House of Commons Hansard #51 of the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was nation.


Business of the House

11 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

It is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 81(14), to inform the House that the motion to be considered tomorrow during consideration of the business of supply is as follows:

That the House condemn the private for-profit delivery of health care that this government has allowed to grow since 1993.

This motion standing in the name of the hon. member for Churchill is not votable. Copies of the motion are available at the table.

It being 11:07 a.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's Order Paper.

Personal Watercraft ActPrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.


Clifford Lincoln Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

moved that Bill S-8, an act concerning personal watercraft in navigable waters, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, Bill S-8, the personal watercraft act, is essentially the same bill I introduced in the last session of Parliament as Bill S-10.

I feel very privileged to debate this bill in the House of Commons to support the many years of work done by Senator Spivak to resolve a very real ecological and social problem. In the absence of regulatory changes, Senator Spivak has developed this legislation and, through great persistence, twice brought it through the Senate.

The bill would improve the safety of Canadians, protect the fragile environment of our lakes and rivers and, most important, give local communities a choice and a measure of local control over a significant problem on their lakes and rivers. The bill would also reverse one area in which the federal authority is being eroded.

The problem this bill addresses arose some 10 years ago with the use of personal watercraft or PWCs, also known as Jet Skis or Sea-Doos, in areas where they pose an undue threat to safety, to the environment and to everyone's peaceful enjoyment of the waterways. For those not familiar with them, they are small, high-powered, jet-driven machines that people ride like a snowmobile on the water.

In brief, the bill would allow municipalities, cottagers' associations and other bodies to place restrictions on PWCs on designated lakes, rivers or portions of coastal waterways. It would also allow local authorities to ban them entirely where they pose an inordinate hazard to safety, to the environment or to the peaceful enjoyment of any navigable water.

At the heart of the bill are two principles: first, the principle of choice, and second, the principle of local control. The bill would allow owners or renters of personal watercraft to continue to use them in areas where they can be used safely and without undue harm to the environment. It would give local authorities, the people who best know the area, a measure of control to decide where restrictions are needed.

The bill has received a significant amount of support. Some 78 organizations are now behind it: municipal associations, cottagers' associations, canoeists, wildlife groups and others who are calling for a resolution to the problem. Because of lack of time, I will skip the list of the many, many organizations that support this bill. However, I will say that petitions from thousands of people urging Parliament to pass this legislation have been presented in the Senate. The news media also has taken a great interest in this issue, and well over a hundred items have appeared in magazines, in newspapers, on radio and on television.

Not everyone is in favour of this approach. As expected, personal watercraft manufacturers and some boating organizations are not in support. They believe that it is untrained drivers, not their machines, that cause the problems, and they believe that education can solve everything.

This was indeed the approach adopted by a cabinet committee in 1994. In fact, the Canadian Coast Guard had drafted regulations that would have made this particular bill, Bill S-8, redundant. Communities wanted the right to restrict PWCs. The Coast Guard responded with new proposed regulations. With provincial agreement, a lake in Quebec and the waters of Pacific Rim National Park were chosen to set the example other communities could follow.

However, the cabinet committee rejected the option on the erroneous assumption that boating education would solve all the problems. Cabinet told the Coast Guard to go back to the drawing board to devise new safety regulations for all types of pleasure craft in respect of equipment, boating safety, training, and the age of boat and PWC operators. Now, no one under 16 years of age can drive these powerful machines.

This approach was advanced by the personal watercraft manufacturers who, to their credit--and credit must be given where it is due--contributed financially to boating programs. It was also an approach which held that personal watercraft were not unique and that it was somehow discriminatory to allow local communities to restrict them while allowing larger power boats on lakes and rivers.

The response to these claims is threefold.

First, the educational program has not worked. The problems have not gone away. Among them is a stunning rise in PWC related fatalities. Last summer the Royal Life Saving Society documented a 53% increase in PWC related deaths since 1996. At the same time, the deaths linked to all small boats declined by 29%. The fatality rate from PWC use is now almost double the rate for other power boats.

Second, personal watercraft are unique, both in their design and the way in which they are used as a thrill craft.

Third, it is no more discriminatory to regulate the activities of PWCs than it is to regulate the activity of waterskiing or boardsurfing, which are currently allowable through the boating restriction regulations.

What the bill would do is change policy. The government could effect the necessary changes by simple regulatory changes to the boating restriction regulations under the Canada Shipping Act. Bill S-8 mimics what the Coast Guard officials proposed to do in 1994 and what appeared in the Canada Gazette as a proposed regulation. The internal documents supporting that proposal describe it as a “balanced regulatory regime”. The bill attempts to restore that balance.

I have referred to the problems of PWCs repeatedly. I want to briefly outline them. First and foremost are the deaths, injuries and rescue operations that result when these high-powered machines collide with others on the water or with rocks, or they become stranded offshore.

An extensive review of PWCs in the United States found that several years ago they made up 9% of all registered boats but were involved in 26% of all boating accidents and 46% of all boating injuries. Emergency room information collected and analyzed by Health Canada under the Canadian hospitals injury reporting and prevention program also tells us that PWC use results in a disproportional number of injuries. All things being equal, PWCs should account for anywhere from 3% to 5% of the emergency room injuries from watercraft. In fact, they account for more than 20% of them.

Boating safety training will go some way to reducing this toll but it is important to remember that PWCs are primarily thrill craft. People ride them for the fun and the thrill of speed. There will always be thrill seekers whose courage is greater than their skill or judgment.

The pollution from PWCs is of great concern. While many new models are now powered by four stroke engines, the majority of older models are powered by two stroke engines. The U.S. EPA estimates that up to 30% of the fuel in these engines is discharged unburned directly into the water. With fuel consumption rates of up to 10 U.S. gallons per hour, one PWC can discharge 50 to 60 gallons per year based on less than one hour of use per week.

The exhaust emissions also cause air pollution. The emissions from one 100 horsepower PWC driven for just seven hours is equivalent to the emissions from a passenger car driven 160,000 kilometres. Just one hour of PWC use generates as much smog forming pollution as a passenger car generates over one year.

These facts have been recognized by governments in Canada and the U.S. and by the manufacturers of marine engines for PWCs. All have agreed to reduce emissions over time but that is small consolation for people living on shallow lakes or in other areas where pollution is an increasing problem. They have to live with the PWCs that people now own.

The threats to birds that nest on the shore or lake, to marine mammals and to loons has also been well documented. James Martin has a written a report for the year 2001 entitled “Loon and Grebe Study”. I will not have the time to quote from it but it is available on the web and the report documents it very clearly.

Similarly, noise is a well recognized problem. Wildlife or people just 100 feet away from a PWC will be exposed to approximately 75 decibels, which, because of rapid changes in acceleration and direction, may be more disturbing than a constant sound of 90 decibels.

The American Hospital Association recommends hearing protection for occasional sounds above 85 decibels. When they travel in packs, as they often do, the noise from PWCs is multiplied. Here too, PWC manufacturers know that they have a problem and they have begun to put less noisy models on the market. Again, people will have to live with the noise that older models produce.

The status quo is simply not acceptable. Provinces are no longer prepared to sit by and watch PWCs and power boats harm their drinking water, the environment and the safety of others on or near their lakes and rivers.

André Bourgon, Diane Rivard and Nicholas Bourgon of Montreal, Quebec wrote the following:

It has now become necessary for Canada, with the support of the provinces, to start doing something about water. This depletable resource needs to be protected. Not only the quality of our water, but also the peace and quiet of our river banks and lake shores.

In British Columbia, a municipality many years ago banned PWCs from a lake on Vancouver Island. Earlier this year, the resort municipality of Whistler, site of the 2010 Olympics used a noise bylaw to ban PWCs from four lakes. In New Brunswick, in the interests of protecting their watersheds, provincial authorities have banned all motorized watercraft from 30 lakes. Last summer, in the interests of safety, the Quebec government gave municipalities the authority to set near-shore speed limits and it is widely expected to soon ban gas power boats on small lakes.

None of these provincial or municipal actions are in keeping with the constitutional division of powers in which the federal government has sole jurisdiction over navigation; the sole right to set limits on when and where boats can and cannot go. In the absence of federal actions, however, these actions are morally, if not legally, justified.

A better course would be to do what Bill S-8 proposes to do: to respect the federal government's constitutional authority, while acknowledging the need for local choice and control. Bill S-8 would do this by requiring a resolution from a local authority, together with proof of consultation, to come to the federal minister for publication in the Canada Gazette. It would require a public comment period and it would give the minister the right to deny the requested restriction if it would unduly impede navigation.

Local authorities that strongly favour this approach want it because they know that boating safety courses and age restrictions have not been sufficient. They want the choice to restrict personal watercraft where residents agree that they are clearly hazards to safety, to the environment or to the peaceful enjoyment of their lakes.

It is not expected that Bill S-8 will be needed everywhere. In fact, I hope it will not be needed on the majority of our lakes and rivers. Voluntary codes, negotiated settlements and good common sense by PWC users should solve many of the problems. However where “a certain boating activity poses a danger to the public or is harmful to the environment” local authorities should be able to apply for a boating restriction. Bill S-8 would give them the means.

I do hope that members of the House will agree with the importance of the bill and send it to the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development for closer examination. I hope the practical solutions put forward in the legislation will one day become law. We lose nothing by sending it to the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development for debate on the issue. To close our eyes and our ears and pretend there is no problem with PWCs is avoiding the issue altogether.

