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House of Commons Hansard #110 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was aboriginal.

Topics

First Nations Governance ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Joe Clark Progressive Conservative Calgary Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, I have to begin by disagreeing with my colleague who just spoke. I believe that rather than respecting the pillars of democracy and of autonomy, the bill undermines them and does so in a way that, apart from being bad law, is an abandonment and betrayal of our fiduciary responsibility to the first nations people of the country.

Let me list some of the fundamental faults with the legislation. The first nations communities in Canada are beset by poverty, illness, discrimination and a simply unacceptable level of suicide and despair. Those are the problems the Government of Canada should be addressing as a priority. Instead, those problems are ignored and its priority is to bring in this piece of so-called governance legislation.

Why is the government doing that? It is doing that because it feeds the caricature in the country, the caricature that aboriginal people are unable to care for themselves, that they will behave in a way that is unacceptable, that they have to be called to order by the paternalists in Ottawa. That is why it is introducing the bill now.

No one with any experience with first nations people would deny that there is abuse in some bands. Of course there is. Abuse is not limited to band councils and to aboriginal people. I have to say that, to my knowledge, no chief of a first nation has yet been rewarded for his abuse by being appointed as ambassador to Denmark.

Everyone agrees that there are problems of governance but if those problems are to be resolved in a way that works, then the people who are seeking to govern themselves and who have a right that predates our Confederation to govern themselves, they should be fully involved in these discussions and, blatantly, they have not been.

A second fundamental problem with the bill is that it will not work. It is premised upon co-operation between the government and the first nations people. They have made their opposition to the bill known across the country, and emphatically so. Anyone who believes that people who consider themselves betrayed by the legislation will suddenly step into line and co-operate with the government is living in some kind of dream world.

I do not know what the motivations of the government were in bringing it forward, but surely there comes a time when moving through a piece of legislation that we realize it is creating its own roadblocks, that it has built within it the seeds of its own destruction. This requires the co-operation of the first nations people. It requires their trust. It does not have their trust. It does not have their confidence. It will not have their co-operation.

Therefore, we have a piece of legislation that simply will not work. It is not only a waste of the time of Parliament to be dealing with legislation of this kind, but it is a running abuse. It aggravates the relation, which is always difficult, always tender, between first nations people and Parliament.

A third fault is that the bill purports to offer aboriginal people the right to govern themselves, to take steps in that direction. It does the opposite. What it does is empower the capacity of Ottawa to run their lives for them. It is the opposite of what it pretends to do.

It is the opposite of the commitment made by successive governments and parliaments here, in Canada, both in constitutional debates and in debates in the House of Commons. It is the opposite of our commitment to respect the inherent rights of aboriginal peoples and their capacity to govern themselves.

I was around the House when the so-called Penner report came forward, a report that was extraordinary in its approach to aboriginal people in that it allowed them to take part as equals in the discussion of matters affecting them.

I had the duty, not as a volunteer, to chair the Charlottetown round of negotiations where aboriginal groups were present at the table. They were not able to vote but they were able to take part as equals in every other respect in discussions of their future.

Let us put aside the fact that the Penner report has not been adopted and the fact that the Charlottetown accord was rejected. We must note the principle that was established. If we are going to make progress on these fundamental issues we have to treat the aboriginal communities as though they have rights of their own and a respect which we, in turn, will extend to them.

Let me tell members about something that happened regularly during the Charlottetown accord. Aboriginal people, who would come into the process bearing centuries of suspicion, nonetheless, sat down around a table with elected leaders of the country and worked out agreements which, in retrospect, were historic. The salient fact is that they did not survive a referendum but they demonstrated that when there is a genuine willingness on the part of Canadian governments that are not aboriginal governments to work honestly and openly with first nations people then the first nations people will reciprocate.

The agreements in that situation were not imposed on anyone. They arose from honest discussion. Aboriginals were not demonstrating outside the room. They were participating inside the room. Surely that is the practice that should be followed here. Indeed, that has been the precedent. It was the precedent and the momentum that guided us right through the establishment of the royal commission on aboriginal affairs, a royal commission that was widely hailed in the country and which earned, although it was not easy, the respect of aboriginal communities across the country and which, in its recommendations, was rejected as surely as the recommendations in the Penner report were.

I will not elaborate now but the decision of the Chair earlier today to rule out certain recommendations that were made by the Penner commission and the royal commission, which were adopted by the other place with respect to the capacity of first nations people to be involved in these processes, is again another turning away of a process that had begun to bear fruit on matters of fundamental difficulty and importance to the country.

The amendments that are in this first package deal, in essence, with two broad matters. One cluster of amendments has to do with ensuring that the legislation proposed here respects the rights, customs and traditions of aboriginal people. They are not major amendments in and of themselves except for what they symbolize, which is respect for the cultures of people who were here before the rest of us were here. It shows a fundamental respect for those cultures. It provides some kind of guarantee that the law we pass in legislation, which they have not been able to influence, will take into account their histories and their traditions, and those should be supported.

I was sorry to hear, if I understood him correctly, the parliamentary secretary say that the government would slam the door also on that recognition of the cultures, the rights and the history of the people the government purports to govern in legislation which falsely pretends to give authority of self-government to them themselves.

The other amendment, which is a government amendment, would in effect establish and enlarge the power of the Government of Canada, the minister, to intervene in the activities of band councils. The minister, or a person or body designated by the minister, may carry out an assessment of a band's financial position and require that remedial measures be taken on a range of others. On what basis? On what proof? That the minister has reason to believe that there is something wrong.

We have reasons to believe every day in the House that there is something wrong with the way the Government of Canada operates. Yet that standard of proof is not adequate in the House. That standard of obligation should not be seen as adequate with regard to the minister's right to intervene willy-nilly, as he or she chooses, without any kind of spelled out criteria in the affairs of aboriginal people.

I realize, Madam Speaker, that my time on this package has expired, and I thank members for their attention.

First Nations Governance ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I would like to ask if there is unanimous consent to allow the right hon. member for Calgary Centre to carry on with his speech and go beyond the 10 minute rule for speeches at third reading.

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5:20 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

The House is its own master. Is there unanimous consent?

First Nations Governance ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

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5:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.

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5:20 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—St. Clair, ON

Madam Speaker, I suppose I am not surprised that I am up on my feet at this point, as opposed to the member for Calgary Centre, given the way the bill has been handled from its inception.

In that regard I must admit as tragic as the bill is, and the way first nations have been treated, the process they have been put through is equally tragic. That was continued today in the ruling we received from the Speaker. Although I know in his thinking that he conducted himself with all good faith, I could not help but think, as I listened to his ruling, that in effect he was saying that it was okay that we had these prior decisions, which I do not think are applicable.

The issue today, in terms of the process, is whether people whose primary first language is French will be treated equally. That was the point he missed, and so much of the bill reflects that.

I think the Speaker, if he had thought this through more thoroughly, there was an option to say that there was some systemic discrimination in the process against people whose primary first language was French, and they were not being treated equally. Those of us whose first language is primarily English get an advantage because we get access to the transcripts of the committee in total. Having sat in on part of the committee discussion, almost all of it was in English.

On the record to the Speaker, if his ruling will stand, as it appears it will at this point, the House has to look at the process. There is no way we can have systemic discrimination against one of the two languages in the country. We cannot have that perpetrated in the House, which I believe is the effect of the ruling we received today.

Going back to the manner in which the first nations have been treated, I am sure members will hear repeatedly from members on the government side about how they consulted. What members will not hear from that side is that the consultation resulted in a ratio of people who made presentations either as witnesses in person or testimony and briefs in writing. I believe that ratio was 191 to something like 10: 191 were opposed to the bill and opposed to the governmental approach contained in the bill and only eight or ten people supported the approach.

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5:20 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

And one of them was the minister.

First Nations Governance ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—St. Clair, ON

Yes, one of those, as my colleague for Winnipeg Centre points out, was the minister himself. That is the type of support the bill has in the country. The opposition from the first nations was overwhelming, as it was from the bar associations, constitutional experts and the list goes on.

I also want at this point to take the opportunity to recognize the work done by the member for Winnipeg Centre from my party and the member for Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot from the Bloc. Their work was supported throughout by the first nations' people, supported in a way that it is impossible for me to use words to describe. They were there and were very clear on what their positions were. They were denied access to the table, even though one of the resolutions put forth to the committee on aboriginal affairs was that representation should be sitting at that table.

There are precedents for this. We have done this before. Again, the government denied that to the first nations in spite of that specific recommendation from the member for Winnipeg Centre.

The first nations were in great numbers. We set a record in terms of the number of hours that was spent on this committee, and they were there right to the very end, showing their opposition consistently, forcefully and also with great dignity, much more so than we saw from the chair of this committee and most of the representatives on the government side.

