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House of Commons Hansard #37 of the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was agreement.

Topics

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Darrel Stinson Canadian Alliance Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to present a petition with signatures collected in my riding by the Broadview Evangelical Free Church addressing the issue of marriage.

The petitioners state that the best foundation for families and the raising of children is that the institution of marriage be recognized in federal law as being the lifelong union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

April 20th, 2004 / 10:10 a.m.

Sarnia—Lambton Ontario

Liberal

Roger Gallaway LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

The Speaker

Is it agreed?

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Business of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Ottawa—Vanier Ontario

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger LiberalDeputy Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, discussions have taken place between all the parties and I believe that if you were to seek it you would find consent for the following motion:

That the recorded divisions scheduled today at 3:00 p.m. be taken in the following order: first, referral to committee before second reading of Bill C-25; second, the amendment to second reading of Bill C-30, and third, second reading of Bill C-246.

Business of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

The Speaker

Does the hon. government House leader have unanimous consent to present this motion?

Business of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Business of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

The Speaker

The House has heard the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Business of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Motion agreed to)

The House proceeded to the consideration of Bill C-11, an act to give effect to the Westbank First Nation Self-Government Agreement, as reported (with amendment) from the committee.

Westbank First Nation Self-Government ActGovernment Orders

10:10 a.m.

The Speaker

There are three motions in amendment standing on the Notice Paper for the report stage of Bill C-11.

Motion No. 2 will not be selected by the Chair as it could have been presented in committee.

The remaining motions have been examined and the Chair is satisfied that they meet the guidelines expressed in the note to Standing Order 76.1(5) regarding the selection of motions in amendment at the report stage.

Having heard submissions from the hon. members in respect of that matter, Motions Nos. 1 and 3 will be debated and voted upon.

I will now put Motions Nos. 1 and 3 to the House.

Westbank First Nation Self-Government ActGovernment Orders

10:10 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

John M. Cummins Canadian Alliance Delta—South Richmond, BC

moved:

Motion No. 1

That Bill C-11 be amended by deleting Clause 3.

Westbank First Nation Self-Government ActGovernment Orders

10:10 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

John Duncan Canadian Alliance Vancouver Island North, BC

moved:

Motion No. 3

That Bill C-11 be amended by adding after line 13 on page 2 the following new clause:

“4.1 Despite section 102 of the Agreement, lands acquired by the Westbank First Nation that are contained within the limits of the city of Kelowna, British Columbia, may be transferred to Canada for the purpose of being set apart as lands reserved for Indians under subsection 91(24) of the Constitution Act, 1867, or as reserves within the meaning of the Indian Act for the use and benefit of the Westbank First Nation, only with the consent of the City of Kelowna.”

Westbank First Nation Self-Government ActGovernment Orders

10:10 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

John M. Cummins Canadian Alliance Delta—South Richmond, BC

Mr. Speaker, the issue here is the application of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms or the failure of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to apply here, and it is to that issue that I would like to address my comments.

The Charter of Rights and Freedoms is designed to shield individuals from the arbitrary actions of their government. The charter provides individuals with a tool to challenge their government. All Canadians are covered by the charter.

Yet, while all Canadians are covered by the charter, all Canadians are not equally protected by the charter. Some government actions are shielded from the application of the charter.

Section 25 of the charter acts to shield government actions involving aboriginal rights from challenges under the charter; that is, if an individual challenges a government action involving the exercise of aboriginal rights, the government can shield itself from the challenge by claiming that the arbitrary government action involves aboriginal rights.

Charter challenges involving aboriginal rights trigger the section 25 shield.

What has section 25 got to do with the right of Westbank residents to use the charter to challenge arbitrary rights of the Westbank government?

Section 25 has everything to do with the right of Westbank residents to use the charter to challenge the Westbank government. Section 25 will only be available to the Westbank government to shield itself from a challenge under the charter if it can claim that its actions involve the exercise of an aboriginal right. The Westbank agreement makes invoking the section 25 shield very easy.

The Westbank agreement states throughout that the purpose of the agreement is to “recognize” and “implement” an aboriginal right of self-government.

