Mr. Speaker, today I rise in the House to register my opposition to Bill C-14, the Tlicho agreement.
Little attention has been focused on this agreement and it is almost certainly the most significant agreement concluded by the Canadian government in recent years. The effect of this agreement is to create a new third order of aboriginal government with concurrent but paramount jurisdiction over the federal crown. The result will be a Tlicho state governed by a Tlicho constitution which is arguably paramount to the Canadian charter. The agreement also appears to acknowledge or perhaps confer some degree of international authority upon the Tlicho government.
There are a number of provisions in the agreement which are flawed and debatable from a Canadian public policy perspective. To be fair, certain aspects of the agreement are visionary and reflective of a mature and sustainable system of self-government.
Today I will discuss four reasons why the agreement is damaging to the long term interests of Canada. They are first, the absence of finality in the agreement; second, incursions upon Canada's international autonomy; third, confusion of jurisdictional authorities; and fourth, the application of the charter in the adoption of governance structures which are racially based and which arguably contradict the charter.
The first point is the absence of finality. It could be argued that the agreement is generous to a fault in terms of the land, moneys and resources which are provided to the Tlicho. It is worth noting that the Tlicho lands will comprise the single largest block of first nation owned land in Canada. This might be justifiable if the agreement were a final agreement, but unfortunately it is not.
The agreement provides that the Tlicho will receive equivalent benefits to those granted in the future to any other aboriginal group in the Northwest Territories, whether by land claims agreements, self-government agreements, tax power exemption, or legislation. In other words, this agreement is not a final agreement at all.
Please note that this agreement achieves little of the certainty and finality of the Nisga'a agreement. Frankly it is difficult to discern what concessions the federal government even achieved in exchange for the obvious generosity of the agreement.
The second point is the incursion upon Canada's international autonomy. The agreement contains a remarkable section relating to international matters. The agreement states that it does not limit the authority of the Tlicho to enter into international, national, interprovincial and interterritorial agreements, which suggest by implication that the Tlicho government has the authority to enter into international agreements.
The agreement also contains the following remarkable provision which is self-explanatory: “Prior to consenting to be bound by an international treaty that may affect a right of the Tlicho government, the Tlicho First Nation or a Tlicho citizen, flowing from the agreement, the Government of Canada shall provide an opportunity to the Tlicho government to make its views known with respect to the international treaty either separately or through a forum”.
The agreement also provides for an arbitration mechanism between the Government of Canada and the Tlicho government in respect of international legal obligations.
Furthermore, the Government of Canada is obligated under the agreement to consult with the Tlicho government before taking positions before an international tribunal in circumstances where the Tlicho government has taken action giving rise to an international legal controversy.
It would be naive to assume that these provisions are merely reflective of poor drafting.
The third issue is jurisdictional confusion. The provisions of the agreement relating to the future governance of this part of the Northwest Territories are poorly drafted and in some respects contradictory.
The effect of the act would be to create a new third order of aboriginal government with concurrent and paramount authority over the federal crown in relation to matters affecting the Tlicho. The act is clear in making the provisions of the agreement paramount over the act itself and over any regulations passed under the act.
Unfortunately the agreement itself is internally contradictory resulting in confusion regarding the concurrent and paramount authority of the Government of Canada, the Government of the Northwest Territories and the Tlicho government.
The agreement addresses these interjurisdictional issues in at least three places and prescribes three distinct paramount provisions. Articles 7.7.2 through 7.7.4 prescribe the following hierarchy of authority: one, federal legislation of general application; two, territorial legislation implementing Canadian international agreements; three, Tlicho laws; four, territorial legislation of general application; and finally, specific federal legislation relating to the Tlicho.
In other words, Tlicho laws prevail over territorial laws and also over federal laws relating to the Tlicho. The federal government seems therefore to have rendered specific federal legislation relating to the Tlicho subordinate to Tlicho laws.