The legislation itself is so thoroughly wanting. Not only will members know that through the group of amendments we have put forward but they also will hear that repeatedly from those of us who have analyzed this bill to any degree at all. It misses the essential point that we are not dealing with an inferior group. That is in fact the way the first nations are treated in the legislation.

The government approaches it on the basis that the Government of Canada is superior. It approaches it on the basis of a very paternalistic attitude toward the first nations. We have heard that the basic rationale behind the legislation is to do away with the paternalism contained in the Indian Act, paternalism that is very clearly out of date. It was out of date at the time when it was first used back in the 1800s, when the Indian Act was first passed. The reality is it has been perpetuated in this bill.

It is quite obvious from the attitude we have from the government that it is quite prepared to shove this bill through as is. We saw that in the committee in the way people were treated: members of Parliament, witnesses and people who were just there as observers. We have no doubt we are going through a process that, to a great extent, maybe to a total extent, is a farce as far as the first nations are concerned. We have not treated them with the respect and with the rights that we have accorded and have recognized in Canada. They are not being treated that way at all.

If we go back and look at some of the Supreme Court of Canada decisions, this and preceding governments have been told very clearly that there are inherent rights and the government has no right to interfere with them, none whatsoever. The government does it repeatedly in this bill.

We were told in the committee that this bill would not survive challenges in the court. Whole sections will be thrown out. What does that mean? It means that again the first nations will spend millions of dollars in legal fees to fight this bill all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada. It is quite obvious, if the government's attitude does not change, that is where it will end up. Ultimately, in large part it will be struck down, and therefore we are going through a process.

We have spent all this time fighting this, trying to get the message through to the government that the bill cannot go anyplace. It does not have the support of the first nations, of the aboriginal people across the country. We repeatedly heard that. The minister has deluded himself into saying that it is only a few of the leaders. We heard him say that repeatedly in this process.

A few weeks ago thousands of people from the first nations were in his riding trying to get the message finally through to him. This does not have the support of the first nations, of the aboriginal community, but he is going to push it ahead. What are we going to find? Five to ten years from now we will be back here again, and hopefully at that point we will do it right.

First Nations Governance ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, QC

Madam Speaker, you will understand that we cannot address the amendments grouped by the Chair without first paying tribute to the hon. member for Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot.

It is not every day in Parliament's history that dozens upon dozens of hours are devoted to improving a bill. The hon. member for Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot and other members of this House have done so, feeling that the amount of energy invested had to be at least equal to the amount of fixing the bill required.

For Quebec sovereignists, which is what we are, relationships based on equality, respect and recognition have always been extremely important. We know what being a nation is all about; we know what it means to aspire to real development; we know what it is like to want real development tools. Unfortunately, in spite of the hard work of committee members and all the energy they have put into making this bill better, it remains unacceptable.

The hon. member for Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot has been extremely well advised to devote energy to this and to come to the conclusion that, after Erasmus-Dussault, and after the National Assembly, led by Premier Lévesque, passed a resolution recognizing the first nations, it makes no sense in 2003 to come up with a bill that is as colonial, backward-looking, old fashioned and disrespectful as the one before us.

During committee meetings, we experienced the gamut of emotions. We first hoped for collaboration, expecting to find among Liberals some sensitivity and openness to arguments from the opposition. Unfortunately, except for one, the member for Frontenac—Mégantic whom I wish to acknowledge because I believe he was in a different category in terms of the attitude of members of the committee, history will not look kindly on the Liberals. They proved to be dull-witted, narrow-minded, insensitive—

First Nations Governance ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

Bloc

Yvan Loubier Bloc Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Rude.

First Nations Governance ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, QC

Rude, indeed. Even cavalier, and I believe this is parliamentary language. Sadly, this is what we were faced with.

When we vote on this bill, and we will give it all our energy, there will be no hope, no energy, no cooperation strong enough to get all opposition parties to delay the passage of the bill. This is a commitment we make today before first nations. We will use all parliamentary means, with dignity and respect for our institution, but we will delay the passage of the bill as long as possible.

If, through the most strange misfortune, this bill were passed, imagine in what situation we would find ourselves. We have received letters from first nations leaders saying that the opposition to the bill was not a superficial or a knee-jerk opposition, but rather an opposition rooted in all first nations communities.

If members were to pass a bill which is not wanted by first nations, imagine in what situation we would place ourselves as parliamentarians first of all, but also what this would bring about in the future. This is the lack of understanding we are faced with.

How could Liberal members be so insensitive? Last night, in the parliamentary dining room—this is a place where I can be found occasionally—I happened to run into the former member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, whom I can name, Mr. Warren Allmand. This former solicitor general of Canada and enlightened mind has worked at the democratic rights centre. He is a Liberal progressive, in the noble tradition of the word “liberal”, and there are a few of them in the Liberal Party, although their numbers are dwindling. Warren Allmand was telling us that he found it incredible that this government would go ahead with such a bill.

We can certainly not say that Warren Allmand is keen on sovereignty-association. He does not have his Bloc Quebecois membership card and he does not hobnob with sovereignists.

The well-informed sections of Quebec society and Canadian society all reject this bill. Hence, when a man like Warren Allmand, a progressive man who believes in the Liberal Party and who has given the best years of his life to the Canadian Parliament, urges the members to vote against this bill, we cannot help but listen to him.

It is sad. What will happen is sad. We will be using every parliamentary means to ensure that this bill is not adopted promptly and diligently. However, we must warn the government. If it decides to use its stubborn and empty-headed majority to impose an unwanted policy by the sheer weight of its numbers, I can tell you that the consequences of such an action will be felt in all communities and that the Liberals will pay for it. The aboriginal communities will see to it that their dignity is respected.

How many Liberals are there now in the Liberal Party caucus? There are 178 or 179 members. There are 178 members, I was right the first time. This, Madam Speaker, reminds us of the movie The Silence of the Lambs . I do not know if you have seen it, and I do not want to comment, particularly since the Liberal caucus wavers between The Silence of the Lambs and Les Invasions barbares . However, I cannot imagine that they will not show a shred of conscience and of vigilance, if only out of respect for what the Liberal Party was a few years ago, and that they will not try to get the bill defeated.

The member for Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot made a proposal in the parliamentary committee, inviting all colleagues, all those wishing to work in good faith, of whom there are many of all political stripes, to reject the bill. We are going to go the Aboriginal Affairs, Northern Development and Natural Resources Committee and bring to life the Erasmus-Dussault report. That is what the member for Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot proposed, and we must hope his voice is heeded. The worst thing that could happen is for the bill to be passed, for the minister to proceed in an authoritarian, bitter, headstrong and obtuse manner. This will surely lead to catastrophe. If this is what the minister does, it will lead to catastrophe and we cannot imagine that it would not stir up a lot of opinions.

My friend across the way—not the one directly across, where the Conservative contingent such as it is is placed, but his neighbour to the left—might do this out of friendship for John Turner. That might be one motivation.

The subject is too important for us to allow it to be passed as it is. Why must this bill be rejected? It must be rejected because it is not a nation-to-nation agreement; there is not a relationship of equality. It is a relationship in which the central government wants to call the shots and still supervise the first nations.

Recent years have seen a lot of history made. I remember the former Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development apologizing in this House for the harm done to the first nations. One might have expected a ministerial apology to be followed with some measures of reparation.

We are deeply saddened, but we still have a lot of energy. Once again, we are not going to let this get us down.

This is such a serious matter that I would ask you Madam Speaker, if there is unanimous consent for me to speak for another ten minutes. This is a matter of such importance.

First Nations Governance ActGovernment Orders

5:40 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

Is there unanimous consent?

First Nations Governance ActGovernment Orders

5:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

First Nations Governance ActGovernment Orders

5:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.

First Nations Governance ActGovernment Orders

5:40 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Dave Chatters Canadian Alliance Athabasca, AB

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise and take part in this debate today because this is a such a vitally important issue. Unfortunately, I am truly disappointed with the way the government has handled the bill and this issue. I thought perhaps there really would be a change in the way the government was going to handle these affairs of aboriginal governance and that it would move forward with a more cooperative attitude, not only toward first nations but toward members of other parties in the House of Commons.

However, it truly looks like the government intends to handle this piece of legislation as it has handled the whole Indian issue for the last 150 years, and that is to make a mess of it in the worst possible way. Aboriginal people living in aboriginal communities across Canada will continue to suffer because of it. The government had an opportunity to do some things here that truly would have improved the lives of aboriginal people, but unfortunately the further we get into this it looks more and more like the government has no intention of seriously making an effort to accommodate anybody's views but its own, in spite of what the minister said when he introduced the bill and as he travelled across the country talking about introducing it at committee stage.