In establishing the Westbank government as an aboriginal right, the agreement triggers section 25 of the charter. This gives the Westbank government the power to shield itself from the challenges of its own residents. All the Westbank government needs to do when challenged is to point out that it is exercising an aboriginal right. End of story.

That is the problem in a nutshell.

For those who think this is a pipe dream, they should give their heads a shake. In Nova Scotia an appeal was made under the Canadian Human Rights Act that a band government was discriminating against a non-native husband. On appeal to the Federal Court of Appeal, the band argued that it had an inherent right to govern and as such it could invoke section 25 of the charter to shield itself from the prohibition against discrimination found in the Canadian Human Rights Act.

The court said:

...[the band] acted pursuant to its inherent powers of self government...this inherent power...is one of the 'rights or freedoms that pertains to the aboriginal peoples of Canada' shielded from erosion by the Charter through s. 25

That was the band's opinion.

The Federal Court of Appeal rejected the band's argument holding that the band government had not been charged under the section 15 equality rights provision of the charter and therefore it could not invoke section 25 as a shield against the equality provisions of the Canadian Human Rights Act.

The court said:

...the answer to the [the band's] contention is three-fold. First, section 25 of the Charter has been held to be a shield which protects [aboriginal] rights...

Second, the named respondents have complained that the appellant's refusal to pay social assistance to them is a contravention of section 5 of the CHRA. Since they did not allege that the appellant had violated section 15 of the Charter, section 25 of the Charter has no application here. Third, the appellant has not established by evidence the unique right which they are asserting and which they say is included in section 25

Second...Since [the respondents] did not allege that the appellant had violated section 15 of the Charter, section 25 of the Charter has no application here.

Third, [the band] has not established by evidence the unique right which they are asserting and which they say is included in section 25

The Westbank government has a step up on the Nova Scotia band. It will never have to make the argument that it has an aboriginal right of self-government and as such that its actions are shielded from charter challenge. The Westbank agreement does all that. It states clearly and unequivocally that the Westbank government is a representation of the aboriginal right of self-government. Any time it faces a charter challenge it need only point to the agreement with the crown that will have been ratified by Parliament. Its actions will automatically be shielded from charter challenges.

In a recent decision, the British Columbia Supreme Court has ruled that section 25 offers a complete defence, or what it called a “complete answer”, to challenges under the charter involving section 7, legal rights of life, liberty and security of person; section 15, equality rights; and section 3, democratic rights of citizenship. It stated:

...Section 25 of the Charter is a complete answer to this argument.

In any case, s. 25 of the Charter itself is as much an answer to a submission concerning sections 7 and 15(1) as it is an answer to the s. 3 submission.

The challenges based upon the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms are answered by s. 25 of the Charter.

Based upon the dangerous wording of the Westbank agreement, it will always be open to the Westbank government to affirm that its arbitrary actions against its own residents are merely an exercise of its aboriginal right to govern and therefore is shielded from a resident's challenge under the charter.

Do members of Parliament really want to create the Westbank government as a charter-free zone where residents will have lost their rights to challenge their own government?

Do members of Parliament really intend to give the Westbank government a shield to protect itself from any and every challenge, no matter how arbitrary its actions have been and how legitimate the challenge might be?

Do members of Parliament really want to create a Westbank government that will have free rein to mistreat its residents and to have that government's actions shielded from any and all challenges under the charter?

The Minister of Indian Affairs acknowledged in the Senate Committee on Human Rights on March 22 that the real and growing conflict between the protection of what he called the “individual rights” identified in the charter, equality rights, political rights and the legal rights to life, liberty and security of person, and what he called the “collective rights” protected by section 25. It acknowledged:

...there is the necessity to reconcile the principles contained in...the Charter of Rights and Freedoms with those contained in section 25, which protects Aboriginal rights....

The Minister of Indian Affairs' acknowledgment of the conflict between the charter rights and section 25, aboriginal rights, differs considerably from his statement on March 10 before the House of Commons committee studying the Westbank bill and agreement. There he said that:

The agreement...recognizes that all first nation members, like all Canadians everywhere, are subject to...the charter.

