House of Commons Hansard #48 of the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was nations.


First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.


Yvan Loubier Bloc Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Madam Speaker, I think the parliamentary secretary misunderstood my question. I am not saying that there are isolated cases involving public servants. What I am saying is that the government wants so much for this law to apply that it might give directives to its officials to make it totally mandatory to meet the requirements of the law.

The federal government has found a backdoor method of setting aside its fiduciary duties, by passing this bill and making the first nations responsible—against their wishes—for applying the provisions of the law.

These are not isolated cases. They might be directives from the government, which has an incredible desire to apply the provisions of this law. My fear is that the federal government will throw its fiduciary responsibilities out the back door.

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4:15 p.m.


Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Madam Speaker, we cannot speak about hypothetical situations. The bill makes it totally optional at this time. If, as the member says, in the future some government were to be in place that were to set policy directives, regulations, policy, and give directions that this should be mandatory, then I would expect that member and those members to stand up and fight against that policy to ensure it does not apply.

We brought this in good faith to the first nations people of this country saying that it is totally optional. They brought this to us. We are putting this tool in place for those who want it. If they do not want it, they do not have to use it. We are not going to force it upon them.

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4:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Hinton)

It is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Davenport, Agriculture; the hon. member for Cumberland—Colchester, Sponsorship Program.

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4:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

John Duncan Canadian Alliance Vancouver Island North, BC

Madam Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to speak once again to Bill C-23, the first nations fiscal and statistical management act, which has been before Parliament for a long time under other monikers. It was previously Bill C-19. This was a bill that was tied very closely to Bill C-7, the first nations governance act. The government tied those two together so tightly that when Bill C-7 was finally buried by the minister, Bill C-19, now C-23, wore a lot of that.

There was a great attempt by the government to try to address concerns that were brought forward in terms of making C-19, now C-23, more palatable. There were a series of amendments tabled and discussed with the opposition critics. The opposition critics, including myself, agreed that tabling could occur.

One of the difficulties that all of the opposition parties are having is that those amendments were amendments that improved the bill. However, for all of us, those amendments did not improve the bill to the point where we are willing to support the bill.

My single biggest complaint with the bill, which I discussed with the previous minister, was the fact that the statistical institute was not decoupled from the fiscal institutes. Everyone agrees that the statistical institute is not essential to the workings of the other three institutes or boards that are enabled by this legislation.

I was expecting those amendments that would decouple the statistical side to be tabled. It did not happen. What we now have is a contradiction in the legislation. I do not see how a statistical institute for first nations can operate on an optional basis. I do not really want it to either because all of this is basically duplicating what Statistics Canada already does.

We already have a report from the Auditor General from December 2002 which clearly states that the amount of paperwork that the federal government demands of first nations at the administrative level far exceeds what is realistic or reasonable. Most of that information is never used by the federal government in any case. Therefore, it seems to me we are piling a problem on top of a problem for no rational purpose.

Even the president of the first nations finance authority agreed with the statement that the statistical institute is not essential to the workings of the other three institutions.

There has never been any attempt on the part of the non-government proponents to say that this is essential or necessary, yet the government, for whatever reason, has made a conscious decision that it is going to keep this in an omnibus fashion within the bill rather than let that other institution stand or fail on its own merits. I fail to understand that. I empathize very much with the criticisms that here is an institution to collect first nations statistics, but if it is not being done on anything more than an optional basis, the statistics are going to be meaningless in any case. This seems like some kind of swamp country that we just as well might avoid. That is my single biggest criticism of the bill.

This has brought a great deal of polarization to the first nations community, and a lot of it is unnecessary. A great deal of it relates to the fact that it was tied so closely to the first nations governance act. We do have about 25% subscription within the province of British Columbia to taxation by the bands in British Columbia and they have endorsed this. However, many of the other groups certainly have not, in a very strong sense of the word.

The parliamentary secretary talked at great length about the endeavours within the House of Commons since the aboriginal summit that was held in Ottawa not too long ago. That hastily prepared $350,000 summit excluded some native leadership. It certainly excluded the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs and I am sure it excluded others.

The parliamentary secretary was putting great focus on the amount of aboriginal legislation that has been in the House since that moment. I have quite a different point of view in that really there has been almost no agenda from the government in this place on any subject.

The aboriginal agenda included Westbank, which the government side ended up filibustering, and there is Bill C-23, and not much else has happened in this place. I think one of the reasons even these two bills have progressed along the path to the extent that they have is that the government does not have any other legislation on the agenda that it wishes to pursue.

We can look at this many ways, but the way the government is choosing to look at it is certainly very constructed. It is certainly not the way those of us who have been in this place for many years are viewing the current goings on in the House of Commons.

Unfortunately, some of the difficulties that are inherent in this legislation, and I have given the background, ended up being worn by the proponents of, for example, the Westbank legislation. The Westbank legislation creates the strongest individual property rights on reserve anywhere in Canada, yet it took a lot of heavy criticism. I think a lot of that criticism would have been avoidable had it not been for the baggage that was brought forward as a consequence of the first nations governance act, this bill, and other goings on with the government.

