it stands now, the minister simply says he needs more time and that is it. There is no verdict that can be rendered back to him to say that he cannot have more time.

The amendment we put forth and the proposal we made also would have required the commission to hear from the claimant before making a decision. Then it could render a decision on whether that period of time was required.

Bill C-6 does not even require the government to provide its reasons for insisting on an extension to its reporting deadline. Can hon. members imagine that? The government can say it needs an extension without any indication of how much time it needs and without having to give any reason why. I find that extremely absurd and nefarious at worst.

We are dealing with a government that despises accountability and transparency. Subclause 30(3) states that the government may provide the reason that it needs more time “if applicable”. The way this clause is phrased, it treats the practice of not providing reasons as normative. That is not uncommon, as we hear that across the way in question period as well. Not giving reasons is the norm. The exception would be that in some really remote and strange case one might be compelled to provide some sort of reason. That is the way the clause is phrased. It treats the practice of not providing reasons as normative, saying that the minister need only produce reasons if it is deemed “applicable” to do so.

I do not know what situations would make it not applicable for the minister to provide reasons for delaying the process and leaving the parties hanging there. One of my amendments in committee would have deleted the words “if applicable” and just knocked that out of there, but again, the government members voted that down. Apparently this secrecy provision, which is almost what I would call it, is important, even though the minister does not tell us why.

It is this lack of transparency in the bill that raises serious questions about how effective it really will be in clearing up the terrible backlog that exists today in respect of specific claims. The government even added a fourth section to clause 30 to protect itself against penalties for stalling the process. Subclause 30(4) states:

No passage of time in relation to the decision on whether to negotiate a claim may be considered as constituting a decision not to negotiate the claim.

This section reinforces the fact that the bill makes no provision for the claimant to circumvent this part in the process. The commission may not treat the lack of a decision from the government as a decision one way or the other, so it would remain in limbo until the minister decides to announce his decision.

It would be worthwhile at this time to consider for some moments part of the legal analysis of Bill C-6 produced by the Assembly of First Nations as it pertains to the particular issues of accountability and transparency in the claims process proposed in this legislation. Here I will quote:

Under Bill C-6, the federal government unilaterally controls the pace at which claims are considered. Bill C-6 permits the Minister to 'consider' a claim indefinitely at an early stage in the process. There are no time limits that must be obeyed. No independent body can ever say 'enough is enough, the claim goes to the next stage'. A claim might have to go through an elaborate series of distinct stages and steps before compensation is ever paid. This could include:--

Here the Assembly of First Nations lists distinct stages and steps before compensation is paid:

--a funding application;

--initial preparatory meetings;

--Ministerial consideration;

--mediation;

--further delays while the Minister considers an amendment that the claimant makes to its initial claim;

--an application and hearing to convince the commission that mediation has been exhausted;--

I am getting a bit exhausted just reading through this whole thing.

The steps continue:

--a hearing in front of the Tribunal to determine compensation;

--mediation to deal with compensation;

--an application and hearing to determine whether mediation has been exhausted;

--proceedings in front of the Tribunal;

--a five year delay while the award is paid out;

--judicial review of the award.

I can rhyme all that off in just a few short minutes here, but each one of that number of steps and stages takes considerable and lengthy time in and of itself. They are distinct stages or steps that would be required to be undertaken.

The Assembly of First Nations continued:

Many of these steps could have been eliminated or combined. With others, the delays could have been controlled by giving an independent body control over the pace by setting a strict time frame in the statute itself. The Joint Task Force Model Bill was built for making major headway on the backlog. Bill C-6 is almost certain to ensure that the backlog grows.

That was the thing. Even with all of those steps that we listed there, there was no strict timeframe in respect to any of them, so members can imagine that it would go on for an awfully long time. It is just a fact of life that if some timelines and timeframes are not set, then things go on indefinitely. In all courts of law, in all those processes, there is something to address that, yet we do not have anything here at all.

In a footnote to these comments, the AFN noted that:

Under the [Joint Task Force] report, the minister did not have the discretion to consider a claim indefinitely.

I think that was a very good thing about the joint task force report, one among many things. In that joint task force report, the minister did not have the discretion to consider a claim indefinitely. The AFN went on to say:

Once a claim was lodged, the Commission and Tribunal, not the federal government, had the primary say over the pace of proceedings. A First Nation was not required to attend more than one preparatory meeting, or to prove to a third party that mediation or other “alternate dispute resolution” was exhausted... When a claim reached the tribunal, both validity and compensation could be dealt with together.

As I have examined this particular bill and the claims process in general, including the entire history leading up to the place at which we find ourselves today in the House, these observations made by the AFN generally strike me as quite reasonable.

Another problem with clause 32 is the obstructionist language used in terms of the requirements the claimant has to fulfill before the commission is permitted to send a claim to the tribunal. A claim can go to the tribunal if the government refuses to negotiate it following discussions facilitated by the commission with the help of alternate dispute resolution mechanisms. If the claimant still wants to pursue his claim, he can ask the commission to refer it to the tribunal for a binding decision.

The problem here is the excessive threshold of proof that the bill imposes on the claimant before the claim can go before the tribunal.

Subclause 32(1)(a) states:

the basis for the claim and all matters of fact and law on which the claimant relies in support of the claim have been fully and clearly identified and adequately researched and have been considered by the Minister;--

Subclause 32(1)(b) states:

all dispute resolution processes appropriate for resolving the issue have been exhausted without the issue having been resolved;--

These sections essentially require the claimant to prove to the claims commission that he has done absolutely everything that he could possibly do within that alternate dispute resolution process before the commission can send the claim to the tribunal to consider its validity.

The absolutist language in this clause imposes an excessive if not impossible threshold on the claimant to reach before he will be permitted to pursue a hearing before the tribunal. If pro-government patronage appointees are sitting on the commission, they could help the government to use this provision as yet another stalling tactic. If the claimant does not have every single t crossed and every i dotted, this step in the process can be another place to delay justice for aboriginal people and, as we have said before, justice delayed is justice denied.

Also as we have said before, first nations have pointed out that they do support the use of alternative dispute resolution mechanisms, and that if the alternative dispute resolution process is working for a particular claim, it is in their interest to make it work. First nations therefore say they do not understand why the government is using this big stick approach to ensuring the use of alternative dispute resolution mechanisms--unless it is another mechanism to be used as a stalling tactic, of course, which would explain why the government would be of a mind to use it--and that it is a matter of trying to force the claimant to continue to sit down with the federal government even long after any reasonable person would have observed that nothing further could be gained by additional negotiations.

