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House of Commons Hansard #150 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was claims.

Topics

Specific Claims Resolution ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Gary Schellenberger Progressive Conservative Perth—Middlesex, ON

Madam Speaker, I must say that is very glaring, as I have reported, that the government be both judge and jury at the same time.

I have watched how some issues have been dealt with in the House and it seems that this government likes very much to be judge and jury on the same issue. That can go back to the ethics counsellor and to various other people.

However it should be an independent body that judges those things. One cannot be both judge and jury.

Specific Claims Resolution ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

Bloc

Sébastien Gagnon Bloc Lac-Saint-Jean—Saguenay, QC

Madam Speaker, once again, I have a question for my colleague.

As you know, I sit on the committee on young urban aboriginals aged 0-12. Many community groups have appeared to talk about the problems facing these young people.

One common criticism was the wall-to-wall policies and the fact that funds or tribunals were created, which received funding, but insufficient funding. Once again today, these communities are dissatisfied with this bill.

I want to ask my colleague to propose a solution to ensure a certain internal balance so that the problems of these groups can be heard and the government made to listen.

Specific Claims Resolution ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Gary Schellenberger Progressive Conservative Perth—Middlesex, ON

Madam Speaker, if all parties and stakeholders sat around the table and came up with a good plan, I imagine it would go through the House rather quickly.

However I am against coming up with something that is derogatory to the stakeholders.

Specific Claims Resolution ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—St. Clair, ON

Madam Speaker, I believe we are faced with two issues today as far as Bill C-6 is concerned. I would address them in the following order. First, the fact that the government once again has used time allocation, a form of closure, to limit debate on what is a crucial issue for the first nations.

I just looked up some numbers and we know this is not the first time the government has used time allocation. In fact I did a comparison with Prime Minister Mulroney's administration from 1984 to 1993. That particular government used closure and time allocation 72 different times, which was heavily criticized by the current Prime Minister and his party throughout that entire period of time. It was a gross exception in the number of times that time allocation or closure was used.

As of today this government, which has been in power from 1993 to 2003, has used closure and time allocation 85 times. Therefore the hypocrisy of the government's position is quite clear. It is particularly shameful in terms of its conduct that it is being used on this particular bill and being used against the first nations.

It is quite clear, from our responsibilities as a legislature, that we have been directed in a series of cases by the Supreme Court of Canada on what our responsibilities are toward the first nations with regard to consultation and taking into account their position on legislation that affects them directly.

The first nations have been very clear and absolute, and I mean absolute in that term. They have been absolutely unanimous in their opposition to the legislation because it is a perpetuation of the paternalistic approach that we have used, Europeans have used, toward first nations since we came to the country and that Parliament historically has used in various pieces of legislation, most notably the Indian Act.

The proposed legislation and the approach by the government perpetuates that position and that attitude. The first nations have attacked the bill and have made it clear that they do not support it. They have a number of specific reasons, other than the basic approach, but they oppose the very contents of the bill.

The fact is that the House is being given the opportunity to once again say to the first nations people that we recognize what we have done wrong historically, that we will take another look at this and we will deal with claims on a nation by nation basis.

The fact that the other place has given us that opportunity is one that I would urge all my colleagues in the House to take advantage of today and when we come to vote on the bill.

I will use as one example, and we have heard this from some of the other members today, the opposition that has come from the first nations. This is just on one aspect of the bill, which is whether there is an independent commission here. I think anyone who has looked at the bill with any kind of objectivity realizes that there is not an independent commission.

A group, formerly known as the Aboriginal Rights Coalition, called KAIROS gathered a petition with 50,000 signatures from across the country. When it was brought to Parliament it did not quite meet the technical requirements, so it could not be filed in the House according to our standing orders. What it did then was ask the Prime Minister to receive it in order for him to perhaps finally understand the opposition among the first nations to the proposed legislation. To date, he has not agreed to do that.

I have a list of all the first nations and associations among the first nations that have opposed the bill. They have signed on saying that this commission is not independent. They are saying that we are going to have a commission appointed by one side, the Government of Canada, to arbitrate and make decisions on land claims to the exclusion of the other party, in this case the first nations. The list is quite lengthy.

Today, we are faced with time allocation. It is a shameful experience to say that we are part of a Parliament that would do that. It is even more so, when we look at the legal and constitutional position that we are in vis-à-vis the first nations. The Supreme Court of Canada has made it clear what our responsibility is with regard to consultation.

When this bill originally came forward to the aboriginal affairs standing committee in the House, it got very short consideration. There were at least 30 first nations and other organizations who wished to be heard and were not given that opportunity. In the other place, although the committee did hear some witnesses, once the amendments which are before us today were placed before the committee, there was no further evidence taken or interventions heard from first nations witnesses.

In fact, there have been no consultations on these amendments either here in the House of Commons or in the other place. The significance of that is that since 1982, since we repatriated the Constitution and introduced the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, we now have special responsibilities to the first nations.