Bill S-8 offers a very important option. It enables us to debate this very important issue, protect the environment, protect the rights of citizens to quiet enjoyment of their waterways and protect wildlife. I ask all my colleagues to support the bill very strongly.

Personal Watercraft ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Marcel Gagnon Bloc Champlain, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for Lac-Saint-Louis for bringing forward this extremely important matter, especially as summer is fast approaching.

Yesterday, I was on the shores of Shawinigan Bay, where I became aware of the potential of PWCs to cause a disturbance to people living near the water. The only hang-up here is that we do not need a law for this because, as the hon. member for Lac-Saint-Louis has just said, the municipalities already have the power to pass bylaws on this.

So this is my question for him. What is the point of having a bill on something that comes under municipal jurisdiction, and therefore under the general jurisdiction of Quebec and the provinces? It is, of course, a fine subject of discussion to make legislators more aware of the issue, but is there not already such a law in Quebec?

The hon. member referred to cases in British Columbia as examples, to which I could add some in my riding of Mauricie, of municipalities that already have regulations in place for a lake located right in the middle of a municipality.

I would ask the member for Lac-Saint-Louis whether this bill makes any new contribution, or whether it represents nothing more than an intrusion into areas under provincial jurisdiction.

Personal Watercraft ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Clifford Lincoln Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his question. In fact, as I explained, navigable waters in Canada are under federal jurisdiction. That is clear.

We are talking about navigable waters. It is true that many municipalities across the country, including some in Quebec and British Columbia, have already passed municipal bylaws to restrict the use of certain kinds of boats, including personal watercraft. At the same time, many municipalities and provinces do not want to venture into this field. They believe that the federal government is responsible for navigable waters and that, under the Constitution, it is up to the federal government to make such regulations.

In fact, regulations had been discussed and proposed by the Coast Guard a number of years ago, Nevertheless, the proposal was set aside by the government. The government must now assume its responsibilities. Because of its own obligations and its own jurisdiction over navigable waters, it must make regulations that apply everywhere in Canada, thus giving complete authority to provinces and municipalities to legislate. When that is done, such laws and regulations will stand up in the Supreme Court if ever they are challenged.

Thus, the federal government must, at all costs, assume its responsibilities and not hide behind the municipalities to do its work.

Personal Watercraft ActPrivate Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

James Moore Canadian Alliance Port Moody—Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to Bill S-8, an act concerning personal watercraft in navigable waters. Essentially the bill would give local authorities to same kind of ability to restrict the use of seadoos and personal watercraft, jet skis and so on, as they have to restrict water skiing or prevent sea plans from landing.

Bill S-8 would allow local authorities to have the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans make boating restriction regulations under the Canada Shipping Act. To the extent that the Canada Shipping Act only applies in federal waters, Bill S-8 does not trample on provincial powers.

Speaking of the Constitution, most experts describe Ottawa's residual powers therein as POG, peace, order and good government. I am pleased that the peace and order are very much at the heart of Bill S-8.

The amount of noise that personal watercraft produce is such an issue that in February the municipality of Whistler, the site of the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, added personal watercraft to its noise bylaws.

However, another major concern is the safety of other people using the waterway. According to internal Coast Guard information obtained by Senator Spivak, its rescue and environmental response division has found that personal watercraft have a higher rate of collisions than any other small vessel. Similarly a disproportionate number of calls on the department's 1-800 boating safety hotline were about personal watercraft.

However, peace and order do not necessarily imply a ban on personal watercraft. They imply respect within a community and consultation, as well as responsible and courteous use of public waterways. Therefore, while some in this chamber might see an outright ban on watercraft as the true manifestation of peace and order, I would tend to look further.

For me, peace and order involves a community deciding together the best ways to collectively share our lakes and waterways. In a confederation like Canada, true peace and order involves an understanding that different communities will choose different realities.

The concept of community is central to Bill S-8, and expressed in the term of local authority which can include both an incorporated city and a cottage association. In essence, it could best be described as the collective that controls the water for the benefit of all. This is important, because it should be obvious that in any cottage association there are people who like jet skis and there are people who do not. If cottage country is really to have peace and order over summer barbecues, it is essential to make as many people as happy as possible.

It is important to understand that Bill S-8 is not intended to be anything more than a tool in allowing authorities to deal with the increasing use of personal watercraft. In the vast majority of cases, voluntary codes, negotiated settlement and good common sense by personal watercraft users will make the provisions of Bill S-8 unnecessary, in practical terms. At the same time, Bill S-8 gives local authorities the same ability to apply for a boating restriction for personal watercraft as they do for other boats.

It is with this understanding in mind that Bill S-8 would require a local authority to be the catalyst for any change in boating regulations. In fact, as if to reinforce the importance of local authority in being part of the solution that starts the process, Bill S-8 has a purpose clause which reads:

  1. The purpose of this Act is to provide a method for a local authority to propose to the Minister that restrictions be applied respecting the use of personal watercraft on all or a portion of a navigable waterway over which Parliament has jurisdiction, in order to ensure the waterway's safe use and peaceful enjoyment and the protection of the environment.

Even then clause 4 of Bill S-8 would require the local authority to give “general consultation within the community including consultation with local residents and law enforcement agencies” before calling for new regulations. Then the local authority must pass a resolution and forward it to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans.

At this point Bill S-8 gives the minister 60 days to publish the regulations in the Canada Gazette and begin his or her own 90 day consultation period, after which time, unless navigation would be impeded or his or her consultation yields negative results, the regulation will then take effect.

It is interesting to note that Bill S-8 was first born as Bill S-26 on May 9, 2001, exactly three years ago yesterday. It proposes a similar balanced regulatory regime to be published in the June 1994 Canada Gazette as a result of work done by the Canadian Coast Guard.

When she first presented the bill, Senator Spivak told her colleagues:

The bill is supported in principle by all 141 municipalities in British Columbia; by half the rural municipalities in Alberta; by the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities; by the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Municipalities; by the Manitoba Association of Cottage Owners, with its 60 member associations that represent more than 9,000 cottagers in my province; by FAPEL, a Quebec federation of cottage associations; by the Alberta Summer Village Association--

It has been in the Senate as three different bills, Bills S-26, S-10 and more recently S-8, which we are debating today, and has received some 15 days of Senate committee time and has been reported without amendment.

That something so basic with such broad national support could be allowed to languish for so long astounds me and tells me that the federal Liberals are not as good at copying ideas as some in the House may think.

Perhaps the true genius of Bill S-8 is that it gives local authorities true influence over the federal regulations that apply to “a designated waterway whose shoreline is within jurisdiction or area of the local authority”. For example, under Bill S-8, the village of Belcarra in my riding could, after consultations, call for Bedwell Bay to be added to schedule I of the voting restriction regulations “Waters on Which All Vessels Are Prohibited With The Authority of the Minister”. This would ban personal watercraft from Bedwell Bay and subject owners to a $500 fine for the violation of that provision.

Similarly, under Bill S-8, the village of Belcarra could, after consultations, call for Bedwell Bay to be added to schedule II of the voting restriction regulations “Waters on Which Power Drive Vessels or Vessels Driven by Electrical Propulsion Are Prohibited Except With The Authority of the Minister”. This would require personal watercraft operators in Bedwell Bay to comply with the restrictions set out by the village of Belcarra or face a $500 fine.

In a real sense then, Bill S-8 would give, for example, the village of Belcarra and tens of thousands of similar local authorities the ability to influence the federal regulations that apply to their waters. In each case once the local authority has conducted its consultations and submitted a resolution to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, section 5 of Bill S-8 requires the minister, unless navigation will be impeded, to within 60 days draft up new regulations, publish them in the Canada Gazette and then after 90 days of successful consultation begin enforcing the new regulation.

For perhaps the first time, it gives local authorities the ability to tell Ottawa and to tell Ottawa bureaucrats what the local priorities are. The importance of this cannot be understated. The village of Belcarra , the very place I mentioned earlier, is a case in point. If Bill S-8 passed and the village of Belcarra conducted consultations essentially by this time next year, it would have influence over Bedwell Bay.

That would be an amazing step forward. In fact, for the citizens of the village of Belcarra and all the tri-cities, in particular Ralph Drew the mayor of Belcarra, it might well an unbelievable step forward. That is because since 1996, the village of Belcarra has been petitioning the federal government to have Bedwell Bay designated as a “no discharge zone” for the discharge of sewage by pleasure craft.

In 1996 the government of B.C. included Bedwell Bay on a list of roughly 70 sites that it wanted to have designated as no discharge zones via a memorandum of understanding with the federal government. In July 1998 the GVRD board of directors unanimously echoed the Bedwell Bay no discharge zone call and a month later the B.C. Ministry of the Environment Lands and Parks regional office also added its endorsement.

In 2000, as required by the Waste Management Act, the GVRD completed the Vancouver region's liquid waste management plan and called again for Indian Arm to be designated under the pleasure craft sewage pollution prevention regulations as a no discharge zone. The B.C. Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection subsequently endorsed the recommendation in 2002.

If Bill S-8 passes, and I am fortunate to be re-elected in the coming campaign, I will work and introduce my own private member's bill to give the village of Belcarra and other similar areas the same power to declare local waters no discharge zones that Bill S-8 would give them to add local waters to schedules I and II of the boating restriction regulations.

The Conservative Party of Canada believes in sending more power, money, control and influence back to local municipalities. Allowing local governments to decide what regulations to impose on personal watercraft and sewage disposal are only two of the many examples of policy areas where local common sense should always be put ahead of Ottawa bureaucracy.