One comment we received from first nations on this issue is as follows:

Alternate dispute settlement mechanisms, such as mediation, only work if both parties are committed to making it work. The best judge of that is the parties themselves.

The very best individuals to know that, the best persons to know that, are those who are sitting at the table, those parties themselves. The comment continued:

A claimant should not have to “prove” to the commission, in another potentially expensive and dilatory proceeding, that alternative dispute resolution is “exhausted”.

Now they have to prove that it is not working, with the burden of proof being on them. The comment continued:

The current provision allows the federal government to further stall and frustrate the process by dragging its feet with respect to its participation in the alternate dispute resolution process.

I want to move to discussion of the compensation phase of the process. Assuming that the tribunal has made a binding decision that the claim is valid, that it is a bona fide claim, then both parties have to go back to the commission to try to negotiate the appropriate compensation for the claim. That is dealt with in clause 35 of Bill C-6. Subclauses 35(1)(a) and 35(1)(b) of this clause duplicate those in clause 32.

Subclause 35(1) essentially requires the claimant to prove to the claims commission that he has done absolutely everything that he could possibly do within the alternative dispute resolution process before the commission can send that claim to the tribunal to consider its validity. As I said before about absolutist language, in this clause it imposes an excessive if not impossible threshold on the claimant to reach before he will be permitted to pursue a hearing before the tribunal. If pro-government patronage appointees--I said it before and I will say it again--are sitting on that commission, they could help the government by using this provision as another stalling tactic.

First nations have pointed out that they have supported the use of alternative dispute resolution mechanisms and they would be willing to use that process. I think they are the ones best, willing and able to decide whether it is working, and the government across the other side as well, rather than forcing that individual or those claimants to sit down with the federal government even long after reasonable people would have observed that nothing further could be gained by additional negotiations.

Some first nations have said that if alternative dispute resolution mechanisms do not work by the end of one year, there should be a provision for the claimant to request that the claim be transferred to the tribunal. One representation we received states in part:

After one year of attempting to negotiate a resolution, the claimant should be free to proceed to the tribunal. It should not have to go through further hoops, involving additional delay and expense, to show that it tried to exhaust other means of settlement. It is unnecessary and unfair to require the claimant to exhaustively state its case, including all of its evidence and legal arguments, prior to the tribunal hearing. No one is required to do so in any comparable litigation or arbitration context.

The representation goes on to say:

The Minister should not be able to delay resolution by dragging a First Nation through a slow or endless series of 'negotiations'. Any First Nation that can achieve a reasonable settlement by negotiation will do so. Why would it risk losing at the tribunal?

These certainly seem to me to be reasonable observations. I think other people, as they examine, scrutinize and carefully look over the bill, would draw the same conclusion.

I am not saying that no criteria should be stipulated as a basic standard that has to be met by the claimant before the commission can transfer the claim to the tribunal. Perhaps there are ways in which the claimant could unfairly take advantage of a situation in which no criteria are required. But at the very least, the criteria should be modified with changes to the absolutist language that currently exists in the bill.

As I consider the lack of independence and transparency in the claim centre proposed in Bill C-6, I continue to be astonished at the government's claim that this is an improvement over the current situation. Even in the Senate, the hon. Jack Austin, speaking on behalf of the government, stated numerous times that:

The centre will create a more independent, impartial and transparent system.

He also claimed that:

Bill C-6 is the result of a substantial joint Canada-First Nations task force process.

Does the government believe that if it says the same thing over and over again--in the Senate or anywhere in the country--that no matter how absurd it is, people will eventually believe it? It clearly has not taken into account, in a substantive manner, the recommendations of the joint task force report of 1998.

It does not matter what Senator Austin or others have said. They can say it until they are blue in the face, but it does not make it so. It can simply be looked at and it is not on too many pages in that report. We eventually realize how far it falls short of those recommendations there.

Thankfully, aside from the government senators, Progressive Conservative and some Liberal senators were willing to challenge Senator Austin's claims on the independence of the Bill C-6 process, as well as his insistence that it was fairly representative of the joint task force report of 1998.

We also had Canadian Alliance Senator Gerry St. Germain make representations to say that what was in Bill C-6 was not independent as reported back to the House from the Senate. For the record, the hon. Terry Stratton, a Progressive Conservative senator observed that:

The [Indian Affairs] minister, in his presentation to the committee, referred to the joint task force report. He stated that there were two areas where they did not agree with the joint task force report and, therefore, did not follow the recommendations of the task force report. However, the aboriginal presentations stated to us quite clearly that far more than just two references to the JTF were ignored. As a result, because there were so many problems with the bill, not just two, they maintained that the bill should be rejected. There was a conflict between what the minister had stated and what the aboriginals had been stated with respect to the JTF.

Senator St. Germain stated, for example, that:

The government has built mechanisms into this bill that will delay and obstruct the process of considering claims. It has avoided the establishment of tangible timelines to ensure a speedy resolution of claims. This is contrary to the recommendations in the 1998 joint task force report.

Senator St. Germain also noted:

Bill C-6 would permit the minister to consider a claim at the early stages of the process indefinitely.

This reinforces exactly what we have said, what we as members of the committee have said, and what I, as a member of the Canadian Alliance, have said. The process can be carried on indefinitely. He went on to state:

There are no time limits that must be obeyed. No independent body can ever say, “Enough is enough, the claim goes to the next stage.” The claim might have to go through an elaborate series of distinct stages and steps before compensation is ever paid. Many of these steps could have been eliminated or combined with others. The delays could have been controlled by giving an independent body control over the pace or by setting a strict timeframe in the statute itself. The joint task force model bill was built for making major headway on the backlog. Bill C-6 is almost certain to ensure that the backlog grows.

Senator St. Germain then pointed out:

The AFN also noted that under the 1998 joint task force report, the minister did not have the discretion to consider a claim indefinitely. Once a claim was logged, the commission and tribunal, not the federal government, had the primary say over the pace of the proceedings. A first nation was not required to attend more than one preparatory meeting or to prove to a third party that mediation or other “alternative dispute resolution” was exhausted. When a claim reached the tribunal, both validity and compensation could be dealt with together.

As we can see from these comments, the concerns over the integrity of the government regarding the joint task force meetings is in question, at least in the eyes of first nations peoples. Why would the government go through that process, all the countless hours, in supposedly good faith, to get something of a meritorious document of that sort, and then ignore it?