If we were to review the Supreme Court of Canada's decisions addressing this consultation process with respect to the aboriginal peoples, we would get some sense of the scope and the magnitude of the consultation that is required. It is very clear that the Supreme Court expects us to conduct that consultation at every opportunity and with regard to every single piece of legislation affecting the first nations. It is not something on which we have a choice. We must absolutely do this.

There is a larger principle, which affects not just the first nations, of democratic government that was outlined by the Supreme Court in the reference regarding the secession of Quebec, something to the effect that “a functioning democracy requires a continuous process of discussion”. We have that at the larger level as well.

The Corbiere decision by the Supreme Court of Canada elaborated on that and would affect the first nations directly. It stated:

The principle of democracy underlies the Constitution and the Charter, and is one of the important factors governing the exercise of a court's remedial discretion. It encourages remedies that allow the democratic process of consultation and dialogue to occur. Constitutional remedies should encourage the government to take into account the interests, and views, of minorities.

With respect to aboriginal peoples, the requirement for discussion goes beyond just those basic philosophic principles. It is specific, real and justiciable. Aboriginal people are not one of the many minorities, but a people with special rights under our Constitution. That is something the government has forgotten.

Under section 91, subparagraph 24, the federal Parliament was given the responsibility for Indians and lands reserved for Indians. It is right in the Constitution. We have always had that jurisdiction. Quite frankly, historically, we did with it what we wanted to do with it. Since 1982, the responsibilities under that section have been expanded and limited because of section 35 of the Constitution, which is generally referred to as the non-derogation clause in the Constitution.

It recognized and affirmed the treaties and rights of aboriginal people. It tells Parliament that it cannot conduct business as it did prior to 1982. Parliament does not have the power to tell aboriginal peoples what they can and cannot do.

That is what this bill does and it is clear that this bill will be struck down at some point by the Supreme Court of Canada.

We expanded the responsibilities because as Parliament, in addition to government, we have a responsibility to consult with aboriginal peoples and to follow certain guidelines in the way we consult. We will hear from the government that it did consult; however, in law and in our relationship with the first nations peoples we must to conduct ourselves in certain ways.

We cannot simply say we sent out a letter, we sent out a notice and we had 10 meetings and that was it. As Parliament, we have a responsibility to engage in a dialogue with the courts to ensure that the laws we pass will not be overturned and that abuses by government are effectively restrained.

Again, I note the words of the Supreme Court in Corbiere with regards to the Indian Act specifically. It stated:

There are a number of ways this legislation may be changed so that it respects the equality rights of non-resident band members. Because the regime affects band members most directly, the best remedy is one that will encourage and allow Parliament to consult with and listen to the opinions of Aboriginal people affected by it.

After it had made that decision in Corbiere, the court suspended a declaration that would have struck down that particular section of the act as invalid in order to give Parliament the opportunity to deal with the issue in a proper consultative manner.

Nothing happened. There was no consultation. The government basically sat on its hands for the next 18 months. We are now left with having to deal with this in a variety of bills that have come before the House or are pending to come before the House, including Bill C-6.

There is no question that we are dealing with fundamental rights under the charter here. Recently, in the Powley decision regarding Métis rights, which came down in the last few months, both Houses of Parliament were told by the Supreme Court that the consultation process was crucial. When the Powley decision was raised at both the Senate committee and the aboriginal affairs committee of this House, members were told by experts that Bill C-6, based on the Powley decision and prior decisions by the Supreme Court of Canada, would not withstand legal and constitutional challenges. Both committees were told that and in spite of that, we still have this bill in front of us today.

At the same time that those witnesses were in front of those committees, they were making proposals for how the bill could be amended and how it could be put into shape.

Once the Powley decision came down, there was a recommendation made to the committee in the other place to set aside the bill for six months to give the first nations, the aboriginal peoples of this country, an opportunity to come forward to involve themselves in the proper consultative process. Instead, what happened was that a handful of experts from the other place, none of them first nations representatives, were given only a few day's notice to deal with what, at this point, had clearly become a complicated assignment. The committee, very briefly and in just over a week, reported the bill back. That was the process that was undertaken. That comes nowhere near, does not even get to first base, if I can use that analogy, in terms of the responsibility to consult.

In a number of decisions, the Supreme Court of Canada has set out more specifically what is required for consultation and the standards that must be met. The first principle it annunciated was in regard to section 35, the non-derogation and treaty rights, and that consultation is mandatory.

For example, in R. v. Horseman the court made it clear that it was no longer morally or politically acceptable for the federal government to modify a treaty right without consultation with first nations and aboriginal groups whose rights were affected. It is absolutely mandatory. That standard has not been met in Bill C-6.

The next point that it makes is that if Parliament is to infringe on aboriginal treaty rights, the court ruled in Sparrow that there must be a valid legislative objective. Even then, it must examine whether the honour of the Crown, and the special trust relationship and the responsibility of the government vis-à-vis aboriginal peoples was at stake. That was not met either.

The court built on that principle in R. v. Nikal stating that there must be as little infringement as possible in order to effect the desired result. So, if the rights are out there and they are exposed, the intervention must be justified and the intervention must be as little as possible. “Little infringement as possible,” are the words that come out of the R. v. Nikal case.

