Mr. Speaker, I am happy to rise today and speak on Bill C-19, a very interesting first nations omnibus bill that deals with the creation of three financial institutions and a separate statistical institute.
Listening to some of the debate today has led me to a thought process which I would like to share before I get into my prepared notes. It deals with the tensions that currently exist between what I would say is the one size fits all approach of the Indian Act, which has been the historical way that the affairs of first nations in Canada have been dealt with for a long period of time, versus the whole trend of now moving toward an opting in or a situation where first nations either singly or as a group propose and become advocates for various other forms of management, administration and governance, all of the critical things that we think of in terms of legislation.
I believe that it is a fiction under this new scenario for us to think that a majority decision made by an organization like the Assembly of First Nations, for example, is binding on anyone. Membership of the 633 bands in Canada in the Assembly of First Nations is automatic, just because of the way it is created, the way it is funded and the way it operates.
So I think it is natural that these tensions now exist. They are going to continue to exist, but hopefully it will be a creative tension. I think we see some signs that it will be. For example, we are set to give unanimous consent in the House tomorrow, I believe, to the Westbank First Nations Self-Government Agreement, which was signed in Westbank, British Columbia, on October 3. I think it signals something very constructive for the House.
At the same time, all of that tension leads me to the conclusion, and it should be no surprise to anyone, that Bill C-19 would have its strong opponents and strong proponents. A significant contributor to all of this is that it is omnibus legislation. I do not think the government needed to do that. I do not think the minister needed to do that. I think it was a mistake. The politics of this bill could be so much simpler and so much more productive. I do not quite understand why it was done this way.
The thrust of the legislation is to empower subscribing bands across the country to join together to advance their economic situation. Before I get into the specifics of the bill, I think it is important that we frame the discussion from the standpoint of what we have in Canada as a consequence of the Constitution, the reserve system of land ownership and the Indian Act. It is the very worst of all circumstances for tens of thousands of aboriginal people who are growing up in a cycle of poverty and abuse that in many circumstances is as bad as anything we can find in the third world, and in the worst circumstances in the third world.
It is essential that Canada as a modern country think outside the box so we do not perpetuate that which has been going on for too long in too many places. Economic advancement cannot occur without social advancement and the reverse is also true.
The current system and the current apparatus of government caters to the defenders of the status quo, who benefit from the asymmetrical system we currently have. It is a system that on some reserves has allowed elected chiefs and councillors to use federal money to reward themselves and their friends through jobs, through pay and through perks, to consolidate their status to influence elections, to intimidate members of their community, and to perpetuate themselves in office. This is the basic premise that the government needs to operate on in order to fix the worst of what is happening.
The government must operate from the standpoint that democracy, transparency and accountability are not negotiable. The sad truth is that I have been a witness in this place for 10 years to this government continuing to allow these things to occur. These are my first concerns whenever I am faced with reviewing legislation. Is democracy being served? Is transparency being served? Is accountability being served?
My first important observation when it comes to Bill C-19 is that it applies only to those bands that subscribe to it. My reading of ideas emanating from some of the most progressive bands in the country is that this is an essential direction in which we have to go, and I certainly concur.
The reason I concur is that when I look at the way the courts interpret transactions on reserve, the first consideration is always given to the Indian Act, which becomes the lowest common denominator and a very huge barrier to progress unless there is specific legislation in place that overrides the Indian Act for that specific band.
For example, a specific piece of legislation applies to the Sechelt band in British Columbia. It is so overwhelmingly different from the Indian Act that it is inappropriate and incorrect to call the Sechelt land base a reserve. The Sechelt band achieved fee simple ownership of their lands in 1985, lands that formerly were reserved for them and held by the Crown.
Like it is for so many other attempts at progress by first nations, the approach taken by the Department of Indian Affairs since 1985, which to me flies in the face of the great successes achieved by the Sechelt, has been to tell any other band seeking any similar treatment of their land base that there were to be no more Sechelts. One might ask why.
There is quite a bit more that I could say, but I am running out of time. I will conclude by saying that one part of this four-suite institution set-up, the first nations statistical institute, absolutely in its entirety has nothing to do with the other three. We could do without it. It is the most divisive part of the bill and should be hived off. It should never have resided in the legislation. It is a total duplication of what Statistics Canada is already carrying out. We would all be better off if we were not in the position of having to support this legislation as it stands.