The minister said he would allow all parties to introduce amendments to make it a better bill, to come forward with a bill that would solve some problems and make life better for Indian people. In fact, it very much appears that this was not his intention at all. It appears that the only amendments accepted by the government are amendments put forward by the government itself, other than some minor tinkering around the edges. It was not particularly honest with regard to the parties in the House or to aboriginal people, the Assembly of First Nations and others, who protested the bill, to mislead them in the way that the government has. I am so disappointed with that, because I thought we had a chance to make some changes here.

The ombudsman clause is one example, and we will get into more depth on that in a later group of motions. Certainly I was led to believe that the government was going to listen to opposition parties and in fact introduce a national aboriginal ombudsman who would be effective and would fulfill a need for people having trouble dealing with their local aboriginal government. It appears that what we have in this bill will not do that in any way.

Right from the very beginning, the government has done what it has done for the 10 years I have been here. It moves to tackle an issue, but instead of solving problems as they appear it has a tendency to identify controversial issues and then avoid dealing with those issues.

Bill C-7 could have been a good bill had the minister lived up to his commitment of allowing changes, but it also could have been a good bill had he solved the real problem behind the bill before introducing it. The real problem, of course, is the conflict in our Constitution between the inherent right of aboriginal people and the right of the Government of Canada to legislate on behalf of aboriginal people. That is the source of the conflict behind the bill. Instead of dealing with this, the minister bypassed it and asserted his constitutional right as a minister of the crown to legislate on behalf of aboriginal people while completely disregarding the inherent right of aboriginal people. I do not know how can he possibly expect to have any kind of success in dealing with the legislation if he approaches it in that way.

Inevitably this piece of legislation, if it is rammed through this place as it inevitably will be by the look of it, without any substantive change, will end up before the Supreme Court at some point in time. I am sure that at least parts of it will be struck down by the courts and will have to be changed. On top of that, it will cost hundreds of millions of dollars for both sides to engage in that process, whereas that money could have been better used to improve the lives of aboriginal people out in the communities.

It is so unnecessary. If the government and the minister would simply sit down in an honest and open way and engage in debate to resolve those outstanding issues that need to be resolved before we can proceed to this kind of legislation, we could have some success here. Unfortunately the minister did not do that. There will be a debate some day in this country on that issue. Just as there was a debate on the sovereignty association of Quebec with the rest of Canada, there will be a debate on the issue of aboriginal sovereignty and the definition of inherent right to self-government.

In the meantime, we keep stumbling along and poisoning the well, so to speak, in our relationship with aboriginal people, to the point where it is almost impossible to accomplish anything meaningful with first nations across the country. That really is unfortunate.

Anyway, having rambled on about the general meaning of the bill, I would like to make a few comments about this group of amendments. There are a couple of points that need to be made about these amendments.

The first amendment was proposed by the government itself. The bill originally required the band codes to be presented to the band membership 15 days before a vote so the members could look at the codes and make a decision, before the vote was prepared, to accept or reject the codes. The minister himself removed the entire clause in this amendment. There were other amendments to extend the 15 days, but it kind of blew me away that the minister took out what I saw as a chance for accountability to band members. The minister totally removed the clause, which does not make a lot of sense to me.

An amendment was proposed by our party to delete clause 11 in its entirety. It deals with the creation of a band appointed ombudsman. As I suggested earlier, from the very beginning the government promised the creation of a national office of aboriginal ombudsman, which would hear complaints from members who were having trouble dealing with their band and band bylaws and so on and so forth. The government apparently intends to introduce such an office, but with such restrictions that it will be totally meaningless.

For one thing, the government's version of the created office would require band members to go through the process of approaching the locally appointed ombudsman and then proceeding through a series of hoops before they can get to the national ombudsman. That would make it totally ineffective, simply because if that has to happen that particular member will be so intimidated by that time there is no way it is going to be effective. Of course the office of the national ombudsman in the legislation as it now stands will provide an opportunity to actually hide any complaints rather than make them public and deal with them.

I certainly will talk a lot more about the office of the ombudsman in another group of amendments, because it is my big issue in the bill. I thought it was vitally important, but now I think it has been totally neutered in the bill and will be useless.

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5:50 p.m.

Liberal

Raymonde Folco Liberal Laval West, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak in support of the amendment to subclause 10(3) of Bill C-7, the proposed first nations governance act.

As members may be aware, as tabled last June, subclause 10(1) of the bill requires band councils to identify, advise their members of and resolve significant breaches of their financial management and accountability codes or the fallback regulations.

Under subclause 10(3), the minister would retain discretion to do assessments of the band's financial situation. The bill does not currently limit when these assessments may be conducted. However, the minister would, and I emphasize this, only as a last resort also retain discretion to require remedial measures in the following circumstances:

(a) a deterioration of the band's financial health that compromises the delivery of essential programs and services;

(b) the failure to make financial statements...available...; or

(c) the denial of an opinion, or an adverse opinion, by the band's auditor on the band's financial statements.

Financial accountability is an important component of all democratic governments. It is therefore one component of the proposed first nations governance act.

The proposed act will help ensure that first nations governments involve their members when adverse financial circumstances arise in their communities. During the first phase of consultations, many first nations citizens said they wanted more information about their communities, including information on financial matters. The existing provisions of the bill respond to that input.

During public hearings conducted by the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs, Northern Development and Natural Resources, first nations expressed concerns over the scope of the minister's powers under subclause 10(3). During its review of the bill, the committee examined subclause 10(3) more closely and made significant recommendations that respond to those concerns.

The committee is recommending that the bill contain authority for the federal government to develop regulations defining what constitutes a “deterioration” of a band's financial health and the nature and scope of the minister's power to intervene and implement remedial measures.

Another amendment would provide the minister with the authority to delegate the assessment of a band's financial situation to an external person or body, such as a first nations institution, which would then report back to the minister on appropriate remedial measures.

The committee also paid particular attention to the fact that assessments could be carried out at any time. The government agrees that subclause 10(3) should provide more clarity with respect to when these assessments may be undertaken. This amendment will therefore ensure that these assessments can only be done under the same extreme circumstances, already mentioned, that apply to the implementation of remedial measures.

As members of the House are aware, a first round of consultations took place to help inform the development of the proposed first nations governance act. A second round, led by the standing committee, took place to examine the contents of Bill C-7 and to obtain input from first nations in order to improve the bill.

Once the proposed first nations governance act receives royal assent, a third round of consultations will begin, this time dealing with regulations and implementation issues. As mentioned, these consultations will include the development of the regulations defining the nature and scope of the minister's powers under subclause 10(3). These consultations will ensure that these and other regulations passed to support the proposed act respond to the needs and aspirations of first nations communities across Canada.

In closing, let me say that the government appreciates the work of the standing committee in strengthening subclause 10(3) and encourages the members of the House to support this worthy amendment that builds on this excellent body of work.

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5:55 p.m.

Bloc

Jean-Yves Roy Bloc Matapédia—Matane, QC

Madam Speaker, I would first like to thank the hon. member for Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, who did outstanding work in the committee, as well as all the hon. members on the opposition benches who have kept up this fight I believe is essential.

And why do I think this fight is essential? Because it is a fight for democracy itself. It is the struggle of nations who want to manage their own affairs, who want to steer their own course to the future. The characteristic of a nation is that it has the power to govern itself, to make its own rules, to pass its own legislation and to make decisions on behalf of its citizens.

Perhaps that goes back to the beginning of the whole story. What this bill does not properly recognize is the right of first nations to govern themselves and to say, “The needs of our citizens and our needs are thus and so. This is the way we wish to meet the needs of our citizens”.

I think this proves how much paternalism—what I would call shameless paternalism—there is and probably has been since the history of this country began. We have to look back to see how badly the first nations have been mistreated over the years, since the Conquest in 1760. If we look at the past, at the beginning of the country's history, there was a fundamental mistake made. We talk about the Indian Act, but there are no Indians here; they are aboriginal people. It is a historical error to talk about Indians.

It began with a historical error and so it has continued. After the Conquest, reserves were created. But has anyone looked at the meaning of the word reserve? Has anyone looked in a dictionary to see what reserve means? We can look it up in the Canadian Oxford.

A reserve is a thing put aside for future use, an extra stock or amount that one might need later. It is a sad thing to see what this means in terms of the contempt of using such a restrictive word as reserve to name the aboriginal people's lands.

