Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise today, as the critic for my party with respect to aboriginal matters, to speak to Bill C-20, a bill described as the First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management bill.
I am pleased to indicate to the House that I am speaking in favour of the legislation.
Earlier this week, one of Canada's national newspapers published an opinion piece prepared by Mr. Phil Fontaine, the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations. While I do not agree with everything that my friend and colleague Grand Chief Fontaine said in the article, there are a number of matters upon which he and I agree which he has stated and which all Canadians should consider.
Canada is a modern federal democracy in which all citizens must bear equally the responsibilities and the privileges of citizenship. Aboriginal Canadians are entitled, indeed expected, to share in the governance of Canada.
If aboriginal Canadians are to be equal citizens, also bearing the hopes and dreams of this country upon their shoulders, then they must bear equally the responsibilities of governing this land and, concurrently, they must enjoy the full benefits of Canadian citizenship, including the protection of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
As Chief Fontaine has observed, aboriginal people will only be self-sufficient and free and able to rely upon themselves, if they are free and able to make their own choices. For reliance upon the choices that others make for any of us, is a denial of the status of citizenship.
Over the past many years in Canada, the meaning and the scope and content of aboriginal self-government has been much debated. The debate has for the most part been a civil one, even as it has been marked by a decided lack of consensus on many fundamental matters. However, both aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians need be reminded that although we may not always agree upon the scope and content of governance rights, virtually all Canadians share a desire to see aboriginal Canadians as equal partners in this marvellous country.
The Indian Act is both archaic and anachronistic. Frankly, it has no place in the Canada of tomorrow. It has not yet been replaced by a modern legislative framework only because we have struggled as a nation in our attempts to define a replacement.
The issues to be sure are complex, involving questions which strike to the heart of our polity, issues pertaining to the application of the charter, the distribution of government jurisdiction within our federal system, the incidence of citizenship, the correlative rights and expectations, which we demand of one another as fellow citizens, and the distribution of resources. These would be difficult questions among citizens who share common values and histories and origins. They are all the more difficult when one factors in the rich and diverse mosaic of Canada's aboriginal people; Inuit, Métis and over 600 distinct Indian first nations.
As Grand Chief Fontaine observed this week, people need control over their own lives and the chance to reap the benefits of their own labours. They do not flourish when denied the right to decide for themselves how they will live.
In this respect, Grand Chief Fontaine's comments echo those that one would find, for example, of the economist and philosopher F.A. Hayek in The Road to Serfdom . I have long held the view that the modern struggle of Canada's aboriginal people has been less a struggle with other Canadians than it has been a struggle against the collectivist tyranny of the Indian Act.
My position in respect of self-government and that of our party is clear. The Indian Act and related legislation must be replaced by a modern legislative framework which provides for the devolution of full legal and democratic responsibility to aboriginal Canadians for their own affairs within the overall constitutional framework of our federal state. Such legislative reform should be pursued following full consultation with first nations, with the objective of achieving a full and complete devolution of democratic authority that is consistent with the devolution of other decision making responsibility within our federal state.
Aboriginal Canadians, like other Canadians, are entitled to enjoy democratic control over their own affairs within a legislative context that ensures certainty, stability, respect for the rule of law and which balances individual and collective responsibility.
Aboriginal communities must have the flexibility to determine for themselves whether and how free market principles, including individual property ownership, should apply on reserves. This devolution should be accomplished in a manner which takes into account the cultural and linguistic diversity of Canada's first nations. Within the context of the Canadian Constitution, we should be prepared to make flexible accommodations for the protection of language and culture within self-government agreements.
I return then to the legislation before the House. It must be noted at the outset that this legislation originates not with the government, but rather with a group of visionary aboriginal Canadians who have fought for their vision of self-government and who have persisted in the face of considerable difficulty.
I make reference today to Manny Jules of the Kamloops First Nation, Chief Strater Crowfoot of the Siksika First Nation, Chief Tom Bresette of the Kettle and Stoney Point First Nation, Deanna Hamilton of the Westbank First Nation, and Harold Calla of the Squamish First Nation.
These men and women and the extraordinary team of people who have worked with them are fighting to ensure that their first nation communities have access to practical levers of self-government. Their vision is one of economic progress, of prosperity, of infrastructure development, of economic development, economic opportunity and social progress. The self-government which they fight for is predicated upon the hard work associated with citizenship: the installation, for example, of community infrastructure, the responsibilities of debt service, the administration of a property tax system and the building of fiscal, managerial and financial capacity.
The legislation would provide concurrently and balances the interests of the federal Crown, and contains provisions which would provide protections for the position of taxpayers commensurate with that of other taxpayers in our federal system.
The legislation would allow for all of these things, and it would do so without derogating from the debates which we will have in the years ahead regarding the full scope and meaning of self-government, or the scope and content of section 35 rights under the Constitution. The legislation would allow each first nation in Canada to decide themselves whether they wish to undertake this responsibility.
For my part, I fear the endless opacity surrounding the self-government debate. The many issues surrounding self-government and the meaning, the scope and content of that term will be resolved in the same way that we have resolved other difficult Canadian problems, in an evolutionary manner such as this, building upon success and responding to the distinctive needs of our diverse community. We will progress cautiously and with full regard to the intended and unintended consequences of our journey. It has always been this way in Canada and it will likely always be this way.
In closing, let us move forward. The legislation may not be the panacea for all the difficult questions surrounding self-government, but it is this. It is start and if we adopt it, some of the first nations in this country will be closer to the economic independence and the self-sufficiency of which Grand Chief Fontaine has spoken.