Another point is that fair compensation must be available and the aboriginal group involved must be consulted with regard to the measures being implemented. Given the history of the government, that is not going to happen either. The court went on and added:

It can, I think, properly be inferred that the concept of reasonableness forms an integral part of the Sparrow test for justification...So too in the aspects of information and consultation the concept of reasonableness must come into play. For example, the need for the dissemination of information and a request for consultations cannot simply be denied. So long as every reasonable effort is made to inform and to consult, such efforts would suffice to meet the justification requirement.

That again was not met here. We know that the consultation process here was at its absolute minimal and in some cases non-existent.

In R. v. Marshall the court again commented on the requirement for consultation where rights protected in section 35 might be affected. It stated:

As this and other courts have pointed out on many occasions, the process of accommodation of the treaty right may best be resolved by consultation and negotiation of a modern agreement for participation in specified resources by the Mi'kmaq rather than by litigation.

J. La Forest emphasized in Delgamuukw v. British Columbia at paragraph 207:

On a final note, I wish to emphasize that the best approach in these types of cases is a process of negotiation and reconciliation that properly considers the complex and competing interests at stake.

That negotiation and reconciliation does not exist in the format that was used to get us to Bill C-6 and certainly will not flow out of it. I have already mentioned the way the commission would be established. It would be open to accusations of bias as being appointed entirely by one side in the negotiations.

When we go back and read that quote, I can hear it before the lower courts and being argued with that terminology, and again used before the Supreme Court of Canada. Ultimately, this legislation will get struck down, if in fact the House proceeds to pass it.

As I said earlier, there are two issues here. First, there is the fact that time allocation has been imposed and the shameful conduct by the government, not only on this bill but historically. It is particularly offensive when dealing with a bill that is so important to the first nations. Second, the consultation process has been either non-existent or a total failure in terms of meeting the standards set down by the courts that we are required to meet.

On that basis, I would urge all my colleagues in the House to oppose this legislation and vote it down.

Specific Claims Resolution ActGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for Windsor—St. Clair for a very thorough analysis. Being a lawyer himself, he added to the debate some of the legal context. Many of us lay people have a gut feeling that something is fundamentally wrong with the bill, but it is reassuring to learn that there a basis in law for our objections and for the cautions and concerns that were raised in the House of Commons, at committee stage and more recently in the Senate.

One of the specific issues which has come to light in the Senate debate, because we are technically here to debate the amendments from the Senate, is the conflict of interest that has to exist by virtue of the fiduciary obligations of the crown in its relationship between the crown and first nations and the fact that first nations have to come forward and make claims for resolution to their specific claims to the government. Therefore, it is a clear conflict of interest.

I will cite a court ruling as well. When there is a fiduciary obligation, the Supreme Court has ruled in Guerin v. The Queen that the highest standard of conduct must apply. With first nations, when the crown is acting unilaterally in its fiduciary capacity, it must be held to the highest standards because the honour of the crown, and I heard the hon. member mention the honour of the crown, is at stake in such matters. That was the findings in Guerin v. The Queen, a recent Supreme Court ruling.

In that context, could the member share his views on the fact that Bill C-6 imposes a cap of $10 million? Notwithstanding the denial of the minister, there is a cap, or a ceiling, on any claim. Would he agree with me that it puts a first nations community, a band, in an uncomfortable and an untenable situation?

If the value of a claim is say, within the range of $10 million to $15 million, in that ballpark figure, and the option is to go ahead with the specific claims process and get a relatively quicker resolution or to carry on in the courts for another 10 or 15 years and spend millions of dollars in the court, the temptation will be to settle for an amount of money less than the real value of the claim.

Given the urgent fiscal crisis in which many first nations communities find themselves, the chief, council and the elders will say that they could get $8 million, $9 million or $10 million today or within a reasonable time, or they can go another 15 years in this mind numbing battle with an obstinate government that refuses to settle, spend another $5 million in legal fees and maybe get their $15 million down the road.

Would the hon. member agree with the fairness of the pressure, the economic violence is what I call it, and the coercion associated with having to make that kind of choice?

Specific Claims Resolution ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—St. Clair, ON

Madam Speaker, I agree that the cap being imposed has many negative consequences.

If a first nation involved in a land claim process has a substantially larger claim than the proposed $10 million cap, it will ignore the process completely. If a first nation is seeking $100 million, it will not get involved in this process at all. It will ignore it and move on to the litigation process.

A note that came out of a briefing from the first nations last month was to do an assessment of what the impact would be. If all claims that were either outstanding or that still had to come were dealt with under this process, it would take something like 100 years to get through the process. When one looks at the fiduciary responsibility of the crown to first nations, that alone says that the bill will not withstand a charter challenge and it will be struck down by the Supreme Court.