Of course, if you look further in the dictionary, you will see something else. I was intrigued by that word because I had discussions with aboriginal leaders. For those who do not know, there are two reserves in my riding. I should not use that word. There are two first nations, or rather one nation but two aboriginal territories in the riding of Matapédia—Matane. When I hear the word reserve, I find it difficult to accept. I thought that there must have been another meaning, that this word was used but was given a different meaning. But the meaning is indeed the one that can be found in the dictionary.

If one reads further in the Canadian Oxford Dictionary, one will see that it says, “In Canada, an area of land set aside for the use of a specific group of Aboriginal people”. That is how the word reserve is defined in the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. Aboriginal people were put on lands set aside for them, and maybe we will deal with them at some point in the future.

That is what it means to a certain extent. It is totally degrading for first nations, for those people who were here before the white man, before the Europeans, and particularly before the Conquest.

As I was saying, what defines a nation is its power to determine the needs of its people and the way in which it meets those needs. What makes a people great is its ability to accept differences, to live with others. This is not exactly what this government is showing us.

The bill was referred to and discussed in committee. As my colleague mentioned earlier, this was done in a way that is totally unacceptable. It was done in a way that showed nothing by contempt for first nations, for those who appeared before the committee, for the elected representatives who are here, including the member for Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot.

He wanted the first nations to finally obtain recognition in this country, to finally have the freedom to decide for themselves and to meet the needs of their peoples.

When we visit aboriginal reserves and we talk to aboriginals and chiefs, we see the poverty in which people on some reserves are living. This poverty was created because they did not have the power to decide their own future and to resolve their own problems, and because a one-size-fits-all solution is being imposed on them, through this bill, from one coast to another, from the Atlantic to the Pacific or vice-versa. A one-size-fits-all solution is being imposed on them.

Why should aboriginals in the riding of Matapédia—Matane have to live with the same solution as those in British Columbia? They are different nations. These people do not necessarily have the same needs. They do not live in the same climate. They live in very different environments. So, why do we want to impose similar solutions on them? That is what this bill seeks to do, and this is unacceptable.

I am a Quebecker and, as you know, I am a sovereignist. I want and I defend the right of Quebec to become a true nation, a true people and a true country, simply because we want our fellow citizens to have access to the services we want them to have, the way we want, so that our children can grow up in a healthy environment that belongs to them.

So, why is this government denying the first nations this right? This is a historical refusal. We can go back to 1867. I could even go back further than that. In some cases, governments and governors prior to Canadian Confederation tried to eliminate the first nations. They tried to assimilate them, as attempts have been made to assimilate us, Quebeckers and francophones. This is something we have never accepted. And we will never allow the first nations to be treated this way, no more than we can accept having been treated this way or being treated this way.

After several meetings with the aboriginal leader, John Martin, I understood all the difficulties, such as in the Matapédia—Matane riding, he had experienced and all the scorn shown by Departments of Indian Affairs and Northern Development.

When the chief of an aboriginal people comes to Ottawa for meetings with public servants, he is scorned and considered a nobody. He has come here just to report problems in education and ask for the cheque he has been promised for months. Because he did not get the money, he cannot hire teachers or special counsellors for children with problems on his reserve. This is unacceptable.

This government is responsible for most of the problems of the aboriginals. Because of this government, aboriginal peoples have big problems and live in poverty.

My colleague was talking about the management of Indian reserves, of Indian bands, of first nations. I should use the word nation because I do not like words like reserves or bands. I will use the words first nations, because they are really nations.

In education, they should have the authority and money needed to provide real education services to their children. I would like to know what their dropout rate is. How many young aboriginals cannot make it through high school because the education they get is not adequate?

Once again, I want to thank my colleague from Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot and all those who took part in committee proceedings, opposition members and more particularly witnesses from the first nations. I hope that, for a change, the government will respect the vision of a nation that is different from theirs.

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6:05 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Loyola Hearn Progressive Conservative St. John's West, NL

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to participate in this debate. It is also a pleasure to follow my good friend and colleague from Matapédia—Matane. He and I sit on the fisheries committee together and I know the input he brings to committees.

There is something else. We are talking about a bill through which we should be showing respect for the first nations. It is extremely hard to show respect if we are not respected ourselves. The gentleman who just spoke is a highly respected gentleman within these circles. However, can we say the same thing for the government? I do not think we can certainly when it comes to dealing with the first nations.

I was amazed and shocked to hear a member from the government side talk about the work the committee has done. The committee passed recommendations. The committee discussed and deliberated. We all know that thanks to the government members the committee was a real sham, a farce. The government sent in the goon squad to ram through whatever the government wanted done. It did not matter what anybody else brought to the floor of the committee. The government was not going to pay any attention.

The government talked about our having the right to bring in amendments. It said it would extend the deadlines for amendments, anything at all to get itself out of a bind so that it could get the legislation to the House and ram it through. If it were good legislation and if the timeframe for Parliament was running out, everyone here would cooperate. But why is anyone not cooperating?

I could understand if it was a member or even if it was a party that was disgruntled and upset and was being obstructive, but everybody on this side of the House, every party in opposition, every opposition member on the committee has been saying, begging, pleading. With the proper amendments, we could make of this poor piece of legislation a piece of legislation which would be accepted by all, particularly by the first nations. What does government do in light of all of that?

If it was just the opposition parties and the members on the committee that were saying this and on the other hand the first nations had come to committee and said to us on this side that we were wrong, that our interpretation of the legislation was incorrect and that they did not want us interfering and suggesting and pleading and begging, but they did not say that. They are saying the same thing we are saying, which is that this is an extremely poor piece of legislation.

In fact the big question is, if the bill is enacted, will it stand? The answer is, if it is contested and it will be, we will find that the legislation is wanting.

I am hoping that if we ever get to vote in this House on the bill, that members on that side of the House will not sit there numb and dumb. Some of them represent areas populated by first nations and some of them have first nations heavily involved in their constituencies. They have been approached by the first nations and have been educated by them as to their concerns and their needs. Surely those members will stand up and represent the people from their constituencies.

It does not matter whether or not there are first nations in our constituencies. That is not the point. We are talking about developing legislation which will create fairness for the first nations, which will give them the rights they so rightly deserve and which have been taken away from them for so long.

As the member for Matapédia—Matane has just said, they are the people who set the game rules in the beginning. I sit on the fisheries committee with the member for Matapédia—Matane. I come from a fishing community in Newfoundland where we say that we grew up on a boat so the fishery is not new to us. Years ago when fish were plentiful, everyone went out and caught whatever they wanted to catch. They could not care less; the attitude was that it was only fish. Over the last few years we see that we have destroyed a tremendous resource.

During these years in our committee several groups and agencies have come to us. Aggressive harvesters have said that they need more, that the minister is wrong and they need bigger quotas so they can catch more, that they need better equipment, that they need bigger boats so they can catch that last fish. Processors have said that they cannot operate unless they get more product, that unless they are allowed to catch more and more, they will go out of business. They are starting to learn.

However, first nations people have talked about conservation and the environment. They have talked about using what needs to be used while making sure enough is left to sustain the stock and to provide a future for their children and their children's children. For years these wise people and this sound advice was neglected. People said that they were not taking enough and not to worry about them.

It is amazing how we have ignored the advice and experience of people who really know what this earth is all about and how nature operates. We are starting to learn. It is amazing now to hear our own people say what people from first nations and those who are really experienced with making a living from the land have said to us over the years.

What do we do in return when we realize that they are the people who should have the rights that a good bill would bestow? There is Motion No. 26 which gives the minister, acting alone, the right to interfere in band affairs and to require remedial action. What evidence does the minister need? Must reams of evidence be brought to him to say that he should interfere because there is something wrong? No. The minister can interfere if he has a reason to believe that something is wrong. Why can he do it? He uses the old saying that he who pays the piper calls the tune. “We are giving the first nations money, so we must follow it up to make sure they spend it properly and if they step out of line or if someone says they are stepping out of line or even if I as minister think they are stepping out of line, I can go in and exercise my authority as minister”. That is what he is saying.

If that is the case, then let me say this. The ministers, through the government, also provide all kinds of money to the provinces and the cities through infrastructure agreements, for instance. Why would the government treat the first nations any differently than it treats the cities and provinces in relation to following the dollar? Is the government now saying that for every dollar it gives, it is going to interfere and if the minister responsible has reason to believe the money is not being spent, is he going to follow through?

In light of what members who sit on the government side see unfolding, in light of the charade that happened in committee, in light of the opposition, and in light of the pleadings of first nations, when they have a chance to vote on the bill, they should think of the people they are supposed to be helping and vote accordingly.

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6:15 p.m.

NDP

Wendy Lill NDP Dartmouth, NS

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to the amendments at report stage of Bill C-7, the first nations governance act.

