Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in this debate. I would have liked to have seen one a little longer and a little more democratic, to be frank.
When a bill like this one is referred to the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs, Northern Development and Natural Resources, and when it comes back to the House and goes through report and second reading stage at the same time, there is one very important stage of debate missing.
That said, the Chair has had this issue raised with him and a ruling has been made, until further notice. I will, if I may, comment on the amendments you have consolidated into one group, ours in particular. The purpose of these was to ensure that the wording of the bill really constitutes an expression of self-government for the first nations, or in other words, their inherent right to self-government.
As has been seen from clause one to clause fifty-nine, certain powers cannot be given to the first nations. Moreover, we ought to think twice before giving them what they already have, because they have an inherent right to self-government, and this has been recognized in a number of decisions by Canadian courts, including the Supreme Court of Canada, as well as by the United Nations. All that we need to do is help translate this inherent right to self-government into real power and real government, in other words, a third level of government.
Bill C-7, however, does not do that. On the contrary, it is so “prescriptive” and restrictive for the first nations that it ends up being a kind of Indian Act, modernized 2003 version, when it is universally acknowledged everywhere in Canada, and even elsewhere, that the Indian Act and its application over the past 130 years has feudalized and infantilized the first nations and led to the belief that they were incapable of managing their own affairs.
Incidentally, I was surprised to see an article in La Presse today by a columnist who trotted out, one after the other, the government's demagogic rhetoric, as presented by the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. In her column, she tried to convince readers, first, that aboriginal communities have widespread management problems on reserves, when in fact, the Auditor General demonstrated last year in her report that the problem is not at the reserve level or among first nations communities, but that the problem was at the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development.
This department lacks transparency. Try to find information on the $6 billion part of the budget that is used for payments that could very well be made to Liberal cronies or to people called co-managers, who earn up to $60,000 working part time on reserve management. If there are five of them, you can do the math, Mr. Speaker.
I tried to get a breakdown on the figures from the budget for the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development to see exactly where these billions of dollars are going.
First, the door is closed in your face; you have to use the Access to Information Act. Second, the Auditor General said it last year, more than 90% of first nations communities have external audit reports. Try to find that level of transparency anywhere else, including here. Third, the bill tries to have us believe—and that is what the amendments we introduced touch on—that there is no accountability among first nations. However, this is not true.
The current Auditor General and the one before her said it, and repeated it, “We are asking too much of first nations. They have to produce about 300 reports every year”. This is just about one report per day that they have to send to the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. What do they do with these reports in the department? Most of the time, they take them and throw them out.
That is the reality for first nations. When people say that first nations have management problems, or that there is a lack of transparency or accountability, they are trotting out prejudices, which is what happened today in La Presse , and which is what several members of the government continue to do.
On the basis of isolated cases of mismanagement and incidents that can happen in any good society, they would have us believe that Bill C-7 is necessary, because of a widespread problem in terms of management, transparency and accountability.
Bill C-7 was presented as a necessary step toward abolishing the Indian Act and speeding up the advent of aboriginal self-government. It is not true.
Witness the fact that, in many first nations communities in Quebec as well as in the rest of Canada, the pace of some negotiations in connection with self-government picked up. Self-government has been successfully implemented and it is the only way to go.
Negotiations with the first nations must pick up speed to, first, settle their land claims and, second, assert their inherent right to self-government on this land, which they will negotiate with the federal government, because of its fiduciary responsibility. That is the only way to go.
The Erasmus-Dussault commission made this point merely five years ago. Over the next 20 years, a big project must get underway, where everyone works toward speeding up the process to restore dignity to the first nations and ensure that a real third level of government is established. That is what needs to be done.
There is no need for this kind of bill, which further subjugates the first nations even though the language is that of 2003. The way to go is self-government and settling specific claims faster.
There are 500 such claims now in progress—and they are making no progress. Why not? Because energy, time and money are being spent—and the first nations will be asked to spend some in the near future as well—to create a bill that is completely useless in terms of advancing relations between the federal government and the first nations. It is completely useless in terms of improving the social and economic conditions of Canada's first nations. It is also completely useless in terms of accelerating recognition of the first nations' inherent right to self-government.
It is scandalous that we are still stuck here, after 55 days of debate in committee, 136 hours of clause-by-clause consideration of the bill—clause by clause. The opposition has moved amendments that were all rejected, even though their purpose what to recognize the inherent right to self-government and recognize that common sense must apply in the things we do to advance the cause of the first nations in Canada and the things we do to improve the relationship between us.
We find ourselves in a situation where, currently, our relations have not been improved by this bill. This bill has been unanimously condemned across Canada. This is another criticism I would make to minister, who said that he held consultations and that there were people who supported this bill. In his opinion, only the leaders who want to retain their powers are opposed.
I went to Kenora, which is in the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development's riding, where people were protesting in the streets. Some 7,000 to 8,000 first nations representatives were marching against Bill C-7. Let us do the math. Surely there are not 7,000 aboriginal leaders in Canada. The aboriginals do not want this bill. It is not just the chiefs.
There were 30 to 50 first nations representatives who took part in our deliberations, day after day, evening after evening and often night after night, because the chair had turned up the heat and kept us working at all hours to analyze Bill C-7. Apparently, this is the brainchild of the Prime Minister, who is the former Minister of Indian Affairs and who wants to reproduce his 1969 white paper.
Bill C-7 is truly a carbon copy of that white paper. There is a desire to municipalize the powers of the first nations, when they should be a third order of government, with real powers over the fate of first nations peoples. Second, the federal government wants to free itself of its fiduciary duty. This concern is in the bill. Third, there continues to be a lack of respect for the first nations, which are nations, even according to the UN.
We are going to try to get our amendments adopted, which will restore some dignity to this debate.