Unfortunately, that happens with too many reports around this place. We go through the effort and then the report sits on a shelf collecting dust. It is not followed-through for one reason or another. That is why people question the integrity of the government regarding the whole lengthy process of the joint task force meetings. That is why first nations people, who participated in that process in good faith, question the whole process, particularly the government's intent and whether or not there was any good faith.

If the government decided that it could not stomach the recommendations of the joint task force report, then it should have the courage to say so, rather than pretending that Bill C-6 is a natural step in the process, that it is an evolution from the joint task force report of 1998, when clearly it is not.

The government should be bold enough to tell us there are problems. It should acknowledge where it sees problems so we can have some debate on this rather than the subterfuge that everything is fine and in Bill C-6, when that is obviously not the case.

I want to turn my attention to another example in Bill C-6 of the government's hostility to the principles of accountability and transparency.

Clause 77 of the bill gives the governor in council the authority to make regulations. Mr. Speaker, you have been in this place long enough to know that the Canadian Alliance, and perhaps members from every party in the House, are rather uncomfortable with the idea of the governor in council, in other words the government or the cabinet, making and changing laws behind closed doors, doing it by way of regulations beyond the scrutiny of Parliament and the Canadian public.

That is not to deny that sometimes that is necessary, particularly the fine points, the detail and so on, but obviously, it must adhere to the principles in the bill, not with regulations being made thereafter and going off in a different direction. That seems to violate the very letter and spirit of any bill if changes are done by way of regulations.

The reform party, before it became the Canadian Alliance, and members of other parties, have made it clear that they have considerable concern and unease about some of these things being made by regulation and, therefore, no scrutiny by Parliament. It is sometimes an easy matter to insert a clause here or a phrase there where it is not going to add thousands of pages, and then it does not have to be done in the regulations. It is plain for all to see in the bill itself.

This whole matter of too frequently relying on regulations to change laws, and often violating what would seem the spirit and letter of the bill, is a dangerous practice. It undermines Parliament by ignoring, and even ostracizing and diminishing the role of parliamentarians in this place, members of all parties who work good and hard making good legislation for people concerned. We need processes in place with respect to any bills that come before us that encourage and ensure democratic accountability.

Specifically in Bill C-6, the governor in council has the authority to add to part 2 of the schedule the name of any agreement related to aboriginal self-government, and to prescribe anything that may, under this act, be prescribed. We have a lot of “any” and “anything” there and that seems to open it up pretty wide.

Let us look at the second part of this provision, “the authority to prescribe anything that may, under this act, be prescribed”. Two places where the government will have the authority to make rules for the claims process outside the supervision of Parliament after the bill has passed are in subclause 32(1)(c) and subclause 35(1)(d).

Subclause 32(1)(c) is one of the conditions that claimants must meet before the commission is permitted to refer their specific claim to the tribunal for the purpose of determining its validity. It reads:

(c) the claimant has, in prescribed form, waived any compensation for the claim that is in excess of the claim limit as it applies to the claim in accordance with section 56.

It is, therefore, the condition that requires claimants to agree not to pursue an amount greater than the value of the cap--moving up to $10 million by way of a Senate report amendment--to settle the claim before they are permitted to have the tribunal consider the claim to determine whether or not it is valid.

For years now, the Canadian Alliance has been objecting to the government's practice of passing incomplete legislation, what we might call fill in the blank legislation, bills that need to be fleshed out by the government after the bill has been passed, fleshed out somewhere other than in Parliament, where there are less eyes watching and where they are protected from much of the accountability process that is provided by the House.

I do not think that is an appropriate way to handle the issues in the bill. There are enough problems with this section already, as I have mentioned, without making the implications of the bill for first nations and taxpayers less clear by keeping those important details of the law out of the bill until after it has passed.

The same must be said for subclause 35(1)( d ), the waiver clause for the compensation phase of the claims negotiation process. We are not going to know all the rules that govern the cap until the governor in council finishes prescribing them behind closed doors, somewhere at a time and a place when they will not be subject to the scrutiny and the accountability of Parliament. This is simply undemocratic and it is another example of the current government's hostility to the principles of accountability and transparency.

I have discussed some of the most troubling aspects of Bill C-6 even in its amended form. What I have listed here is by no means an exhaustive list of the flaws that permeate the legislation.

When the bill fails, it will fuel the feeling of injustice and unrest among first nations across the country. It will put Canadian taxpayers on the hook for the cost of setting up and running the centre with minimal or no return on the investment.

Taxpayers will have to continue to pay the government's legal bills in addition to this claims body. They will have to pay those legal bills for the expensive court cases that will be launched in place of the mediated hearings that would take place in an effective claims commission and tribunal.

The first nations will continue their uphill battle to have legitimate claims recognized over incidents of injustice and maltreatment at the hands of the federal government and its agents in violation of historic treaty agreements.

Bill C-6, for a host of reasons, does not deserve the dignity of being passed by Parliament. It should be withdrawn by the government and then redrafted before being brought back to the House for consideration.

I have referred a number of times to the joint task force report that was put together with considerable work by individuals back in 1998. It has considerable bearing in terms of what the new independent claims body should look like. Therefore, I am going to be making comments regarding the joint task force report on the specific claims policy reform. This was submitted by the Assembly of First Nations and the specific claims branch of DIAND. I am reading from a reformatted version of November 25, 1998.

The report's table of contents gives us a way out of the morass, the delay and the lack of resolution we have had in respect to specific land claims. I will make reference to the many covering letters which go into some of the background on how we arrived at this point and why we need such a body. Some of the main themes are outlined, such as the JTF proposals, and some of the key features. It then gets into a discussion of some of the general issues: aboriginal rights, fiscal framework, the joint task force process and then the current status. And, of course, as with any of these reports, there are a number of appendices, charts and graphs.

I first will read a letter to the chiefs from Rolland Pangowish, the co-chair of the joint task force report. It is dated November 25, 1998. He says:

Dear Chiefs:

On behalf of the First Nations Task Force representatives, I would like to take this opportunity to present to you the Report of the Joint First Nations/Canada Task Force on the Reform of Claims Policy. This report reflects the painstaking and highly detailed efforts of the past one and a half years of cooperative efforts between the AFN Chiefs Committee on Claims, First Nations technical advisors and government officials from the Departments of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Justice.

