Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to Bill C-14, which I do support.
Many of my hon. colleagues had much to say about this and I will not restate their points, but I will talk about it in the context of first nations, Inuit, Métis and northerners identity, self-sufficiency and treatment within Confederation. In my opinion the bill is more than appropriate and timely. It is absolutely essential.
Bill C-14 would enable the Tlicho to affect their environment and the changes in a better way because they are most familiar with their local conditions. At long last the Tlicho will be guaranteed representation on land, water and renewable resource boards and within community governments. They will have control over the land and resource management, aboriginal language and culture.
By exercising their inherent rights, the Tlicho will have the power to assume control over their resources once and for all. They gain the right to grant interests and licences and they gain the freedom to establish partnerships and conduct business according to their needs, while at the same time respecting interests that already exist. I think that is an essential point to the good question that was posed by the opposition that this bill respects the interests of groups that are already there.
The Tlicho have ably demonstrated that they can manage their affairs responsibly and, indeed, profitably. I urge hon. members here today to remember that the Tlicho are one of the most prosperous aboriginal communities in the north. They have proven to be both forward thinking and industrious. They constructed and now run an airport, take a lead role in the management of their schools and have built and operated both senior centres and a long term care facility.
They have proven to be able and fair negotiators, and have successfully negotiated delivery agreements on a number of matters and, in particular, in working with the Northwest Territories. They have signed a number of mutually beneficial agreements with private sector firms, chief among them the far reaching impact that the Ekati Diamond Mine deal has struck.
The Tlicho have long experience in devising and supporting fruitful partnerships and alliances, partly due to their sharing nature and partly because of their world view. They and their society understand that long term health and prosperity lies directly with their ability to cooperate with those around them.
In the private sector their agreements have resulted in a wealth of economic and social benefits, including jobs and training opportunities. The resulting economic activity in Tlicho communities supports a wide range of social services. Indeed, when we consider this agreement, it springs from a group of communities working together in the spirit of collaboration. It is no surprise that Bill C-14 itself is the result of extensive and fruitful collaboration by many groups.
I am aware, though, that sometimes the results of public consultation have been criticized and overstated. In fact, we all know that sometimes consultation and collaboration have been far less than successful and merely an exercise of having a lot of meetings. However that was not the case in this set of negotiations that have resulted in Bill C-14.
The consultation process, in short, was exemplary. First, it was conducted as the combined efforts of the Tlicho, the Government of the Northwest Territories and the Government of Canada. This coherent tripartite approach ensured proper representation of all three levels of government from the beginning and, by unanimous agreement, the process was refined so that we have the formal agreement we have now.
Open house sessions were held in four Tlicho communities, as well as Yellowknife, and feedback was listened to and incorporated. What is important is that the public at large was informed about this process and had opportunities to have input all the way along.
In the summer of 2002, when the Government of Canada announced the withdrawal of 39,000 square kilometres of land that would eventually become Tlicho land, widespread public consultation occurred again with interest groups and representations from all three governments were brought to bear.
Another public information session occurred in September of that year when it was decided that further consultations were necessary to ensure that the public was completely informed and had ample time to discuss and respond to all these proposals. The chief negotiators had set up a three month information exchange period with interest groups so that questions would be asked and answers would be forthcoming.
It is worth noting that during these exchange periods, tangential discussions between the Tlicho and the Akaitcho Treaty 8 Dene gained considerable momentum. To their credit, the Tlicho were diligent negotiators. During these information exchange periods, in which the Tlicho agreement was hammered out, it was refined in a number of areas as a result of these negotiations so that by March 2003 the ratification process was formerly commenced.
This is a remarkable achievement of public consultation. It makes clear the intention of the local aboriginal people to be heard and respected. High public turnouts attested to this fact. Moreover, wide public consultation occurred throughout this process. People throughout the north had their views heard, respected and incorporated. That was been important. Some concerns had been expressed by members about the process.
The Tlicho are clearly ready to fulfill their obligation. They have been working toward this agreement for more than decade. They have staged hundreds of consultation sessions and have secured the support of a range of public and private sector groups. Now the Tlicho are ready to establish and maintain a democratic government. This is very important. I think it will address a number of the questions that will come from the opposition.
The Tlicho are ready to establish and maintain a democratic government within the constitutional framework of Canada. Their government will respect Canadian law, fully recognizing that the Tlicho, as are Canadians everywhere, will be subject to federal laws and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
My colleague on the other side asked a very legitimate question about the issue of who would be in control and which law would be of paramount importance. It is the laws of Canada. I can reference specifically within the agreement. Chapter 7 has very specific references as to which laws are paramount within the context of any conflicts that may occur between what is in the agreement for the Tlicho people and other levels of government. Article 7.7.2 explicitly states that the federal legislation will prevail over Tlicho legislation where there is any conflict. I hope this will answer the member's question specifically.
Many of us have had the opportunity to work with aboriginal people. We have seen what occurs in aboriginal communities. We have seen the devastation within some aboriginal communities, which has been wrought for such a long time. We have seen the pain, suffering, the social dislocations which have occurred and the terrible social parameters that occur with aboriginal people both on and off reserve.
Domestically, I know we are committed to change the historical problems that have occurred with aboriginal people and change the horrible social parameters in some communities, such as unemployment, substance abuse, the lack of skills training, fetal alcohol syndrome, dislocated communities, communities where they desperately need and want to work with non-aboriginal communities to ensure that together we can enjoy the fruits of our wonderful country.
We on this side are committed to doing this. I have no doubt that members on all sides want to work with aboriginal communities to change those parameters, to rectify those problems and ensure that aboriginal people will be able to teach us the strengths of their cultures and their communities. Together we will learn about each other and will enrich each other. Together we will have a stronger country. Together we are a stronger people. Together we are culturally enforced. Together we will improve the social welfare of the people and societies of which we are part. I know that we are committed to that goal.