We have to wonder who is in favour of dumping raw sewage from pleasure craft into Bedwell Bay, but they must be big supporters of the Liberal Party if eight years after petitioning, they still cannot get such a beautiful part of my riding, indeed this country, listed as a no discharge area.

However, the fact that Bedwell Bay is not yet a no discharge zone is probably rooted in the fact that Ottawa bureaucrats are handling the file and they see Bedwell Bay as a benign place or name, a word on a page rather than what it really is. However, for those of us in the tri-cities, we know Bedwell Bay for its full beauty and glory. For the people in my riding, Bedwell Bay and all of Indian Arm are a big part of keeping British Columbia beautiful.

Just so the House understands, the official opposition, the Conservative Party of Canada, strongly supports Bill S-8. We see it as a precedent for the kind of new government Canada needs in respecting local authorities, giving power, money, control and influence back to Canadians, back to municipalities so we can all have the kind of government we want, not the kind of government that is mandated by Ottawa and the bureaucrats here.

Personal Watercraft ActPrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.


Jean-Yves Roy Bloc Matapédia—Matane, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to speak this morning on Bill S-8 which, as my colleague said, is a bill that has been before this House previously.

I have some questions about this bill, and one in particular. Bill S-8 allows municipalities to deal directly with the federal government in order to modify regulations governing the lakes and rivers in Quebec, and the other provinces, while the current procedures allow Quebec's Ministère des Affaires municipales, du Sport et du Loisir to make regulations governing the use of personal watercraft on our lakes and rivers.

That is my first question, because, in fact, the bill charges right into an area of provincial jurisdiction.

Finally, we should ask ourselves a fundamental question, which is perhaps the most important one. If we gave the federal government the responsibility of monitoring the use of personal watercraft on all the lakes of Quebec and Canada, how could the Coast Guard implement these regulations, given its current means? I think the answer is obvious.

It seems impossible to me that, right now, the Coast Guard could be the body or the agency in charge of implementing this legislation alone. Therefore, it would have to delegate its power to local authorities, which would be in a position to monitor the use of personal watercraft. This bill is about personal watercraft, but there are all kinds of other boats and craft.

Today, the popularity of personal watercraft is somewhat reminiscent of that of snowmobiles. When snowmobiles first appeared in the late sixties, if my memory serves me correctly—perhaps I was too young to remember the exact time; I wonder if the hon. member for Champlain could tell us the exact time—there were, of course, no regulations and no way to monitor the use of snowmobiles. This resulted in abuse and accidents. People used to drive snowmobiles on farmland and this had a harmful impact, particularly on the environment. Moreover, a significant number of deaths occurred before governments took action and made attempts to monitor the use of snowmobiles.

But let us get back to personal watercraft. In my opinion, there are not only personal watercraft out there, and this is very important. Nowadays, there are some very powerful boats. Those who live along the St. Lawrence River can see other types of boats that are used by people and that travel at incredible speeds. We should deal not only with personal watercraft, but with all types of boats and craft, particularly on waterways such as the St. Lawrence River or the Great Lakes.

The Bloc Quebecois' position is that there are solutions other than the bill before us to deal with this issue. This bill charges right into a provincial jurisdiction. Consequently, we simply cannot approve such a bill, which, in any case, appears to be totally useless in its present form.

Currently, there is a mechanism whereby municipalities can amend boating regulations. Applications to that effect are submitted to Quebec's department of municipal affairs, sport and recreation, which then transmits them to Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

We think that changing the nature of the mechanism at this time, so that municipalities are dealing directly with the federal government, is an intrusion by the federal government into a provincial jurisdiction, Quebec's in particular.

To achieve the desired objective, that is, to restrict the use of personal watercraft, federal regulations could be changed without bypassing the Government of Quebec. At this time, it would simply be a matter of changing federal regulations. The federal government could then delegate to the Quebec authorities, who could work together with local authorities to resolve what I consider to be specific problems.

We know there are a great many bodies of water in Quebec and this situation does not apply to all of them. Each one has to be treated individually, with the two sets of authorities, those for local matters and those for the body of water, as is the case when it comes to the environment and catchment areas such as for rivers. A local committee manages all the pollution in the catchment areas. Decisions are made by a local committee and are backed by the Government of Quebec. This works very well.

I do not see the point in centralizing Canada-wide a problem that can be resolved by Quebec, by provincial and local authorities. Of course, the federal regulations would have to be adjusted. As I was saying, it is not necessary to have a bill. It is simply a question of adjusting the federal regulations in order to allow Quebec and provincial authorities to take appropriate action.

There is another problem with Bill S-8. To arrive at a solution, all types of watercraft would have to be banned. The current wording of the bill is problematic. Do we want to ban only personal watercraft or all watercraft that might make noise or harm the environment?

This is far from clear in Bill S-8 at the present time. Not only not clear, but also, for a community or a municipality to be able to ban personal watercraft, all motorboats would have to be banned from the waters in question. There cannot be a ban of just one type of watercraft and not other types which may produce an equal amount of noise and pollution and cause as much damage. So there is a legal problem concerning the bill before us here.

For bodies of water where there is no alternative road access, it would strike me as extremely difficult to ban the use of motorboats of any kind. People need to use them to get to cottages with no road access, or to where they want to hunt and fish or engage in some other activity. This is another problem with Bill S-8.

My colleague for Lac-Saint-Louis, having been Quebec's environment minister, may recall that, when we first discussed personal watercraft use, we addressed another problem not covered by Bill S-8: not noise but environmental damage, specifically the spread of invasive exotic species by this type of watercraft. PWCs can be readily moved from one body of water to another.

For example, at this time the zebra mussel costs our economy $7 billion to $13 billion yearly. Watercraft of this type are the main reason for the spread of such invasive species from one body of water to another, and this is a major environmental problem.

We must go further with this. We must see that federal responsibility goes beyond the protection of water to focus more on species protection. That is the approach this bill ought perhaps to have taken.

We are well aware that the use of personal watercraft may seriously disturb the quiet enjoyment of some people along the shores of waterways. In its present form, however, this bill strikes us as impossible to enforce.

Personal Watercraft ActPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.


Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I thank you for the opportunity to join the debate on Bill S-8. I would like to pass on some of the views of the New Democratic Party caucus in regard to the bill.

I would like to start by complimenting and acknowledging the effort of Senator Spivak from Manitoba who has been tireless in her pursuit of this issue, and the member for Lac-Saint-Louis, who has been equally aggressive on the environmental issues that come to the House of Commons. It is a fitting match that Senator Spivak should join forces with the member for Lac-Saint-Louis on the bill.

I was shocked when I heard the speech by the member for Lac-Saint-Louis. Even though I have fairly strong personal views on personal watercraft, I was not aware of some of the negative aspects regarding these machines and the fact that they are dangerous to the well-being of Canadians, but also the degree to which they pollute and the environmental degradation associated with them. It compounds my own personal feelings and views toward personal watercraft to learn some of these statistics.

I was particularly interested, from a personal well-being point of view and given that so many young people and youth are involved in using personal watercraft, in the incidence of accidents. When we look directly at ratio and proportion, personal watercraft are 3% of the sports recreation watercraft out there. We should have approximately 3% of the injuries associated with them. The figure is actually 20%, almost 10 times higher, vastly higher, a disproportionate incidence of injuries associated with these vehicles.

While I was listening to the other speakers I was looking at the Canada Fisheries and Oceans Coast Guard document regarding personal watercraft. It has recognized some of the problems associated with these vehicles and has taken some steps to education Canadians. In fact, a personal pleasure craft operator card is now required for anyone operating these things.

However, any hon. members who have been to the lake recently will know that these things are used, like skateboards on the streets, with reckless abandon to any acceptable guidelines. Most pleasure craft boaters take some pride in the way they conduct themselves on the water. These vehicles are used in a reckless way virtually every time I have ever seen them used. It is not shocking that the incidence of injury is that much higher because they are used recklessly.

The incidence of deaths associated with these are double those of normal power boats. That is not even getting into the issue of the noise pollution and the environmental degradation associated with them.

I come from a building trades background. I am used to power tools and noisy equipment. I even have some hearing loss associated from using power tools and I know that the decibel schedule is not linear. If we go up three points, three decibels from 65 decibels to 68 decibels, it doubles the noise level. When we go a further three decibels higher, it doubles again, it compounds.

When we talk about 75 decibels of noise exposure from a personal watercraft operating 100 feet away, the distance between you and I, Mr. Speaker, or not quite that far perhaps, that is a shocking noise level. It can escalate to 90 decibels when the machine turns or when the wind carries the noise toward the recreation user. So, 90 decibels is far in excess. We should be wearing hearing protection to operate these things.

I suppose some of the reluctance on the part of municipalities to take steps to bar personal watercraft is because of the two stroke engines, as there are an awful lot of outboard motors still in use that have two stroke engines. However, when I heard the statistics, the exhaust from a two stroke personal watercraft with seven hours of use would be equal to the exhaust of a modern car for 160,000 kilometres worth of driving. These things are belching out fumes. Thirty per cent of the fuel is not burnt but is actually discharged into exhaust or even into the water.

I was taken aback by the speech from my colleague from Lac-Saint-Louis. It reinforced my own view about these personal watercrafts. To be fair to my colleagues in the NDP caucus, at least one member of our caucus has expressed the fact that she does not agree with the bill which would enable municipalities to further restrict their usage. She represents the vast region of Churchill which is two-thirds of the Province of Manitoba and home to over 100,000 lakes.