In introducing the JTF Report, I would like to offer my personal assessment that this exercise in partnership has succeeded by achieving agreement on what participants feel is the best technical approach for resolving claims. The recommendations set out in the proposal are based on the assumption that the goal is to resolve claims.

I think that is pretty basic and it is good they came to that understanding. He goes on to say:

It should be kept in mind that both sides had to give and take in this process in order to reach agreement on these recommendations. While there are certain aspects of the proposed process that each side would have liked to take a different approach, the proposal represents a minimum standard that each side thought their respective principals could live with.

Overall, in my estimation, this joint policy development initiative should be highlighted as a positive and productive venture in terms of its future role as a workable and highly useful means for addressing the many issues currently confronting the First Nations and the Crown.

It must be said, however, that many legal, political and financial questions were raised at the table for discussion. While the input from the Department of Justice was most helpful, the First Nation participants believe that any future refinement of these proposals should involve senior financial specialists from central agencies directly in the discussions. Had these key officials been active participants in our joint dialogue, they might have provided necessary expertise and assistance for us to achieve more timely solutions in key problem areas.

The Joint Task Force has now provided a highly detailed and focused blueprint for fulfilling the long-standing need for an independent claims body. The implementation of these proposals would represent an important step in addressing an important aspect of the RCAP Report. Although the Task Force could not address all the matters contemplated in the RCAP Report with respect to an independent claims body, we have attempted to design a process whereby the perception of conflict of interest would be eliminated.

The primary phase of the task that was mandated for the AFN by the Chiefs-in-Assembly has now been completed. The First Nations Joint Task Force technical representatives, under the guidance of the Chiefs Committee on Claims, has sought to ensure that this proposal is entirely faithful to the principles that have been set out for it by the First Nations political leadership.

In the next few weeks, we will be presenting this proposal to the Chiefs Committee on Claims and to the Chiefs at the Confederacy

On behalf of the Joint Task Force, we look forward to the opportunity for continuing to meet the challenge of ensuring that this proposal will one day form the framework for resolving conflicts between the First Nations and Canada. It is our anticipation that this proposal will provide a sound basis for a new, constructive and mutually productive relationship.

Sincerely,

Rolland Pangowish

Co-chair, Joint Task Force Report

The letter was carbon copied off to the appropriate individuals: the AFN executive committee, chiefs committee on claims, the joint task force members, the Minister of Human Resources Development and so on.

At the outset of the joint task force report there was a very interesting letter that I would like to read. I think the listening audience and members in the House as well will find it interesting. The letter was written by Dan Kohoko, the director of special projects, specific claims branch. He wrote it on Indian and Northern Affairs Canada letterhead and sent it to Mr. John Sinclair, the ADM policy and strategic direction, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, and then off to Mr. Scott Serson, the deputy minister, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada. The letter reads:

The Joint Task Force, which Mr. Rolland Pangowish, Director, AFN Land Rights United, and myself, Director, Special Projects, SCB, chaired over the past two years, recently completed its work on what I would consider to be Phase I of our towards establishing an independent claims body.

For the record, we would like to table a report on the Joint Task Force (JTF) work, to which we have appended the actual product produced by the JTF in phase one; as well as a copy of both English and French versions of the legislative drafting instructions. The JTF work on the drafting instructions was basically completed when we met with AFN in October 1998. It was indicated at that time that a staged approach was preferred by the federal government.

As requested we held a meeting in Quebec City to discuss what a model that could be considered a staged approach might look like. The work to adjust the current drafting instructions to reflect such a model is what I consider to be the next phase of potential work for the JTF. However, before proceeding the JTF should receive direction from both First Nations and the federal government with regard to Phase II.

The letter was signed by Dan Kohoko, director, special project, specific claims branch.

We find again that the letter was forwarded off to the appropriate people: Warren Johnson, A/ADM, claims and Indian government, DIAND; Paul Cuillerier, DG, specific claims branch, DIAND; Dennis Wallace, associate deputy minister, DIAND: Daniel Charboneau, minister's assistant, DIAND; and, Rolland Pangowish, director, lands right unit, AFN. I simply add all those individuals who received it so nobody can claim it was not without their knowledge. This is public record and it has been read by all.

What we have where we say it is the JTF report embodied in Bill C-6 is hard to comprehend when in fact it is so obviously different from it and it does not take into account some of the very good recommendations that we find in the 1998 joint task force report.

I want to give some background and content though as we come up to the need for a specific claims body of some kind or other and what brought this particular joint task force together. In the preface of the report itself it gives some of that background. It states:

The Joint First Nations-Canada Task Force on Claims Policy Reform has been charged with addressing an important part of the new partnership the Government of Canada has promised will characterize its efforts to build a new relationship with First Nations. If this new relationship is to be based on mutual trust and respect, we must begin to address those things which have created mistrust.

It is well put from my point of view. The report goes on to state:

Obviously, an important part of this healing process requires that we effectively resolve outstanding grievances and address the need for an adequate land and resource base.

For many years, First Nations and others have called for the establishment of an independent body to resolve outstanding claims. The need to eliminate the federal government's perceived conflict of interest in resolving claims against itself has now been widely acknowledged.

Lots of people have seen the light on that one. The report continues:

The mandate of this task force was to provide a forum where federal and First Nations officials could cooperatively develop recommendations for the reform of Canada's claim policies.

The commitment to this type of process followed up on the federal government's Red Book commitment to work with First Nations to design a new independent claims body. This commitment was consistent with the recent RCAP Report recommendations and many years of similar recommendations by First Nations and independent observers. This commitment was further affirmed in the subsequent “Gathering Strength” and agenda for action polices of the federal government, which convey Canada's commitment to building a new relationship with First Nations, based on trust and mutual respect.

The Task Force is a technical table composed of regional First Nations representatives and federal officials from Indian Affairs and Justice. It began its work in earnest in the Spring of 1997 and has reached agreement on detailed recommendations with respect to the major elements of a new process for addressing what have come to be referred to as specific claims. We have now identified the required structures, basic procedures and required legislative--

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1:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jay Hill Canadian Alliance Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I hate to interrupt my colleague when he is on a roll bringing out all these relevant points, but I notice there is not a quorum and it would be appreciated if there were enough people in the House to actually listen to his speech.

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1:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

There is quorum now and the hon. member for Saskatoon—Wanuskewin has the floor.