His statement is patently untrue when an aboriginal right is involved and he acknowledged as much in the Senate Committee on Human Rights on March 22.

All problems in aboriginal governance will not be cured by merely ensuring that everyone has, without question, the right to challenge their government if they believe their fundamental rights enumerated in the charter have been impaired but all problems will be demonstratively worse at Westbank if Westbank government becomes a charter-free zone simply because Parliament has ratified an agreement that expressly identifies the Westbank government as an aboriginal right.

By expressly identifying Westbank government as an aboriginal right, members of Parliament will have, whether intentionally or inadvertently, shielded Westbank government from challenge under the charter and left Westbank residents stripped of their basic constitutional rights, rights that have developed in Anglo-Canadian law beginning with the Magna Carta.

Section 91(24) of the Constitution makes what happens on Indian lands the responsibility of Parliament. Washing their hands, like Pilate, of what happens on Indian lands and at the same time blocking access to the charter by making Westbank government an aboriginal right, will not make members of Parliament less guilty but it will make them impotent to act when problems occur.

Senator Beaudoin, a recognized expert on the Constitution and human rights, said as much to the Minister of Indian Affairs when he chastized the minister on March 22 in the Senate human rights committee stating:

You say that it is up to the Aboriginals to do this. I do not agree. It is our duty here to do that. There are two orders of government in this country—the federal and the provincial. The Aboriginal people have collective rights, but the power to improve the situation is within the Parliament of Canada and I do not think that we should wait for the existence of a third order of government because the power is with the Senate and the House of Commons

Our esteemed colleague in the other place got it right as he so often does. Let us not get is wrong by establishing the Westbank government as an aboriginal right and therefore outside of and shielded from charter challenge. It would be wrong to strip Westbank residents of their charter rights. Let us not do it.

The agreement never claims that the charter of rights fully applies to the Westbank government. Section 32 of the agreement makes it very clear that the charter has limited application to the Westbank government. It states:

The government of Westbank First Nation and Council in respect of all matters under its authority are bound by the provisions of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms with due regard for section 25 of the Charter--

More accurately, the government of Westbank and its council are effectively bound by the charter when they choose to be bound. When the Westbank government wants to opt out of the charter, it can use the aboriginal rights defence. It need only assert that its actions are merely an exercise of an aboriginal right to govern, as set out in the agreement and put in force by Parliament.

Mr. Speaker, I am aware that my time has expired, but if there was unanimous consent, I would like to continue. It should not take me too much longer.

Westbank First Nation Self-Government ActGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The member might want to indicate to the House in his request for unanimous consent to extend his intervention, by how many minutes?

Westbank First Nation Self-Government ActGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

John M. Cummins Canadian Alliance Delta—South Richmond, BC

Probably less than five, Mr. Speaker.

Westbank First Nation Self-Government ActGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Does the House give its consent to the member for Delta—South Richmond to extend his intervention by less than five minutes?

Westbank First Nation Self-Government ActGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Westbank First Nation Self-Government ActGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

John M. Cummins Canadian Alliance Delta—South Richmond, BC

Mr. Speaker, simply put, the agreement gives the Westbank government an umbrella to shield itself any time a resident seeks to reign on its arbitrary actions with a challenge under the charter.

The lawyer for the Westbank, Micha Menczer, when challenged in the House of Commons committee studying the Westbank bill and agreement, claimed that critics must not believe in the charter, that their complaint was really with section 25 of the charter rather than with the agreement. He stated:

I think that's a misreading. More importantly, section 25 is part of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Westbank and the Government of Canada have no power to change that, either by an agreement or even by legislation. That is a matter of constitutional change.

A convenient lawyer's trick, but no, the problem is with the agreement's action to make the Westbank government an aboriginal right triggering section 25 and knocking out the protection of the charter for Westbank residents. The problem is not section 25 of the charter.

The problem is the sections in the agreement that state that the agreement is both a recognition and an implementation of the aboriginal right of self-government. It is those sections of the agreement that trigger section 25. It is the aboriginal right of self-government provisions of the agreement that effectively allow the Westbank government to shield itself from the application of the charter any time it wishes to do so.