To deal specifically with the question of those first nations that have claims in an approximate range of $10 million, say $15 million up to $20 million, in my experience as a lawyer who has done litigation, oftentimes litigants take the position that they cannot get any more under the process, even though they are convinced they are entitled to more. However, the alternative process would be very expensive, time consuming and very difficult on the individuals involved in it. In effect this is a mechanism by the government to browbeat, intimidate and impose resolution rather than to deal with all cases, as I cited earlier, that demand of the government to take part in a meaningful negotiation and reconciliation process.

We certainly do not agree with that kind of imposed cap.

Specific Claims Resolution ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Madam Speaker, further along those lines, I would like the hon. member's view, as a lawyer and as a member of Parliament, on the circumstances that first nations find themselves in when they avail themselves of the process.

Some of these specific claims have been going on for 30 and 40 years and have racked up millions of dollars in legal fees, money that has been borrowed from the government. In many cases the government funds the legal challenges of the first nations to the tune of millions of dollars in some cases.

I believe it will be a rare day when the $10 million maximum is ever achieved, but is the member aware that from the $10 million maximum settlement, the government will deduct all legal fees from that settlement? Many communities will end up settling for $7 million or $8 million for a claim that may be valued at much more, less $2 million or $3 million and sometimes 50% for legal fees.

Does the hon. member know of any other examples where that might be the case? Could he speak to the fairness or unfairness of that situation?

Specific Claims Resolution ActGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—St. Clair, ON

Madam Speaker, in terms of a current situation where we are faced with a similar process, which again I think has been sorely mishandled by the government, is the claims around the residential schools against both the government and a number of the mainline Christian churches.

Let us use the Anglicans as the example, and I think they have now resolved theirs. They in effect were confronted with bankruptcy because they were involved in so much litigation. Often that litigation had been brought against them by the government rather than by some of the residents of the residential schools. Eventually, they had to in effect cave in, even though there were strong arguments that it was the government that was primarily responsible for the damages rather than the churches.

The Catholic church, the United church and the Presbyterian church were all faced with similar very costly legal processes, as opposed to building some alternative dispute resolution processes.

With regard to the fees themselves, the expectation that they would be that large is a very valid one. It is not just the lawyers who is involved. Oftentimes numerous researchers and other experts, who have to go back and historically build a case, are involved. Also people are on retainers because the process takes years, oftentimes repeating the same work. Then they go into negotiations, for which they have sometimes prepared for months, and the negotiations break down.

When we are faced with these types of caps, it is most likely that will be repeated and those legal fees will continue to escalate in size. The end result is that first nations, which we are trying to move resources in a proper compensatory fashion, will lose out on substantial portions of those settlements because of the cost of the process.

This process, again, is at the foot of this--

Specific Claims Resolution ActGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

Resuming debate. The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Works and Government Services.

Specific Claims Resolution ActGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.

York West Ontario

Liberal

Judy Sgro LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Works and Government Services

Madam Speaker, I am pleased today to rise to speak in support of Bill C-6, the specific claims resolution act to establish the new claims resolution centre, something that has been many years in the coming.

The bill is a cornerstone of the government's overall strategy to have a new system to resolve specific claims which will be more efficient than the process we have now and give first nations the tools of self-sufficiency that will enable them to play a fuller part in the life of this country.

Having heard the concerns of first nations about different aspects of the bill, parliamentarians in both the House and the Senate have acted to make constructive changes to the proposal in light of these criticisms.

Most recently, the Senate put forth a number of important amendments to proposed Bill C-6 that would directly address the concerns of first nations and render the proposal a better piece of legislation, something that we all want to see. This, in turn, should give first nations the confidence to use the claims resolution centre as outlined in this new legislation.

It is comforting to see that the parliamentary process has worked and is responsive to the concerns of the first nations and that better legislation is derived from the cooperative efforts of all stakeholders and all parliamentarians.

To refresh people's memories, the proposal would have a chief executive officer, who would handle the day to day administrative matters of the centre, as well as a commission to facilitate negotiations on land claims by first nations and a tribunal to resolve disputes involving those claims.

Specific Claims Resolution ActGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I think if you did a head count, you would find that there is less than quorum to hear this important debate.

Specific Claims Resolution ActGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

The hon. member is right, there is no quorum.

Call in the members.

And the bells having rung:

Specific Claims Resolution ActGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

We have quorum. The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Works and Government Services.

Specific Claims Resolution ActGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Madam Speaker, the principle of the new system that Bill C-6 proposes is very simple. Both the Government of Canada and the first nations would much rather negotiate than litigate.

Having such a centre as proposed by Bill C-6 means first nations would have an effective means to deal with outstanding grievances, thus helping to remove an enormous roadblock to economic development in communities that we all care very much about. Investors could proceed with confidence and first nations could negotiate from positions of strength.

By supporting this proposal we are fulfilling a pledge to have in place the authority to facilitate, arbitrate or mediate disputes that may arise between Canada and the first nations in the land claims negotiations process, and binding decisions rendered on the acceptance or the rejection of such claims for negotiation.

With this proposed act we are in addition helping to fulfill the vision of Canada's aboriginal action plan that we put in place in response to the report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, something again that is long overdue for action on those files.

