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.