Westbank is a band with significant taxation revenues, revenues that it has been collecting since the early 1990s. It has a strong record on taxation and it has a legitimate ability to use this suite of legislation in a very constructive and productive way.

We know that the bands that are in a good financial situation or have the ability to be there quite readily are very supportive of this legislation. I think it is unfortunate that the government delivered a package that was not much more straightforward and clear right from the beginning. The major criticisms it hastily tried to address after the fact could have been addressed months earlier, but they were not. To this date, all of the criticisms have not been addressed.

I think that covers most of my points. The parliamentary secretary is busy looking through his notes. I will give him the opportunity to ask me questions or to make comments.

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4:30 p.m.

Yukon Yukon


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

Madam Speaker, the member will be happy that I did not find what I was looking for in my notes so I will have to wing it.

I agree with the member that there are different views on different aspects of the bill from a number of first nations people. I applaud the different views. They have approached me and I have tried to answer many of the concerns.

Of the first nations people who approached me, there was not one who had a concern about having the statistical institute in this bill. From what I understood from the member's speech, the only major concern he had related to leaving the fourth institution, the statistical institute, in the bill.

This institution does not duplicate Statistics Canada. It does not do what Statistics Canada does. It is to collect statistics that are not collected and to take statistics if Statistics Canada is collecting them. Statistics is a fairly detailed mathematical science involving a lot of procedures. We have a first nations institute that can do this when first nations people are looking to extract statistics from Statistics Canada, to embellish them with more statistics.

Having worked on the census once, I can say that collecting stats is a very sensitive activity. All people, including first nations people, can be quite sensitive to being asked different types of questions. I think they would be more open if they were being asked questions to help their first nation by a first nations statistical institute.

On that basis, I do not understand the member's only objection to the bill, which is basically the statistical institute being in the same piece of legislation.

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4:30 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

John Duncan Canadian Alliance Vancouver Island North, BC

Madam Speaker, I have a big problem with the statistical institute and I am not the only one. This came up in committee and it has come up in complaints from several first nations groups.

When it comes to the collection of personal and vital statistics, there is a huge gulf between where the parliamentary secretary is coming from and where I come from. For example, I can remember how irate the member for Edmonton North was, and rightly so, when the census was taken. We were not allowed to answer on our census form that we were Canadian when asked what our ethnic origin was. People wanted to put “Canadian” and were told no. There was a revolt in the land, a cry that this was most inappropriate.

As Canadians it takes us a long time before we get upset at some things. It takes a while for us to get riled up, but when it comes to the collection of private information and statistical information that is an exception.

In the United States, after people cast their ballots they will probably be asked how they voted. People are tasked to do that for the media and pollsters. Almost everybody tells them. If that were done in Canada, the people would probably get punched in the nose because we treat that kind of information differently.

I completely understand why we do not want a plethora or even more than one statistical institute in this country running amok collecting data. We certainly do not need a parallel organization based on some racial division doing exactly that.

I object to it and other people object to it for different reasons. The main thing is that this information is not going to be optional for the individuals if their band opts in. I do not see how it can be optional for bands because a partial collection of statistics on a band will be meaningless.

The persuasions of the parliamentary secretary are most unconvincing. I do not see the rationale for the necessity for this institution, other than to further sow divisions, which unfortunately sometimes is a political strategy in order to exploit political advantage. I do not subscribe to that reason either. That is the track record of the Liberal Party and Liberal governments. They would rather exaggerate our differences than treat us the same. By doing that the Liberals can then be the great ones to somehow take care of all that.

Contrary to the arguments we have heard on fiduciary obligation, this is a bigger threat to the government abusing its fiduciary obligation than anything to do with taxation. I think the collection of these statistics would allow the government to exploit how it is going to deal with first nations in a manipulative fashion more than anything that might happen with any other part of the legislation. I have very strong feelings about this and I think I have explained them fairly well.

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4:35 p.m.


Bev Desjarlais NDP Churchill, MB

Madam Speaker, I listened closely to my colleague's comments and I will agree on one position. I do not think it should be the government's legislation that puts in place these institutions. I firmly believe that first nations should have the opportunity to do that on their own without the okay of the federal government. That is where we differ.

I do not think they have to ask for the federal government's permission as to whether or not they want to get statistics within their first nations. I do not think they have to ask for the federal government's permission if they want to have a fiscal institution. They should be able to do that without the federal government's permission.

Quite frankly, I want to make this comment because I think it is crucially important that we have accurate statistics for first nations. For years the federal government did not collect any of those statistics and, as a result, I think first nations have been shortchanged in a good number of instances.

When I was first elected I would look at statistics on unemployment rates in my riding and they would provide average incomes. The average income would be $45,000. I can tell everyone that the average income in first nations communities is not $45,000. There are very different dynamics and it is crucially important that first nations are able to address those dynamics, but they should not have to ask permission of the federal government to do so.