That vision sees increased quality of life for aboriginal people and the promotion of self-sufficiency through partnerships, revenue generation, responsiveness to community needs and values, and a place for aboriginal people with other Canadians.

By effectively dealing with outstanding claims through this new system we would help to realize this vision by clearing the way for greater economic development of first nations communities. The benefits for aboriginal and non-aboriginal communities alike should be obvious to everyone. Experience shows that partnership between first nations, the private sector, corporations, governments and communities benefit the economic health and prosperity of the entire community.

Resources now used in settling claims in the current adversarial system can be saved and better applied to this economic development for the good of all. This is truly a benefit for aboriginal and non-aboriginal sectors working together as it benefits all Canadians.

We realize it is not perfect. Few pieces of legislation are actually perfect. This is a big move toward trying to solve some of the ongoing problems of the aboriginal communities. The other two pieces of legislation that are still to go through the House together would very much help to ensure that the aboriginal community has a strong and positive future in Canada.

Specific Claims Resolution ActGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Gurmant Grewal Canadian Alliance Surrey Central, BC

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to rise on behalf of the constituents of Surrey Central to participate in the debate on Bill C-6, an act to establish the Canadian centre for independent resolution of first nations specific claims.

After seven months Bill C-6 has returned to the House with amendments from the Senate. The Senate has recognized all of the main problems of the bill which my colleagues in the Canadian Alliance, the official opposition, pointed out during earlier debate in the House.

While I support these few Senate amendments, my colleagues in the official opposition and I feel they do not go far enough to rectify the fundamental flaws in the legislation. Personally, I do not subscribe to the logic that a bad law is better than no law at all. It is incumbent upon the government to produce legislation that furthers the interests of aboriginal people and the general Canadian public. With Bill C-6 the Liberals have failed in that duty.

I will now speak to the specifics of the bill. On the definition, specific claims as opposed to comprehensive claims deal with the grievances over Canada's alleged failure to discharge specific obligations to aboriginal groups, usually in relation to treaty rights or undertakings given by the federal crown.

Bill C-6 provides for the filing, negotiation and resolution of specific claims and makes related amendments to other acts. The stated purpose of the proposed act is to establish the Canadian centre for the independent resolution of first nations specific claims. The centre will be composed of a chief executive officer, a commission and a tribunal with the commission and tribunal playing the most significant roles in the day to day process of dealing with specific claims.

In 1998 a joint Canada-Assembly of First Nations working group set out a draft legislative proposal for a reformed specific claims process which included some key features. One was the elimination of Canada's conflict of interest through an independent legislative mechanism to report directly to Parliament and first nations. Another was to establish both a commission to facilitate negotiations and a tribunal to resolve disputes in case of failed negotiations. It also included a tribunal authority to make binding decisions on the validity of claims, compensation criteria and compensation of awards, subject to a budgetary allocation of settlement funds over a five year period.

Its keys features also included the definition of issues within the jurisdiction of the commission, the independent funding for first nations research and negotiations, and a joint review after five years to include consideration of outstanding matters such as lawful obligations arising from aboriginal rights.

That was the model legislative initiative upon which Bill C-6 was to be built. The question is, what happened after that? Instead of this model, the bill before us has the following six conditions. The appointment process for the commission and the tribunal maintains the conflict of interest that Canada has as the federal government is the sole appointing authority. The tribunal's decisions may be appealed to the courts. There is a cap on the dollar amount of claims to be dealt with. The review of the entire process is only binding on the federal government. There is no incentive for the federal government to move the claim settlement process along in a timely fashion. Last, the types of specific claims subjected to this process are severely restricted.

Under the present system Canada is the judge and jury at the same time. If enacted, Bill C-6 will do nothing to alter this situation. The title of the bill suggests that the newly created body will be independent but that could not be further from the truth.

How could the new claim resolution centre be truly independent if the government appoints all the commission and tribunal members? There is a compromising situation. How could it be independent? Those appointments include the CEO, chief commissioner and chief adjudicator with only token input from the first nations.

Suspicion about partiality, patronage and conflict of interest will inevitably plague the centre, destroying its legitimacy in the eyes of the first nations. Not only will it not be independent, but there are indicators that the perception would be it is not completely independent. This is a fatal flaw for independence is essential to the successful working of the centre. Independence must exist in fact and be perceived to exist by all parties as well as by the public.

Under the proposed legislation, not only does the Minister of Indian Affairs have the final word on who will work on and decide specific claims, he or she is also directly involved in the claims process itself. Once a claim is filed, the commission must provide a copy with supporting documentation to the minister. After preparatory meetings the commission must then suspend proceedings until the minister decides whether or not to accept the claim for negotiation. I do not see any independence of this body in its complete working with respect to these claims.

Bill C-6 permits the minister to consider a claim indefinitely. There are no time limits that must be obeyed. No independent body has the authority to say that enough is enough.

Allowing the minister, who is a party, to determine the next step in the proceedings essentially takes carriage of proceedings away from the claimant and the centre and places it with the respondent.

