Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise this afternoon to offer a few thoughts on behalf of my constituents of Prince George—Peace River on Bill C-14, the bill that would bring the force of law to an agreement signed on August 25, 2003 between the federal government, the Northwest Territories government and the Tlicho Nation.
As has been stated by a number of my colleagues, and recently by my colleague from Brandon--Souris, the official opposition, the Conservative Party of Canada, is opposed to the agreement for a number of reasons.
I want to state at the outset that one of the things we have great difficulty with is the way in which the bill was brought forward and the fact that it cannot be amended, which creates a great deal of problems. Today during question period the minister avoided and evaded serious, sensible and common sense questions that were put forward on Bill C-14 by the official opposition by stating that the bill would go before committee and that our concerns could be known there.
It is becoming plain, not only to the official opposition but to Canadians from coast to coast, that the bill cannot be amended. It was brought forward by a ways and means motion, so in effect the government has said it is an all or nothing situation. We either accept it the way it is or we reject it. There is no way concerns can be brought forward and dealt with in any substantive manner.
I want to pay special tribute to our aboriginal affairs critic, the member for Calgary Centre-North, who has done an outstanding job in his short time in this chamber dealing with this legislation. I am sure he will go on to provide some insightful analysis to a lot of legislation as we move forward.
I also want to make it very clear that I and my colleagues would like to see these negotiations and these agreements brought to a conclusion. It is not like we are trying to stand in the way of negotiating what is fair, not only to the aboriginal people of Canada, the ones who have waited, in some cases, over 100 years now, for a treaty, for some finality and some certainty in their negotiations. It is not like we are opposed to that. Far from it. What we want to see, what they themselves and what Canadians at large want to see is not only some certainty but some fairness on both sides.
This is like a contract between two people. A contract should be fair to both parties. It is not helpful to either side to put a contract in place that is perhaps ambiguous or confusing. As my colleague from Brandon—Souris just mentioned, after a cursory examination of the legislation, what strikes us is how confusing and how ambiguous the language being used really is. It is a lawyer's dream come true.
As sure as I am standing in this chamber this afternoon, Bill C-14 will be before the courts before it is done. There will be some dispute in the future about it. I do not think it is helpful for the Tlicho people or Canadians who will end up paying the bill for the ongoing court cases. They want to see these things settled in a fair manner and they want finality. As we have heard from speaker after speaker on behalf of the official opposition, that is not the case with Bill C-14.
I want to reiterate for the record and on behalf of my constituents of Prince George—Peace River that I am proud and pleased to represent a huge northern riding that is just southwest of the area we are discussing under Bill C-14. Prince George—Peace River is about one-quarter of the land mass of northeastern British Columbia. It straddles the Rocky Mountains. We are pleased and proud to be home to a lot of aboriginal people. A lot of first nations make their homes in Prince George—Peace River. It is not that we do not have some problems there as well. We want to ensure fairness, not only in my riding but in areas, ridings and regions all across the country regardless of the province or the territory. We want to see fairness, we want to see finality and we want to see certainty.
In the four areas as laid out by a number of my colleagues, it is not a final agreement. As has been pointed out, if subsequent agreements that are under negotiation now actually bring in some clauses that are more beneficial to the Tlicho people, they can reopen negotiations. It is not final. That is a concern.
One thing that I have heard consistently in the 11 years that I have been the member of Parliament for Prince George—Peace River from people on both sides of the issue is they want these ongoing disputes to be settled in a fair manner, but they want them to be final. They want it to be like a contract that people would enter into when they purchased a home or bought a car. It is a final agreement and is bound by law. It is not that one side later on can say, “My buddy Joe down the street got a little better deal when he bought his new car, so I want to revisit this” and the person goes back to the dealer. Imagine what the dealer would say. He would tell the person to blow it out his ear, that he entered into a contract, signed it on the dotted line and it is final. It is an agreement.
These are concerns that we are bringing forward and as I say a lot of this is a lot of confusing language. The second thing is it appears to, and I would stress appears to, recognize the right of the Tlicho to enter into international agreements. That is of concern to us.
Third, it creates a racially based electoral system. A number of other people have talked about that. I remember that we have talked about that in a number of agreements, whether it was the Westbank agreement in the last Parliament or the Nisga'a agreement. We are concerned that we are setting up some sort of two tier electoral system in Canada. I do not think that is what the first nations people want and I do not think it is what Canadians want. They want all Canadians to be treated equally.
Fourth, the agreement is jurisdictionally confusing. I have already talked about that. I think the greatest confusion with regard to that was asked of the minister in question period today by one of my colleagues. He asked if, in the final analysis, push came to shove would the Tlicho agreement take supremacy or would it fall under the supremacy of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
That is a critical question to ask, and it should be an easy question for the government to answer. Yet the minister avoided the question. He ducked the question. That is of concern. It should be of concern to the Tlicho people themselves. They should be concerned that this is so ambiguous as to be confusing as to which would be supreme in the end.
It sets a precedent. We have also discussed that. It sets a very dangerous precedent because of a number of these issues that other bands will look at and say that the Government of Canada and by extension the people of Canada have entered into this agreement and they want the same thing, and rightly so. If I were next in line to negotiate, I would want the same provisions and the same loopholes, if I could call them that, or vagueness, to allow me wiggle room down the road if I wanted to renegotiate.
On this whole third order of government, I very vividly recall the Charlottetown accord referendum. I can say that the people in my riding voted overwhelmingly against it. In fact I think the strongest no vote against Charlottetown in Canada was Prince George—Peace River in 1992.
One of the huge concerns, and there were many with that accord, was this undefined third order of government and the powers that it may or may not be given. I want it on the record that the people of my riding certainly are opposed to this ill defined third order of government, rather than having something similar to a municipal government which I think all people would support.
I want to make a point on behalf of the aboriginal people themselves. I would hope that when we do negotiate these agreements and bring them forward and have at least some semblance of finality to it that the grassroots people are better off and that it is not just their government, it is not just the chiefs, the consultants and the advisors that are better off, but the grassroots people themselves.
All too often, despite the billions being spent through aboriginal affairs and northern development, I have witnessed in my riding and indeed across the country that the grassroots people themselves are no better off than they were 50 years ago.