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1:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Maurice Vellacott Canadian Alliance Saskatoon—Wanuskewin, SK

Mr. Speaker, I hope they stick around. I am a little offended when they step in and out again but I guess that would be their choice.

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1:15 p.m.

An hon. member

It is annoying.

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1:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Maurice Vellacott Canadian Alliance Saskatoon—Wanuskewin, SK

It is more than a bit annoying.

The report states:

The Task Force is a technical table composed of regional First Nation representatives and federal officials from Indian Affairs and Justice. It began its work in earnest in the Spring of 1997 and has reached--

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1:20 p.m.

Liberal

Charles Hubbard Liberal Miramichi, NB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I am rather concerned. Today we are debating the amendments to Bill C-6 as they came back from the Senate. I know many members are concerned but we would certainly hope that he would stick to the main point in order and not digress. That is probably the reason that people are not listening very much.

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1:20 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

The point of order from the parliamentary secretary is somewhat well taken. We all assume that the hon. member for Saskatoon—Wanuskewin will put together everything that he has said at this point in time and indeed address the amendments submitted by the other place. He has the floor.

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1:20 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Maurice Vellacott Canadian Alliance Saskatoon—Wanuskewin, SK

Mr. Speaker, precisely, and the point here is to show that these very weak and whimsical kinds of amendments that have come back from the Senate entirely miss the point. Very good work has been done over a number of years, building rapport and building recommendations so we get a good bill before us. Bill C-6, even with what the Senate brought to us, does not take that into account.

I am trying to show and adduce here some of these things from the joint task report. If they were taken into account in terms of the amendments from the Senate, we would have something with which we could live. The first nations have indicated that. Members around the House have as well. I cannot understand or see why members on the government side have not.

The point is that a considerable amount of work has been done. These things should be taken into account and the Senate amendments should be adjusted. They should be taken into account as the work is being done. It is important to note that the underlying assumption in all the lead up work to Bill C-6, and to even get us to this phase of the JTF, was that the goal of the exercise was to find, and this is the crucial thing, a mutually acceptable means by which to settle claims. That was the whole point of the exercise.

Can we say, with a straight face in all honesty today, that Bill C-6, coming back with the weak amendments from the Senate, is a mutually acceptable means by which to settle claims? I think not. It is just so far removed from the case. In fact there was a modicum agreement coming out of the JTF. These were the minimal basic kinds of standards that would be taken, even at this late hour, by the government. If it would hear what is being said adjust the report, then we could get on and get the business done so we could have a body which would be a mutually acceptable means by which to settle claims.

There has been a growing backlog of claims for many years, outstanding legal obligations that present a liability to this government and to any government that comes in later; the new Conservative Party government that will take office in the future. We need to deal with it in a fair and reasonable fashion. That is the whole point of it.

The legislative proposal, the mandate that committee had, is conveyed here. It is a very technical table of some very technical work, which is being done, to come to agreement on a detailed proposal and a model for a more credible claims process. That is why we are doing this whole thing. That is why we had a JTF. The last way of doing it and the present way has not worked. It has not been a credible claims process. The Senate should listen to the recommendation. At this late hour, to get something of a decent body and to get this approved in the House before we rise, the government should take into account some of those minimal standards of the JTF report.

Those recommendations are articulated in the draft in the form of drafting instructions. They represent the joint product of people on both sides, extensive efforts by leaders and by officials on both sides. Notwithstanding that, every effort was made to meet the needs and concerns of both parties. These proposals, as said by the JTF, articulate the best technical means by which to resolve these claims. I stand by that. I think we would find a spirit, a willingness in the House to move forward if we went back to the very considerable work that was done.

I need to stress the main themes and elements of the JTF proposal. It has been often said in the Senate in recent days, on Bill C-6, that what we have is basically JTF. It could not be further from the truth. It is definitely not the case. Only by members around the House today understanding what JTF is about can they themselves make a judgment and say that our own senators, Liberal senators, were not exactly telling us the whole story. It is not representing JTF. It is something else they have come up with and it is a bit of a deception to say that it is JTF when that is not the case.

The government should accept and incorporate the main elements of the joint task force report the into the bill, were it to find it possible at a late hour.

The main elements are comprised of that commission to facilitate negotiations and tribunal as well to resolve disputes. The proposed commission is meant to ensure a more level playing field for negotiations by providing for independence. That is key.

I have something that I want to share. It is a very substantial piece of work that has been done by an author on this very issue entitled, “Towards an Independent Land Claims Tribunal: Bill C-6 in Context”. Mr. Milroy, in his writing on this, has very astutely and aptly exposes how this is not independent. How will we ever get some resolution to this unless we have some perception of that?

The proposed commission is meant to ensure this level playing field by providing for independent facilitation, at least that is what was recommended by the JTF. However, it is not at all what we find in Bill C-6 here. The JFT states:

It can draw upon an entire range of alternative dispute resolution techniques and mechanisms to assist the parties in reaching final settlements that will be satisfactory to both sides. These tools range from mere facilitation of meetings to various forms of mediation. If the parties agree, they can even resort to arbitration to resolve a claim or any issues within it that may prevent progress in negotiations. The Commission need intervene only to the extent required by the parties in their efforts to reach a resolution.

The proposed Tribunal, on the other hand, would be a last resort. It would be a quasi-judicial body available to make a final binding determination on the validity of claims, on discreet legal issues that prevent progress in negotiations or on compensation to be awarded claimants in lieu of damages to first nations communities.

“The Tribunal”, at least as perceived by the JTF and which in fact should be the case here in Bill C-6, “is an essential element in the proposed process where independence ultimately resides with that body, thereby eliminating any conflict of interest on the part of the Crown”. It goes on to state, “Its presence is intended to provide incentive for the parties to conduct negotiations in good faith and to reach timely settlements”. There are no timeframes or time structures in Bill C-6. It goes on:

The key difference from the current process, the process that we have had and have been going with up until now, is that incentive for timely and efficient settlements to be reached is greatly increased, if we follow the joint task force report of 1998.

“It should be noted that despite the wish of many first nations, outstanding lawful obligations and grievances related to aboriginal title and rights are specifically excluded from this proposed process”. Again, it is not about some of those other outstanding kinds of things. This is about specific claims where in many cases it has been established that they are bona fide claims where somebody has absconded with aboriginal or first nation resources, sold their land and pocketed the money to the detriment of that first nation.