My colleague pointed out that a lot of the people she represents in smaller communities in northern Manitoba do not want their use of these things limited. To be fair to her point of view she represents a large constituency with a number of year-round residents of cottage country, not just urban dwellers who seek sanctuary in those pristine settings. People use personal watercraft in certain parts of the country and my colleague wanted me to point out on her behalf that our caucus is not unanimous in its support of Bill S-8.

If these vehicles cause environmental degradation to the degree that has been cited by colleagues today, then they should be regulated under Environment Canada's regulations. We would have to start doing something about the grossly inefficient old Evinrude's that are out there. I am not criticizing any one product line, but we would have to start doing something about the old two stroke outboard motors which continue to belch smoke all through cottage country.

This is a good day for the environment in these twilight hours of this Parliament that we are seized of this issue that will have a meaningful impact on average Canadians.

I would like to share another piece of good news with my colleagues that just came out this hour. Monsanto has announced that it will no longer produce genetically modified wheat. I know it is a secondary issue to what we are discussing now, but it is a good day for the environment. Monsanto has not waited for any labelling regime to be put in place but has simply stated that it cannot sell this wheat on the market if it has been genetically modified. This is a good day for the environment and for those of us who follow these issues.

I support Bill S-8 and look forward to its speedy passage. I support the efforts of Senator Spivak who has tirelessly pursued this issue for many years. This legislation does not tie anyone's hands. It is not a heavy intervention by the state. It simply enables municipalities to test the waters, excuse the pun, in their own communities and seeks input from cottage dwellers as to whether or not they would like to limit the use of these watercraft in their area.

Personal Watercraft ActPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Scarborough—Agincourt Ontario


Jim Karygiannis LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, I will begin by saying that the government welcomes this debate because we are convinced that boating safety is exponentially improved by open dialogue and education. We want to commend Senator Spivak and the hon. member for Lac-Saint-Louis for their longstanding commitment to the environment and, in this particular instance, boating safety.

While the department shares many of the same concerns that resulted in the proposal we have before us, I regret that I cannot support giving second reading approval in principle to the bill, because it is clearly unnecessary. It duplicates existing measures and does not provide for fundamental democratic rights of Canadians for a fair and open consultative process.

Let me first provide some background on the current legislation and policy before getting into a more detailed examination of the proposed bill.

It is the Canada Shipping Act that provides the legislative basis to restrict boating for reasons of public safety, protection of the marine environment, and public convenience. Under this authority, the government has enacted the boating restriction regulations. These regulations provide a mechanism to restrict or even prohibit the operation of all powered vessels, including personal watercraft, on Canadian waters.

The regulations contain a number of schedules that set out the restrictions or prohibitions that apply to vessels; that is, all vessels, not just certain types of vessels, may be prohibited using these regulations.

Bill S-8 would duplicate boating restrictions that are applied to all motorized vessels of the same type or engine size. What is at issue, and where the government and the Bill S-8 sponsors part company, is that current regulations apply to all vessels and do not discriminate against a specific type of vessel, such as personal watercraft.

A number of other useful measures can be established under the boating restriction regulations.

Under these regulations, shoreline speed limits have been made for all waters from the Ottawa River to the Pacific Ocean. Permits can be issued for events that may occur on a waterway where a restriction is in place. A maximum horsepower for vessels operated by those who are under 16 years of age has been set, as has the minimum age required to operate a vessel, including a personal watercraft. Under these regulations, only persons 16 years of age and over may operate a personal watercraft.

In addition, the regulations for competency of operators of pleasure craft now require that operators of personal watercraft, known as PWCs, have a pleasure craft operator card. The schedules that implement these provisions are amended regularly to add and, in some rare cases, to withdraw a restriction from a particular schedule following a request, which usually comes from local authorities.

The existing process includes the provinces, which are partners in the enforcement of those boating regulations and are an important part of the regulatory process. I mention this important provision as Bill S-8 could completely bypass the municipalities and provinces. This is a very real concern to us as well as municipalities and provinces.

I will give a few examples of what the bill would allow. It proposes a regime whereby a small group of people could dictate that a ban be imposed on the use of personal watercraft without requiring that the rest of the population of the lake or river be allowed to exercise their democratic rights to be consulted. The minister would be bound under clauses 5, 6 and 7 of the bill to take specific action to implement this proposal in a very short timeframe, notwithstanding any concerns he or she may have about lack of consultation. The minister could refuse the demand only if safety concerns could be proven or if navigation would be unduly restricted.

At this point, I think it might be helpful to lay out what the government sees as Bill S-8's duplicative measures. Let us start with some similarities first. Bill S-8 provides for: a similar power to make regulations; a similar scheme of schedules annexed to regulations; a shortened process for requesting a restriction or prohibition; and a provision with regard to local consultation.

In terms of differences, the proposed measures in the proposed legislation would result in the following: restrictions or prohibitions that would apply only to personal watercraft; the power to make regulations would be given to the minister and not to cabinet; provincial and municipal governments would be bypassed; and administrative constraints and deadlines would be imposed on the minister which could in some cases mean that he or she could not comply with the Government of Canada's regulatory policy.

I should note here that this regulatory policy has evolved to ensure that a thorough consultation process has been undertaken because of the importance of consultation in protecting the democratic rights of Canadians. The government has established clear requirements for an adequate and fair consultation process, which it may not be possible to respect under this proposed legislation.

We do not believe that the Canadian boating public would be well served by Bill S-8 as it essentially would result in two sets of boating restriction regulations: one would be for personal watercraft and the other for all vessels.

Here is one of the ways in which we can help spread the word to bring about the changes in the operation of personal watercraft that we believe would make this bill unnecessary. In our lobbies here today we have copies of several publications, and the Office of Boating Safety would be happy to supply more so that we can take copies to our constituents to help our constituents understand the obligations that already exist for these vessels.

I am going to refer first to some information in a small pamphlet that is entitled, “Do You Have What It Takes to Have Fun Boating?” Also, do members know that, under the Contraventions Act, enforcement agencies in many provinces can now give tickets to offenders on the spot? Tickets can be issued for offences such as not having required safety equipment on board or violating speed limits, both of which apply equally to personal watercraft. The Provinces of New Brunswick, Prince Edward, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Quebec and Manitoba already have these mechanisms in place.

Charges can be laid for the very things that I believe the sponsors of this bill are most concerned about. Under section 43 of the small vessels regulations, operators of all pleasure craft, including PWCs, can be charged if they are operating a craft in such a way that could affect the safety of people or property and for operating the vessel in a careless manner and without consideration for other people. As I mentioned earlier, under the boating restriction regulations, from Ontario to British Columbia there are already shoreline speed limits within 30 metres from shore.

Although I have indicated that Bill S-8 would be a departure from current departmental policy and practice, I would like to add that Transport Canada always gives consideration to any application for a boating restriction that is brought to it.

Regional offices of boating safety are spread across the country. Recently there has been additional training for staff, so they are well trained to respond to any questions or concerns that people on lakes and rivers might have. The Office of Boating Safety has its own website; people can find the regional contacts or they can contact Transport Canada. The regional staff can even act as useful mediators between the opposing parties if PWCs or other watercraft are becoming a nuisance in a particular location.

For instance, in the Pacific region, the boating safety staff was the first to take up an active promotion and mediation role in responding to local requests. There has been a 90% reduction in requests for the formal regulatory assistance process because of the effectiveness of mediation and education.

There is another excellent product that should be looked at, which gives some useful examples of signage that can be displayed at municipal boat ramps, for instance, and in other prominent places where boaters congregate. This will educate boaters and their shore-bound neighbours of the responsibilities and rights of those on the water and on the shore.

It makes it clear that small vessel regulations prohibit the careless operation of a vessel. This means that no person shall operate a small vessel in a careless manner without due care and attention or without reasonable consideration for other persons. Unfortunately, many municipalities and communities are unaware of this regulation and how it can help them deal right away with problematic behaviour. There is even a sample of a sign that can be posted around waterways and marinas. It starts off with “Warning: Careless Operation”, and it goes on to say that an offence is “subject to a fine or a court appearance or both”.

I think there are now prohibitions that local authorities can use when they are trying to battle unacceptable behaviour on their lakes or waterways. Therefore, in closing, I reiterate that I cannot support giving second reading approval in principle to this bill because it is clearly unnecessary.

Personal Watercraft ActPrivate Members' Business



Marcel Gagnon Bloc Champlain, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by congratulating the hon. member for Lac-Saint-Louis. I had the opportunity to work with him in the Quebec National Assembly where he was minister of the environment. I know that he will end his political career some day. I can say, from my acquaintance with him, that in every position he held, he has managed to advance the cause of the environment. That is much to his credit, but there still is a great deal of work to be done.

I live near the St. Lawrence River between Trois-Rivières and Quebec City. My colleague mentioned that the Coast Guard was sufficient to enforce a law or regulation like this, and that is true. It made me think, as someone who lives near the river, that we see some horrible things happening.

We are destroying the banks of the St. Lawrence. It is not only because of pleasure boating; it is the result of all kinds of shipping. The shipping lines do not respect the banks of the St. Lawrence and our environment will soon be destroyed if nothing is done. That is also a direct responsibility of the federal government.

Considering the value of our environment and considering that the river is the lifeline of Quebec, I think the federal government ought to permit more surveillance on the river. There are boats that go by our house, pleasure craft among them. It was said that the noise of these motors is around 90 decibels. Still, I can tell the House, even though I have never measured it, that there are boats going by so fast on the river that the noise they make is enormous, and they can be heard a dozen kilometres away as they come toward Champlain. It is the same on the other side of the river.