In a paper entitled “Westbank self-government agreement will strip away fundamental Canadian rights”, Tanis Fiss, Director for the Centre for Aboriginal Policy Change of the Canadian Taxpayers' Federation, observed:

This is a disastrous piece of legislation. If Members of Parliament pass this agreement, Canada's elected officials will deny certain Canadians the right to vote in community elections and in so doing will strip the fundamental rights of Canadian citizens.

The proposed Westbank Self-Government Agreement, Bill C-11, will shield the Westbank government from application of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. By doing so, Westbank laws would be immune from a Charter challenge. In other words, Westbank laws could discriminate between residents of Westbank based on their race, religion or gender and the victim of discrimination could not use the Charter to strike down the offence.

Once entrenched in the Constitution based on the premise of an “inherent right” to self-government, this means Section 25 of the Constitution will also apply to the Agreement. The equality rights of the Charter do not apply to Aboriginal communities under Section 25 of the Constitution. This will be the case no matter what is written in the Agreement because the Constitution is the supreme law of Canada.

The federal government plans to use the Westbank self-government agreement as a template for further negations. This piece of legislation will set a precedent which other Indian Bands will follow. Clearly, this Agreement will have national repercussions for generations of Canadians.

Incredibly, all parties in the federal parliament plan to support the measure and have supported it through the first two readings. Given the many flaws of this Agreement, Canadians can only hope their elected Members of Parliament come to their senses and vote against the Agreement.

Mark Milke, in an article in the Calgary Herald entitled “Native agreement flawed”, stated:

One significant problem with the Westbank agreement is that it will deny natives and non-natives some of their charter rights. Defenders already claim that because one section in the Westbank document references it as bound by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms that such freedoms are thus secure. No, they are not. The same section of the agreement the defenders will point to also has this caveat about such charter freedoms: “with due regard for Section 25...”

That's a tip-off. Section 25 grants aboriginal and treaty rights immunity from legal challenges launched from other charter sections.

Christopher Harvey, a lawyer who analyzed the agreement, argues that the new Westbank deal infringes on charter rights and does so through a clever (and improper) juxtaposition of aboriginal claims to self-government combined with the Section 25 rights noted above: “It amounts to an abdication of the sovereign law-making and executive authority of the Crown in Parliament. Its effect on the people residing and working in Westbank is to remove many of the fundamental political and legal safeguards that support their freedoms and security. It is surprising to see basic legal rights which have been acquired gradually over many years of political struggles being so abruptly discarded”.

If Parliament intends residents to have the right to use the charter to challenge the Westbank government, it must ensure that those sections of the agreement that refer to the aboriginal right of self-government are not brought into law. If Parliament intends to give the Westbank government an umbrella to shield itself from challenges under the charter, then it should pass Bill C-11, the Westbank law act, into law without amendment.

However, a healthier choice of action dictates that Parliament consider the serious implications of shielding the Westbank government from the charter. Westbank residents, like Canadians everywhere, deserve the protection of the charter. It is the right of Canadian citizenship, yet they will not have charter protection if this bill is approved in its present form.

Westbank First Nation Self-Government ActGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

Yukon Yukon

Liberal

Larry Bagnell LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Mr. Speaker, I must begin by saying that I disagree with the previous arguments and I will outline my position.

First of all, the first amendment to the bill is a complete deletion of clause 3. Basically, we cannot delete clause 3. We cannot delete any clause, actually, because this is an agreement between the Government of Canada and a first nation. We have negotiated this agreement for years and to remove an instrumental clause, which of course the Government of Canada has agreed to put into law and which is what we are doing in Parliament, would abrogate the whole agreement and we would be back at stage one.

The effect of this amendment would be that Canada would not ratify the Westbank first nation self-government agreement. With this amendment, members of Parliament are being asked not to approve the Westbank first nation self-government agreement in its entirety. Clause 3 would give the force of law to the Westbank first nation self-government agreement. Clause 3 is the substantive provision of Bill C-11. Without this provision, the Westbank first nation self-government agreement would not be given effect.