Under the proposed legislation, the commission lacks the authority to compel all parties to act. Nowhere is this more evident than in the absence of authority to compel the minister to respond to a claimant band in a timely manner.

Now, as for the cost components, as my colleague from Saskatoon—Wanuskewin noted earlier, the Senate amendment increasing the tribunal cap from $7 million to $10 million is little more than tokenism. The requirement for claimants to waive their rights to compensation above the specified cap set out in clause 32 in order to obtain a tribunal ruling on the validity of their claim has been singled out by critics as the most significant flaw in this bill. We pointed this out during the previous debates, but the government did not listen to those objections.

We just have to look at the cost to the federal and provincial governments of previously settled specific claims and we can see why aboriginal groups are up in arms over this provision of Bill C-6. Documentation related to specific claims settlements in Saskatchewan since the mid-1980s shows that the treaty land entitlement class of specific claims, asserting that Canada did not provide the reserve land promised under treaty, resulted in payments of $539 million. Individual settlements ranged from a low of about $3.1 million to a high of $62.4 million. The average is over $18.5 million.

Other specific claims in Saskatchewan cost a total of about $128.6 million, with individual settlements ranging from just over $0.4 million to $34.5 million. Saskatchewan is only one example. Counsel for the Indian Claims Commission indicates that of the 120 claims the ICC has dealt with, only three were settled for less than $7 million. According to the Assembly of First Nations, in the past three years, 8 of the 14 claims paid out by the federal government were for amounts over $7 million.

Therefore, it strikes me as extremely disingenuous for the government to try to cap settlements at $7 million. It does not make sense. Based on the Saskatchewan settlements, the amended cap is little better. The member for Saskatoon—Wanuskewin proposed an amendment in committee to increase the cap to $25 million. If that amendment had been accepted, far more specific claim cases might make it before the proposed claim body. That was a sensible amendment, but unfortunately it was not accepted.

Cases take longer and cost more when dragged through the courts, having the effect of delaying the time when a final decision is brought down, and therefore postponing the date at which the government is required to pay out a claim for a decision made in favour of the claimant. Therefore, the imposition of a cap on the tribunal looks much more like a strategic stalling tactic by the government than an example of fiscal prudence.

Who is standing up for the taxpayers in this new process? Who is standing up for the taxpayers? Bill C-6 will discourage the use of the less costly alternative dispute mechanisms and will thereby waste taxpayers' money, for there is no prudence and no diligence. I am concerned about that.

Now, about the backlog, one of the primary goals of the bill is to provide for speedier resolution of claims. According to the Department of Indian Affairs Specific Claims Branch, between April 1, 1970 and December 31, 2001, only 230 of 1,123 specific claims were settled. A small fraction of the remaining claims, 466, were in various stages of review, while 119 were in active or inactive negotiation, 181 had been closed or were found to establish no lawful obligation, 33 had been resolved administratively, 50 were in active litigation, and 44 were before the Indian Claims Commission.

The picture is clear. This legislation does nothing to eliminate the specific claims backlog. We will be facing the same backlog with the same pace for the settlement of the claims, so there is no improvement in that. Bill C-6 in fact offers numerous opportunities for the government to delay and stonewall with impunity. It will not ensure a faster claims resolution process. The Senate committee examining Bill C-6 recognized this to be the case. I myself noted this flaw in the bill when I was speaking last time in the House, yet the government has done nothing to correct this serious flaw despite its stated intentions.

Regarding the reactions of B.C. first nations, Bill C-6 has been met by opposition from aboriginal groups across Canada, including those in my home province of British Columbia. The British Columbia Alliance of Tribal Nations, representing 23 member first nations, feels that Bill C-6 completely fails to meet the bill's stated principle, namely, to establish a process for the resolution of specific claims that is independent, fair and timely.

On those three counts, the government has let down the aboriginal people. The process is not independent. It is not fair. It will not be timely in its operations. Aboriginal people argue that it will instead create a process that is even worse than the current flawed process, which has over 500 claims sitting in a backlog awaiting the minister's decision on whether or not they are acceptable for negotiation.

Specific Claims Resolution ActGovernment Orders

1:40 p.m.

An hon. member

The minister of backlogs.

Specific Claims Resolution ActGovernment Orders

1:40 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Gurmant Grewal Canadian Alliance Surrey Central, BC

Yes, he is the minister of backlogs and he will continue to be the minister of backlogs.

In this backlog, 48% of the specific claims are from first nations in British Columbia. That is almost half. The most claims from any region in Canada are in the province of British Columbia. First nations in British Columbia have the most to gain from the establishment of a truly independent, fair and timely process. And they have the most to lose if the bill before us is passed without further significant amendments, which we have come forward with in the past.

Bill C-6 will institutionalize the federal government's conflict of interest in judging claims against itself and will authorize and reward the Minister of Indian Affairs for indefinite delay in deciding whether or not to accept specific claims for negotiations. It will institutionalize the conflict of interest in the whole process.

