Mr. Speaker, I am kind of new at this so I appreciate the correction.
I also want to congratulate the minister's staff and members of the department who have worked so hard on this for many years. I am sure there will be some opposition views and I look forward to hearing them. With anything this complex, which would have such a wide effect, certain views will have to be put on the record from various constituencies, and that is only appropriate.
What I hope to do today is provide some clarification to concerns and to things that may not have been understood. When all sorts of lawyers and people from various orders of government work an agreement for years and years concerns do come up during those times and we try to accommodate them. I think there will be some good responses to some concerns with information of which people may not have been aware.
I enthusiastically support Bill C-11 today and urge the House to adopt the legislation. I would like to thank the members of the House Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs, Northern Development and Natural Resources for moving swiftly to approve Bill C-11. With only three technical amendments, the committee clearly recognizes the significance of effective aboriginal self-government and markedly demonstrates its genuine commitment to achieve this worthy goal.
The collaboration exhibited by committee members echoed that displayed by the Government of Canada and the Westbank First Nation during discussions and negotiations that led to the Westbank First Nation self-government agreement. Close collaboration with aboriginal Canadians and first nations leaders is something I am committed to as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development.
I believe that only through genuine partnership between the federal government and first nations can aboriginal communities achieve effective self-government. Only through open, transparent and accountable governments can first nations build strong, robust economies and healthy, enduring societies. By giving effect to the Westbank First Nation self-government agreement, Bill C-11 is a crucial step forward for the Westbank first nation in pursuance of these aspirations.
The Westbank First Nation has already demonstrated that it knows how to manage its affairs responsibly. This is, after all, an exceptionally progressive and successful aboriginal community. The first nation runs its own provincially licensed day care and early education centre, along with an intermediate care facility for the elderly. It operates its own school and community centre and maintains several recreation facilities, such as beaches, campgrounds and baseball diamonds.
The Westbank First Nation is blessed with spectacular natural beauty. Located on the shores of Lake Okanagan, adjacent to the city of Kelowna, the first nation is ideally situated to benefit from the region's booming economy, and Westbank has made most of these advantages.
The first nation and its members have opened land to development, making it a busy land manager. Today's Westbank commercial district features a number of shopping centres that generate substantial rental income and provide job opportunities for band members. Westbank has established a reputation as a fair landlord, a trustworthy partner and a reliable neighbour. When the Okanagan was ravaged by fires last summer, Westbank provided room and board for firefighters.
I want to do something I have never done before and just repeat a couple of the things I have just said related to the day care, the early education centre, the facility for the elderly, its own school and the recreation facilities. I want to repeat some of the commercial things because to me this is so exciting.
We have heard over the last week, through the aboriginal summit, where the rationale was to reduce the tragic disparity. We have seen the tragic situations across Canada and first nations but sometimes we do not hear these good news stories. This is what it can be. I think every member of Parliament, every member of the parliamentary staff and every member of the department are all here to help people advance in their lives. When we see something like this, it shows us what it is all about. Who could be against that?
When a first nation has a commercial district with a number of shopping centres, it generates substantial rental income for the first nation and it provides job opportunities for the band members. It has established a reputation as a fair landlord, a trustworthy partner and a reliable neighbour. As I said, when the Okanagan was ravaged by fires last summer, Westbank provided room and board for the firefighters.
If those are the types of successes we can have with first nations leadership, all first nations peoples, aboriginal people, Inuit people and the Metis people, can have these types of successes and take their equal place among Canadian communities.
What was perhaps most exciting about the first nation's success is that much of it was accomplished under the limitations of the Indian Act. Now the Westbank First Nation wants to establish a new relationship with the people of Canada, a more equitable relationship that will enable Westbank to realize its full potential.
The self-government agreement gives the Westbank First Nation the tools it needs to continue to develop its community. It will enable Westbank First Nation to create government structures that are both effective and representative. The self-government agreement will foster more economic growth in the community by providing the basis for a stable government and institutions, an essential condition for attracting and retaining investors and business partners.
Close scrutiny of the self-government agreement reveals how it will foster accountability and self-reliance for the Westbank First Nation.
Under the terms of this agreement, key decisions will be made by people most familiar with and most affected by local issues. I am convinced that this will lead to substantive improvements in the economic and social well-being of the Westbank First Nation members.
Westbank leaders believe that these improvements are best accomplished by the Westbank people governing themselves, with a representative and an effective government capable of exercising law-making authority and assuming new responsibility, and so do I.
The bill now before the House would help to establish precisely this type of government. The Westbank First Nation would become self-governing, assuming jurisdiction over and responsibility for its own affairs.
Under the self-governing agreement the first nation will have a range of powers. The Westbank First Nation will have the authority to enact laws in areas such as land and resources management, aboriginal language and culture, among others. It is in these areas that a key feature of the agreement lies. With these new powers the Westbank First Nation will assume control of its resources.
The self-government agreement sets forth the requirements for the establishment and content of a Westbank constitution which is ratified by the first nation at the same time and in the same manner as the self-government agreement. As with the years that were spent on consultations on the agreement, the same was done with the constitution.
