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.