I believe the federal government must urgently pass measures to protect the St. Lawrence River, not only against personal watercraft but against all those who damage it.

Personal Watercraft ActPrivate Members' Business

12:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the Order Paper.

The House resumed from May 7 consideration of the motion that Bill C-23, an act to provide for real property taxation powers of first nations, to create a First Nations Tax Commission, First Nations Financial Management Board, First Nations Finance Authority and First Nations Statistical Institute and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, be read the third time and passed, and of the amendment.

First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management ActGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.


Rick Laliberte Liberal Churchill River, SK

Mr. Speaker,

It is an honour to speak again on behalf of the many first nations and the aboriginal people who have created this beautiful country that we call Canada through a treaty relationship. This bill would impact on their lives, the development of their communities, the assessment of their lands and the risk management that would take place within the borrowing limitations that are being afforded through the new fiscal relationship in Bill C-23.

I have studied the bill extensively to figure out where it is coming from and why. In large part, the government's explanation is that this is for socio-economic development of the first nations' members on the band list who come under the Indian Act definition of who is an Indian and first nation member. I tried to get to the bottom line of what the department was thinking.

I went through a document from the estimates of Indians affairs from 2003. It says that without a new fiscal model, increasing budgetary needs by first nations may erode public support, including public support for self-government.

That one little sentence says a lot. It means that Indian affairs understands that the first nations of this country are an exploding population. In recent history our young people in these communities on reserves and off reserves have never grown to this number before.

We have communities of about 5,000, 6,000, 10,000 or 15,000 people living on a reserve. Pressure builds on the band councils to develop and finance the housing needs and the social and economic needs of these communities.

That sentence means that Indian affairs recognizes that there will be increased budgetary needs. However, Indian affairs and our government seem to be more concerned about public political opinion on this greater need. The government is trying to give a new fiscal relationship to the band councils to alleviate this budgetary pressure that is building.

There is more need for housing, water and sewer. More health clinics, schools and more classrooms are required. The population is growing. The population in Canada is growing and it is growing not only on first nations reserves but off the reserves as well.

I want to raise another concern I have with Bill C-23 and put it on the record. My concern comes from the royal commission. Within the past 10 years the United Nations designated this an international decade to deal with the issues of indigenous people. Within those 10 years, Canada instituted the royal commission on aboriginal peoples, which made the following recommendation concerning section 35 of the Constitution Act, “the Canadian Constitution in section 35 identifies the first nations, the Indians, the Métis and the Inuit. Section 35 provides the basis for an aboriginal order of government that co-exists with the framework of Canada, along with federal and provincial orders of government”.

We have the federal and provincial orders of government. The Constitution gives Parliament all the powers. Through the evolution of this country, the federal government has given its powers to create provincial governments. In turn, the provincial governments turn around and give its powers to the municipal governments.

In our history, Parliament created an Indian Act which identified 630 to 650 band councils across the country. Bill C-23 would give the first nations, as defined under this bill, the band councils the same powers as a municipal government. They would have borrowing powers and the power to tax real property, assess land and assess buildings, so they can be used for taxation and local revenue making.

However the royal commission recommended that the Government of Canada recognize an aboriginal order of government equal within the framework of Canada and within the realm of federal and provincial governments.

I bring back to the House a history of this country. There was an intention of a treaty called a two-row wampum. A two-row wampum treaty signified that the newcomers, which was the British parliamentary system, the British North American Act, Britain, France, all the Europeans who were looking for colonies, the Spanish, Portuguese and the Dutch, who were a big part of the agreement, would have their own vessel for their laws, their languages and their religion. In these treaties the original peoples and their nations would have their governments, their languages, their religions, and that the two vessels would journey together in this river of life.

That statement from the royal commission challenged Canada to recognize an aboriginal order of government. I offer to the House today that the aboriginal orders of government be recognized first as nations, as tribes and as communities, what the Indian Act defines as bands, those camps and communities that engage with treaty, the Indian Act does not recognize the nations and tribes.

For the record of the House, I will read the official names of the nations and tribes of this country, which I have researched, and maybe people will recognize these names. They are: the Beothuk, the Mi'kmaw, the Maliseet, the Naskapi, the Montagnais, the Innu, the Huron, the Petun, the Neutral, the Algonquin, the Odawa, the Cayuga, the Tuscarora, the Seneca, the Onondaga, the Oneida, the Mohawk, the Ojibwa, the Plains Cree, the Woodland Cree, the Swampy Cree, the Assiniboine, the Saulteaux, the Blackfoot, the Dene, the Gwich'in, the Tahltan, the Hare, the Sarcee, the Tlicho, the Slavey, the Carrier, the Chippewyan, the Tutchone, the Beaver, the Sioux, the Dakota, the Nakota, the Lakota, the Kutenai, the Okanagan, the Shuswap, the Comox, the Lillooet, the Nuu-chah-nulth, the Kwakiutl, the Nuxalk, the Heiltsuk, the Haisla, the Wakashan, the Haida, the Tsimshian, the Nisga'a, the Salish, the Sechelt, the Squamish, the Halkomelem and the Tlingit.

Canada will be making a grave mistake if it does not organize, recognize and respect these nations. I have studied the treaty creation of this country through the books and the history of the people.

I have studied how that relationship of the co-existence that symbolized and was reflected in treaty. The Crown made an obligation called a fiduciary responsibility. It was not only a fiscal relationship. The fiduciary responsibility was that the Crown would respect the original sovereignty of the nations. I do not think we should go head strong into creating a municipal type of borrowing and fiscal relationship with the band councils, which fall under the Indian Act under the Indian agent, acting like a warden.

The Indians have been treated like wards of the state, which is how they entered into residential schools. How could the government take five year old children away from their families and place them in institutions to teach them French and English, and Roman Catholic and Protestant religions? These children were forced out of their communities by a government that considered them to be wards of the state.

Now is the time to give aboriginals proper respect and allow them to play a significant role in the governance of this country. The royal commission also challenged the country to reconstruct the structure of the governance of Canada, not only the self-government structures of a band council, of a Métis community or an Inuit village, it challenged us to restructure the very parliamentary structure of our country. Part of that is the recommendation that an aboriginal order of government be recognized.

I have recommended through many of my speeches in the House that we look at a third House of Parliament. The House of Commons is a House. The Senate is a House. They are of the British parliamentary system where two sides argue in order to correct human nature. There is the opposition and government. There is no symbol of unity here. It is all square. It is designed because the king in England could not convene the commoners except in a cathedral, which was square. That is why this is a square room. However there is one building on Parliament Hill, called the parliamentary library, that resembles a teepee. A very sacred symbol of the medicine wheel is imbedded on the floor plan of the building. It is being renovated now and will be ready in 2006.

This is a challenge for all my brothers and sisters of all the nations and tribes of Canada to organize themselves as a council to help guide this country. There is no greater time and no greater threat to our aboriginal nations than now.

This bill has an opt-in clause which is the only significant measure that allows the government to say that this is a safe bill for first nations to consider right now. It is not. There was another opt-in clause that was thrown in for political purpose in the House. It dealt with members' pensions. There were certain people in certain parties in the House who took exception to the pension plan. The government used a political ploy and made the pension an opt-in program. Certain members hung on without a pension for many years but they finally gave in. If we were to check the records of the House, a majority of the members are now under the pension plan that certain people had opposed.

This is the same political strategy that is being used in this bill. Band councils can choose not to enter into this but in 10 years or 15 years, or whatever time it takes, eventually all band councils will be squeezed to find a financial institution to borrow money from for their clinic. If they want more classrooms because of the growing population of children, they will be pointed to the fiscal relationship to borrow money to build the school.

On the issue of water and sewer, the quality of their water might diminish to a point where they will be forced, because of medical and critical reasons for the mere survival of a community, to borrow money to upgrade their water and sewer systems.

This is a dangerous precedent without the proper recognition of the original tribes and nations. That is where the security blanket of our people will be taken care of and secured. There are sacred responsibilities within the nations. Our language is an example.

I speak Cree fluently, thanks to the aboriginal nations, my ancestors, who held that language as a God given gift. The creator give us the gift of language. I carry it today in a proud and noble way. There is knowledge and wisdom locked in that language as well. It is the responsibility of a nation to take care of that language. It is not a band council. A community cannot uphold one responsibility for one language. A whole nation is required to carry the language responsibility.

There are also sacred responsibilities for land, for traditional knowledge and for intellectual property rights of medicines. Pharmaceutical companies are rampant in finding medicines from different plants, beans and minerals in this land. Some of those medicines were taken care of within the knowledge of nationhood, within the knowledge of these tribes. There is a great responsibility there.

The intention of the fiscal and statistical management bill is great and it is appreciated, but it is in the wrong sequence. Organize the proper aboriginal governments of the nations first, the nations, the tribes and band councils. There are three orders of government. We have a federal, provincial and municipal order within our parliamentary system. There are three orders as well in the aboriginal order of government: nation, tribes and band councils. The Government of Canada is making a grave mistake by only recognizing the band councils. In the bill the first nation definition is a band council identified under the Indian Act.

Study the English language dictionary. First means original, number one, the ones who were here first. Nation means nation. Nation does not mean band council. The original nations of Canada are the nations that I read off. There are 50 up to 60 nations. If we look at the documents of the government and the department, they look at the Assembly of First Nations as a lobby group that represents the chiefs and band councils of the country.

It is time, my brothers and sisters, that we gather as nations and tribes, and respect each other. Let us gather ourselves in a circle and help guide the country. Otherwise the country will lose its way. Canada is such a beautiful country.

