Mr. Speaker, you took me a bit by surprise. I thought that the government had a bill to defend, especially when it is its own bill. However, we find that even the government's own members are not willing to defend a bill such as Bill C-19.
We can see why. Bill C-19 is part of a major federal offensive, along with Bills C-6 and C-7, against all the traditional land claims and the rights of Canada's first nations, such as the inherent right to self-government, the right to a land base, the right also to compensation for the 130 years during which they were subjected to the Indian Act—the most retrograde law ever conceived by man, and this law was created right here in Canada 130 years ago. All these rights, as well as the respect to which our first nations are entitled, are being trampled by Bill C-19. And, of course, Bill C-19 is part of a whole scheme that also includes Bills C-6 and C-7.
We always come back to the same basic problem. When the government came up with Bill C-19, it had not even bothered to adequately consult first nations. This is an attempt to shove a bill they do not want down their throats. This is an attempt to undermine their credibility, to say for example that the Assembly of First Nations does not represent all first nations in Canada, which is false. There is even a federal law that recognizes the Assembly of First Nations as the spokesperson for first nations in Canada.
But, as the old saying goes, divide and conquer. The Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development has taken this old adage to heart and is being quite machiavellian in how he applies it.
They are even going to bypass the Assembly of First Nations and choose some Liberal Party sympathizers. The selected individuals picked by the Liberal Party of Canada and by the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development will then say that they agree with the government, that everything is great and that everything in the bill is great.
We tried to amend Bill C-19. We tried to convince the minister that this bill was not quite right, that first nations had very legitimate claims, that they wanted to be consulted and that they wanted to be respected for who they are. The minister turned a deaf ear.
Many representations on Bill C-19, C-6 and C-7 were made. Currently, Bill C-7 is at the committee stage. Each time we have proposed amendments to improve the contents, to ensure that the rights and demands of the first nations of Canada are respected, the minister has turned a deaf ear and said, “I know what I am doing. I consulted, I have held 400 meetings since last year and this is the result of those consultations”.
What the minister forgets to mention is that those 400 consultations were probably each about five minutes long. How can the first nations, under such circumstances, make positive contributions? Because these bills are for them. How can they satisfactorily contribute to replacing the much-hated Indian Act with legislation that recognizes and respects them for who they are?
We had supported the principles in Bill C-19. Given that the minister does not want to hear about the major changes that need to be made, we are forced to change our minds. We will oppose Bill C-19, which is part of a broad offensive to get first nations to accept the unacceptable, which no Canadian, and certainly no Quebecker, would do.
Bill C-19 creates a statistical institute, a tax commission and a first nations financial management board.
As if aboriginals needed three additional ultra bureaucratic entities. The Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development's speciality is bureaucracy, cumbersome administration and piles of paperwork. Aboriginals do not need any of this. They want nothing to do with it. These are not their real problems.
This is not what they talk about when they appear before us in committee or when we meet with them individually. They want us to address the real problems in the aboriginal communities, such as land claims that have been on the back burner for decades, compensation for the harm caused to them and aboriginal health issues.
In terms of health, there is no need to draw a picture. Across Canada, aboriginals' health is worse than anyone's. They contract infections that no longer even exist in our communities. For instance, there is a high incidence of tuberculosis among the Lubicon in Alberta.
These communities are struggling with substance abuse problems in young children. Recently we saw young children 6 or 7 years old behind homes sniffing gasoline fumes or glue. These are real problems.
There are major problems with drinking water across Canada. Imagine, that was a discovery for me. Some regions of Canada are in the same situation as the developing countries. I thought drinking water problems were mainly in Africa, where CIDA is doing such excellent work.
I think we need to look a little closer at ourselves and stop thinking that underdevelopment is something foreign to us. The reality is that the first nations have been marginalized. They do not have drinking water. Considering the importance of safe drinking water for health, and particularly for child development, I hardly need say how ashamed this makes me feel. This is a problem that must be addressed.