Both Canada and Westbank first nation must ratify the Westbank first nation self-government agreement for the agreement to come into effect. Pursuant to the Westbank first nation self-government agreement, Canada's ratification procedure requires that Canada sign the agreement and that Canada enact federal legislation giving effect to the agreement. Canada signed the Westbank first nation self-government agreement on October 3, 2003. Bill C-11, and in particular clause 3, is the proposed federal legislation that would give effect to the Westbank first nation self-government agreement.

With regard to the specific argument that we had in relation to clause 3 and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, basically, in summary, I would say that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms will apply to the Westbank government and to the people of Westbank. The Government of Canada is committed to the principle that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms binds all governments in Canada so that aboriginal peoples and non-aboriginal Canadians alike would continue to enjoy equally the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the charter.

The charter, through section 25, is designed to ensure a sensitive balance between individual rights and freedoms, and the unique values and traditions of aboriginal people in Canada. This is stated in the Government of Canada's federal policy, “The Government of Canada's Approach to Implementationof the Inherent Right and the Negotiation of Aboriginal Self-Government”. Section 32 of the Westbank self-government agreement is in conformity with this policy.

It is the view of the Government of Canada that the Westbank first nation government and any Westbank laws passed pursuant to the Westbank first nation self-government agreement will be subject to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in its entirety. One cannot make one provision of the charter apply more forcefully than any other.

With regard to providing Westbank with specific self-government inherent rights, this is a general right that is applied across the country. It is the same in all our self-government agreements. It is not specific to Westbank. It is not a specific right.

The references to an inherent right in the Westbank first nation self-government agreement are general in nature and do not constitute a specific recognition of any specific Westbank first nation aboriginal right to self-government. The Westbank first nation self-government agreement and its references to an inherent right of self-government are in accordance with the federal government's inherent right policy, which recognizes that the inherent right of self-government is an existing aboriginal right within section 35 of the Constitution Act.

In case the people who are watching want to know what we are debating in section 25 of the Charter, I will read it. It states:

The guarantee in this Charter of certain rights and freedoms shall not be construed so as to abrogate or derogate from any aboriginal, treaty or other rights or freedoms that pertain to the aboriginal peoples of Canada including

(a) any rights or freedoms that have been recognized by the Royal Proclamation of October 7, 1763; and

(b) any rights or freedoms that now exist by way of land claims agreements or may be so acquired.

This is a general protection and reference in the bill. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms will continue to apply to aboriginal people across the country and to the people on the Westbank reserve. Of course, the sensitive clause 25 will ensure that rights are acknowledged.

I want to now talk about Motion No. 3 and the clause respecting additions to reserve. The amendment basically suggests that adding land to the Westbank First Nation reserve would require the consent of the City of Kelowna. While land has already been added to the Westbank reserve through our general policy, when additional land is added to reserves, there are consultations and agreements with the provincial and municipal governments. This is already in our policy.

The authority to add land to reserves is a federal authority and that authority is applied across the country, including the Westbank. With or without this agreement, there is authority to add to the reserve. However, the amendment would take away from the Westbank people something that would be available to all reserves across the country, and that would obviously be unfair.

We are not here today to take away or lessen one particular first nation from a power. However, we had a lengthy debate about this section in committee and at that time assurances were given, and that is Canadian policy is that when additions are made to reserve, the municipalities and provincial governments will consulted. Therefore, this should not be a concern.

The Westbank First Nation, like all other first nations in Canada, may concurrently access additions to reserve policy, which is a national policy. Upon implementation of the Westbank First Nation self-government agreement nothing would change for the Westbank First Nation with respect to the federal government's additions to reserve policy.

The additions to reserve policy requires that the first nation and the municipality in question negotiate in areas such as joint land use planning, bylaw harmonization, tax considerations, service provision and future dispute resolution. In practice Canada has insisted that these matters be dealt with to the satisfaction of all parties. As a result, in many cases lands are added to reserves only after years of negotiations. This has been demonstrated in the addition of what are known as the Gallagher Canyon lands to the Westbank First Nation reserve in 2000, 17 years after the Westbank First Nation first initiated an addition to reserve request.