The federal government in fact insisted on this exclusion, so at the end of the day the parties at the table agreed to that. The federal government did not agree that the issue could be revisited upon the five year review as was recommended. It wanted to keep those other things out and just make this specific claims. So be it. That is where we are with regard to some of the very good recommendations in the JTF report.

The reports states:

It was agreed that a separate review of the federal comprehensive claims policy would be included in the National Delgamuukw Review process now being initiated.

The JTF recommendations have maintained the long-standing principle that negotiations are the preferred means by which to resolve outstanding legal obligations. We continue to agree that the courts are far too costly, adversarial and inaccessible to realistically resolve the hundreds of specific claims that have been brought forward by first nations.

It is clear that the costs of not settling these claims will continue to grow the longer they are not addressed.

That is so profoundly true. It goes on to say:

More importantly, the social and economic benefits of settling these claims makes it an important means by which Canada can assist first nations in healing broken communities and building a productive future.

The big advantage here is that settling outstanding claims is not another spending program, it is paying off old debts. These are recognized obligations that Canada owes First Nations. The benefits that will be derived from bringing closure to these outstanding matters far outweigh the costs. This initiative is a key step in building a new relationship by correcting past wrongs. It represents one important step in building mutual respect that first nations in Canada can undertake immediately.

Some of the key features, as we got into that JTF process, of the proposed model, included the removal of Canada's perceived conflict of interest through the creation of a truly independent mechanism which would report directly to Parliament and the first nations.

Another key feature was the establishment of a commission to facilitate and ensure good faith negotiations by providing appropriate mechanisms for alternate dispute resolution.

The third key feature was the establishment of a tribunal that would be available to claimants to resolve legal disputes when negotiations fail.

Fourth was that the tribunal could make binding decisions on the validity of grievances, compensation criteria and award compensation subject to reaching an agreement on a fiscal framework.

Fifth, another key feature, was a contemporary definition of what types of issues could be brought forward which were consistent with case law evolving jurisprudence that included all legal obligations arising from the fiduciary relationship and the honour of the crown.

As well, another theme would be the flexibility to accommodate regional diversity and complement existing or future regional mechanisms.

Another theme would be the capacity to offer innovative means of resolving outstanding grievances. That is lacking. That is not in Bill C-6. Also, getting a legislative base for the new settlement process to ensure adequate authority, impartiality and secure financing.

Another key would be that of independent funding for first nations research, submission and negotiation.

The last one would be a joint review after the first five year period which would assess the effectiveness of the process and consider matters that could not be addressed at this time, for example, the inclusion of lawful obligations arising from site specific aboriginal rights.

The joint task force moved through its report and came to the end of some fairly decent and reasonable recommendations. These were not found in Bill C-6 before the bill went to the Senate, and are still not found there after the Senate recommendations. They are not found anywhere. However, there were several items, and in a process of this sort special challenge come to the surface. Admittedly, in the joint task force report a conscious a effort has to be made to maintain the task force interest base approach to the discussions.

These types of issues brought out some more of the adversarial aspects of the relationship. They required some fairly sensitive discussion.

Such issues had undermined previous efforts of joint policy development. This group resolved it would not fall into that old pattern of positional bargaining. Those more difficult issues and how they were dealt with might be informative to other joint efforts in the future, and I think I would agree.

On aboriginal rights, early on in the process it had to face the fact that the federal government and first nations held very different conceptions about how land grievances should be addressed. First nations wanted to hold to the original Liberal red book commitment, that an independent commission to deal with all claims would be established. The federal government insisted that aboriginal title and comprehensive claims had to be dealt with separately. The issue of site specific aboriginal rights was raised.

The first nations across our country pointed out that many first nations could suffer damage due to an infringement on such rights. However, they did not have access to comprehensive claims negotiations.

In the view of first nations such issues are no less lawful obligations than any other specific claim.

Federal officials were concerned about opening the door to aboriginal title matters. They insisted that the government would never consider dealing with aboriginal title within the same process, primarily due to the compilations presented by issues related to the jurisdiction of provinces.

Many of the first nations were not prepared to support the JTF process unless their concerns about a review of comprehensive claims policies were addressed. That particular issue was only resolved at a meeting with the chiefs' committee on claims on December 11, 1997, late in the year prior to when the JTF report came out.

The minister made an explicit commitment to a second process to review federal comprehensive claims policy. That proved rather timely as the Supreme Court of Canada's Delgamuukw decision came out later the same day in fact.

In the very end, this issue has been flagged for inclusion in the five year review of the new process recommended by the joint task force. It is important to note that the proposed process would allow for issues related to aboriginal titles to be addressed in the independent process with the consent of the minister. That is the recommendation. It is a very reasonable one.

There was a fiscal framework for all of this. When one looks at specific land claims, I think anyone would have to acknowledge that fact. Reaching agreement on recommendations for a fiscal framework proved to be one of the biggest challenges for the joint task force. It had to agree that certain key principles should guide the discussion on a fiscal framework. The backlog of claims and the transaction costs for processing them should be reduced. All claims should be resolved within a reasonable timeframe.

When we look at the Senate recommendations and when we look at the bill as it went from committee to the Senate, that was a problem. We acknowledged that in committee. Recommendations and amendments came forward in the committee but of course they were voted down by the government members, for whatever reasons we are not quite sure.

However there were no timeframes. If this is going to work, there have to be timeframes. That is simply why I have emphasized time and again throughout my speech that it is such a crucial part of a proper process.

There is one recommendation which needs to be heeded by the government and which should have been heeded by the Senate and could possibly still be adjusted with respect to that. It is the recommendation in terms of a fiscal framework comprised of a budgetary allocation for a settlement of funds over the initial five year period which has been referred to as a five year compensation amount or FYCA.

If during the five year period when the amount paid in settlements by negotiated agreements or tribunal rulings reaches a certain predetermined point, it will trigger a pause in the caseload until the next budgetary allocation is determined. That makes sense.

That would be the way of doing it even with those that are going to be over the “cap”. We think the cap is way too low. We have indicated that. It could be put into the next budget year and a pause put on some of those other examinations of cases until such time as the payouts happen.

Once this point was reached, the commission would not issue certificates for first nations to go to the tribunal. That would prevent the new system from imposing liabilities that exceed the budgetary allocation. This should satisfy the federal requirement for a manageable fiscal framework while meeting the first nations need that no claims be excluded from the new independent process.

Although there are federal concerns that one or more large claims could expend the budgetary allocation early on in the five year period, the joint task force concludes that the FYCA proposal is the best means by which to meet the minimum requirements of both parties.

