Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to join in the debate today on Bill C-6. I am sorry we have to do it under the threat of time allocation but I will try to take the time to share with colleagues my concern for the bill and my general concern for aboriginal people across the country.
I am sure that most hon. colleagues in the House realize that my concern for aboriginal people is simply not academic. Over a long number of years, particularly in our fostering ministry with children, my wife and I have been involved with aboriginal children for a long time. Indeed, three aboriginal children are part of my family.
I have a 24 year old son, a very fine young man attending Malaspina University-College, who is member of the Ahousaht Band, a first nation on the west coast of Vancouver Island. I also have two daughters, one who will soon be 19 and one who is 17. Both of them are very beautiful young ladies and are members of the Blood and the Siksika Nations in Alberta.
My concern for aboriginal peoples is simply not just the words on paper. It is something that we have lived with and been concerned about for a long time. I am concerned enough about bills like this to make sure that when they are presented to the House of Commons and to our native peoples across Canada that they are done right. I have a lot of concern about Bill C-6 because I do not think it has been done right.
I rise today to speak on the government's bill to create the Canadian centre for the independent resolution of first nations specific claims.
As we all know, the original purpose of the bill was to create an independent institution to provide for the filing, negotiation and resolution of specific claims. Let me state unequivocally that the Canadian Alliance fully supports the speedy resolution of claims. It is unfortunate, however, that Bill C-6 will not, in our view, speed up the resolution of claims, particularly the larger, more costly ones.
Try as he might, and as he might say otherwise, the Prime Minister will have an everlasting legacy over his treatment of the aboriginal people of Canada. I believe that he has had his heart in the right place. He has tried to get it right but it is just unfortunate that aboriginal Canadians continue to pay the price for him getting it wrong.
This has been going on for a good long time. In 1969, when the present Prime Minister was the minister of Indian affairs, he had the opportunity to set in motion something that would have been good for aboriginal people in consultation with aboriginal people right across Canada that quite possibly would have not brought us to the point where we are today in the lives of many aboriginal Canadians. If he had done it right 30-some years ago we would not be in the place that we are today. For the over 30 years that the Liberals have been having a go at this, they have simply had the lives of aboriginal people in the palms of their hands.
Are aboriginal people today better or worse off? I must say that from my experience with our aboriginal peoples across Canada, aboriginal Canadians are still the poorest, most undereducated group of people in all of Canada. Their on reserve unemployment rates rank as high as 80% to 90%. The drug and alcohol abuse is heartbreaking and the imprisonment and re-offending rate is higher than any other group in Canada.
There is the result of the Liberal legacy and, unfortunately, to Canadians and, in particular, to aboriginal Canadians, it is an infamous one.
With regard to this particular bill and the amendments that are being debated, I find it very interesting that the Senate has recognized nearly all the main problems with this bill that the Canadian Alliance brought forward during the previous debates here in the House of Commons. It is unfortunate that the Senate amendments, although slight improvements to the bill, do not go far enough in resolving the inadequacies of it. It is for that reason that I and my colleagues in the Canadian Alliance are opposed to the amendments as well as the bill itself.
I want to remind all members of the House that the Canadian Alliance policy is clear with regard to the settling of aboriginal claims. We state in our policy book:
Our position in land claims negotiations will be to ensure respect for existing private property rights, affordable and conclusive settlement of all claims, and an open and transparent process involving all stakeholders.
I am on record in the past and will say so again today that aboriginal Canadians will not be able to move forward as individuals or as an autonomous group in our society until the outstanding claims are settled conclusively and with some finality.
Frankly, I believe that the Prime Minister and the Minister of Indian Affairs are living in a world that has simply passed them by. They refuse to acknowledge that their past attempts to resolve the many outstanding issues have all failed and yet they continue to repeat the same mistakes over and over again in their dealings with aboriginal Canadians. Fresh approaches and renewed attitudes are needed in order to see any substantial change for the better for aboriginal Canadians.
That does not mean a top down bureaucracy enforcing laws upon aboriginal Canadians. It means an entirely consultative approach with aboriginal Canadians, where together there will be work done to make this work for them.
The new claims resolution centre will not operate as an independent body. The commissioners and adjudicators will not be representative of all stakeholders, as they will be appointed by the Prime Minister. Aboriginal and non-aboriginal people alike are truly suspicious of the Prime Minister's motives, particularly when it comes to impartiality, patronage and conflict of interest issues. I have every reason to believe that this will continue at this new centre and negate any legitimacy in its final decisions.
As I understand the process involved under this bill, the centre would consist of a commission and a tribunal. In turn the claims process will proceed through three stages: First, the intake and preparatory stage where the first nation submits its claim to the commission, arranges research funding and notifies interested parties of the claim.