Any amendment denying the Westbank First Nation the right to access the federal government's additions to reserve policy in whole or in part would set the Westbank First Nation apart from all other first nations, including those that have self-government agreements or those that have concluded treaties. This would place an undue burden on the Westbank First Nation. Further, the additions to reserve policy is within the purview of the federal government's jurisdiction to deal with all matters relating to Indian lands.

As stated above, in practice the additions to reserve policy does not permit the addition of lands to reserve without the consent of surrounding municipalities. In this regard the proposed amendment requiring the consent of the City of Kelowna prior to any further additions to Westbank First Nation reserve lands merely states what is already the case.

Nevertheless, the proposed amendment would cede the federal government's power, expressed through the granting of an order in council with respect to additions to Westbank reserve lands, to a municipal level of government. Additions to reserve, a federal jurisdiction under the Canadian constitutional framework, would no longer be entirely within the prerogative of the federal government.

The additions to reserve are granted pursuant to an order in council by the governor in council. It is recognized that additions to reserve proposals may potentially impact on provincial and municipal governments, and thus the federal government's addition to reserve policy requires that these levels of government have an opportunity to express their interests.

Provinces and municipalities must be advised in writing of an additions to reserve proposal within their jurisdiction and have three months to respond in writing to identify any issues with an additions to reserve proposal. Third party interests must be identified and dealt with before an additions to reserve proposal may proceed.

I will not have time to go any further, so I will just summarize by saying, of the two amendments, the first one basically would abrogate the whole agreement. It is the primary clause that puts it into effect. It basically is yes or no on Westbank. The last one I do not think is necessary. First, the City of Kelowna is already guaranteed under the present policy. Second, we could not take a right away from one first nation in Canada. If people want to change that, they should lobby to change the entire government policy, not just one clause in the agreement.

Westbank First Nation Self-Government ActGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.

Bloc

Yvan Loubier Bloc Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Mr. Speaker, thank you for the opportunity to speak on this important bill.

The agreement with the Westbank First Nation occurs after years and years of negotiations between the federal government and the first nation. I recall that last December, before we adjourned for the holidays, the Westbank First Nation was assured that its agreement would be passed by this Parliament. I remember very clearly that in the galleries there was a large delegation from Westbank, which came to observe the conclusion of these years of effort, consultation and tough negotiations.

Instead of recognizing the success of their efforts in December, one Conservative MP refused to give consent for the rapid approval of this agreement. I said to myself then that this was not the right way to reward the work of the first nations who all seek, without exception, to enjoy the inherent right to self government.

This inherent right is not there for us to amend, debate or misinterpret. It is there, either because of ancestral treaties or because the first nations stipulate that it is a right given them by the Creator as the first inhabitants of this land.

I was very disappointed when I saw that these attempts at self-government were not gratified. I remember that, in 1998, the report by the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, the Erasmus-Dussault report, invited us to undertake a vast reform. Over the next 20 years, this reform would resolve everything with all the first nations in Quebec and Canada. It would resolve the issue of self-government, which is the only healthy avenue available to our two communities to ensure harmonious development, and the growth too of the first nations, as well as the immediate resolution of the first nations' numerous needs.

We have yet to take the first step. The Conservatives, both those on the committee and here in Parliament, with all the means at their disposal, are trying to prevent the adoption of this self-government agreement, called a self-government framework agreement. They used dilatory measures in committee. Now, they are continuing by introducing amendments irrelevant to what we intend this agreement to do. They will probably keep it up as long as possible. They will probably also ensure that, if the election is called, Parliament does not adopt before prorogation this Westbank first nation self-government agreement. This is a terrible shame.

I want to come back to the Conservatives' amendment. I ask members to listen carefully. It is essential to read it carefully to see that it was illogical:

The force of law—

That is good.

In the bill before the House, subsection 3(2) states,

Persons and bodies have the powers, rights, privileges and benefits conferred on them by the Agreement and are subject to the obligations and liabilities imposed on them by the Agreement.

What the Conservatives were proposing was to strike this clause. Striking this clause is essentially abrogating the whole agreement. How can we adopt an agreement that confers no rights, powers, privileges or benefits to the communities identified in the agreement? This is illogical.