While the federal side has presented the problem at the task force table and has indicated a wish to explore options which might exclude larger claims from the tribunal process, first nations representatives were not comfortable discussing any exclusion of lawful obligations claims. Such a compromise would require political direction and might very well undermine the broad first nations consensus maintained to that point.

While the JTF was not in a position to resolve how the financing would ultimately be addressed, agreement was reached on what data and approach would provide the most realistic cost projections for future settlements. It gave a very specific outline of that in an appendix which was rather helpful for the government and for the Senate to take into account.

The main variables to be used in making cost projections have been clearly identified. They were discussed and all that foot work was done. For example, 60 claims come in each year and 60% of those have been accepted for negotiation. That would provide the base data for determining a whole range of options on financing.

It is important for us to know too in terms of when other bodies get involved, other less partisan bodies some might say, the kind of process they go through to come up with a report. I think it is instructive and enlightening for us. There are drafting instructions which the task force provided to the government which represented the product of intensive efforts by leaders and officials from both sides. It was not one sided.

A great deal of technical assessment and legal analysis had to be undertaken when the joint task force began developing proposals for an independent claims body sometime ago. The proposals themselves are the product of many years of work by many different people all of whom have recognized the need for some fundamental reform.

The joint task force did a lot of work reviewing and debating a wide range of options in arriving at the recommendations. Its suggested model was thought to be the best course in terms of eliminating the crown's conflict of interest in dealing with claims against itself. The joint task force proposal aims to achieve fairness, efficiency and effectiveness in the process for settling specific claims. All participants agreed that these were reasonable expectations in view of the serious shortcomings of the current process.

There were many legal, political and financial implications brought to bear on the task force's lengthy discussions. Many hours were put into the discussions. The task force devised what it believed to be an innovative and workable solution which was ignored by the government and the Senate again. The task force thought it was innovative and workable. Hours of no end were put into the challenge of jointly establishing recommendations for a fiscal framework.

The joint task force relied heavily upon the many years of experience of the participants, the wealth of past analytical material, as well as the expertise of the various consultants and experts who were brought into the process at different points.

The process was unique. It is rather different from what goes on in the House of Commons. It demanded representatives from both sides to act in a mutually supportive fashion to achieve results. There was not a lot of previous experience in such joint efforts to draw upon. The participants discovered that it required a great deal of mutual support and understanding to make it move forward. Each party had to come to grips with the constraints under which the other operated, especially at difficult points in the discussions when it seemed that different viewpoints were almost insurmountable.

From the outset the participants determined that the discussions had to be guided by an interest based approach, what was in it for one party and what was in it for the other based on interest, which was non-positional and required some wide-ranging consultation.

The development of mutually acceptable guiding principles helped both sides reach agreement relatively quickly on the scale of things on what the main elements of the recommendations should be. In this way the task force was able to take up one element at a time and work its way through the required details.

The task force hoped that its respective principals, the Government of Canada and first nations, would come to an agreement on proposals that could be mutually sanctioned and implemented within an agreed timeframe. Alas, it appears that will not be the case. It will be some time before we get some resolve on this. Regrettably it is not coming to pass anytime soon.

After the report was written, both the minister and the chief expressed the desire to have the new body in place by April 1999. The calendar in front of the Mace indicates that it is now November 3, 2003. There will be quite a few more sittings of the House before any headway will be made on the issue. Those individuals were obviously far more optimistic than they should have been.

The minister committed to the first nations that the required legislation would be jointly developed, thereby providing the task force with some sense of urgency in its efforts to complete the package. The goal was to have the legislation ready for introduction to Parliament early in the current session and here it is almost five years later.

Part of the urgency in moving the legislation forward quickly was due to the growing backlog of claims. Back in 1998 there were approximately 400 claims. We can well imagine what the backlog is now. The backlog contributes to the frustration and sense of grievance that have characterized relations between Canada and the first nations for so many years.

The need to clear up the uncertainty and to remove the impediments caused by those outstanding claims is now more apparent than ever, as first nations and Canadians pursue a wider range of economic opportunities and business partnerships.

Developments in the law have helped to clarify the legal basis of these claims and also the federal responsibilities in this regard. This makes it even more imperative that we eliminate the appearance of conflict in how Canada deals with first nations grievances against the government.

It had been expected that, pending agreement on the recommendations, those proposals would go to cabinet very quickly thereafter. That was postponed and delayed and other things stood in the way. Finally, we stand here on November 3 not anywhere closer at this point it is regrettable to say. Some of the delay was in order to address the federal requirement for a fiscal framework as set out in the Liberal government's red book.

Based on the desire to move forward on the required reforms without delay, the task force prepared a model of what the basic elements for legislation might look like and presented that in its report. If the drafting instructions of the joint task force had been approved by cabinet, the task force could have moved forward with the development of an actual bill very quickly. Instead the government took a detour. It went in a rather different direction from the recommendations in the 1998 joint task force report.

The task force was directed to work on a fiscal framework. It sought to satisfy the federal need for financial predictability. This was very time consuming and many hours were put into doing that. It was found that building a fiscal framework had fundamental implications for key aspects of the proposed model under discussion. It also brought about a further re-evaluation of such fundamental questions as to what comprised independence, how much it would cost and the issues surrounding fiscal control.

Those are good questions to be asking. Whenever we embark on a bill around this place those are the necessary questions. Sometimes we are concerned that the government does not get into that, that it does not look through it carefully and does not do the projections nor does it extrapolate the costs. It makes a lot of sense that this should be done in respect of this. The task force went through a lot of that work trying to get the figures down to be able to make the proper predictions.

It is believed that the five year compensation amount recommended by the task force addresses the concerns raised by the government of the day. It required a significant compromise on the part of first nations representatives who had a clear mandate to avoid putting financial caps on the settlement of claims. It was with great difficulty that the task force managed to reach agreement on a fiscal framework that would not prejudice or exclude claims.

The task force firmly believes that its proposal will provide the best means by which to settle claims. It is important to begin addressing these outstanding matters in a very significant way as the cost for first nations and the costs for the nation of Canada, can only rise when there is further delay. There are costs for not settling these matters not only fiscally, which is important of course, but socially as well. There are other kinds of fallout as well, which we do not want to have to get into today because it is a rather sad and sorry state. The cost of settling these matters must be done in a clear and timely fashion.

