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--