We know that 71% of first nations communities across Canada are currently being represented at 80 negotiating tables and that many years of work past and to come have been planned in order to reach a self-government agreement. People from the Westbank First Nation have worked very hard, drawing on a heightened social conscience to liberate the first nation from a position of underdevelopment. When a first nation such as Westbank has done its work well, then we can only disagree with measures such as the ones being proposed by the Conservatives that make absolutely no sense and are completely retrograde.

What is more, other self-government agreements will end here. I have the impression that the Conservatives will make other attempts to undermine these self-government agreements. It is a kind of knee-jerk reaction. They criticize first nations for being underdeveloped, unable to do anything about it, and dependent on the government. However, when presented with a self-government agreement, they object.

What do they want? Do they want first nations to remain utterly dependent, with an Indian Act that dates back 130 years and bears a strong resemblance to an apartheid law, or do they want things to change?

If they want things to change then we must act quickly. Six years have passed since the royal commission report was tabled. That leaves 14 years to settle all the cases if we want to implement the recommendations. There are cases and situations of unbelievable urgency.

With respect to drinking water alone, most first nations territories have problems with their water supply. It is hard to imagine that today, in 2004, in a developed country, there could be a situation where problems exist with the drinking water supply. This situation is pervasive for first nations.

In terms of housing as well, it is quite incredible. I have personally had the opportunity to visit a number of aboriginal communities, and what I have seen is a disaster. At Weymontachie alone, for example, there are 113 houses and all 113 of them are under attack from chronic mould problems. These houses are overpopulated.

This morning, Mr. Fontaine, the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, told us that there are currently 93,000 housing units on reserves, but there are 113,000 households. We can see this is an extraordinary shortage, and, in addition, most of the older housing stock needs renovations. Some houses need to be demolished because of the problems I have just mentioned.

At Barriere Lake, it is unbelievable: floors have completely rotted out. Vermin enter the houses, and children have to be put up in hammocks out of their reach.

These are emergency situations. When will the Conservatives understand that we must stop stalling properly negotiated self-government projects, with all the guarantees they may have, even for the municipality of Kelowna, because the time is up? That is not what must be done. The self-government process must be accelerated, and it must be done with enthusiasm. The same should be done with modern treaties so that first nations communities can benefit from economic development.

As you know, I am an economist, so I regularly follow the statistics on the economic development of Quebec and Canada, on employment, increased household wealth, investments in strategic sectors and so on. It has always struck me, particularly in the past two years since becoming the critic on this issue, that there is one segment of the population that cannot gain anything from this economic development.

Now, it has been given an opportunity to do so, and there will be others. The Innu of Quebec are well into the negotiating process. This situation must be addressed head on, with as much vigour and determination as one would use in defending one's own family members. We must be sure that, within 10 or 15 years, there will be no more problems with the first nations, and that they will be able to govern themselves, to develop, and to share in the benefits of economic growth.

There must be no more systematic obstruction on trivial grounds. This is a complete disgrace, and not appropriate behaviour by this Parliament. Nor by anyone else. It is inhumane to leave part of the aboriginal population in abject poverty, with undrinkable water and inadequate housing, with multiple drug use among their youth, and, in certain communities, with over 75% unemployment.

If there is any humanity at all left among the Conservatives, or in other words if even a few members have a social conscience, the only thing that can be done is to step up the entire process of self-government so that we can all develop in harmony.

We will therefore be voting against these amendments.

Westbank First Nation Self-Government ActGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

NDP

Lorne Nystrom NDP Regina—Qu'Appelle, SK

Mr. Speaker, we in the NDP also intend to vote against the amendment put forth by the Conservative Party, a party that is constantly trying to deny the rights of aboriginal people in this country. Negotiations went on over a long period of time regarding the Westbank bill. A very good agreement was reached and we intend to support the agreement in the House.

I do not want to go into details about this particular agreement except to say that we see many aboriginal people living in third world conditions in this country. The member for Yukon knows that. I have 12 first nations in my own riding as well. One of the big failures of Canadian society over the years has been not making sure that the first nations people, the Métis people, the aboriginal peoples in general, have a better standard of living and have the opportunities that are provided to many other people in the Canadian mainstream.