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4:35 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

John Duncan Canadian Alliance Vancouver Island North, BC

Madam Speaker, in a perfect world I would agree with what the member said. However the difficulty is that they in a sense do have to ask permission. The reason is that the default of not asking permission is the Indian Act. We all know how imperfect the Indian Act is and what an albatross it is in so many ways.

What is really happening here is that fiduciary obligation and the Indian Act are being joined at the hip, which is a terrible fit. It is an alloy that does not work. We have to try to separate that without a perfect model as to how to get there. This is the conundrum. This exemplifies everything that is so difficult in terms of moving forward from a first nations or aboriginal perspective, and so much of it relates to the imperfect and outdated Indian Act.

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4:40 p.m.


Yvan Loubier Bloc Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak on Bill C-23. Earlier, I listened carefully to the reply by the parliamentary secretary to my questions on where exactly in the bill it was clearly set out that all these parameters, all these institutions, and the framework of this legislation, were truly optional, in the following context.

If the federal government wants to slough off its fiduciary responsibilities, can it do so by the back door, using this bill? The answer is yes. Why so? I will demonstrate, if I may, and then will get back to some other essential information.

When I met the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development a few weeks ago, he assured me beyond any doubt that, with the government's amendments, the new provisions in the bill would protect those first nations that did not wish to take advantage of the new framework imposed by Bill C-23.

He told me, “It will be beyond any doubt, and departmental staff will not have the right to use the means at their disposal, even intimidation, as has sometimes been the case in past files. That will be made clear”.

Looking at the amendments introduced by the government, however, we see there is no assurance that, once Bill C-23 is passed, there will be no government directives to the effect that, for example, any first nation's application for funding, or its ability to benefit from established programs, will not be subject to a directive indicating to the recalcitrant nations, “If you want to benefit from the program, or if you want to continue to get the funding to which you were entitled in the past, you absolutely must implement the provisions of Bill C-23”. There is no assurance whatsoever.

My references just now were not to isolated cases. This is, in my opinion, the best tool to relieve the federal government of any fiduciary responsibilities. That will be easy for the federal government, once the bill is passed. I am not saying that it will not benefit certain first nations, but they are the richest ones, the ones with the possibility of levying property taxes and borrowing from financial institutions.

As for the others, I believe we must have confidence in the aboriginal leaders. These are intelligent and thoughtful people. My colleague from Churchill mentioned that 61% of the chiefs of Canada's first nations have come out against this bill. The parliamentary secretary has just told us that, even if there were only one first nation that would benefit, he would fight for it.

That is the best way to divide and conquer, to arrange it so that, among the first nations, where there is usually great agreement on the defence of the basic rights of the aboriginal peoples, in comes a bill of this sort. The first nations are divided; two classes of members of the first nations are created; and they say, “Even if it is only of benefit to a few, we will pass it, despite fierce opposition by the 61% that do not want it”.

It would have been interesting, especially yesterday during the vote at report stage, to see the Prime Minister take a different approach. He brags about wanting to establish a new relationship and harmony between the first nations and the federal government, which has been sorely lacking over the past few years with the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, whose mind was made up, who wanted nothing to do with aboriginal claims, who took a hard line and disregarded the unanimous opposition to Bill C-7, for example. Relations between us and the aboriginal people have suffered incredibly as a result of the former minister's attitude to the governance bill, or Bill C-7.

The Prime Minister tells us he wants to establish a new relationship. He even held a first nations summit—quite recently, just a few days ago—where he talked about new directions and self-government and so forth. He stood up yesterday, all smiles and fervour, and gave his unconditional support to Bill C-23, completely disregarding the fact that the majority of these first nations oppose this bill.

Before leaving, he actually greeted first nations members who were sitting in the gallery and who were extremely upset about what was happening. Yesterday, they found out that the new framework for harmonious relations between Ottawa and the first nations was just a smokescreen. The current Prime Minister will do exactly as his predecessor did; he will try to impose his views on the majority of first nations.

This is no way to act. When Bill C-7 was introduced in the House, we argued strenuously against it. Even on an initial cursory examination—we looked into it more closely later on—we realized that what the government wanted to propose was as shameful as the Indian Act that has been in effect for 130 years.

We spoke out against this legislation and we fought it, because the first nations have unanimously asked us to do so on their behalf. Unfortunately, the first nations were not at the table of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs, Northern Development and Natural Resources.

When we are discussing the future of the first nations and redefining relations, it seems to me that first nations officials should be at the table to be part of these discussions. In this regard, the treaties that were signed decades if not centuries ago, were not agreements reached by Europeans, by pioneers who subordinated first nations and looked condescendingly on them. These agreements were reached through a negotiation process.

The first nations never gave up any authority over their lands. They never gave away any part of their lands either. Over time, over the past 130 years, with the Indian Act, we have violated the rights of first nations, we have parked them in reserves and told them “Do not worry, we will give you something to drink and eat”. We deprived them of their resources, of their traditional activities and of their hunting and fishing grounds. We also trampled on their institutions.