The Alliance of Tribal Nations is outraged by the failure of the minister to consult with first nations on Bill C-6, by the speed with which Bill C-6 was rushed through second reading, and by the fast tracking of this legislation through the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs, Northern Development and Natural Resources.

As members may remember, only one day was allocated for briefs from first nations, with their presentations being limited to from 5 to 10 minutes, and with only 10 to 20 minutes for questions and answers. That was not enough. If we wanted to listen to all the parties involved, one day, with just 5 to 10 minute presentations, was not good enough.

The Alliance of Tribal Nations has asked that I oppose this legislation vigorously. That is why I am participating in the debate along with my other colleagues, who have already given a good version of this whole situation.

In conclusion, I would like to say that the Canadian Alliance strongly supports the speedy resolution of claims. However, this bill will not speed up the resolution of claims and particularly not the larger and more costly claims. The Senate recognized all the main problems with the bill, which we in the Canadian Alliance pointed out during earlier debate in the House. While the Senate amendments marginally improve the bill, they do not go far enough to rectify the fundamental flaws in the legislation. We therefore stand opposed to the Senate report and to the final passing of this bill.

However, I believe that this exercise of participation in the debate is an exercise in futility. It is an exercise in vain. First, the government does not listen. Second, we know that the House is going to prorogue soon for the preparation of the incoming leader. Or maybe the House will adjourn soon and all this legislation will be pending and will go into the waste bin eventually. I will just say for the sake of analogy that if we have to demolish something and there is a bulldozer next to us but we continue building something with the hope that it will not be demolished, we know that if the bulldozer is there our building will be demolished. The work we do will not be fruitful.

I am concerned that the government is not serious about specific claims settlement. I still believe that if the government listens to the official opposition, to the other concerned bodies and to first nations, it can come up with some proposed amendments. The government should listen. That would improve the quality of the bill.

Specific Claims Resolution ActGovernment Orders

1:45 p.m.

Miramichi New Brunswick

Liberal

Charles Hubbard LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Madam Speaker, I listened with interest to the hon. member. I do not think the 10 minutes available to us will enable me to comment on all the various points he has made, but there are several points I would like to bring into question.

First of all, he indicated that the bill has been very rushed. In fact, various parts of this government and the previous government have spent more than 10 years preparing this legislation. They have listened to the various departments.

In terms of claims, not only do we think of claims between the Government of Canada and our various first nations communities, but also we think of the people affected in our provinces, territories and in fact all Canadians. So when we talk about specific claims and how they might be resolved and we look at the process that has been in progress, we can see that there have been very few successes in terms of the number of issues that have been dealt with.

I hope that in terms of this legislation we will see a speedier resolution of the various claims that first nations will bring to our table.

I would like to remind members of the House that the more than 600 first nations across the country are getting more involved with their history. The scholars being developed through our educational systems on those first nations communities are bringing to bear on this people who are very much concerned about the history of their communities and what effect Canadians and history have had on their various groups. With this, we find that research is being done and new specific claims are being brought about. With that, of course, we find that hopefully just dues will be paid for the mistakes that have been made by our peoples in the past.

The hon. member has also indicated that there is a problem about independence of the centre and of the tribunal. He has tried to indicate that by the way the appointments might be made there could be bias, but the same argument could be made in terms of the Supreme Court of Canada or the judicial system itself because there, of course, appointments are made by various levels of government. With it, we always have high hopes that the decisions made by those groups are fair, unbiased and in the best interests of all of Canada.

I visit various parts of British Columbia and we know that in British Columbia great assertions of their traditional territories are made by first nations peoples. In the member's home province, a commission has been set up that has looked at some of those claims and is attempting to bring resolution to many of the concerns they have in that great province. I would ask the hon. member if he could simply bring to the attention of the House what is happening in his home province in terms of that commission and how it is improving the lives, the attitudes and the outlook of the more than 300 first nations in the province of British Columbia.

Specific Claims Resolution ActGovernment Orders

1:50 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Gurmant Grewal Canadian Alliance Surrey Central, BC

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the member's concern. He has raised a good point but the overall purpose of the bill is not accomplished at all. The specific claim process is not independent. The minister has every right to interfere with it. The minister will be making the patronage appointments, including the chief executive officer of the tribunal, the commission members and so on.

The cap for the claims is arbitrary; $7 million is not enough. We made an amendment in committee for $25 million, which would have been fairer. The backlog is already huge. The process will be quite slow and the backlog will continue. The minister still has 500 specific claims on his desk that need to be concluded as to whether they should go for negotiation. There is a huge backlog and 48% of those claims are from my province of British Columbia.

The government has not paid full attention to the issues and concerns and it did not look at the amendments in the way it should have. The flaws in the bill that we pointed out in previous debates were the same flaws that the Senate pointed out but the government still refuses to accommodate those concerns.

In a nutshell, this whole process is not independent, it is not fair and it will not resolve the claims in a timely fashion.

Specific Claims Resolution ActGovernment Orders

1:50 p.m.