We cannot carry our responsibilities, as the clan mothers, who are sitting here in the chamber today, have. In their history there was a gift of peace. The creator gave a gift of peace to the original people of this land. We will be making a great mistake if we do not nurture that peace in a respectful and responsible way.

I would like to introduce the following amendment: That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word “that” and substituting the following:Bill C-23, an act to provide for real property taxation for first nations to create a first nations tax commission, first nations management board, first nations finance authority and first nations statistical institute and to make consequential amendments to other acts related, be not now read a third time but be referred back to the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs, Northern Development and Natural Resources for the purpose of reconsidering the bill to ensure that full consultation with the first nations leaders and their communities on the benefits and impacts of this new fiscal relationship.

First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

The hon. member's amendment is not receivable as the House is debating an amendment. I would suggest, if he approaches the table, there may be another means to accomplish what he wants to do.

First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Yukon Yukon


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

Mr. Speaker, I know the member has certain concerns about the bill. Because of the time limit on speeches, I want to ensure he has a chance to get them out on the table. There may be more comments on some of the clauses in the bill.

First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.


Rick Laliberte Liberal Churchill River, SK

Mr. Speaker, in large part, the other reason I recommended that this be considered for consultation was that last year, Bill C-6, Bill C-19 and Bill C-7 were considered as a suite of bills in the standing committee that went through public consultation. However, the focus of that consultation was Bill C-7, the governance bill. Bill C-19, now Bill C-23 moved in the shadow of the consultation of Bill C-7. A lot of the consultation took place in Parliament.

Bill C-19 was not taken to community consultation. In the Bill C-7 hearings, some people wanted to talk about Bill C-23, or Bill C-19 as it was, but were not allowed to because the mandate of the standing committee in the community hearings was limited to Bill C-7 only. If we are so proud of this bill and it stands the test of community consultation and first nations leadership consideration, it is time to take it to the communities. Let us make sure that everybody thoroughly understands that this search of fiscal relationship deals with a domestic market. There is an opportunity for borrowing members, and there is a definition of borrowing members among the first nations band councils.

There are also definitions of taxpayers. I find them very amusing because there are different categories of taxpayers. There are commercial taxpayers, residential taxpayers and utility taxpayers. I do not know of any other act, federally or provincially, where these different definitions and categories of taxpayers exist.

There is also an issue of a different type of first nation, a first nation member. First nations members are the Indians of Canada, as defined in the Indian Act. However, there is this other category of first nation member and that is a member who agrees with taxation of land. A first nation member who agrees with taxation can sit on the tax commission and on the fiscal institution.

It defines different types of first nations as well. If we are going to define different types of first nations and different types of taxpayers, why can we not define the different nations and tribes of Canada and allow these first nations, as orders of government, to be part of the security of a first nation? Lets say a first nation member wants to borrow money, say a Cree community in northern Saskatchewan in my riding. However, because of fiscal relationships, member does not pay taxes and cannot pay the debt. Why can the Cree nation, or the Prairie Cree or the Woodland Cree not come in and help the member, instead of the third party management or the co-management provisions in the bill?

That co-management and third party management is delegated to the different institutions: the financial management board, the tax commission, and the finance authority. These authorities will be created because of the risk management when dealing with market realities of borrowing money. Why can we not recognize the nations, the tribal councils that have been created across the country, in the bill as having a significant role in this new fiscal relationship?

Also, I cannot miss the opportunity to say that this is a bold vision by our Prime Minister, who wants to have a relationship with the first nations of this land. Allow that relationship to exist first before we define these in stone, in legislation. Once a first nation opts in, it will be difficult to opt out of the fiscal institution. It will be hard for first nations to redefine themselves as a non-borrowing member because the consensus of the borrowing members will be required before they do that.

There are many strong measures that need to be carefully looked at. Proper consultation and understanding by the first nations and their leaders needs to take place. The government should recognize true aboriginal governance first as nations and tribes. Then this legislation will provide them with security for the future. It is the wrong sequence of events.

First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.


Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, the people of the Nishnawbe-Aski Nation of the treaty nine district of northern Ontario have sent me a question via the magic of e-mail.

They point out that in 2002 when Bill C-19 was first introduced by the then minister of Indian affairs, the member for Kenora--Rainy River, the right hon. member for Calgary Centre asked how the minister could be tabling the legislation when the four institutions were already up and running. They had offices, staff, salaried officers, boards of directors, and CEOs. The enabling legislation had just been introduced and was being debated but the institutions had been up and running for two years, if not longer. Where did the minister get the spending authority to hire those people and create the four institutions without the enabling legislation having been passed?

Does the member believe that this is the reason for the urgency of ramming the bill through even though no one in Indian country wants it?

First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.


Rick Laliberte Liberal Churchill River, SK

Mr. Speaker, unfortunately I cannot answer the question about where the financial obligations are. Maybe it is in the estimates. Perhaps people in the department could answer that question.

The member is right. There is an existing commission. Advisory boards have been created over the years. The preamble of the legislation recognizes that these boards have already been created.

In 1995 the First Nations Finance Authority was created. In 1999 the first nations and the government recognized the benefits of establishing statutory institutes and the fiscal statistical management system. The Indian Taxation Advisory Board was created in 1988.

There is a grandfathering clause in Bill C-23 as well. The existing organizations and institutes will retain their commissioners, boards of directors and employees until the renewal process takes place.

With regard to the opt-in situation, the bill provides for a seven year review. After royal assent and after consultation, not with first nations members or leaders, but after consultation with the tax commission, the management board, the finance authority, and the statistical institute, the minister will make amendments, including any changes the minister recommends relating to the evolution of this mandate and the operation of the institutions.

That is why Bill C-23 should be sent back to committee. Amendments should be made so that after seven years, the minister, when making changes, should not only consult with the financial institutions created by the bill but also with first nations and first nations leaders.

I would ask the government, under the fiduciary responsibility of the Crown, to please respect the tribes and first nations under royal proclamation that have been identified. There are nations in this country that need that respect.

First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.


Clifford Lincoln Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Mr. Speaker, the least we can say about the bill is that from its very inception it has been subject to constant controversy as well as a consistent and profound opposition by the majority of first nations. This is why I strongly endorse the substance of the motion proposed by my colleague from Churchill River to refer Bill C-23 back to committee for re-examination and new hearings. I realize that you have ruled, Mr. Speaker, that the motion as it is framed is not receivable. You have also opened the way for some other procedure to be adopted that would come to the same result, in other words, to refer the bill to committee for new hearings and consultation.

It is clear to me that the systematic opposition that the bill has faced on the part of a large majority of first nations has been compounded by what first nations rightfully contend as inadequate consultation.

I listened to the debate on the bill. I am happy to recognize the broadmindedness of my colleague from the Yukon who backed the bill, naturally as he is the parliamentary secretary. At the same time he expressed a degree of fairness and openness and is ready to listen to arguments on both sides. This is why my colleague from Churchill River and I are speaking from a different viewpoint.

Perhaps we could find it in ourselves to express this feeling of openness and conciliation, that we should listen and hear the voices in opposition that have been expressed on the bill and send it back to the committee for review and re-examination. Nothing would be lost in doing what is proper, right and fair.

The Supreme Court of Canada in such leading cases as Sparrow and Delgamuukw has been clear that the first nations are entitled to full and reasonable consultation when there is a proposed measure likely to affect their rights. Certainly this measure is there to affect their rights. In special cases first nations' consent may be required and if the consultation record is insufficient, the legislative measure may be deemed invalid. This is what the Assembly of First Nations in several resolutions and many first nations acting on their own have contended right from the start.

I am convinced that if the bill is passed into law, it will surely be challenged in the courts. There is a strong likelihood that the statute would be held unconstitutional because of the failure to follow the consultation standard laid down by the Supreme Court of Canada in numerous landmark decisions.

Recent initiatives by the Prime Minister and our government have given fresh hope that a new climate of mutual trust and understanding may be pointing itself on the horizon as between government and our first nations.

Sadly, Bill C-23 conflicts with this new spirit of hope and of a true dialogue and understanding with our first nations. It stands out as an important irritant in a context of what was just yesterday and the day before renewed hope by our first nations spirited by the recent, and I would say courageous, statements and initiatives by our Prime Minister.

When the bill was briefly before the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs, Northern Development and Natural Resources in 2003, the committee heard from Mr. Fred Lazar, an economist with the Schulich School of Business at York University in Toronto. Dr. Lazar said that he was “adamantly opposed to Bill C-19”, which is now Bill C-23. He said:

So we have taxation, devolution, and control, which is the essence of this proposed bill, all wrapped up in the federal government's limited and historically and legally incorrect view of aboriginal self-government.

Dr. Lazar pointed out that if first nations received their fair share of revenues from resources, the situation would greatly improve.

For several years I have been acting as a volunteer, as a friend, and for two years as a special representative of an Algonquin band not far from here. In 1991, 13 years ago, the band signed a trilateral agreement with the federal government and the Quebec government about the integrated management of the resources on the band's land.

The trilateral agreement happened because suddenly, one day, forestry companies, acting on a management mandate from the Quebec government, started to cut trees on a vast scale on the band's land, which its people have occupied for thousands of years. They rebelled. They blocked the roads and forced the advent of the trilateral agreement, expressing the view that under the Brundtland report, sustainable development was endorsed by all our governments.

