Mr. Speaker, I rise today to join our party in opposition to Bill C-14, the Tlicho land claim agreement.
The Conservative Party agrees with the spirit of the agreement but it has grave concerns relating to four areas of the treaty specifically. Those are the absence of finality, incursions upon Canada's international autonomy, jurisdictional confusion and the adoption of governance structures which are racially based.
This agreement is most notably unique in that it ratifies both land claim and self-government agreements at the same time. This is the first time this has happened and for this reason it will serve to set a precedent for all future agreements for as many as 600 first nations in this country that are still negotiating land claim agreements.
I want to deal with the four points that I mentioned at the start. The first one I will deal with will be the absence of finality. It is the first problem. I know many of my colleagues have spoken to the issue that the agreement is not a final agreement. I think what most Canadians are asking and what the people in my constituency in the province of Manitoba have asked is finality; that when the deal is made a deal is done and a deal is completed. This certainly does not allow for that.
It is my understanding that land claims are supposed to be final settlements. It was the case in the Nisga'a agreement, but apparently it is not in this case. I do want to put on the record some of the portions of the final agreement with the Nisga'a. The agreement states:
This Agreement constitutes the full and final settlement in respect of the aboriginal rights, including aboriginal title, in Canada of the Nisga'a Nation.
Article 23 reads:
This Agreement exhaustively sets out Nisga'a section 35 rights, the geographic extent of thoserights, and the limitations to those rights, to which the Parties have agreed, and those rightsare:
a. the aboriginal rights, including aboriginal title, as modified by this Agreement, in Canada of the Nisga'a Nation and its people in and to Nisga'a Lands and other lands and resources in Canada;
b. the jurisdictions, authorities, and rights of Nisga'a Government; and
c. the other Nisga'a section 35 rights.
Further to that article, article 26 reads:
If, despite this Agreement and the settlement legislation, the Nisga'a Nation has an aboriginal right, including aboriginal title, in Canada, that is other than, or different in attributes or geographical extent from, the Nisga'a section 35 rights as set out in this Agreement, the Nisga'a Nation releases that aboriginal right to Canada to the extent that the aboriginal right is other than, or different in attributes or geographical extent from, the Nisga'a section 35 rights as set out in this Agreement.
Article 27.6.1 grants that if the Government of Canada or the Government of the Northwest Territories ever gives another aboriginal people greater tax powers or tax exemptions, whether by land claims agreement, self-government agreement, tax power exemption or legislation than that negotiated with the Tlicho, then the federal and territorial governments must reopen negotiations with the Tlicho to provide them with equal benefits.
We can be sure that every one of the 600 first nations still negotiating agreements will demand the same clause in their own agreements.
Potentially what this agreement could be doing is setting up a system of perpetual one-upmanship among Canada's first nations. Do not think that this could not happen, as the Akaitcho and Deh Cho First Nations that border the Tlicho are both seeking their own land claims as we speak. They will not settle for less and that could start the trend upward very soon.
The second part in my opening comments concerns the incursions upon Canada's international autonomy. Article 2.9 does not limit the authority of the Tlicho to enter into international, national, interprovincial and interterritorial agreements. This, in my understanding, means that the Tlicho government has the authority to enter into international agreements.
Does the Government of Canada have veto power over an agreement if it could have potential negative impacts on Canada as a whole? It is unclear, as this agreement is so ambiguous and poorly written that one cannot even answer these questions without vague assumptions or outright guesses.
To add to the confusing morass, the agreement indicates under article 7.13.2 that the Government of Canada will have to consult with the Tlicho if an international treaty may affect the rights of one Tlicho citizen. Provinces do not have these rights, and the government may be giving them out without thinking twice.
Our next concern is with regard to jurisdictional confusion. This agreement would effectively create a third order of government whose authority would be superior to that of the federal and territorial governments in certain matters. The jurisdictional confusion is exacerbated by the fact that the wording of the agreement is confusing as to which legislation, federal, territorial, Tlicho or the charter, is paramount in the event of conflict with the Tlicho constitution.
The agreement addresses these interjurisdictional issues in at least three places and prescribes three distinct paramount provisions.
First, in articles 7.7.2 through 7.7.4, 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 the Tlicho laws.
Continuing on this confusing path, article 2.8.3 introduces yet another concept of paramountcy, in that it makes the settlement legislation, presumably Bill C-14, paramount over the provisions of any other legislation or Tlicho laws.
Unfortunately, for the sake of consistency and clarity, article 2.10.7 prescribes yet another legislative hierarchy which applies in the event of arbitration.
The problem here is that there seems to be multiple definitions of how to determine supremacy in the event of conflict between the Constitution of Canada, the charter, territorial legislation, Tlicho legislation and the agreement itself. One can only imagine the legal problems and confusion that this agreement will create if passed in its current form.
My final point is that it would create a racially based electoral system. The agreement also would create a category of citizens called Tlicho citizens who are the only people who may be elected as chiefs, and 50% of the elected councillors must be Tlicho citizens. This is arguably counter to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and we can almost be assured that it will be subject to a charter challenge, if the charter even ends up applying in Tlicho territory.
We believe that aboriginal agreements reached with the federal government must represent a final agreement in the same manner as was achieved with the Nisga'a. We believe that self-government agreements must be structured so as to ensure constitutional harmony and so as not to impede the overall governance of Canada.
We believe that the principles of the charter must apply to aboriginal self-government and that self-government must occur within the context of the Constitution of Canada.
If those principles cannot be upheld, then I cannot support this agreement.