Second, the validity stage where the Crown decides whether or not to accept the claim. If the Crown refuses the claim, the first nation can ask for dispute resolution led by the commission. If that fails, the first nation can ask the commission to refer the claim to the tribunal to decide on its validity.
Third, the negotiation stage. When a claim is accepted by the Crown or deemed valid by the tribunal it enters a commission led negotiation. If negotiations fail, the first nation can ask the commission to refer the claim to the tribunal for a binding decision on cash compensation to a maximum of $7 million.
I have several concerns regarding this bill. First, although the centre has been slated to be in Ottawa, there appears to have been no consideration where the most cost effective location for the centre will be.
I am pleased to note that the Auditor General of Canada will audit the financial accounts of the centre annually and a report of the audit will be made to the centre and the minister. Although there is a time lag for the reporting mechanism of the centre to the minister and a further time lag of the minister tabling the relevant documents in the House of Commons, there is the appearance of some transparency.
However what does concern me is that the minister will not be presenting the quarterly reports from the centre to Parliament. I believe this is wrong and that they should be tabled, thus keeping parliamentarians fully apprised of the centre's financial well-being. Surely we do not want to have another billion dollar gun registry boondoggle on our hands.
Regarding the efficiency of the process, the government needs to re-examine its approach to defining access to the proposed claim centre. If it is to be more efficient, the minister needs to determine how to allow more access for legitimate claims.
If the review and tribunal process is truly to be convenient to all the parties involved, it should be held at a time and a place convenient to all the parties concerned. Currently only the convenience of the panel has been considered, certainly not the needs of aboriginal people.
Perhaps the clause that causes me the most concern is clause 77. This clause reads:
The Governor in Council may make regulations (a) adding to Part 2 of the schedule the name of any agreement related to aboriginal self-government; and (b) prescribing anything that may, under this Act, be prescribed.
Once again this appears to be a loophole that allows the government to fill in the blanks after the bill has already passed under the watchful eye of Parliament. Although the Prime Minister talks the talk about parliamentary democracy, he is often unable to walk the walk. Legislation should not be something that can be added to arbitrarily after the fact. This clause should certainly be deleted.
Who is standing up for the taxpayer in this process? Based on the information that has been provided to me, I believe the bill will actually discourage the use of the less expensive alternative dispute mechanisms. Taxpayers pay far too much already. Encouraging and in some cases forcing the use of the court system only adds to the tax burden of all Canadians.
In conclusion, let me state again that the Canadian Alliance supports the fair and expeditious resolution of claims in a manner that benefits relations between aboriginal Canadians, the federal government and every other Canadian. We do not believe the bill will achieve that goal. The bill really creates a two tier claims system. It may expedite smaller cash claims at the expense of larger claims and claims for land.
Again the federal government has got it all wrong with the timing. Under this draft of the bill, first nations cannot file claims based on events that occurred within the 15 years immediately preceding the filing of a claim. We need to stop and think about that for a moment. Aboriginal people need to know what that means for them as a nation. It means that a first nation can be denied its treaty rights for 15 whole years without recourse. In a democracy is that fair? Of course not. Aboriginal Canadians have been waiting for the settlement of their treaty rights and claims for years and years. This bill will only add to that kind of burden.
Clearly the bill will raise false hope and open the floodgates for more claims that first nations have held back. The centre risks being overwhelmed by cases, just like the Liberal gun registry, resulting in an even larger backlog and ultimately higher costs. It is money that could be spent on aboriginal health, aboriginal education and aboriginal housing. That is simply not fair.
In the past three decades, 30 years, the government has settled only 230 claims. There are 500 claims still waiting to be heard and first nations representatives tell us they expect up to 1,000 more claims to be filed. At the current rate it will take almost 200 years to deal with all of these claims. If one were an aboriginal person in this country hearing that kind of figure, how would one feel?
In 1993 the Liberal red book promised an independent claims commission jointly appointed by first nations and the Government of Canada. How many times have we heard of the promises in the 1993 Liberal red book? There was the GST, the ethics commissioner, and now an independent claims commission that was supposed to include aboriginal peoples in the founding and establishment of it. Bill C-6 clearly breaks that promise by concentrating the power to make appointments in the Prime Minister's office. Shame.
At this time, as far as I am concerned and as far as the Canadian Alliance is concerned, Bill C-6 should be scrapped and rewritten. There are too many fundamental flaws in it and the bill should not be ratified.
I ask all members of the House who truly want to see the legitimate aspirations of aboriginal Canadians move forward to take a good look at the bill and vote against it. It is a bill based not on clear thinking and the rights of aboriginals, but on political expediency. We need to give real hope to aboriginal Canadians. Bill C-6 simply does not achieve this goal.