The trilateral agreement is viewed by the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, by the United Nations itself, as a landmark agreement of its kind. It has been 13 years since its inception and we are still arguing whether or not resources should be shared. We are still arguing about where this first nation will find the resources through grants and subsidies to repair its schools, to build adequate housing, which it badly needs, to find revenues with respect, without having to beg from any governments to have what we take for granted in our lives: that every person has a right to a decent living, to quality of life, to education and to proper health care.

Where do they find these resources? If they are on their own territories, they are not allowed a share of these resources, which they own and which treaties recognize as their own. This is really what the bill is about.

Dr. Lazar rightly said:

The first nations view of the verbal commitments made by both sides was that the lands were to be shared so that both groups could live and prosper together.

This implies at a minimum that the first nations should have received at least half of the revenues and wealth generated by the land and the resources on or below the land. They have not even asked for 50%; they have asked for a share. In the case of the people I know well, the Algonquins of Barriere Lake, they would be satisfied with any share of the revenues on their land. They would be satisfied with control of some of their resources so that people would not abuse them, both ecologically and in regard to their long term sustainability.

Dr. Lazar asked whether the bill would provide first nations with the access to capital markets that is available to other governments.

The federal government sees securitization of tax and other long term revenues as a means for the first nations to build up their infrastructure on reserves. Undoubtedly, there is a need for significant investments to upgrade the infrastructure on reserves, but the onus remains on the federal government to fully underwrite these costs. What we ask is not for the federal government to give grants forever, but to give to the people a share of their own resources which belong to them by treaty.

The proposed bill highlights the potential for control over almost all financial affairs on reserves. It appears to be the Trojan horse, enabling the eventual takeover of all spending decisions on reserves by the independent institutions to be created by the bill.

I would like to quote one of the chiefs. Chief Stewart Phillip is president of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs. He told the committee that 60 first nations who belong to that organization are opposed to the bill. He is the chief of the Penticton Indian Band which is a member community of the Okanagan nation.

The Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs is the oldest political organization in B.C. Chief Phillip told the committee that Bill C-23 fails to meet the conditions set out in various AFN resolutions--and which have been successively carried out--saying the bill is flawed. I have a set of these resolutions passed over a whole year, time after time in Ottawa, in B.C., and in various parts of the country, repeating again and again that the bill is flawed, that it has not been subjected to adequate consultation and that it should be re-examined or it should fail.

Indeed, a special AFN assembly was convened in Ottawa in November of 2002, two years ago now, for the chiefs in the assembly to make a decision on the first nations financial and statistical management act. It rejected Bill C-23 in its entirety. I will again quote Chief Phillip, who said:

As for the contents of Bill C-19, it is our submission that legislation, especially national legislation, is not necessary for these four institutions to function.

The Indian Taxation Advisory Board and the other boards are already in existence and operating, as far as we know.

I strongly believe that Chief Phillip and his organization express the views of a substantial majority of first nations and that his recommendation is reflected in the very justified motion of my colleague from Churchill River. I hope that somehow I will find a way to implement the substance of his motion.

Let me now review certain of the modifications of the bills which proponents tout as justifying support for it. The new schedule of the bill conveys the impression that three of the institutions in the bill, all but the statistical institute in part 5, are optional and therefore do not prejudice the first nations that choose not to join.

In addition to the deceptive information that the bill has the support of first nations, the so-called opting in feature is touted as another important measure favouring the bill. The implicit message is that even if most first nations do not like it, they should not interfere with the opportunities of those who choose to opt in.

This is clearly misleading.

First, the so-called opting in provision introduced by the schedule amendment does not apply in the case of the statistical institute under part 5. This part is imposed on all first nations or bands in Canada whether or not they are added to the schedule. This is clearly unfair to the overwhelming majority of first nations who oppose the bill. It should be noted that under clause 105 of the bill the federally appointed institute can indefinitely collect and use the most sensitive data about all bands in Canada without their consent.

What about the other three institutions: the tax commission, the management board, and the financial authority? Again the alleged opting in regarding these three institutions is very misleading. In fact, these statutory national bodies will affect the rights and interests of all first nations in Canada whether or not they are added to the schedule. Indeed, these important national institutions will be controlled for the long term, and in fact forever, by a small number of first nations strongly in support of Bill C-23 and aligned with the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development.

The tax commission, which is a federally appointed body, will become the overseer of all future on reserve property taxation bylaws or laws. If the bill is passed, all first nations in Canada that want to develop on reserve property taxation laws and systems will have to seek the approval of this federally appointed commission. All such first nations will have to submit their annual property tax budgets to the commission for approval under clause 9. Surely this affects the rights and interests of all first nations, which belies the argument about the opting in feature.

Clause 13.1, an amendment to Bill C-23 tabled by the minister, may seem to suggest that current property tax provisions in the Indian Act--namely, sections 83 and 84--will continue to be available to communities that do not enlist in the tax commission. However, I question whether, if Bill C-23 is passed into law, two parallel systems will be maintained into the long term.

It is very improbable to think that communities will be permitted to operate for any length of time under the Indian Act regime whilst a new tax commission operates the new, chosen instrument adopted by the federal government.

Perhaps the provision which most significantly disturbs those first nations that oppose Bill C-23 is that of the management board. According to clause 8 of the bill, communities that do not join Bill C-23 are not permitted to pass bylaws or laws dealing with the critical area of financial administration.

Thus, non-opting in communities are restricted to the narrow list of bylaw topics under section 81(1) of the Indian Act, which list does not include financial administration, the very core of local government. In other words, first nations that do not opt in effectively forfeit a key area of local jurisdiction: financial administration.

I referred earlier to the constitutional aspects of the bill which are likely to lead to legal challenges. No doubt the most fundamental problem in this connection is its conflict with the inherent right of first nations to self-government as protected by section 35 of the Constitution Act of 1982. Surely the powers granted to the tax commission and to the management board under Bill C-23 are a direct interference with an inherent right of self-government protected by the Constitution and cherished by all first nations as a centrepiece of their fundamental rights as our first citizens.

Supporters of the bill will argue that the recent introduction of a non-derogation clause relating to section 35 of the Constitution Act of 1982 will fully protect all constitutional rights of first nations. However, there still remains the serious risk that the bill might still infringe the fiduciary duty of Canada to appropriately consult under section 35, which the majority of first nations contends has not taken place, as well as the protection against discrimination under section 15 of the charter, and, most important, the inherent right of self-government of all first nations protected under the Constitution.

I consider that the motion by my colleague from Churchill River--or a substitute for it that he is now negotiating with the Table--is fair and makes eminent sense in the circumstances. It seeks to replace controversy and consistent opposition with consultation, fairness and conciliation. I would like to support its substance most convincingly.

In the time that I am allowed I would like to appeal to all sides of the House for fairness and for conciliation. Surely all these first nations that oppose Bill C-23--and there are hundreds of them reflected in those resolutions that I have read, a great majority of them--represent a voice that cannot be ignored. Surely they have a right to express their position, and surely also they must feel in their heart that something is wrong with the bill.

Who are we here to decide for them as to measures that they themselves do not accept or agree with? Who are we here to say that we know best what is good for them when they tell us that it is not good enough for them? Who are we here to dictate and legislate when such a position is there?

I strongly recommend that we support very actively the substance of the motion of my colleague from Churchill River and send this bill back to committee. We must take time to produce a better bill, one that is acceptable to the people most concerned, the first nations of Canada.

First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management ActGovernment Orders

1 p.m.


Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for Lac-Saint-Louis for a very sensitive and insightful speech regarding a very controversial bill. I welcome the insights. Both the tone and content of his speech were perhaps the best I have heard on this subject in the House of Commons since this controversial bill has been debated.

Given that the overwhelming majority of first nations across the country vehemently oppose this bill, I would like him to expand upon the thought that he left us with. Is it not the height of colonial arrogance for us to impose our will on the governance structure of first nations that have looked at and studied this bill and rejected it categorically?

Of the 633 first nations in the Assembly of First Nations, about 30 support this bill. Government speakers have said there are as many as 100, but they are adding in all those who have indicated even some interest in some aspects of the bill. Those who actively promote and support the bill number no more than 30, most of them concentrated in British Columbia, and they have their own legitimate reasons for supporting aspects of the bill.

I would also ask the member to comment on the optionality issue. My view, our view, is that saying this bill is optional is the same thing as saying that driver's licences are optional. They are optional until one wants to drive a car, and then suddenly one has to have a licence.

My hon. colleague specifically made reference to the management board. If first nations do not sign on to this particular bill, if they are not one of the signatories in the schedule of optional first nations, they are not allowed to put in place financial bylaws dealing with those issues. If they want to put in place financial administration bylaws that go beyond the current parameters of the Indian Act, they have to join this particular vision of this financial management board. How is that optional? It is not optional. It is mandatory if they want to do those things.

The final point I would like him to comment on is the fear, and in my view the legitimate fear, that co-management and third party management may become one of the tasks and duties of this board, so that when the government puts a band into trusteeship for overspending or for trying to meet the basic needs of their communities with the inadequate financial resources they have, when the government comes along and imposes third party trusteeship on them, that duty will be assigned to this government-appointed management board that is an instrument of government now.

I would be interested in hearing my colleague expand upon all of those things.

First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management ActGovernment Orders

1 p.m.


Clifford Lincoln Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

I would like to thank my colleague for his remarks. His consistent fight on behalf of aboriginal peoples has been constant and very sincere. I think it adds greatly to the debate that he should express them so forcefully and so frankly.

I sense a feeling in the House that it is not all black and white. I sense this in our own party. The very fact that I am able to stand here and take a position to a measure by my own government, that my colleague from Churchill River has done likewise, that the parliamentary secretary from Yukon has chatted with me outside and in a very open fashion, I view this as something very constructive for us all.

