Madam Speaker, I have been sitting here listening to the debate on Bill C-7, the first nations governance act, and I have been thinking about what our role is as members of Parliament. Our role is to create legislation. We actually create our own rules in terms of how we govern ourselves. I have been sitting here tonight thinking how we parliamentarians would feel if another body, divorced and separate from us, had the power to create the rules under which we govern ourselves.
We should remember that the British North America Act was repatriated to Canada and the Canadian Constitution was made here in Canada. It was a very significant day historically for Canada because it was something that was made in our country by our governing body. There is a very important parallel to be drawn here. Tonight we are witnessing a very sad day in Canada's history. We are debating a bill which basically will dictate how first nations shall govern themselves in this country. I really believe that I do not have the right to do that and I do not believe that the Government of Canada has the right to do that.
I along with many other members in the House participated in some of the committee hearings. What struck me about the committee hearings and going through the bill clause by clause, and the 200 or so amendments that the committee went through, was how incredibly prescriptive the bill is.
If the government is true to its word that this bill is somehow about liberating and freeing first nations to take their rightful place in Canadian society and to govern themselves, we only have to look at the bill to think otherwise. Every single little thing has been spelled out, such as fines, and who is appointed to what, and what can and cannot be done. It is the kind of legislation we would have expected 100 years ago.
If we are being led to believe that somehow this is bringing us into the modern age, and it is bringing first nations into the modern age in terms of self-governance, I really am quite stunned. What we actually see in the bill, which is so prescriptive and patronizing, is a far cry from the political rhetoric we have heard from the government.
I want to pay tribute to our member for Winnipeg Centre along with other members of the committee. They have done an incredibly heroic job in trying to expose the fundamental flaws in the bill. Night after night the committee sat through the night. I see other committee members are here. They spoke on and on. Many members from first nations communities also came to the committee to witness what was going on. All they could do was bear witness, because they could not speak at that point. They could not say anything about the very thing that was being done to them by Parliament, by the government.
I want to pay tribute to the incredible work that was done by the opposition members in the committee. They used every single thing they could think of in a parliamentary sense to show their utter contempt for the bill.
Now we are being forced to do that in this chamber as well. We are quite frank about it. We will do everything we can to hold up this bill and to see that it does not go through, because of the very strong message that has come from across the country from first nations communities. They believe that this bill is something which cannot be imposed upon them. The bill is describing a system of governance which in many ways is completely contrary to what has been the practice in first nations communities.
I am proud to be one of the many members of the opposition who are standing up to Bill C-7. We are saying shame on the federal government for what clearly is its intent to ram this piece of legislation through before the House recesses in the middle of June.
Another thing that strikes me about Bill C-7 is the huge issue in terms of form and substance. One thing I have learned over the years is that when somebody does not want to deal with substance, it is very easy for him or her to deal with the issue of form or structure. That is really what this bill is about.
I represent the urban riding of Vancouver East. I represent a community that includes the downtown east side which probably has among the highest residency levels of urban aboriginal people, people who have come off reserve. We should be looking at issues of substance and actually devoting to them the same kind of time, energy and resources that have gone into this horrible bill. If we devoted even 10% of that energy and government resources into the real substantive issues that are facing first nations and aboriginal people in this country, then we would be doing our job and the government would be doing its job.
I feel absolutely sick to my stomach when I see young aboriginal women living on the street, destitute, involved in the sex trade. I feel sick that 63 women have been murdered in the downtown east side. I feel sick when I see young people who have been forced into a life of complete destitution and drug use. I feel sick when I see the misery and the desperation that takes place in that neighbourhood. I feel sick when I see the pathetic response from the government with all of its press releases, with all of the agreements that supposedly are there are and still there are people who are dying on the streets.
Aboriginal people are dying on the streets in the downtown east side and in other communities. My colleague from Winnipeg Centre faces a similar situation in what is happening to first nations people in his neighbourhood. That is the reality of what is happening to aboriginal people.
The government should be making it a priority to focus on those issues. It should be looking at homelessness and making sure that there is adequate, well-maintained, safe, appropriate, affordable housing. It should be making sure that there are adequate treatment programs for people with addictions. It should be making sure that there are programs to help people exit from the sex trade. Those are the kinds of issues we should be dealing with in the House.
The committee should be dealing with these issues instead of having to spend, as the hon. member said, 55 days and 55 nights of merry-go-round hearings. Everyone but the government could see the writing on the wall that the bill was completely unacceptable.
I want to register my deep concern and indignation that we are now debating the bill in 10-minute segments. We never had a proper second reading debate of the bill. I raised this earlier today. Even within our own little parliamentary world and the rules that we live by, we have completely violated the regular procedures that we go through for dealing with legislation.
Because the bill was considered to be of such magnitude and scope, it was referred to the committee to have a broad discussion. In effect we bypassed second reading stage. The bill is now at report stage which is the stage when the House usually would deal with amendments. As the member from the Conservative Party pointed out, there are some 107 report stage amendments. There were 200 or so amendments that were already dealt with and disposed of in the committee. Here we are at report stage and we have not yet properly debated the bill in principle.
Not only is it a travesty from the point of view of parliamentary procedure, it is also a total failure from the point of view of living up to what I believe are the legitimate expectations that first nations people have about their own governance and about their own expectations for their communities.
This is probably a done deal but I want to end by saying that we on this side of the House will use everything we can dream up, every procedural trick we can think of to try to stop the bill from going through. We feel so strongly that it is a flawed piece of legislation that it should be stopped and it should be sent back. We will continue until the very last moment to try to stop the bill.