Yet another example of the concept of paramountcy can be seen where it makes the settlement legislation paramount over the provisions of any other legislation or Tlicho law. Yet the definition of settlement legislation refers to both territorial legislation and federal legislation. In other words, this provision creates the following hierarchy: first, the agreement; second, the federal settlement legislation, which is presumably Bill C-14; third, territorial settlement legislation; and finally, other legislation or Tlicho laws. This is inconsistent with the concept outlined in articles 7.7.2 to 7.7.4 that were mentioned earlier.
Unfortunately, article 2.10.7 prescribes yet another legislative hierarchy which applies in the event of arbitration, namely: first, there are federal laws of overriding national importance; second, federal laws implementing international agreement obligations; third, other federal legislation; fourth, territorial legislation implementing international Canadian obligations; fifth, Tlicho laws; and finally, other territorial legislation.
Certainly the general scheme is that the powers of the Tlicho government to enact laws are concurrent with those of the Government of Canada and the Government of the Northwest Territories. What is problematic is that there seems to be multiple definitions of how to determine who has jurisdiction in the event of conflict.
Finally, the agreement also contains the following rather optimistic provision:
Nothing in the Agreement shall prejudice the devolution or transfer of responsibility or powers from the Government of Canada to the Government of the Northwest Territories.
Assuming that similar self-government agreements are put in place across the rest of the Northwest Territories, it is hard to visualize what responsibilities or powers we have left for the territorial government. This clause also begs the question as to whether the Government of Canada has held back any of its powers with regard to the Tlicho people.
The fourth point is the application of the charter and the adoption of governance structures which are racially based and which arguably contradict the charter. The overall scheme created by the act, the agreement and the Tlicho constitution appears to have implications for the application of the charter to Tlicho citizens. Although both the agreement and the Tlicho constitution speak of consistency with the charter, it is noteworthy that the Tlicho constitution is quite clear in article 3.1 that the Tlicho constitution shall be the Tlicho nation's highest law.
Frankly, the entire legislation scheme is quite unclear as to the constitutional relationship between the Constitution Act of Canada, the charter and the Tlicho constitution. On its face, the agreement purports to adhere to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in that article 2.15.1 provides that the charter applies to the Tlicho government.
However, the agreement itself outlines a racially based governance system. It creates a category of Canadians called Tlicho citizens and prescribes an electoral system where only Tlicho citizens may be elected as chief of the Tlicho community government. In addition, at least 50% of the elected councillors must be Tlicho citizens, so too the grand chief must be a Tlicho citizen. To be a Tlicho citizen one must be a registered status Indian. Thus, the agreement creates a racially segregated electoral system which is arguably contrary to the charter.
I would note that article 2.1.1 of the agreement may insulate the agreement from charter challenge by declaring the agreement to fall within section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982. Those who are Tlicho citizens therefore acquire a very distinct status in the north. They enjoy the electoral franchise noted above. They have all the rights and benefits of other Canadian citizens. They also maintain their identity as aboriginal people of Canada participating in and benefiting from any existing or future constitutional rights. They receive all status Indian benefits. They also maintain all their hunting, fishing and trapping rights under treaties south of the 60th parallel.
The Conservative Party of Canada believes that self-government must occur within the context of the Constitution of Canada. To ensure fairness and equality, a Conservative government would ensure that the principles of the charter would apply to aboriginal self-government.
The Conservative Party of Canada believes giving aboriginal governments the power to raise their own revenues will reduce the cycle of dependency and that the performance and accountability of aboriginal self-government is enhanced when those who receive services contribute to the cost of those services.
The settlement of all outstanding comprehensive claims must be pursued on the basis of a clear framework which balances the rights of aboriginal claimants with those of Canada. In particular, negotiated settlements must balance the economic and social needs of aboriginal Canadians with Canada's need for certainty and finality of terms. Self-government agreements must reflect Canada's need for both efficacy and practicality in institutional structure and constitutional harmony so as not to impede the overall governance of Canada.
Bill C-14 fails to meet these criteria fully and therefore, must be defeated.