Mr. Speaker, I have the pleasure of taking part in the debate on the old Bill C-19, which is now Bill C-23. I am doing so because I know that, when in the federal Parliament, one must be concerned with the first nations.
This is first and foremost the federal government's responsibility, since, under the Canadian Constitution, it is the trustee of the aboriginal peoples, which, as everyone knows, are not only nations, but the first nations.
When we say that the aboriginal peoples form the first nations, we are referring, of course, to two realities. We are saying that they are among the first occupants of this part of America, and that they form a nation. However, forming a nation means something on both the sociological and the political level.
What it means is that they have cohesion as a group, a desire to live together, the control of a territory, a common history, traditions and symbols, an interpretation of the world that gives them cohesion as a group, which confers great legitimacy to their claims, that is, that we have a different relationship with them.
I believe that is what our aboriginal affairs critic, the likeable member for Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, has said. Everyone knows that his primary virtue is his ability to keep cool under all circumstances. He is a man who is calm and serene, a man who exercises great self-control in his day to day life. His cardinal virtues are, if I may say so, a great inspiration to our caucus.
The member for Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot has, on several occasions, expressed regret that a number of bills have been submitted to members which could have been an opportunity, as the member of Champlain has said, for the federal government to put an end to this guardian mindset, this colonialist philosophy, this philosophy of control, assuming that the federal government knows best what the first nations need, within a context of domination.
There are certain things we as parliamentarians cannot forget. I was a member of this House, as was the member for Champlain, when the Erasmus-Dussault Commission tabled its report in 1999. No, he was still an MP in waiting, Mr. Speaker, and we all know that distance makes the heart grow fonder, do we not? That is a known fact.
When the Erasmus-Dussault commission tabled its report, the minister of the day, the former Minister of Human Resource Development, apologized to the first nations because it had to be acknowledged that there had been a number of public documents between the time of the Laurendeau-Dunton commission and the Erasmus-Dussault proving just how badly the federal level had acquitted itself of its responsibilities to support the development of the first nations.
Regardless of the aspect considered, be it housing, employment, early childhood development, occupational mobility, or any aspect of aboriginal health, if a comparison is made, it is obvious that all indicators point to their being more stigmatized and less prosperous than other groups as far as development is concerned.
This was what lay behind the apology by the then Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development to the first nations. We thought the Erasmus-Dussault report provided the basis for a new partnership, a new dialogue, a basis for a nation-to-nation relationship. This was not the first instance of a government apology, as my friend from Berthier—Montcalm knows. The Prime Minister made an apology to the Japanese-Canadian community, for example.
In the House, we voted on a motion to apologize to the Armenians. We also came very close to voting on a motion deploring the behaviour of the British Crown—for the constitutional reasons we all know—with respect to the Acadians, who were unjustly deported.
As parliamentarians we recognize that we have responsibilities toward particular groups, in this case, the first nations, the aboriginal people. In 1982, when I was in the full flower of youth and energy, I was still in school.