Mr. Speaker, today we are dealing with Bill C-14, an act to give effect to a land claims and self-government agreement among the Tlicho, the Government of the Northwest Territories and the Government of Canada, to make related amendments to the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, or the Tlicho Land Claims and Self-Government Act.
I have had the honour of meeting with representatives of the Tlicho nation, on October 6 and then again yesterday, along with the Bloc Québécois critic for Indian and northern affairs, the member for Louis-Saint-Laurent. I would draw to hon. members' attention that this gentleman is the first aboriginal person from Quebec to sit in this Parliament. He was a negotiator for the aboriginal peoples for many years. I will not let his age slip. I dated myself yesterday, but I will not do the same to him. I will merely say he was an aboriginal negotiator for many years and is very familiar with the issues. As native elders pass down their wisdom to the younger members of their community, he is passing his knowledge on to me, and I am very grateful to him. It is a pleasure to work with him on this.
The Tlicho who met with us have, moreover, honoured him with the name Barbe blanche. I have not yet been given a name, nor do I yet have a white beard, but I am sure it will not be long until I do.
We also received a letter from grand chief Joe Rabesca on October 22 thanking us for the way the Bloc Québécois has backed his people's claims.
I will just provide some of the background of this bill. The Tlicho agreement comes out of the failure of negotiations with the Dene and Métis nations, a process that ended in 1990. Negotiations with the Tlicho nation resumed in 1994 and concluded in 2003 with the signing of the Tlicho agreement. In this field, patience is a must. The Tlicho have been patient, and I think their patience will soon be rewarded.
On June 26 and 27, 2003, the Tlicho voted 84% in favour of the agreement. It was not a close vote for a referendum, but I will say that we would have unquestioningly accepted the result even if it had been 50% plus 1.
Thus, the passage of Bill C-14 is the final step in recognizing the land claims and self-government of the Tlicho people.
With respect to the terms of the agreement, just to remind the House what it is about, the agreement will give the Tlicho the largest contiguous block of land belonging to a first nation in Canada and will set up new forms of self-government for the Tlicho. The agreement will clarify the rights, titles and obligations of the Tlicho nation. The agreement does not interfere—and this is important—with ancestral or treaty rights of other aboriginal groups. The Tlicho government will own a territory of almost 40,000 square kilometres and it will receive slightly more than $150 million over 14 years. It will have specific legislative jurisdiction over its land and over Tlicho citizens, including those not living on Tlicho land. The most important point in this bill is that the agreement gives the Tlicho nation the tools it needs to achieve financial self-sufficiency, to protect its way of life and to improve its economic growth and the well-being of the whole community. Those principles and values are very dear to us.
The Tlicho have been waiting for 14 months now, since the agreement was signed, for self-government. The Bloc Québécois is 100% in favour of the right to self-government for the aboriginal peoples, their right to govern themselves autonomously. The agreement before us is an excellent example of self-government.
Since it first arrived on the federal political scene, the Bloc Québécois has recognized aboriginal peoples as distinct peoples. We think that aboriginal peoples have a right to their languages, their cultures and their traditions.
Aboriginal peoples unquestionably have the right to decide how to develop their own identity. Therefore, we endorse most of the recommendations of the Erasmus-Dussault royal commission on aboriginal peoples. They called for an approach to the concept of self-government based on the recognition of aboriginal governments as a level of government with jurisdiction over governance and the welfare of their people. We feel that this agreement reflects this approach.
In Quebec, if I can make a comparison, we have long been advocating this type of agreement, in which mutual respect is paramount. As early as 1985, René Lévesque and the Parti Québécois government in office at the time recognized Quebec's aboriginal nations. The Quebec people recognizes that diversity is not a threat, but an asset.
In Quebec, the year 2002 was also a turning point in this regard. It was once again a sovereignist government—what a coincidence—the PQ government of Bernard Landry, which signed the peace of the braves agreement and the joint agreement. The peace of the braves was signed on February 7, 2002, by then Quebec premier Bernard Landry, and the Grand Chief of the Grand Council of the Crees, Ted Moses.
This historic 50-year agreement marks the beginning of a new era in relations between Quebec and the Cree. The agreement concerns the establishment of a new relationship between the two nations. It provides, I should point out, for greater empowerment for the Cree regarding their economic and community development and for hydro development projects in James Bay. It also provides for the harmonization of forest activities with traditional Cree activities.
What a fine example of nation to nation negotiations. Soon, a sovereign Quebec will also be negotiating nation to nation with Canada, and the earlier the better. During the last election campaign, the Bloc Québécois reminded the federal government that the peace of the braves agreement was the example to follow. The Cree nation deserves as much consideration as the Tlicho nation. The peace of the braves has demonstrated that major development projects have to be negotiated with mutual interests in mind. The Bloc Québécois supports the first nations in their fight for emancipation. That is why we are asking Ottawa to follow this example to negotiate a similar agreement with the Cree.
As for the joint agreement, in 2002, the Parti Québécois government of Bernard Landry signed with the Inuit of Nunavik a 25-year agreement to accelerate economic and community development in Northern Quebec. This joint agreement enables the Inuit to assume responsibilities in economic and community development formerly held by the Government of Quebec.
This agreement is opening up bright new horizons by accelerating hydro development in Nunavik, promoting more control for the Inuit over their economic and community development, simplifying and increasing the efficiency of the financing for the Kativik regional administration and northern villages, and providing funding for priority projects.
To conclude, there are two historic agreements, both signed by a sovereignist government. Those who believe that we, sovereignists, want to close borders do not know what we are about. Those who believe that we do not treat our minorities right do not know what we are about. A sovereign Quebec will work in partnership with other peoples.
I reiterate the Bloc Québécois' support for the principle of self-government for aboriginal peoples. This agreement actualizes the right of the Tlicho to govern themselves. I might add that the Tlicho nation clearly indicated its desire to self-govern, and we support this democratic desire.