I wish to recognize the ferocious and passionate work of the member for Winnipeg Centre and the number of hours, days, weeks and nights that he has worked and burned the midnight oil to draw attention to the flaws in the bill, and also to bring some kind of quality to this legislation.

The question remains though, what quality does the bill hold? How can we do justice to the bill or any of the amendments when they are grouped in such a complex and nonsensical fashion, when they have been dumped into the House despite the very eloquent and well reasoned protests of some members from different parties.

We are dealing with a piece of legislation which will fundamentally affect the lives of aboriginal people. The committee had only a matter of hours to look at 40 or 50 amendments. It defies reason. It seems so unfair to expect anyone to decide on whether they can support or not support some of these amendments given the fact that they have had no time to reflect.

I would have to say that the word reflection is not a word that I would in any way use with this disastrous piece of legislation.

I will speak to two of the motions which are in the first grouping. Motion No. 1 was put forward by my colleague from Winnipeg Centre. It reads:

That Bill C-7, in the Preamble, be amended by replacing lines 15 and 16 on page 1 with the following:

“nance that are in accordance with their individual traditions and customs”

The preamble was amended at committee stage to include reference to effective tools of governance that could be adapted to individual traditions and customs. This change to the preamble would assert that Bill C-7 is intended to provide first nations with effective governing tools that respect their individual traditions and customs, not the other way around.

There has been no attention to first nations values and traditions throughout the entire bill. Some first nations may wish to adopt codes or elect their leaders by following traditional aboriginal methods. However, Bill C-7 would not allow them to do so.

The government's initiative does not address the real challenges faced by aboriginal people: unemployment, insufficient housing, dismal education statistics, inordinately high suicide and infant mortality rates, and the lack of safe drinking water in many places.

Bill C-7 represents the analysis and speculations of non-aboriginal consultants and the wishful thinking of federal bureaucrats. It is not in any way in accordance with the individual traditions and customs of aboriginal people.

I have had the opportunity in the last months to sit on the subcommittee for children at risk. I have been working for the last several months on a study on aboriginal children from ages zero to 12 in the city. It is so clear to me from what I have heard in the committee that the bill does not address the real challenges facing aboriginal people, such as unemployment, fetal alcohol syndrome and such as just incredible poverty that passes through generations, such as the problems inherent in coming out of families which have been crippled by the residential school system, by a system which never allowed families to actually pass on their traditions to their children, never allowed people to know how to be parents, how to relate as parents to their children or their children to parent. It is cutting off at the core the fundamental essence of aboriginal society, which is value for children.

The focus of much of the discussions in that subcommittee was how to overcome the crippling socio-economic conditions facing the first nations people. At the same time, there was such a sense of pride. They are a people who have integrity, strength and richness, and they simply want to work with us. They do not want us to formulate their rules or communities and how they are structured.

One of the main things that I heard from witnesses at the subcommittee was the need for aboriginal-centred support programs. Collectively, aboriginal peoples have led a different life than most Canadians, mostly because of the oppressive treatment by the Canadian government. Time, resources and support are needed to heal. One of the witnesses described it as the “multi-generation grief resulting from colonization”. That is the legacy which the government and this society have visited upon native people.

That is why it is so important for culturally relevant programming, and it is also important to realize that one size does not fit all. This bill in fact cannot impose on all native people a method of governing themselves or of being governed. None of the witnesses spoke of government dependency, but rather of partnership and horizontal collaborations to create an integrated policy framework. Things like aboriginal head start programs were good examples of the type of programming needed.

I would like to point out that this bill does not really address any of the needs of aboriginal people who live off reserves, even though this is increasingly the case. The so-called consultation process that this bill undertook did not in any way take into account the aboriginal customs and traditions, and we have heard that over and over. We heard it in committee and we are hearing it now in the House. We also heard it from native groups. The consultation program was fundamentally flawed and insulting to native people. Almost every single organization and individual to appear before the committee strongly denounced the bill, and yet the government continues to force it through Parliament.

The government claims that it consulted over 10,000 people. This includes Internet consultations and 1-800 numbers. However, the first round of the consultation process held in the winter of 2002 had an extremely low turnout at the consultations, and most people who came out to these meetings last year really came out to talk about basic, immediate poverty issues like schools, water and housing. First nations did not want to deal with a massive document that they did not understand. They had come out to talk about bread and butter issues. To say that a widespread consultation occurred on this is a fraud and denigrates the entire process.

The RCAP report, the royal commission on aboriginal people, is a document that native people in this country felt strongly about. It had extensive and legitimate consultations with first nations and experts within their communities and public across the country. It provided a blueprint for a new era of respect and cooperation between the Government of Canada and the first nations people. What happened to those recommendations? Why we are not seeing them as the overlay of the blueprint of this piece of legislation defies reasoning.

I would like to move on to Motion No. 14 which is put forward by the NDP and it reads:

That Bill C-7, in Clause 4, be amended by replacing line 34 on page 4 with the following:

“least 30 days before the vote is conducted”

This is an amendment concerning the issue of the amount of time bands have to make codes available to their band members before adopting them from 15 days to 30 days. The amendment would allow for more time to contact band members living off reserve, but does not make it impossible for bands to adopt codes rapidly in case of emergencies.

In conclusion, when it comes down to imposing it through a specific--

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6:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Binet)

The member's time has expired. The hon. member for Repentigny.

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6:25 p.m.

Bloc

Benoît Sauvageau Bloc Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, like my colleagues, I am pleased to take part in this debate on Bill C-7. At the outset, I wish to commend my hon. colleague from Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, who held the fort all the time the government was bulldozing, trying to ram down out throats this bill, which makes a mockery of the very essence of first nations, their values, their integrity and their way of life.

The hon. member for Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, and others with him, have put in many hours, days, evenings and nights to hold the fort to at the very least minimize the damage. However, after committee stage, we have before us a bill that is a disgrace. As it stands, it is a disgrace. It is a terrible bill for the first nations.

When a bill is put forward, when so-called consultations are held, the basic premise, and it is a clear one, is to try to find a solution to an existing problem.

First, let us consider how a solution can be found to an existing problem. The problem has to be well defined. This requires a comprehensive analysis of the situation and diagnosis.

A situation existed and still exists in the aboriginal community. In principle, the government's intention was to remedy the situation through this bill. There is a governance problem. It has been said repeatedly, it is a fact, the Indian Act dates back to 1867. It was corrected ever so slightly at the time when the Constitution was patriated, but its very essence has its roots in the Constitution Act, 1867. Our communities have evolved and, consequently, the legislation must now be updated. It must better reflect the reality and change the relationship between the federal government and the aboriginal nations. That is what was inherent, implicit in the bill.

To make a diagnosis, to have a clear picture of the situation, it is essential to consult, to observe, to go in the field. If we listen to government members, they will tell us that there has been consultation.

As my colleague from the New Democratic Party was saying a little earlier, 10,000 people were consulted or have answered the questions. But when you use a generic 1-800 line or a website to consult people, we all know that it does not qualify as a scientific or extensive consultation. Those of us who have watched the TV show Star Academy know that anybody can push the button many times to vote or give an opinion on a bill. This is not considered as a consultation that strives to address a real and serious problem. It is true that 10,000 people have been consulted, but consulting10,000 people via the Internet or via a 1-800 line does not seem worthy of a consultation held by a national Parliament. If we are going to talk about consultations, we have to be serious.

There were also some consultations during the meetings held in the major cities. Why did we not go where people actually live? No, we met in Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg or Vancouver. We should not only have been meeting there. It is true that we can hear some important representations in those cities, but there is also a reality that we have to see firsthand, where it exists. There were no such consultations.

Asmall cross-country tour was organized, and now they tell us that we have to hurry and pass a bill that is unacceptable for the opposition in general and for first nations communities.

There had already been a previous consultation. It lasted more that six years and cost more than $50 million. It led to the Erasmus-Dussault report.

In this study, why have they not taken into account the information and solutions provided to us by the communities, the aboriginal communities that were really consulted? But no, they decided to shelve it and start all over again, when there had been clear meetings with the community, with the first nations, discussions, decisions, recommendations for a long-term action plan, a clear action plan, a specific action plan with set objectives. But no, back to the drawing board they go, for a new form of governance.

As for consulting people over the Internet and through toll-free numbers, I would be curious to know how many people in the aboriginal community are connected to the Internet, and if these are the ones we want to consult. Why not use another means of consultation? If they have to file between 300 and 350 reports a year—as the Auditor General pointed out in her last report—why not use the same procedure to consult the first nations? Why not have one single, significant and effective report, instead of reports for small communities with a population of 400 or 500? This comes to just about one report a day, and then they talk about consulting the communities over the net in order to find out if what is being proposed is of interest to them, and then these reports just get shelved.