Moreover, to dispel any old prejudices that may still be lurking in the minds of any of my colleagues, what the Auditor General said was not that there were administrative problems in the first nations communities, but that those problems lay within the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs.
I see these three new entities relating to taxation and statistics as a way for employees of that department to hang on to their jobs. The right thing to do today would be to abolish the despicable Indian Act, which treats aboriginal people like children and kept them on the reserve for so many decades. This legislation has been around for 130 years now and has stripped them of their resources.
If we abolished the Indian Act, we would at the same time abolish some, if not most, positions at Indian and Northern Affairs. But they will do as they did at Fisheries and Oceans. There are no more fish, but there are hundreds of employees. Why? Because the changes in the fish stocks must be monitored. SInce these people have been monitoring the situation, fish stocks have decreased. But that justifies jobs at Fisheries and Oceans.
It is worse at Indian and Northern Affairs. I met some of the employees when they appeared before the committee. Some had that typical attitude that is so despised, people for whom what is important is to hang on to their jobs, not to work for the well-being of the aboriginal community or to help it break out of the vicious circle that has been in place for the past 130 years and has the first nations mired in chronic underdevelopment, which gets in the way of their future development and their children's future development, and strips them of pride and dignity.
But officials are not there to work on these problems. Of course not, they are there to create bureaucratic entities. The Auditor General said that first nations are overadministered.
Almost all aboriginal communities are required to fill out 168 lengthy forms every year on their administration, on how they operate, down to the last penny. One hundred and sixty-eight forms, do you know what that represents? That is three government forms per week in every aboriginal community. Keep in mind that there are some communities with about 100 people.
It is the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development that requires this. The Auditor General did not criticize aboriginals for being sloppy when it comes to the administration of aboriginal affairs; she criticized the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development for being sloppy and ineffective and for its excessive bureaucracy.
That is who she criticized. Not only has the government failed to rectify the situation, but it has added to the problem. First nations will now have to produce even more reports and fulfill the requirements of even more administrative bodies.
What about the real problems facing aboriginals, that we in Parliament should be solving? What are we doing about drinking water? What are we doing about health problems? What are we doing about education problems?
There is a few million dollars here and a few million dollars there. The government will point to the budget. True, some tens of millions of dollars were given for health, as well as for education, but that is completely inadequate. Particularly since Bills C-6, C-7 and C-19 impose additional administrative requirements. But the resources are not forthcoming. Put plainly, first nations are given the same resources, and they have to fight to keep their heads above water to assert their rights, to fight the federal government in the courts, to build their case and to solve community problems with what little resources they have. These same resources will now be used to fulfill the requirements of these three new administrative bodies and also the new provisions that are contained in the governance legislation, Bills C-6 and C-7.
All of this is outrageous. It really is ignominious. I asked to be given the first nations file because it was a very interesting one, even if it was one we very seldom heard about. I asked for this file because there were things that I wanted to resolve and understand. I have a hard time understanding why a country like Canada, that prides itself on being a country where rights and freedoms are respected, a country that even adopted a charter of rights and freedoms, a country that includes in every throne speech an explicit reference to the aboriginal people and to respect for their culture, their language etc, does not do anything in this regard. It talks a lot, but the disgrace is that not much is happening.
Now I understand why. After the Erasmus-Dussault commission, everything was in place for the Canadian nation and the first nations to negotiate solutions to problems as equals. The report was lengthy. Consultations had been held. But no. Our fine Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, a follower of Machiavelli, divided and conquered, and rammed through new measures that were supposed to improve the act, the infamous Indian Act. There was a flurry of protests and all first nations representatives opposed these bills. However, the minister bragged about the fact that he could count on the support of his friends. He has a few aboriginal friends. It looks good to have a few aboriginal friends when you are the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development.