What are we doing today? We are proceeding more slowly, in a more polished manner, but we are doing the same thing. The large majority of first nations keep telling us that they are not satisfied with this bill, just as they unanimously told us that they disagreed with Bill C-7. We fought on their behalf against that legislation. We won because Bill C-7 was set aside.

However, have we actually won? This government has more or less the same attitude as the previous government. In fact, this government is the continuation of its predecessor.

It might be interesting to stop imposing things on first nations. It might be interesting to negotiate as equal partners. Such was the spirit of the initial treaties. There was a wampum belt, which was a kind of symbolic but no less real contract in terms of provisions. These treaties talked about two peoples making their way in parallel, each looking after its own affairs, in harmony, sharing the land, not transferring it from the first nations to the first Europeans.

Has our attitude changed? Yes it has. As a Parliament, we feel it is our mission to keep first nations in line. We do not care about harmony. We could have kept on working on this bill until things were perfectly clear and truly optional. For example, it is out of the question for ancestral lands to be used as collateral, or one day become the property of large financial institutions instead of belonging to first nations.

We could have agreed on a way to ensure the development of all first nations in order to do something about their desperate lack of wealth.

We could have agreed to fast track self-government negotiations while at the same time moving to adopt institutions which would have been optional and used only by those first nations ready and willing to do so. First nations that were forced by the government through the back door, against their will, to accept certain parameters of Bill C-23 should have been provided avenues of redress. This could have been done. Why was it not?

How can we allow ourselves to say that, if 40% of first nations agree, we can disregard the other 60%? Those who see this as the path to harmony should realize that they do not have the right attitude.

At a recent meeting of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs, Northern Development and Natural Resources, I put a question to the deputy minister in charge of negotiations regarding the expression “inherent right of first nations to self-government”, which is to say outright self-government. I asked him what was the status of these negotiations at present and what timeframe he envisaged to reach a settlement, to make agreements. These agreements would allow first nations to benefit from development tools such as government, community-based decision-making related to their identity, their culture, and even to aboriginal institutions which were scoffed at in the past.

I asked him when he thought the negotiations on self-government would end. He could not say. He only said that a lot of resources were needed to finalize the talks. That should be a government priority. We should not put the cart before the horse. We should not create institutions that are not suited to the vast majority of first nations.

My colleague from Churchill was quite clear on that when she asked what wealth the majority of first nations will be able to apply the provisions of the bill to or to benefit from. There is a high level of poverty in the majority of first nations communities. Basic needs are not even being met.

With respect to housing, for example, this year, 450 units will be built in Quebec, when it is 8,700 that are needed. Most of the existing housing stock has problems. There are chronic mould problems.

Where in this bill is there a possibility for these first nations to escape the poverty cycle? There are also socio-economic problems. What have we to offer for the young except a dead end? Does the bill deal with that? No.

The only possible answer is to speed up the implementation of self-government and give back to the first nations the ability to pursue their inherent right to self-government, which is entrenched in our Constitution. First nations need the tools to bring about their own development. Only after that should we consider the use of institutions that will gradually become major tools for the pursuit of that development.

What is our response to the problem of multiple substance abuse among first nations youth? What does a bill like this do about the lack of safe drinking water in many areas? Something is wrong. We are setting up ultra-modern institutions that can meet the needs of the rich, but not the real needs and circumstances of native peoples.

When we consider the situation now, two things should be done, as I said several times. First, we should provide adequate resources. And by adequate, I mean resources that are urgently needed to speed up the conclusion of self-government agreements so that we can eventually leave the first nations alone. They should become equal partners. Let us stop patronizing them and trying to impose things the overwhelming majority does not want. That is the first thing we should do.

Then, we should adopt a contingency plan. As I was saying earlier, there are urgent problems on first nations lands, serious socio-economic problems. Members of the first nations are left to their own devices.

What is happening in Lac Barrière with the unsanitary homes, is nothing new. I have seen the same thing in many aboriginal communities across the country. These people are being left to their own devices. Sometimes there is not enough money to hire a teacher, for example, to keep the school open in September.

We have to fight here, as we did in Winneway for example, for Chief Mathias. We asked for supplementary funds to prevent the school from closing in his community for lack of a teacher. There was a two month delay.

Now, chief Mathias has to deal with forestry companies that want to cut trees on his land. This Algonquin community does not get any royalties. What kind of world do we live in? We are in 2004, and we still have the old colonizing attitudes that existed a few hundred years ago.

We must accelerate self-government and introduce emergency plans to force the communities with the most problems to solve their dramatic social and economic situation.

I wish that the new Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and the new Prime Minister had more consideration for first nations. I know that, with my speech, I will disappoint some of the first nations that would like to see this bill passed quickly.

However, we would have liked a renewal. As I mentioned earlier, the government could have reached out to all first nations in Quebec and in Canada and said, “Listen, we will take a few more weeks, but the outcome will be approved unanimously, or with a very wide consensus”. If this project had been proposed at the Assembly of First Nations' convention, the attitude would have been totally different.