I agree with my colleague from the NDP that the time when we can impose measures on others is long past, especially with regard to first nations. They should be telling us that they are the people who owned this land and still do. They should be telling us what they want, not we telling them what is good for them.

In my case, it is my conviction on why the bill is flawed. We are opposing measures that obviously, the great majority, whether it is 550, 450, or 490, are opposed to.

I take the point of my colleague that once we have these institutions legislated and entrenched into law, are we going to say, 5 years or 10 years hence, that the opting in clause for those who do not join is a reality, is something that will be substantial? Of course not. When we will have these institutions staffed with a lot of administrative powers and staff, surely the pressure for those nations that stay out will be unbearable. They will either join the system or they will not join.

This is why I made the point in my speech that to say that they will be allowed in certain cases to use the provisions of the Indian Act to run a parallel system, I do not believe is realistic. Once these boards are in place, staffed and funded, the pressures on the nations that do not join in will be so unbearable that they will stand outside the system. Decisions will be made despite them and against them, and against the opposition, and they will have to cave in or the law will have to be changed.

It seems to me that this consistent opposition to the law which has started ever since the first bill was introduced is indicative that it is not perfect and it is flawed.

It seems to me, in the spirit expressed by the Prime Minister recently, that we should look at it. Let us take a few more months. Let us take another year but do it right rather than force it through at the last minute, despite opposition. This is what I seek and this is what is sought by my colleague from the NDP.

This is why we should join in a consensus in the House to support the substance of what is requested by my colleague from Churchill River.

First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management ActGovernment Orders

May 10th, 2004 / 1:05 p.m.


Rick Laliberte Liberal Churchill River, SK

Mr. Speaker, in a recent study by the United Nations on the International Decade of the World's Indigenous People, there was a summit on the treaty relationships that the indigenous nations of the world have with nation state members of the United Nations.

The bill does not refer to any of the treaties that created this country. Canada has adopted a policy of self-government. It does not refer to anything in section 35, the inherent or historical rights and privileges of the first nations. Could the member comment on this?

In my reference to reconsidering the bill, perhaps the bill would be better founded if it referred to the original treaties and to the first nations as the real nations of this land as opposed to just band councils under the Indian Act or just the policy of government? Perhaps the foundation of this relationship should be treaty based. Perhaps that is the appropriate way to approach the bill.

First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.


Clifford Lincoln Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague from Churchill River expressed the feeling that I am deeply convinced about, that the first nations have a special place in our history, in our nation, and in our way of life. They are protected by section 35 for good reason. Section 35 protects all these treaties and all these inherent rights to self-government that are entrenched, not only in the Constitution of our nation but in the historical relationships with the first nations. We cannot just toss them aside willy-nilly by a few pages of legislation and say these are the institutions that we have decided are best for them.

This is really where the opposition comes from in one segment, including the majority of first nations that say we cannot toss aside all these inherent rights sanctioned by treaties. I give the example of a tri-lateral agreement which was signed by the Algonquins of Barriere Lake Indian Band as a sovereign people with the Quebec and federal governments. And 13 years after, the Quebec government opted out unilaterally at one point and then came back in when it realized it was ultra vires.

Today the federal government is virtually absent from it because it has decided that the Algonquins are people that are too annoying and too embarrassing. They keep on harping about sharing of resources and 13 years after we have not resolved the whole question of their right to their own resources on their own lands so that they can live in dignity, in self respect, and in full pride of their own achievements using their own resources the way they want to.

This is why the question brought up by my colleague from Churchill River is quite right and should be entrenched in the bill.

First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management ActGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.


Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate on Bill C-23 and honoured to follow the comments by the member for Lac-Saint-Louis who has put on record an impassioned, compassionate, and cogent argument for why this piece of legislation ought to be reviewed further.

I want to add my congratulations and thanks to the member for Lac-Saint-Louis for his years of service in this place. He leaves a legacy to be followed by all of us and I wish him well in his future pursuits.

The member for Lac-Saint-Louis gave us a strong and clearly articulated argument about pausing, taking a moment to reflect, and giving further consideration to the bill before us. That is very wise advice in the case of this particular legislation which deals directly with our relations to first nations communities.

I sense from the comments across the way that there are a good number of Liberals who are uneasy about Bill C-23. I would hope that the views of members from the Liberal backbenches are taken into serious consideration before the government makes the final decision to advance this bill through all of its stages.

It seems to me that this is a perfect example of how we deal with the democratic deficit in this place. If the Prime Minister is serious about giving more power to backbenchers and increasing the role of parliamentarians, and about ensuring that decisions are made in this place based on the best advice possible that takes into account external factors,--in this case, relations with our first nations communities--then we have all of the ingredients that we need today for the Prime Minister to say that he agrees that we should pull back on this piece of legislation.

My question to the Prime Minister is, is he listening to his backbenchers or does he have a three line whip on this bill? Is it a three line whip or a two line whip? How is the Prime Minister responding to concerns on Liberal benches about this piece of legislation? If he were true to his words about addressing the democratic deficit, we should see a response shortly vis-à-vis this bill and a decision to pull it off the agenda and send it back to committee.

First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management ActGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.


Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

It is the only right thing to do.

First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management ActGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.


Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North Centre, MB

As my colleague from Winnipeg Centre has just said, it is the only right thing to do. He ought to know. As the aboriginal affairs critic for the New Democratic Party, he has been working tirelessly on this and other matters pertaining to our first nations communities.

He has consulted and spoken with first nations communities right across the country. He has sought their advice and input, and has come back to our caucus and this Parliament with a message from the vast majority of the first nations communities to say: “For goodness sake, don't rush into this bill. It is flawed. It will harm our relationship. It will set us back at the very time when we need to be coming together and dealing once and for all with a historically embarrassing situation vis-à-vis first nations communities in this, one of the wealthiest countries in the world.

Whether talking about the democratic deficit here in this place or disillusionment among Canadians with the parliamentary process, the Prime Minister has only one option. The bill should be pulled to allow for further study, not to concede defeat and say it was all wrong, but to say it has serious problems. The first nations communities have raised concerns that have to be taken into account.

That is absolutely critical. If we are going to build the kind of partnerships we need with our first nations communities, it is absolutely the kind of response that is necessary if we are going to once and for all deal with and find solutions for deep rooted, systemic economic and social inequality.

It is the kind of response that is absolutely necessary if we are going to take seriously the well documented and impartial observations by UN observers that Canada's first nations communities live in third world conditions. If we are concerned about leaving a legacy of finally addressing the deplorable living and working conditions of our first nations communities, then surely the Prime Minister will do the right thing and send the bill back to committee in the new Parliament.

Why would we rush the bill through the House in the few days left before we rise for a break or before this Parliament adjourns because of an election call? Why do we want to saddle the new Parliament with less than perfect legislation? Why would we want to hand to the new Parliament a breakdown in relationships between Parliament and first nations communities? Why would we not hold this in abeyance, do further studies, build something that would reflect those concerns and take into account the needs of all those involved in this important partnership?

The member for Lac-Saint-Louis, my colleague from Winnipeg Centre and others have documented clearly just how much opposition this is from first nations communities to the bill. It is clear that Bill C-23 is vehemently opposed by the overwhelming majority of the more than 600 first nations communities in Canada. Is that not enough to make the government have second thoughts? Why proceed if more than 50% of those involved have deep concerns about the actual legislation?

The governing organization of our first nations communities, the Assembly of First Nations, has called for the bill to be withdrawn in favour of legislation that would apply only to those specific first nations that want to participate in the institutions. The AFN has said that the bill needs clear and concise non-derogation, which would guarantee that it would not affect aboriginal and treaty rights. The bill needs much more clear provision around the ability of a first nation to opt in or out of the legislation.

Members in this place know how tenuous the relationship is between government and first nations communities. We know how first nations communities bear a tremendous sense of betrayal by governments through the ages. We have an opportunity today to change that. We have an opportunity to make a difference by listening to their voices. We have an opportunity to do it better. Let us listen to the concerns of first nations communities.

I could go on at length about problems with the bill and about what each first nations community has said with respect to different aspects of the bill, but that job has been done by my colleague from Winnipeg Centre, the member for Lac-Saint-Louis and others.

In the few minutes I have left, I want to simply repeat a plea that has been heard in this chamber often. There is no mileage in terms of forcing Bill C-23 through. Changing the whole question of first nations fiscal and statistical management will only work if there is cooperation. Cooperation is built through partnership and by listening to one another's voices. We do that by respecting the right of first nations to self-government. We do that by addressing and working with first nations communities on a nation to nation basis.

Something that is top down, handed to first nations communities is a complete violation of that partnership. It is a complete denial of the nation to nation relationship. Pushing through this bill at this time will do more harm than good. It will set us back further in terms of the work that has to be done.

Let me just conclude by saying that I and all my colleagues in the New Democratic Party and a growing number of members of Parliament on the Liberal's side believe that Bill C-23 is a flawed and misguided piece of legislation. It places too much discretionary power in the hands of the minister and it denies the need to develop a relationship of consulting and listening to first nations communities.

The government should not be trying to railroad this bill through in the last few days before the end of this Parliament and before an imminent election call. It only makes sense that we hold it, that we send it back to members of Parliament on the new aboriginal affairs committee of the House once a new Parliament has been reconvened and once some time has been allowed to lapse between the introduction of this bill and concerns about it. It is only fair to regroup again and this time take into account fully the needs and concerns of our first nations.