The task force's proposals were felt to provide the kind of basis for moving forward. Again, they were ignored by the government and by and large they were ignored in the Senate amendments as well. The task force suggested that the first nations and Canada begin to consider the types of mutually acceptable individuals who should fill those key positions in the new body.

Now we sit around waiting, and we will be waiting for a while to come, as the government has no particular willingness to make some significant adjustments to the bill. It was thought it would be timely to consider a joint advisory body to assist the new claims commission and tribunal in setting itself up. We are a way from doing that as things unfortunately stand.

The task force believed it engaged in an exercise that could serve as a landmark and a model for a new partnership between first nations and Canada. It addressed it in a very creative, cooperative spirit. There was a whole range of technical, legal and financial challenges it had to address and it did in a reasonable manner. It is not perfect and nobody is saying that, but the task force produced a very detailed, innovative and for the most part very practical proposal.

The task force was ready and willing to provide any further technical assistance. If it were called up today I am sure it could provide advice and wisdom, having sat that many hours for that particular joint task force. Task force members hoped and I hoped that its work would in some sense contribute to the enactment of legislation in this place and to other measures that would ensure a new process to resolve claims to the satisfaction of all parties concerned.

I think that is important when we look at what the government produced and what the Senate then, in a fairly weak and wimpy way, came forward with: something of the final draft of the legislative drafting instructions for an independent claims body, the instructions for preparing the legislation, the product of the joint first nations and Canada task force. The task force completed its work in a series of monthly meetings beginning in February 1997 and concluding in the latter part of 1998.

The following are some of the suggestions the task force had. The bill was going to be called the first nations specific claims resolution act. I think the instructive item in the title was that it was actually going resolve something. It was going to resolve these specific claims.

There were definitions, as there are always are. There were definitions with respect to AFN and with respect to the bands. A band was defined as:

(a) a band as defined in subsection 2(1) of the Indian Act;

(b) a group of Indians that was recognized as a band under the laws of Canada, or whose ancestors were so recognized, and whose members are members of a band referred to in paragraph (a) or (c); or

(c) a group of persons that was a band as defined in subsection 2(1) of the Indian Act that was a signatory to a comprehensive claims settlement agreement entered into with the Government of Canada or to any other agreement specified by the regulations.

Establishing a commission by subsection 5(1) of the act was also addressed.

With respect to competing claims, it was defined as follows:

“competing claim” means a claim that is brought by a band before an adjudicative body otherwise than under this Act if there was another claim filed under section 10 and the two claims are in respect of the same asset and raise substantive or remedial issues that could result in irreconcilable decisions.

We would not want to be at odds if it is already under consideration in some other context. That had to be sorted out and clearly and properly defined.

The purpose of the proposed act was to provide for the establishment of:

an independent and expert Commission to help First Nations and the Crown settle, or resolve by binding arbitration, certain claims and to establish an independent and expert Tribunal to expeditiously and finally determine issues referred to it that arose from such claims.

With respect to non-derogation, it stated:

The bill will provide that, for greater certainty, nothing in this Act shall be construed so as to abrogate or derogate from the application of section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982.

Then in general there were proposed sections 5 to 9, which are what the bill should look like. This is more closely what it should approximate. These were specific drafting instructions for the government of the day which for some reason this government decided to ignore. Why do we put people to work on these expensive and time consuming task forces and then ignore them and set aside their report?

The bill was to include:

provisions for the establishment of the First Nations Specific Claims Commission and for general administrative matters regarding the Commission.

It stated:

The Commission shall consist of a Chief Commissioner, a Vice-Chief Commissioner and between three and five other members to be appointed by the Governor in Council.

It recommended that:

Persons are eligible to be appointed only if they are recommended by the AFN and the Minister.

Thus we see that a joint recommendation was suggested.

In regard to regional representation, it stated:

Appointments shall be made having regard to regional representation in the membership of the Commission.

That was to get some balance around the country.

In regard to full time and part time, it stated:

The Chief Commissioner and Vice-Chief Commissioner shall be full-time members and other members may be appointed as full-time or part-time members of the Commission.

In regard to the terms of their appointments, it stated:

Each member of the Commission shall be appointed for a term of not more than five years and may be removed by the Governor in Council only for cause on the recommendation of the AFN and the Minister.

As things stand now, where we have only three year terms, if the government does not like how the commission is doing things it could well remove members.

I sat on a health board for the city of Saskatoon and the Saskatoon area, the largest health board in that province, where at one point in time the NDP government of the day decided it needed something of a buffer, so there were appointments of members to these health boards while other members were elected. I was one of those elected members. Six were appointed.

I need to make members aware that when individuals are appointed, as was the case there, they are going to be somewhat careful not to buck the trend and not to go against the government if in fact they are dependent on the government for their reappointment.

In this case, we have three year terms. With that kind of scenario, if these individuals are looking for reappointment because they need the salary, the job and they want to carry on, it is only for three years. If they do not kowtow to and rule as the government wants them to, members can imagine that they are not going to be reappointed. That is problematic.

Therefore it was a very wise recommendation coming out of the joint task force report that:

Each full-time member of the Commission shall be paid the salary fixed by the Governor in Council and each part-time member shall be paid the fees or other remuneration for that member's services that are fixed by the Governor in Council.

Then we move on from there in terms of a number of other things.

Mr. Speaker, you are signalling me that my time has concluded. I have much more to say on this subject. I look forward to that in days ahead. I understand that I have indefinite time, so am I to understand that I will commence again when Bill C-6 comes back to the House as I yield the floor now? I will cede the floor, but I will be back on the docket to relay much more wisdom and many more insights, not from myself but from the joint task force report.

Osteoporosis MonthStatements By Members

1:55 p.m.

Liberal

John Godfrey Liberal Don Valley West, ON

Mr. Speaker, November is Osteoporosis Month, and 1.4 million Canadians have osteoporosis, a condition that causes bones to become thin and brittle. The result can be broken bones, particularly the hip, spine and wrists. These fractures lead to long term pain, disfigurement, a loss of mobility and, in turn, a loss of independence.

The incidence of osteoporosis will rise steeply as the number of older Canadians increases over the next two decades, so it is important that we all become aware of the risk factors for this treatable disease.

The Osteoporosis Society of Canada urges all of us to learn how to detect and treat osteoporosis to ensure an independent and active lifestyle, even in old age.

To learn more, visit the Osteoporosis Society of Canada's website at www.osteoporosis.ca.