I sensed some openness on the part of the new Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. I also sensed some openness on the part of the new Prime Minister. However, in view of the facts so far, as of yesterday at least, when we voted on the report stage of this bill, my opinion has changed. The Prime Minister and all the members of the government, including the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, have missed a unique opportunity to demonstrate that perhaps now was not the right time to pass this bill, and that they should review the whole bill so as to reach a consensus.

In addition, the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development could have announced—before continuing debate on this bill—that he intended to put more resources into negotiations about self-government. He did not do so. There is nothing there but words and speeches; the attitude and actions are not there; it is just not enough.

A few weeks ago, as I mentioned earlier, the deputy minister responsible for the negotiations admitted it, but not in so many words, by not providing a target date for the conclusion of the negotiations for the 80 self-government and claims tables. He sounded the alarm. Since the Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, the Erasmus-Dussault report, was published there has not been any real acceleration in these negotiations.

The Erasmus-Dussault commission, as hon. members will recall, talked about 20 years for a wide range of things to be put in place so all negotiations on self-government could be concluded and the first nations would finally be able to take charge of their own destiny and develop their communities in terms of what they are and what they want to become.

At this rate, in 50 years, nothing will have changed. In 50 years, our successors will say, “Listen, many negotiations still have to be concluded. There are still first nations living below the poverty line with unemployment rates as high as 75% in some communities; there are substance abuse problems”.

The Erasmus-Dussault commission provided a golden opportunity to change things. Ever since the report was tabled, it is as though it never existed. The attitude seems to be, “Since we have given ourselves 20 years, we can take our time”.

We cannot take our time anymore. It has now become a national emergency. We absolutely have to redefine a number of things. We have even been criticized by organizations like the United Nations. That is incredible. And we are turning a deaf ear.

With the support of my colleague, the hon. member for Sherbrooke, I would like to move the following motion in 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 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 not now read a third time because it fails to meet the needs of most first nations.”

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5 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Hinton)

I will take this amendment under advisement.

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5 p.m.


Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Madam Speaker, I am particularly interested in the intervention by my colleague from Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot. I know he has demonstrated an exceptional interest in this issue for not just this incarnation of the bill but, in fact, when the bill was called Bill C-19.

For those of us who have been involved in this bill since the very beginning, we see Bill C-23 as a fraud, an illusion, that there is no appreciable difference in tone or in content from the basic flaws that we pointed out in Bill C-19.

My hon. colleague cited a number of problems that he had with this bill and, I think in great detail, tried to share with the House what his reservations were as to what might be really motivating the government in introducing this bill.

One of the key things he pointed out, and what I would ask him to expand on, is the whole issue of optionality.

The federal government seems to mitigate the downside of the bill by saying that people should not worry, that it is only optional and that they do not have to use it if they do not want to. However we have had first nations come to our caucus and tell us that the bill is optional in the same way that a driver's licence is optional. A driver's licence is optional unless we want to drive a car and then we must have one.

Would the member agree that the same logic applies to the bill? People do not have to avail themselves of the details of the bill unless they want to institute some financial bylaws in their community, or build a sewage treatment plant and go outside for financing, or they want to actually implement their right to self-government. If they want to do any of those things, then they have to join. Would he agree with me?

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5 p.m.


Yvan Loubier Bloc Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for Winnipeg Centre for his question. He is always very enlightened. I was happy to fight alongside him for 55 days, on behalf of the first nations and against Bill C-7, in the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs, Northern Development and Natural Resources. That was a record in Canadian parliamentary history.

The worst thing is that the government is talking out of both sides of its mouth. If the government is so enthusiastic about this bill, if it thinks this bill represents the future with all the parameters it contains, then it is possible and completely plausible to think that the government—through the back door—has given directives to the officials in the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, who are responsible for implementing all these programs for the first nations, to have the first nations conform to the provisions of the bill, a bill they do not want, in order to receive grants or continue to benefit from government programs.

The government is still deciding on behalf of the first nations what is suitable for them and what is not. That is paternalism, pure and simple. What is the difference in attitude between the Indian Act that was imposed on the first nations and a bill like this one? They are the same. There is always this desire to keep the first nations down, to keep the pressure on them, even if they disagree with a bill, to apply the provisions of that bill, which might become law. That is unacceptable.

It is understandable that the first nations who are opposed to this may have their doubts about the government's good will. For decades, they have been promised all sorts of things, and their rights have been trampled on. For decades, they have been told they will be able to live, to develop and to benefit from the growth in the collective wealth, but they are kept on the sidelines.

I was talking earlier about Winneway and Chief Mathias. This same chief is engaged in a dispute with the lumber companies that want to cut wood on his land. His community would not collect any royalties on this harvest—on their own land. That is unacceptable.

Most first nations chiefs saw right through the government's intentions. The federal government is trying to get in through the back door in order to shirk its fiduciary responsibilities toward first nations.

There is also the whole matter of dispossessing traditional lands. Not much was said about this earlier. This is also a risk. At some point, traditional lands could be used as collateral by financial institutions. Is that right? Generation after generation of first nations members and chiefs have fought, throughout Canada's history, for the right to get their land back. Suddenly, this land could be seized by financial institutions. This is also a risk.