The Westbank constitution is crucial because it enshrines the community's government structures and processes, from electing officials to establishing financial accountability standards, to procedures for creating laws. It also sets out the community's governing principles and guiding philosophy.
The constitution the Westbank worked diligently to create is especially significant because it was developed by the members of the community. The constitution reflects the wishes of the Westbank people, not the views of consultants and lawyers. The constitution is also a product of the first nation's consultative approach. A group of dedicated community volunteers worked tirelessly day after day and night after night for nearly a year to draft this law.
Community meetings were held to put forward ideas, discuss issues and work through Parliament. When a consensus was finally reached and the constitution was drafted, copies were distributed to all and once again people were invited to comment. Following the final round of consultations, members of the Westbank First Nation ratified and adopted the constitution.
This consensus building strengthened the constitution and will improve governance. People are more likely to respect laws and participate in governing structures that they helped to create.
Through this constitution-making process, Westbank has shown that difficult issues can be overcome through consultation and genuine understanding. It has demonstrated that an agreement can be tailored to fit local circumstances and that the rights and interests of everyone involved can be respected.
To better foster relations with non-residents of Westbank lands, the Westbank First Nation will create a mechanism to ensure that non-member residents will have input into laws that will affect them directly.
I want to speak about this very innovative section of the legislation which is not necessarily in other agreements across the country.
Westbank has over 7,000 residents who are not members of the first nation. Its members only number in the hundreds. It is a very unique situation and a wonderful partnership. This provision would give those people, through a mandatory law formation, a say into what goes on in the area. There is an advisory council right now but if the agreement is signed people will have even more say into what is going on in the area. If the bill becomes law it cannot be changed without their consent. It is not that they have any major problems, but this is an exciting mechanism that will allow people who are not first nation members to have a lot more input than they would normally have. However they would not have stayed on their land if they had not been happy with the professional way their taxes were being handled and their land was being managed by the Westbank leaders. The opposition critic has put this very eloquently in an article.
The legislation marks a significant improvement over the Indian Act, which has no such requirement. In short, Westbank will establish and maintain an effective and accountable government within the constitutional framework of Canada.
The government will respect Canadian law and recognize that all members on Westbank land, like Canadians everywhere, are subject to the Criminal Code and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
For the information of those who may not be aware of how these agreements work, the Criminal Code of Canada does apply to everyone throughout Canada. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms has and will continue to apply fully on the reserve with the same sensitivity to first nations that is guaranteed to all Canadians in the Constitution. The same applies with regard to human rights. This is something people wanted and it will continue. There were some concerns about one of the amendments but it was made quite clear that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms will continue to apply fully as it always has.
I am convinced that enacting the self-government agreement will benefit not only members and non-members of the first nation residing on Westbank land but also the people of Canada overall. Strong, self-reliant first nations have much to contribute to Canada economically, socially and culturally.
The people of Westbank are clearly ready to fulfil their obligations. They have been working toward this agreement for more than a decade. They have staged 400 information and consultation sessions. They have secured the support of municipal and regional governments, chambers of commerce, labour unions and a broad range of special interest groups. Enacting the Westbank agreement will certainly have a positive impact outside the province.
Although it is the third self-government agreement in British Columbia and the seventeenth in Canada, it is the first stand alone self-government agreement under Canada's inherent right's policy. This is an important milestone.
This agreement demonstrates that the Government of Canada can work with first nations to arrive at agreements tailored to the specific needs of a community. This agreement was signed on behalf of the people of Canada and the Government of Canada will do its utmost to make sure that the decade's worth of hard work was not done in vain.
I want to talk for a minute about another concern that was raised in committee at report stage, and that was the issue of adding to reserves and municipal involvement in that, although I think it has been clarified in those stages.
Adding land to reserves is an authority of the Government of Canada. It happens from time to time when there are obvious needs. As first nations grow and as their needs change, reserves have to be adjusted to effectively provide the land, the services and the needs for that first nation.
This is an authority of the federal government that is exercised across Canada, and will continue to be exercised with or without this agreement. Therefore, the agreement has no effect on this authority. The concern in that respect is not relevant. It cannot be changed for one particular community. We cannot tell one municipality in that it cannot collect property taxes while all others have that power and we cannot change the criminal law in one community, such as grand theft. It is a law across Canada.
This is a national policy where the federal government adds land to reserves. However, the policy states that the government will consult with first nations, provincial or territorial governments and the affected municipality. In fact there has been an addition to this reserve, but it has taken a long time because of the consultation with the municipality. Municipalities are protected under the policy. If there are any additions to reserves, it is done in a very cooperative and consultative manner.
In urban reserves, which we talked about earlier this month, there are agreements on services and all kinds of cooperative agreements before those things are put into place.
We have been entrusted with the aspirations of this wonderful first nation, and I ask the House for its full support in providing the tools needed to build its community and to build on the vision on the Westbank first nation.
There has been an exciting mood in town this week, starting with the aboriginal summit where some very historic partnerships have been made. We have dealt with aboriginal issues and bills every day this week in the House. There was great cooperation last night among all members of the House. This builds great momentum as everyone here wants to help first nation people move forward.
It is with great pride and excitement today that I introduce Bill C-11 for third reading and enthusiastically ask everyone in the House to support it.