What we hear is the Conservative Party saying in a very misleading way that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms would not apply to people of the Westbank First Nation.

I spent 10 years as the NDP's constitutional spokesperson during the patriation debate in the formulation of a Canadian Charter of Rights. My friend from Yellowknife was part of two of those five or six committees over the years. She will remember the constant debates. She will also remember her disappointment with the Trudeau government when it first tabled the patriation package in the House of Commons. There was no reference at all to treaty rights or aboriginal rights in the original package tabled by the Government of Canada.

It was because of the NDP and our negotiations that treaty rights were put in the Constitution of Canada. That took a long time. It was a long struggle. Treaty rights in the Constitution of Canada were one thing that our party negotiated at all party committees and elsewhere. We made sure they were provided in the Constitution of Canada. Today there are treaty rights and recognition of the royal proclamation in Canada's Constitution. We have begun a long, long process of trying to evolve treaty rights in this country.

The Conservative Party member from Vancouver has suggested in his amendment that the charter would not apply to the people of the Westbank First Nation because of the agreement. I want to assure the House that this is totally and absolutely untrue. The charter applies to every Canadian citizen. This is really ironic coming from the same party that kept the House going day and night for several days a few years ago, forcing the House to vote hundreds of times on amendments to stop the Nisga'a treaty. It was one of the most disgusting performances I have seen in the House of Commons since I was elected in 1968.

The Conservative Party is really the alliance party, which was the reform party, which was the social credit party. In my province it is called the Saskatchewan Party. At one time it was the progressive conservative party, now minus the progressive side, so it is now the regressive conservative party. It was also the conservative-reform-alliance party, or CRAP. That party goes on and on as it changes its name, trying to hide from its true values of conservatism, which is a very unpopular ideology in Canada.

Once again that party is moving an amendment that is striking away at aboriginal rights, striking away at aboriginal people. That is the same party that wanted to lead our country into Iraq, to have Canadian troops go into Iraq following George Bush very blindly. That is the Conservative Party of Canada, on the extreme right, the republican party north in this country. That party is at it once again.

I do not know if those members know anything about the charter, but section 25 states, and I quote:

The guarantee in this Charter of certain rights and freedoms shall not be construed so as to abrogate or derogate from any aboriginal, treaty or other rights or freedoms that pertain to the aboriginal peoples of Canada including

(a) any rights or freedoms that have been recognized by the Royal Proclamation of October 7, 1763; and

(b) any rights or freedoms that now exist by way of land claims agreements or may be so acquired.

We are very proud to have some aboriginal rights and aboriginal guarantees in our Constitution. We are also very proud that the charter applies to aboriginal people, to all Canadians, to every Canadian. It is very important that we do this.

I should also point out that some of these more extreme Conservatives say we should not just rely on the charter being interpreted but we should use the notwithstanding clause on certain issues where a problem overrides the charter and overrides the fundamental freedoms of this country. We have heard them say that before on a number of issues. Some raise it on abortion. Some raise it on same sex marriage. That is the history of the Conservative Party, not the Progressive Conservative Party but the alliance-conservative-reform party. That is its history: extreme conservative positions that do not stand up for minority rights. These are not the values of the Canadian people.

The Canadian people want aboriginal rights in this country. The Canadian people want aboriginal self-government. The aboriginal people certainly want--

Westbank First Nation Self-Government ActGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

John M. Cummins Canadian Alliance Delta—South Richmond, BC

Explain. What does it mean?

Westbank First Nation Self-Government ActGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

NDP

Lorne Nystrom NDP Regina—Qu'Appelle, SK

The Conservative member across the way says to explain the Westbank agreement. The Westbank agreement is very clear. I happen to know a fair amount about the charter. I spent 10 years working on constitutional issues in all the committees and I have already explained to him that the charter applies to every Canadian citizen. No act of this Parliament can trump the Charter of Rights and Freedoms unless the notwithstanding clause is invoked or unless there is a constitutional amendment.

Westbank First Nation Self-Government ActGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

John M. Cummins Canadian Alliance Delta—South Richmond, BC

Explain what it means. You don't have a clue.