Not all first nations communities are prepared for this development, property tax, loans, and so forth. Can we allow this risk? Can we just ignore these risks when the provisions are not clear on this?

So many mistakes have been made in the past. The federal government's management of aboriginal affairs for the past 130 years is nothing to be proud of, not that it has been easy. As I mentioned at the end of my speech, even the United Nations finds that Canada is acting like the Rhodesians in South Africa before apartheid was abolished. Our treatment of the aboriginals is a little nicer, but not any less cruel.

That is why negotiations on self-government should be accelerated and concluded. Since the Erasmus-Dussault commission, since 1997—five years ago—not much progress has been made. Some first nations have achieved self-government. Some have concluded sectoral agreements. Some have reached a true self-government agreement on governance and jurisdiction, but not many.

In Quebec, we set ourselves the objective of speeding up the negotiations. Hon. members have seen what happened with the James Bay Cree, with the peace of the braves. That grew out of the 1978 agreement concluded by René Lévesque with the James Bay Cree. We modernized it, providing additional tools. Everyone knows how the James Bay Cree are developing now.

The same thing goes with the proposed agreement with the Innu. We want to speed things up in order to be able to live in harmony, to share the land and live as two nations on the territory of Quebec. The federal government ought to share that enthusiasm and that concern.

Imagine what an about-face would ensue. After 130 years of the infamous Indian Act, of subjugation, suddenly the federal government steps things up. Firm negotiations. The Erasmus-Dussault report. The first nations took great hope from the Penner report and the report by the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. Young aboriginal people could glimpse the possibility of identification with their nation, of pride in their nation, of a future with opportunity instead of a dead end.

What has happened since? Some things have been done, but are they things to be proud of? Can we say that we put every effort, every enthusiasm into it? When the government across the way is convinced of something, then it puts in the appropriate resources. When there is a bill it wants to see passed, it makes sure it moves through. Why not the same approach to the first nations? It would not be hard to devote more resources to this. The Prime Minister has surplus funds coming out of his ears, and he is well aware of this, having been the finance minister. Why, then, not put more resources into it, speed up the process, achieve self-government, be proud of this coexistence with the aboriginal peoples?

Aboriginal culture is a treasure. Its history, its languages are rich. Why not take advantage of that wealth instead of blocking the first nations' rights to be themselves, to govern themselves, to enact their own laws on their own territory, to benefit from its resources, and thus to survive? Quebec knows something about preserving culture. It is the most fundamental aspect of any people.

But instead, we are still stubbornly engaged in the divide and conquer approach. That is not the way to improve things.

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5:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Before proceeding further, I declare the amendment brought forward by the hon. member of the Bloc Quebecois in order. Therefore, the debate is on the amendment.

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5:10 p.m.


Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to Bill C-23 and even more pleased to speak to the amendment put forward by my hon. colleague from the Bloc, the member for Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot. To be clear, I understand the debate is on the amendment at this time.

I agree with my colleague. I have long admired his particular sensitivity to this issue. I think perhaps part of that comes from his own background as a sovereignist. He can identify with the right to self-government of aboriginal people perhaps with a sensitivity that others only aspire to.

Bill C-23 is vehemently opposed by the overwhelming majority of more than 600 first nations across Canada. There are over 633 first nations who are affiliated with the Assembly of First Nations. The overwhelming majority are opposed to Bill C-23, just as they were opposed to Bill C-19.

Frankly, that is where the debate should properly stop. That should put an end to this debate because that is all we really need to know. This bill has not been developed with the cooperation and input from the 633 first nations of the Assembly of First Nations, the parliament of the first nations community. It was resoundingly rejected.

Let me begin with a bit of history. In Halifax in the summer of 2001, I was at the Assembly of First Nations gathering where the first draft resolution in support of this concept was voted down. The people were upset. A great deal of work took place at that assembly. With a fair amount of generosity, the chiefs at that assembly, even though they voted down the original resolution, agreed to allow it to carry on under the explicit condition that any draft bill had to come back to the Assembly of First Nations to be reviewed, accepted or rejected. That never happened.

In classic, unilateral, arrogant, and colonial fashion, the government, even after having heard from the legitimately elected leadership of first nations across the country, went ahead in complete opposition to the directives given, that the Assembly of First Nations would cooperate in the development of this bill if the draft was brought back to them for their review, input and cooperation. That never happened. We have to begin from that basic premise.

Let me also state another fact which is somewhat at odds with the presentation by the parliamentary secretary. The hard core support for this bill is probably in the range of 30 first nations, mostly from British Columbia. These first nations seem closely aligned both philosophically and otherwise to INAC.

Let me raise another point. It seems that those who are in favour of this bill, those who are promoting these four fiscal institutions, have unlimited money and funding to fly around the country and promote this bill, and the formation of these four institutions. I raise that as a concern right from the beginning because it seems to me, first of all, those four institutions are up and running.