I think that the problem with Bill C-7 has been the lack of desire to achieve a clear diagnosis and the lack of consultation of the populations concerned. As a result, it is like building a house on an unstable foundation. If the foundation is not solid, the rest will not be either. In this case, the foundation of Bill C-7 we have before us is a shaky one from one end to the other; there is nothing good about it. There were no serious consultations, there was no consideration given to previous consultations, to the Erasmus-Dussault report, not to the means and formulas in use for consulting first nations. Now they tell us, “We possess the truth,and we are gong to tell you what is needed to reach a solution”.

Are there any agreements with first nations that have been successful? Might what is presented to us today take inspiration from something that has worked? I believe so.

Let us take the case of the agreement signed by the James Bay Cree. Following that agreement, Ovide Mercredi, who was then the chief of the Cree nation, stated that this agreement was really a model to be followed in future agreements between first nations and white people.

Under the agreement signed with the Cree people, they were not granted municipal or local rights, but rather the right to have a true government. It gives the Cree community the right and the capability to manage its own economic development on its territory, that is to manage and develop its own territory; it gives the Cree nation the right to international representation and to a say on its culture, its social affairs and education.

Bill C-7, rather than giving the first nations a true government, gives them the authority granted to municipal or local governments, namely the authority to deal with waste management, and cleanliness in restaurants and in public places.

To show respect to a nation, we must first hold serious consultations with people in order to find out what their needs and aspirations are. After that, we have to listen. We could set up, as has been requested , a joint committee with first nations to come up with a solution. At least we could ensure that, following consultations and discussions, the constructive amendments we want to make are at least considered and not rejected by all the members of the government party.

As has been done before, I once again urge my colleagues on the government side to be open-minded and to make improvements to this bill, or at least to set it aside and hold real consultations with the nations concerned before passing it.

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6:35 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Andy Burton Canadian Alliance Skeena, BC

Madam Speaker, today we are dealing with Bill C-7 at report stage and second reading in a combined format, as the House gave its consent last year to send the bill directly to committee after first reading. I know from the Canadian Alliance perspective this was agreed to in order to ensure a detailed review of the bill in committee to hopefully result in many needed changes to the original format.

I understand from our party representatives on the aboriginal affairs and northern development committee that the extensive travel, the many witnesses and their detailed testimony have proven to be a strong representation of how the legislative process should work, particularly when dealing with such sweeping changes as are proposed in the bill.

I would also like the House to know that I am particularly pleased that the committee agreed to travel to my riding of Skeena. I would like to thank Mary Dalen, Roberta Van Doorn and Theresa Wesley for appearing as individuals. I would like to thank Mr. Gerald Wesley of the Northwest Tribal Treaty Nations, Mr. Robert H. Hill of the Tsimshian Tribal Council, as well as Mr. Clarence Nyce and his team from the Skeena Native Development Society for taking the time to appear as witnesses representing groups.

I truly believe that it is only through open and honest discussion on ways to improve legislation that we will ever effect positive change for Canadians and, in this case in particular, for aboriginal Canadians.

For the benefit of those Canadians watching the debate, I would like to take a moment to summarize the intent of Bill C-7 before I speak to the specifics of the grouping before the House today.

The first nations governance act attempts to address three areas: leadership selection, financial and governance administration. As opposed to popular perception, the bill will not improve much needed governance problems on Canadian reserves.

Bill C-7 would, however, increase the powers of chiefs and councils to appoint their own police force and redress officers, create a two tier human rights regime in Canada, cost taxpayers millions of dollars and do very little to address the inequities that exist between aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians.

I believe the first nations governance act is another example of a Liberal top down, expensive failure. The federal government ignores the fact that good governance can only begin with empowered and equal individuals who will hold their elected officials to account. Bill C-7 instead concentrates power in the hands of a few and further pushes first nations members to the margins of Canadian society.

There are a number of problems with the bill and some are as follows.

The first nations governance act would further exacerbate the power imbalance between governing band elites and marginalized band members.

Good governance can only be achieved by empowering the individual rights, freedoms and responsibilities of members so they will hold their leaders accountable.

Enforcement officers would be appointed by chiefs and would have broad search and seizure powers and powers to levy fines. These officers would be answerable only to chief and council.

Chiefs would be able to appoint their own mini-me ombudsman, similar to the Prime Minister's totally ineffective ethics counsellor.

Aboriginal Canadians would continue to be denied human rights protection under the Canadian Human Rights Act. The government has provided a collective defence for band councils to trump individual rights and protections. Bill C-7 would create a two tier human rights system in Canada.

The bill threatens the security of an already precarious group in Canadian society. Change for the sake of change will only lead to future problems.

This is the most expensive and least effective model of governance ever proposed. There would be 600 different financial codes, possibly 600 mini-me ombudsman and possibly 600 band enforcement officers created as a result of the bill.

The Auditor General has said that the government should provide a complete cost analysis for the bill but it has not.

The Canadian Alliance believes that the Indian Act is archaic and should be left in our past. Sustainable aboriginal governance solutions are attainable and are in every Canadian's best interest.

The Canadian Alliance believes in equality driven governance and that empowered individuals are the best means to ensure accountability.

Future legislative initiatives must focus on removing barriers, restoring equality and empowering individual aboriginal Canadians to determine the direction of their government.

All Canadians should enjoy the equal protections of the Canadian Human Rights Act, but section 67 of the act exempts first nations governments. Therefore first nations members cannot seek redress or file complaints with the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal. The Canadian Alliance supports the full and equal protection and benefits of the Canadian Human Rights Act for aboriginal Canadians.

Aboriginal Canadians should have the same economic choices and opportunities as non-aboriginal Canadians. Barriers in the Indian Act prevent the equal economic participation among aboriginal Canadians. The Canadian Alliance supports the removal of the personal property protections for mortgage, seizure and levy that are in the Indian Act. Removing these protections would enable aboriginal Canadians to obtain long term financing.

Neither the Indian Act, the first nations governance act nor the First Nations Land Management Act adequately address the issue of matrimonial property. If there is a breakdown of a marriage on the reserve, provincial and territorial laws regarding the use, occupancy and possession of land, as well as a division of interests in that land, are not applicable. Due to this legislation gap, interests in matrimonial real property are not always divided fairly, equitably or in a timely fashion. The Canadian Alliance submitted amendments at both committee stage and report stage to address this issue but unfortunately unsuccessfully.

To promote economic opportunity and individual freedom, the Canadian Alliance supports initiatives that extend and enhance property ownership in aboriginal communities. Some reserve communities have innovatively used the certificate of possession program to enhance individual property ownership. These communities have witnessed a reduction in property crime and vandalism, resulting in better property maintenance and longer housing life. The Canadian Alliance will work with first nations communities to create an environment that gives individuals the opportunity and responsibility for home ownership.

The first step to achieving good governance is equal and empowered individuals. The FNGA fails to recognize the importance of individuals in creating accountable governance. It does not address the rights, freedoms, protections or responsibilities of community members and instead focuses upon the powers of the chief and council.

The Canadian Alliance agrees that change must happen in first nations communities but it must be the right kind of change if it is to be sustainable and successful.

As far as an ombudsman goes, many individuals feel there is no check on the power of chiefs and council and would like to see an independent, impartial body available for complaints of a local nature. An ombudsman's office would deter many abuses of power, since leaders would know that members could appeal to the ombudsman for ruling.

The Liberal approach to redress forces individuals to endure a marathon of hearings and appeal processes. There would be three stages in seeking redress for a complaint. First, band councils may write into their codes an appeal process that individuals can use. What that looks like will depend on the band council code.

Second, if someone's complaint is not dealt with to their satisfaction using the first avenue, the person can go to the person or body appointed by each band to hear complaints. Section 11 of the bill provides for this. That means there could potentially be over 600 complaint bodies among first nations in Canada.

The third and last stage of the redress process involves a national ombudsman. This third stage has been added by the Liberals only now at report stage.

The process is too cumbersome. It will take a long time for any redress to be won. People will give up because of the lengthy process.

The first of the two stages in the Liberal approach will not be truly independent. Redress mechanisms within the band will be open to bias. The committee heard from many witnesses that the ability of a local ombudsman to remain independent and impartial is severely restricted and almost impossible in smaller communities.

The Canadian Alliance has led the way in consistently calling for a single national ombudsman for aboriginal people.