We are lucky. We are really lucky—and I see that there is agreement here—that aboriginals have not revolted more than they have up to now. Because if I were an aboriginal and I had been treated like that, I would have dumped the standing committee. I would have come to Parliament a long time ago together with all 638 first nations. I would have come to Parliament a long time ago and mobilized numerous resources to say, “That is it. We have rights. You put us in reserves 130 years ago. You crushed us. You took away our dignity. You tried to get rid of us. Now, that is it. You will not repeat the past with Bills C-6, C-7 and C-19”.
They appeared a few times before the United Nations. Their claims were even successful. There are, for example, the Alberta Lubicon. They are in the news now because, several decades ago, they had been promised their territories, which they are entitled to, and they were also promised compensation.
What happened in the meantime? There are rich oil and gas companies in Canada. They have the support of the Minister of Industry even if they are hurting the economy now and even if the price of heating oil has gone up 30%. The minister is on their side. He is siding with the oil and gas companies. This is not the first time that the government has sided with them.
As soon as major oil deposits were discovered on the land claimed by the Lubicon, we started hearing that they might not have any right to them, that the land might not be theirs. In the 1930s, official papers were even falsified. What a fine reputation. If you do not believe me, the matter was taken all the way to the United Nations, where the Canadian government was criticized for its lack of respect for the human rights of the Lubicon Lake Indians.
Quite clearly, the Lubicon no longer had any territorial rights. As soon as these rich oil fields were discovered, the matter of profits for large oil companies arose. These companies cozy up to the government, and this has been going on for decades.
The government was both defendant and adjudicator, collecting royalties on the oil resources developed by the big companies. So, the Lubicon were ignored. And this injustice has been going on for 70 years. Even a UN resolution was not enough to shake the government.
Government representatives go around the world presenting Canada as a supporter of rights and freedoms, talking about our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, while within Canada there are these injustices. After 130 years of the Indian Act, the government is spreading the injustice and making matters worse with bills that no one wants, namely Bill C-6 and Bill C-7. The aboriginal nations do not want these bills because they do not respect who these people are; they do not respect their cultures and traditions.
It is totally unacceptable to be presented with such bills, especially since there is a common thread linking the three we are debating, when we include Bill C-19: an attempt to erode the rights of aboriginal people. The federal government is trying to shirk its fiduciary responsibility.
Why I am making such a statement? Because there is no non-derogation clause in Bill C-19, in Bill C-6, or in Bill C-7. A non-derogation clause would reassure first nations by guaranteeing that, despite the provisions found in Bills C-19, C-6 or C-7, their aboriginal rights, their inherent rights to self-government, their land rights, their rights to compensation, and their rights to pride and dignity are not beign threatened. This is what a non-derogation clause is all about. There is no non-derogation clause in these bills even though, in the past, such clauses were included to reassure aboriginal nations about the fact that even though a bill brought about some changes, even though it included new provisions, their claims and their rights were not in jeopardy. A non-derogation clause does not give them anything, it simply gives the assurance that their rights will be respected.
Over the past 30 years, in a number of rulings, the Supreme Court has consistently come down in favour of respect for aboriginal nations and their inherent right to self-government. These decisions compelled the federal government to settle numerous disputes that had been going on forever.
All these rulings were in favour of aboriginal nations and, today, we fare faced with a situation where, instead of following up on the rulings of the Supreme Court, instead of implementing the recommendations of a royal commission of inquiry that tabled its report a few years ago, the government is repeating its past mistakes. Instead of treaties written in archaic language over a century old, we have modern bills that are every bit as insensitive and cruel to aboriginal nations.
For all these reasons, we will strongly oppose Bill C-19. We will also strongly oppose Bills C-6 and C-7, which are utterly objectionable.
The members of the Bloc Quebecois members will fight for the aboriginal nations of Canada and Quebec, not to give them more rights than we have, but to ensure respect for the rights that they do have, and to settle disputes once and for all, in a climate of respect and dignity, nation to nation. Equality between nations must go beyond words; it must be a concrete reality, and it must be based on respect and dignity.