We are debating here the enabling legislation to create those institutions and they exist. They have offices, staff, CEOs, high priced help and seem to have an unlimited amount of money to fly around the country and lobby me to support this bill. Many of us in the House have had personal visits from people who identify themselves through their business cards as the salaried officers of these institutions. I know the money to create them comes from the aid-based budget of INAC, money that could have and should be more properly directed toward meeting the basic needs of aboriginal people, I would think, rather than fly around the country as high priced lobbyists to convince me that I should vote for this bill. I raise that as a concern, but let us be honest about this.

The parliamentary secretary said that about 100 first nations support the bill. There are about 30 first nations that actively support the bill and another 70 first nations that have expressed some interest in availing themselves of the services that the institutions would provide at some later date, for a total of 100 first nations.

It is an exaggeration and, in fact, it is misleading and disingenuous to say that a full 100 first nations support the bill.

Bill C-23 as it stands is national legislation that negatively affects the rights and interests of all first nations across the country. Even though there are only 30-some first nations that vehemently support the bill, it adversely affects all first nations. Let me elaborate and explain somewhat because I think it warrants an explanation.

The bill is being promoted as a first nations driven piece of legislation, which is utterly misleading. If first nations driven is meant to imply that the bill is supported by most first nations across Canada, let me say again that it is vehemently opposed by most first nations across Canada.

The national fiscal and statistical institutions created by Bill C-23 affect the rights of all 600-plus first nations, even though it is supported by only a few. The institutions would be funded on an indefinite basis from the federal envelope that is allowed for all first nations. In other words, even those first nations that do not support these institutions would be inadvertently paying for them by money that would have otherwise been spent in their communities, possibly meeting basic needs. Yet these institutions are actively opposed by the majority.

At this very early point in my remarks let me say that this is not only bad public policy but it is bad law if it is overwhelmingly opposed and those who oppose it are forced to pay for it. How unfair can that be? It offends doubly, in a sense.

It is true that there are a handful of first nations, mostly in B.C., that are driving the legislation forward. However it is also true that the overwhelming majority that are opposed to the bill are opposed in both principle and text.

Quite apart from the disrespect to Parliament that this misinformation serves, the misstatement of the level of first nations support raises a constitutional issue as to the very validity of the bill. Bill C-23 affects the rights and interests of all first nations, not just those that sign on to the optional schedule.

The Supreme Court of Canada, in leading cases such as Sparrow and Delgamuukw, has been clear that first nations are entitled to full and reasonable consultation when there is proposed legislation that is likely to affect their rights. In some special cases the consent of first nations may be mandated.

Therefore, if the consultation record is insufficient, as I argue it has been given the level of opposition and the failure of the government to bring back a draft to the Assembly of First Nations for ratification or approval prior to coming to Parliament, I argue that the consultation obligation has not been met. The most basic, fundamental test put to us by the Supreme Court in terms of legislation that may affect inherent aboriginal and treaty rights has not been met in this case again. This is a pattern that we have seen since I have been here as a member of Parliament, a disturbing pattern, a deliberate pattern, a colonial imperialist pattern.

It is not overstating it to say that because of the government's unwillingness to give meaning and definition to section 35 of the Constitution, it has allowed the courts to interpret time and time again what inherent and treaty rights mean. Time and time again the government loses at the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court is now telling us that if we are going to introduce any future legislation that may affect inherent and treaty rights, consultation is required. Again, the government has chosen not to consult because consultation means more than just informing people what will be done to them. Consultation requires a meaningful exchange and accommodation of the points put forward by the other party. True consultation means bringing the issue forward, putting it on the table, getting the other person's point of view and accommodating some of the points raised, not imposing one's will on someone else. That is a basic, fundamental principle and the government has ignored it.

If passed into law, Bill C-23 will surely be challenged in the courts. There is a strong likelihood that the statute will be held unconstitutional because of the failure once again of INAC to follow the consultation standard laid down by the Supreme Court of Canada in numerous landmark decisions, numerous court rulings that actually took place during this 37th Parliament and during the 36th Parliament.

The duty to properly consult first nations is a key aspect of federal fiduciary obligation. It is protected by section 35 of the Constitution but we would never know that from the government's attitude and approach to it.

I want to raise the issue of optionality again. All the government can think of to try to allay the concerns brought forward by the majority of first nations is to say that it will make it optional; that it will only apply to those people who choose to avail themselves of it. That is a lie, or to put it another way, that is misleading. This new schedule mechanism is a parlour trick.

I made the point earlier and I will say it again. For the government to say that the bill is optional is like saying a driver's licence is optional. It is optional unless one wants to drive a car. As soon as one wants to drive a car, a licence becomes mandatory. Smaller first nations will find themselves in that trap because if they do not sign on and become one of the member nations on the schedule, they will not be allowed to set up any other type of financial bylaws within their own first nations unless they meet the approval of this new institution.

If they are not on the schedule and they want to seek outside financing for some project in their community, instead of the government meeting its fiduciary obligation to that first nation, it will simply say that if the first nation needs the development in its community it should go join the new fiscal institutions and join the pooled effort of financial activity.