The Liberals at report stage are adding a national ombudsman to the bill but they are robbing the office of effectiveness by not guaranteeing confidentiality to complainants. Their version of the ombudsman would allow the report to Parliament to contain information that might disclose details of a complaint. Newspapers that picked up on this report would be shielded from libel and slander laws. In essence, an aboriginal person cannot be sure that his or her concern would be kept confidential by the ombudsman. This would open the complainant to retribution and persecution. As a result, people will not want to use the ombudsman for redress, which means that the one potentially independent form of redress available to aboriginal persons will be off limits to many.

I will conclude by saying that Canada is at a crossroads. Our path leads us to equality and inclusiveness. The Liberal's path entrenches difference, subordinates individuals to collectivities and forever disengages aboriginals from the rest of Canada. The first nations governance act is one step closer to a third order of government, which our policies do not support, therefore we must reject the act.

I would like to finish by quoting from the testimony of one of my first nations constituents, Mrs. Mary Dalen, at the Prince Rupert committee meeting on February 20 of this year, when speaking about the overall problem with the current system, all the while explaining that the new FNGA is not fixing the fundamental problem. She said:

--the money or funding for programs does not get down to the grassroots Indian people.

I wholeheartedly agree and would suggest that she hit the nail on the head.

We in the Canadian Alliance have suggested many amendments to the bill, both in committee and at report stage, and unless those amendments are incorporated in this bill, we will be opposing the passage of this legislation.

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6:45 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Madam Speaker, I would like to begin by objecting in the strongest possible terms to the process with which we are dealing with this bill, up to and including today. I have 10 minutes to address over 12 amendments that have been grouped together. Many of those amendments I have only seen for the first time short hours ago.

For the record, this entire process of dealing with Bill C-7 has been a sham from the beginning, from the consultation process to the government ramming the bill through the committee stage. Now we find ourselves at the report stage in the House of Commons without adequate time to either prepare or consult with first nations or do justice to the many serious issues that the bill faces, as it pertains to the lives of first nations and the way they conduct their affairs in their communities. It is completely inadequate.

However I am not going to waste what few moments I am allocated on that any longer. Suffice it say, and by way of introduction, Canada's treatment of first nations is this country's greatest failure and surely this country's greatest shame. I believe firmly in my heart that the emancipation of aboriginal people is the great civil rights challenge of our time, and the House of Commons should be giving it the attention that it deserves. It is only once in a generation that a government seems to find the political will to address the terrible shortcomings in the relationship between the federal government and first nations.

Imagine the optimism on the part of first nations when it was suggested that the Indian Act would be abolished and then the profound disappointment when the contents of the bill became known. Profound disappointment was on the faces of the many first nations witnesses who came before the standing committee. They implored the government to listen and to pay attention to their issues and to implement the recommendations they were bringing forward instead of tinkering with the Indian Act, an outdated colonial instrument of oppression, which is what the Indian Act is. It is an instrument of oppression that has been responsible for 130 years of social tragedy. We finally had an opportunity to deal with that bill.

Rather than deal with the Indian Act, do away with it and recognize and acknowledge the inherent right to self-government of aboriginal people, the minister has brought forward measures which tinker with the administrative details of micromanaging in an even more paternalistic way, the most minute details of how first nations govern themselves.

We have to start by addressing some of the misinformation surrounding this. First is the name. It is called the first nations governance act. It is the most incredible misnomer that I have encountered since I have been in Ottawa. We moved an amendment in fact at committee to rename it the “first nations micromanagement act” because that is what it seeks to do. Rather than diminish or reduce the discretionary authority of the minister, it expands the authority of the minister to interfere with the lives of first nations. It has nothing to do with self-governance because it contradicts the very idea of self-governance to impose codes of government on people who have made it abundantly clear that they will not accept them. That is colonialism and nothing else.

The only thing that we need to know in this chamber is that first nations from coast to coast are overwhelmingly opposed to the bill. It would be the height of colonial arrogance for a bunch of white men in suits, with my apologies to the white women in suits who are also here, a bunch of non-aboriginal people to put in place the very rules by which first nations shall be mandated to govern themselves. It is so fundamentally wrong that I ask everyone here to reflect for a moment on what is so tragically wrong with this picture.

I was very pleased to hear the intervention by the right hon. member for Calgary Centre. He hearkened back to a time when there was a more sincere approach taken toward addressing the terrible shortcomings in our relationship with first nations, and that was most recently in and around the time of the Charlottetown accord.

I was honoured to take part in those five ordinary Canadian sessions they had. I also was invited to attend the aboriginal round of the Charlottetown accord. At that time, I saw the former prime minister, the current right hon. member for Calgary Centre, have almost daily meetings with the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Ovide Mercredi. I recently thought what an incredible contrast this was, where the current Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development refused to talk to the legitimately elected leadership of first nations in the country.

In fact when the legitimately elected leadership of the first nations opposed Bill C-7, or did not jump onboard the bandwagon, he deliberately circumvented them, bypassed them and refused to deal with them. He claimed he would talk directly to the grassroots. He also claimed there was overwhelming desire to implement the administrative tinkering details; that is the first nations governance act.

It is absolutely fundamentally false that there is support for this bill. In fact the government itself could not find anybody who supported this bill unless it bought and paid for them. In other words, it created brand new aboriginal associations and organizations and co-opted them into it because the legitimate and long-established aboriginal organizations did not want anything to do with it. That is how cynical this whole process has become.

I will not get a chance to address this group of amendments, even though many of them were put forward by the NDP which sincerely wanted to address them. However within 10 minutes I cannot even introduce the subject with which we are dealing. I cannot even give it a proper preface, never mind truly consult with first nations to see if they are in support of these amendments and then bring their opinions and views back to the House of Commons. It is impossible and the government knows it is impossible. It is impossible by design because it is the way the government wanted it.

Members can sense the frustration I feel. I have been trying to faithfully represent some of the input which we have had from first nations people all through this process. Let me quote one of the presenters. I should point out there were 191 presenters opposed and 10 presenters who spoke in a qualified way in support. Those were the numbers of witnesses we heard at the committee.

One of those witnesses from the Keeseekoowenin Ojibway First Nation, Treaty No. 2 of the Riding Mountain Band, stated:

It is simultaneously obscene, ridiculous, and totally unacceptable that at the dawn of the 21st century we would have to be here as supplicants, defending ourselves from colonialism. It is obscene that our children would have to witness us having to protect ourselves in this way, that they will have to live their lives as we have, knowing that they must constantly have to be on the defensive, alert for impositions, and that our elders would be subject to this indignity.

That is one of the profound comments we heard from first nations across the country, and the government is turning a deaf ear to these very real and honest concerns.

It is a missed opportunity of the most tragic epic proportions because we have it in our opportunity to do something about Canada's greatest chain. Instead, we are forfeiting it in favour of more administrative tinkering and more interference in the lives of first nations who have an inherent right to self-determination. It is a travesty.

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6:55 p.m.

Bloc

Francine Lalonde Bloc Mercier, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to pick up where my colleague left off. I would like to commend him for the work he did in committee before, of course, paying a very sincere tribute to my colleague, the member for Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot. He has done remarkable work on this committee, as did the other members.

I must say that I find it sad that this debate is not only following this so-called process, but following it in such a fashion. What is at stake here is infinitely greater than the restrictive formula being imposed on us. The reality of the situation, for me, is that the main problem is that we are dealing with a bad bill. We should not be dealing with this kind of bill. What we should be dealing with is the fact that the legislation this bill amends—but leaves virtually intact—the infamous Indian Act, is what the government should have focused on from the time it was elected. It should have acted by building on what the previous government had started to do, which was to get rid of the Indian Act and give the first nations of this country the real means to develop as the citizens they have the right to be, and which they cannot be right now. They cannot be this type of citizen, not because they do not want to, but because they have not been given the general conditions to allow for it.

What we should have been doing was fixing the Indian Act. What did the government do instead? After nearly ten years in power, they came up with a bill that is, first of all, very complicated to understand. I attended the committee to help my colleague for a few hours, and I read the bill. I am very happy to have done so, because I cannot believe it. It makes no sense that this type of text is what outlines how governance will be handled.

I would even say, at first glance, that it cannot be enforced. The bill is so botched that it does not achieve the objectives it sets out.

I would like to take this brief opportunity to remind the House—I was a history teacher—that, when the French first arrived on the St. Lawrence River and met the first nations, particularly when they decided to stay for the winter, who taught the others how to dress, to eat, to drink and to survive? It was not the French, with their muskets. It was the natives, those they met at that time and who, with their longstanding culture, their wisdom, their knowledge, their ways of life that were extremely respectable and different, depending on the nations, came to meet the white people and told them what they could do. The first time, the white people did not ask them and they almost all died of scurvy. But later, they learned that they could get rid of scurvy by boiling loblolly pine needles. It was later discovered that they contained ascorbic acid. This is one of the examples.