Bloc

Claude Bachand Bloc Saint-Jean, QC

Madam Speaker, I have the advantage of having been the Indian Affairs critic for my party for seven years. There is one thing that has always struck me: the matter of consultation. I recall several bills where we called witnesses after second reading, when we asked aboriginal people to come and give us their views.

I always found that the government heeded this consultation very little, and did not pay much attention to the representations made. One might say that the government had a preconceived idea in mind when it introduced a bill. Everything was organized in advance, everything was prepared. Regardless of what the aboriginal leaders had to say, or the aboriginal people themselves or their chiefs, the government went ahead and decided to pass its legislation, attaching no importance to the consultation.

From what I hear about Bill C-6, it seems that is more or less what happened. There were numerous representations. Many people were consulted. Now the government is saying, “Well, we listened to you, but now we are going to do as we please”. That is the impression I have about the bill before us.

I would like to ask my colleague, who has just given an excellent presentation, if he does not somewhat share my opinion that the government has once again missed its chance to listen to those who are the directly concerned by this bill, that is the aboriginal people themselves? Once again, we are involved in a debate on a bill that has been presented after consultation, but the consultation will not be heeded. They want to impose this bill, ignoring not only the opinion of the first nations people, but also the opinion of all opposition parties in the House of Commons.

I would like to know whether my colleague shares my impression that there has been a lack of consultation or that the consultation that did take place is being ignored, as far as Bill C-6 is concerned?

Specific Claims Resolution ActGovernment Orders

1:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Gurmant Grewal Canadian Alliance Surrey Central, BC

Madam Speaker, the hon. member has done tremendous work on this issue for many years in the past. He is absolutely right when he says that the government has completely ignored addressing the specific concerns of the first nations.

We know our first nations people are in a desperate situation. The issues of health care, unemployment, suicide rates, poverty and accountability continue as they were many years ago. It is difficult for the first nations to get their rights and the attention of the government on these issues.

I agree with the member that the government is not listening. It is not listening to the opposition nor is it listening to the first nations. It has misspent all the money in various programs. The money flows from the government to certain people in the first nations but it does not reach the grassroots first nations people where it has to go.

The government has completely ignored looking into various issues like health care, unemployment or employment and the general overall welfare of the society in general. I blame the government for that. Not only does it not have any plan in place, but I guess there is a lack of political will to resolve the problems in an effective manner.

Specific Claims Resolution ActGovernment Orders

1:55 p.m.

Brampton Centre Ontario

Liberal

Sarkis Assadourian LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Madam Speaker, my colleague from the Alliance Party blasted the government for its record but I have to remind him that this government and this party has been more friendly to aboriginal people than any other government over the last 100 years.

Why is he so opposed to bringing this system into the 21st century? What was so good about the previous treatment of first nations that he is still defending it? I cannot comprehend his logic.

Specific Claims Resolution ActGovernment Orders

1:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Gurmant Grewal Canadian Alliance Surrey Central, BC

Madam Speaker, the hon. member has it wrong again. Neither I, my party nor anyone on this side of the House are against the process of resolving the claims. We are against the government's ill will and its lack of understanding that it has put into Bill C-6 to resolve the issues.

As I indicated, the process is not independent and it is not fair. It will not be done in a timely manner. The backlog will continue. The member should look at this issue again. All of us in this chamber have a moral responsibility to deal with the claims in a timely and fair manner.

Veterans' WeekStatements by Members

November 4th, 2003 / 1:55 p.m.

Liberal

Clifford Lincoln Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Madam Speaker, this month we are celebrating Veterans' Week, culminating in the ceremonies on Remembrance Day, November 11.

Yesterday, I participated in a ceremony at the veterans' hospital in Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue, where the minister presided over the sod-turning for the hospital modernization project.

This modernization project involves an expenditure of $67.7 million for improvements at the hospital. The hospital is redesigning its main section and adding a new 130 bed pavilion. By the end of construction in 2007, the hospital will include 460 private rooms equipped to take care of the unique needs of our most deserving citizens.

I applaud this initiative of Veterans Affairs Canada on behalf of those who have sacrificed so much of themselves in the cause of freedom and peace.

Minister of TransportStatements by Members

1:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jim Gouk Canadian Alliance Kootenay—Boundary—Okanagan, BC

Madam Speaker, in the final days of his dictatorial tenure as the transport minister, I would like to take this opportunity to thank him for his latest excesses on VIA Rail. His outrageous new spending announcement is enough to finally focus media and public attention on the phenomenal waste of money that VIA represents.

Since the Liberals took office, VIA has used up $3 billion of taxpayer money, exclusive of this latest announcement. That money could have been far better spent on health care, justice issues, basic community infrastructure or simply left in the pockets of Canada's hard-pressed taxpayers.

However I certainly cannot thank the minister for the destruction he has brought on all the other areas of transportation. While he has focused on his pet rail fetish, our highways are crumbling, airport rents and the subsequent airline fees have skyrocketed and have tripled. Airline security has turned into another expensive and inefficient bureaucracy, and security at our national ports has been slashed.

Our country needs and deserves better. If the minister had just stayed home and played with toy trains, the taxpayers and the transport industry would be in far better shape.