Those are some of the fears put in a very simplistic way. This new schedule mechanism is a carnival trick. It is meant to deceive. It conveys the impression that three of the institutions in the bill, all but the statistical institute, are optional and therefore not prejudicial to first nations that choose not to join.

I note in passing that once on the schedule it seems that a first nation becomes subject to those institutions and getting out is in fact more difficult than getting in because once on the schedule the first nation cannot get off the schedule without the approval of all those other first nations that are on the schedule.

That may seem like a fine point but any time we have rules and conditions under which we can join something, at the same time we have to factor in rules and conditions by which we can leave. In other words, it is more difficult to leave than it is to join and we get pulled in.

The pretence of optionality fostered by the schedule amendment is not maintained in the case of the statistical institute. This part is imposed on all first nations and bands in Canada, whether or not they add their names to the schedule. There is nothing optional at all about the statistical institute. In fact, it can gather sensitive, private information on all first nations in the country, no matter whether they want that information gathered or not. There is a serious privacy issue associated with this question. This should be alarming to the overwhelming majority of first nations that are voting against the bill.

I ask all members to take note that under clause 105 the federally appointed institute can indefinitely collect and use the most sensitive data about all bands in Canada without their consent. Where is the optionality there?

The alleged optionality of these three institutions is completely misleading. In fact, they are statutory national bodies that will affect the rights and interests of all first nations in Canada, whether or not they are added to the schedule.

If anything, the schedule model, I would argue, actually makes things worse. This is because the schedule model perversely guarantees that these important national institutions will be perpetually controlled by the small number of first nations that are strongly in support and which have aligned themselves with INAC. If anything, this schedule would have a perversely negative effect on people. I do not think the minister and his INAC officials have thought this through.

The tax commission, which is really the Indian tax advisory board on steroids, is one of the institutions said to be optional. Again, nothing could be further from the truth. The tax commission is a federally appointed body and it will become the czar of all future on reserve property taxation bylaws or laws. This is what I was getting at, and I hope people will listen to this carefully.

If this law is passed, in the future 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, whether they signed on to it or not. All such first nations will have to submit their annual property tax budgets to the commission for approval. That is in clause 9. People can check that if they do not believe me. I do not make up this stuff. There is no optionality here. This affects the rights and interests of all first nations therefore, whether they are on the schedule or not.

The unilateral nature of the tax commission is made even more problematic by the many upfront restrictions on first nations property taxations contained in Bill C-23. First nations will not be free to spend their tax revenue as they please. Instead, they will be forced to spend their money on local infrastructure and the like, and therefore lightening the burden on INAC. I get back to one of my basic problems here, which is that the bill is more about the desire of the federal government to offload its fiduciary obligations, its financial obligations.

First nations cannot just use their tax revenue for any purpose they see fit. No matter what the need and demand is in their community, they have to use it for things that the federal government approves.

Unfortunately, I cannot make all the points I would like to make because my time is running out. However, again, the impression of optionality, stoked by the tricky schedule amendment, is misleading. People saw through that right from day one. The first nations that read the bill saw that. Many of us are only just beginning to see that.

The most disturbing, strong armed component to Bill C-23 is directly linked to the management board, clause 8 of the bill. I urge people to refer to that. Communities that do not voluntarily join the bill are not permitted to pass bylaws or laws dealing with the critical area of financial administration. Even if they are not on the schedule, the management board, they are not allowed to pass comparable bylaws and financial bylaws. This is contrary to the inherent right of self-government, plain and simple.

First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

The hon. member for Winnipeg Centre has four minutes left in his speech, and he is entitled to a 10 minute question and comment period when the bill comes before the House again.

The House resumed from May 4 consideration of the motion that Bill C-30, an act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 23, 2004, be read the third time and passed; and of the previous question.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004Government Orders

May 5th, 2004 / 5:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

It being 5:29 p.m., the House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the previous question at third reading stage of Bill C-30.

Call in the members.

(The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)

Budget Implementation Act, 2004Government Orders

5:55 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

I declare the motion carried.

The next question is on the main motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

The chief government whip on a point of order.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004Government Orders

5:55 p.m.


Mauril Bélanger Liberal Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, if you were to seek it, I think you would find unanimous consent of the House that the members who voted on the previous motion be recorded as voting on the motion now before the House, with the Liberal members, including the hon. member for Beauharnois—Salaberry, voting yes.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004Government Orders

5:55 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Is there unanimous consent to proceed in this fashion?

Budget Implementation Act, 2004Government Orders

5:55 p.m.

Some hon. members


Budget Implementation Act, 2004Government Orders

5:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Dale Johnston Canadian Alliance Wetaskiwin, AB

Mr. Speaker, Conservative members will be opposing this motion.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004Government Orders

5:55 p.m.


Michel Guimond Bloc Beauport—Montmorency—Côte-De- Beaupré—Île-D'Orléans, QC

Mr. Speaker, the members of the Bloc Quebecois will vote against the motion.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004Government Orders

5:55 p.m.


Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, the NDP members will vote against the motion.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004Government Orders

5:55 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Joe Clark Progressive Conservative Calgary Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, I vote no.

(The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)