I would like to tell the House about another event that stuns me when I think about the relationship with the first nations. I think about the great peace of Montreal of 1701. Of course, I am talking about Quebec, which is normal. This great peace of Montreal allowed the French to continue to almost dominate the continent, despite their very small population in the St. Lawrence Valley. They achieved this peace, the only great peace ever achieved in America with the natives. This was the great peace of Montreal.

What I want to say is that one moment really struck me; it was during the last part of the negotiations, between the governor and the representative of the aboriginal people, Kondiaronk. Everyone who saw and heard him described him as a philosopher, a diplomat, a remarkable politician, who debated as an equal with the governor. Kondiaronk, after all the necessary discussions, achieved this peace with the various nations.

The first nations, the leaders, the mayors, the clan mothers in some, were persons of culture and learning. They were admirable people, as in all peoples. I want to say that clearly. And then one reads the Indian Act, one sees what this government has come up with after all these years, after the promise made in 1982. Let me just say a word about Pierre Elliott Trudeau and, for once, it will not be to criticize him, even though he tried to ram the Constitution down our throats, in Quebec—the whole National Assembly was against that—but for the aboriginal people, it constituted recognition of their inherent rights. And some have been able to use the instruments given to them at that time before the courts.

This created so much hope that in Quebec René Lévesque, who had initiated a process with first nations, was told, “No, we would rather go with the federal government to see this through”. He admitted it. Beside, although he had decided with the National Assembly not to take part in federal-provincial meetings, he always ensured a presence when aboriginal people were involved.

In 1985, he took action. At that time, I had a brief stay in his cabinet. He knew that he was going to leave soon after. He took action. He introduced the motion to have the National Assembly recognize the ten first nations and the Inuit nation.

I want to use the word pride. How can we hope that first nations will regain that pride in their development? Today, for their young people, how can we hope for it when we have before us a bill so utterly incapable of showing the way and of fostering quick action?

The Dussault-Erasmus report was extraordinary. Why has it been shelved? Why is the first result of the recognition of inherent rights in 1982 this ill-conceived bill that cannot even meet the objectives we think it is pursuing.

It is very sad. Perhaps because I am a Quebecer, a sovereignist, I feel this a lot more strongly, but I will repeat what others have said. This is a missed opportunity. This is serious, for a rich country like Canada, a country that has not experienced the problems others have, a country that boasts all over the world of its great achievements on human rights. This is a disgrace. It is not good enough.

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7:05 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Rex Barnes Progressive Conservative Gander—Grand Falls, NL

Madam Speaker, when I sit in the House as I did yesterday and listen to speaker after speaker, it is sometimes amazing to hear what members say.

I noticed that 104 amendments were submitted on Bill C-7. Probably a half or a little more than half of them will be accepted. It is like the transportation committee, with 175 or 180 amendments. If there are that many amendments to a bill submitted, the bill should basically be scrapped and started over. Basically this bill loses its whole intent, its purpose of trying to bring in good legislation for our first nations. With so many amendments, how can we trust the government to make sure that the intent of the bill is what the bill will do? When we have so many amendments and when we have it being rushed through, we on this side of the House know that the bill is not going to be for the good intentions of first nations.

As for the reasons for this, the real problems of first nations have to do with many things. Of course we hear from day to day in the media that the first nations peoples are struggling with poverty, their suicide levels are higher than the Canadian average, and they struggle with discrimination, illness and despair. These are the things that the government and we as parliamentarians should be making priorities for the first nations groups.

Instead, all the government wants to do is to control them. I do not think anyone wants to be controlled. We see throughout the country, in Newfoundland and Labrador, Ontario, Quebec, Alberta and other provinces, that provinces are fed up with the interference of the federal government in the provinces being able to run their own affairs, and all this bill is doing is interfering in the rights of first nations people to govern themselves.

How could the government expect any less from the first nations than it would from any people? The first nations are their own people. They have the right to make decisions, good, bad or indifferent, and they have the right to build their own nations to their own liking and for their own people, because they are the ones who understand their people. They know what is best for their people.

The right hon. member for Calgary Centre is one of the members in the House who is most experienced in dealing with first nations concerns. He has been there. He understands. When the right hon. member stands up and says there is something wrong with Bill C-7, I think we need to take a serious look at it and say that there really must be something wrong, because the right hon. gentleman would not say things if they were not true, or maybe they are intended for the wrong reason, and I apologize if I am saying that there are falsehoods, Madam Speaker, but the thing about it is that first nations people have a right to govern themselves for their people and of course this bill does not do that for them.

First, with any government trying to have self-government for its people, no matter if it is a province, a band council or what it is, what we will find is that there are going to be growing pains. There will be problems and people will sometimes do things that they should not, but we do not just decide to say that we are going in to take them over. They have to learn from their mistakes.

We have to be with them to help them go through the challenges they face and be there for support, but we should not be there as the Government of Canada to impose things on them for the sake of imposing them. That then becomes a controlling of power, and as parliamentarians we should not stand for that. It is important to let the first nations people grow themselves so they will become superior in their own right, so they can govern themselves for their people.

Second, Bill C-7 will not work. Constitutional experts say many of the provisions of the bill will be thrown out, and if they are not, they are going to require the cooperation of the first nations people themselves and we know the first nations oppose this fiercely. They will not cooperate. There is a reason, I feel, why they will not cooperate. Why would they cooperate when they know that Ottawa is meddling in their affairs? It goes back to letting them govern themselves for the right reasons and for their own people, because they know their own people.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, the Conne River Indian Band Council has self-governance and does a tremendous job of taking care of its people's needs. The government assists them with money. The band has its own council and power of governance for its own people. It is working out extremely well with no interference from government. If members have a problem they work it out through cooperation. They sit down like any government would do and work out their own problems for their own people, and we should be doing the same thing here.

In my riding there are two area band councils. They have put a lot into society. They keep their heritage alive, but they do it in their own way without interference. That result shows us that there should be no government interference. As I said before, we should be there to assist them to move forward so they can direct their own problems in their own way and in a professional manner.

Third, this bill pretends to give the first nations more power. The government seems to think that by doing certain things they can have their own say for their own people, but instead it is all about power for Ottawa. Everything is to be centrally located, with a power base in Ontario, all in the main hub of the country.

But as we know, first nations people do not have the power to take care of their own needs and Ottawa should stop meddling. Ottawa should give them the right to deliver their own programs. There should be assistance from Canada, but it should let them do their own thing for their own people so that first nations people can have pride in what they are doing.

One of the government amendments gives the government the power to interfere in band affairs without evidence. All the minister needs is a reason to believe something is wrong. The bill gives the minister the power to force band councils to change. There is no judge and there is no jury, just raw power from Ottawa. That is not democracy. Where are we living? We are living in a democratic society where people make decisions and choices and, as a result, they move forward from the decisions they make, good, bad or indifferent, but they have the power to make their own decisions. For government to jump in on a minute's notice because it feels there is a problem is wrong. Let the people decide themselves. If something is happening, let them decide.

Fourth, the bill was steamrollered through the committee, which was shameful. The government, once it gets something in its claw, seems to just move forward. The overwhelming majority of first nations witnesses strongly opposed it, as was said earlier by the hon. member, and there was no time given to prepare amendments. It seems like we can go to committee and present true facts, figures and statements, but no one is listening. I do not know why.

We are elected to serve the people and elected to serve the people in a manner that is right for the people. People come to us as members and tell us their problems, but for some reason or another members do not listen. I do not know why members on the other side are not listening. Sometimes a person has to use his head instead of going with the norm and sometimes a person has to say, “There is something wrong with this and we have to change it”. Instead, those members will just vote in the normal way and as a result we will have chaos in the first nations communities.

There is an old saying back home: if you meddle too much in the kitchen with your finger, eventually something is going to happen to your finger. I guarantee members this. The first nations people have made it quite clear that the bill is unacceptable, and if the country wants demonstration after demonstration, the first nations people are not going to put up with what the government is doing, and they are going to rally the people behind them to protest like we have never seen before in the country. We have seen it happen to fishermen in Newfoundland and Labrador. We have seen it happen with fishermen in New Brunswick. I can guarantee right now that the first nations people will not stand idly by and let the government do things to their councils that will have a major effect on their people.

We need to have cooperation. The only way to have cooperation is to let the first nations people do things their way because they know best. If we interfere, then of course we are just as bad as any other government, because we would be imposing our will on a minority group of people for no reason at all.

Let the first nations people do the things they like their way. When they do it their way, the people they represent will come to respect them and will have pride in what they do. If they do not have pride, then of course when it comes to election time they will get rid of that group of people and put in people who are going to work for their people, and they will know that they have the best representation of all.