Mr. Speaker, we are talking today about a bill that I am extremely proud of and which seeks to recognize the rights of aboriginals and provide them with the legislative framework they need to develop. This is something we have long called for.
I was a member of the Quebec government under René Lévesque. In 1984, Quebec became the first province to recognize the rights of the first nations and also to recognize that they had the same rights as all other nations, more, in fact, since they were here before us. They helped us to settle in this country. It is thanks to them that we managed to survive, but they have long been forgotten and they are still being forgotten.
I did not appreciate what the minister said at the start of her remarks just now. She said that if an election is called, the first nations will pay the price. I would point out that it is November 2005 and that this party has been in power for quite some time now. Whenever I talk to aboriginal people in my riding and throughout Quebec, they tell me that they have long been forgotten. This is nothing new. Just because an election call is only days or weeks away does not give them the right to say that, if everything is not agreed to today, there will not be enough time to properly consider a bill affecting the first nations, thereby depriving them of legislation they need.
I can say that we have worked hard. I have worked hard in my riding as a member in Quebec City and now here, in order to give the first nations the rights to which they are entitled.
We need only visit the first nations' territories in my riding or elsewhere in Quebec to see the terrible conditions in which they live. I do not want to hear that a legislative framework was needed to help them. Political will was all that was needed.
CMHC has amassed billions of dollars, but does not spend what is necessary to provide the first nations with decent housing. It is very close to indecent, the way the first nations are living in my riding, in Quebec, and in Canada
Of course we are in favour of this bill. We would, however, like to have the time to consult the first nations. Some have been consulted in Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia, but not in Quebec. A letter has been sent to the chiefs indicating they were consulted, but this is false. I think they will probably agree. Let us stop this paternalism. These people are capable of deciding what they want.
Two weeks ago, I met with the first nations chiefs in my riding and the neighbouring ones. They asked me when we were going to realize that they are human beings with all the rights of any other human being on this planet and in this country. They asked me when we were going to stop thinking for them and deciding what is good for them, and start asking them what they want instead.
This is a good bill and had input from a number of first nations, but I would like to see the input of the first nations of Quebec and of my riding included. We are therefore consenting to adoption of the bill at second reading, because we will be able to continue to improve it when it gets to parliamentary committee, and particularly will be able to ask the first nations of Quebec what they think of it.
I do not know if some of my colleagues watched the report on the first nations of Abitibi on Radio-Canada's Le Point this week. I had phone calls this morning from some people who had not seen it but could report to me on the situation there.
There are people living off reserve and cramming in huge numbers into houses 20 feet by 24 feet. Their children are taken away from them at the beginning of the week and returned to them for the weekend. The houses do not have running water or electricity. Now, do not come and tell me that this is showing respect for the people who have been living on this land for 12,000 years, who were here before us and helped us settle in this country.
It is an attempt to hide this government's incompetence and mismanagement when it comes to the first nations to claim today that we have to rush this bill through for them. I recognize that some things need to be fixed, and we, in the Bloc Québécois, will certainly not stand in the way of that. However, I find it rather indecent to be told that, by having an election called, the opposition would be depriving the first nations of the tools they need and that we would be to blame.
I think we can never do enough to give back to the first nations all that is owed to them. In my riding, we have aboriginal people living approximately 100 kilometres from La Tuque, in the northern part of the riding. It is the nearest town to them. The Weymontachie aboriginal people, for instance, have hardly any decent roads or means of transportation. A train goes by from time to time. I am trying to ensure that they at least have a paved airstrip on which planes can land anytime. At present, if a disaster happened in the north in the spring, no plane could even land because the airstrip is gravel. It is dangerous. There is just no way.
It would have cost $200,000 to build an airstrip over the summer. I did everything in my power to get that strip, but was told no every step of the way. And now, they are telling me that, by delaying passage of this bill, we are denying aboriginal people the assistance they need. That is not true. There is a little too much hypocrisy in that.
I still support passage of the bill as quickly as possible. However, could native peoples in Canada and Quebec please be considered as adults? They are entitled to be consulted and not at the last minute or by government letter? If they do not answer the letter, they are assumed to be in agreement. The time must be taken to go and visit them and ask them what they need. Time has to be taken as well to help them out once their needs are known. Their housing, road and airport requirements are known. There is no need to consult them on these, as they have been bringing them to our attention for quite a while. In terms of health care and education and the right to retain their culture and their language, their needs are known and the right is theirs. It enriches us at the same time.
Nothing is more extraordinary than going into a native community that has next to nothing for its development and seeing that everyone in the community, 125 km from La Tuque, is bilingual. They speak their first language and either French or English, sometimes both. Despite us, they have retained their culture and share it, enriching us. That is really extraordinary and makes us proud.
Why are they so neglected? Why not give them what they need to develop their community? Why say today that this legislation is urgent, when it has been urgent for decades to respond to them and especially to consider them an integral part of Canadian and Quebec society? They have the same rights as everyone and, I would add that they perhaps even have more, since they were here before us.
The fact that we are here now is very much because of their help in the past. So they have the right to develop their community in a way that preserves their culture, their language and their economy.