Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to rise in the House today to join my colleagues in discussing this extraordinarily important resolution and follow on the wise words of my colleague and friend, the member for West Nova. As he put it well to the House, this is an issue and a matter which far transcends in many ways the nature of the resolution itself. It is about Canada and our future.
It is not just about a province like Saskatchewan where some 50% of the population is made up of aboriginal people. It is not just about British Columbia, which is undergoing enormous social problems of adjusting on how to manage this extraordinary issue. It is not just about the member for West Nova's own province where we have seen picket lines in fisheries and disputes that pit neighbours against one another. It is not just about the Northwest Territories, Nunavut and Yukon where aboriginal people are controlling their own destinies now in a way which makes us proud as Canadians.
It is also about my riding of Toronto Centre where there is a large aboriginal community. I go to the council fire and attend aboriginal events, and find people living in despair, in conditions that we would really find unacceptable.
Basically, it is about us as Canadians finding a way in which we can deal with a challenge that is basically unacceptable, an embarrassment to Canada and Canadians, and an international concern for people around the world as they look at one of the wealthiest countries in the world and ask themselves how it can be that Canada, with all its success, resources, goodwill and ability to work on issues, has not been able to find in its long history a way of resolving this extraordinary issue.
My own formation is as a lawyer and colleagues in the House might find that an unfortunate background to come to such an important issue as this, but it is rather remarkable that in fact it has been the courts of our country that have been dealing with this issue rather than the politicians over the years. It has been the adversarial nature of the life of our aboriginal leaders that I have spoken about so many times that they have found so difficult.
In fact, in order to get justice in the world, instead of being able to turn to and get understanding from our political institutions, they have had to turn to the courts. I am proud of the fact that the Supreme Court of Canada in the Sparrow case established the special trust relationship that we owe to our aboriginal people.
In Delgamuukw, section 35 of the Constitution was interpreted and guaranteed the aboriginal use of land. Marshall was a case which troubled my colleague from West Nova's own province so much, but which gave a wise solution to something that was creating huge social disorder. The Calder case resulted ultimately in the Nisga'a agreement, an agreement of which all of us are extremely proud.
My friends on the opposite side of the House may not recall, but I was in the House some years ago when we debated the Nisga'a agreement until the middle of the night. It was an agreement which was revolutionary in the sense that it gave people a sense of control over their own destiny. It was nothing more, really, than a sophisticated municipal government level of control over themselves, but it enabled them to control their resources and how their population would survive in the 21st century in a way that made us so proud.
That was fought so hard by so many in the House but, in turning the page, if we look back those who opposed that with such ferocity would today say it was the right thing to do. It was the right thing to do, as I think it is the right thing to do today, not to turn our back on the Kelowna accord for the same reasons.
These have been complex cases. I have had the opportunity to argue some of them. They pit treaty people against non-treaty people. They pit aboriginal rights against extinguishment. They drag in the jurisprudence from the United States of America, South Africa, Australia, and other countries with a common law tradition about what is the responsibility that the Crown owes to people of aboriginal origin in their countries.
They even bring in international cases. Everyone may recall the Lovelace case, a case that went to the international commission on human rights and which determined that women were being discriminated against by virtue of our Indian Act in a way that forced this country to change our own Indian Act because we were required to do so by international law and international pressure.
In my view, Kelowna turned the page. It created a new framework for discussing the settlement. As was eloquently said this morning by the member for Winnipeg South Centre, in her opening statement in this House, she referred to the remarks of the premier of British Columbia, for whom this is so important, the premier of Saskatchewan, and the premier of Quebec, who said that failure was not an option, the time had come to move ahead.
That was the message I got when I travelled across the country recently, meeting the Manitoba chiefs in Winnipeg and Saskatchewan, going with my colleague, the member for Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, attending with him in his riding, and meeting people on the ground who said that we changed the tone, we changed an attitude.
We replaced this confrontation with cooperation. We created new hope. We had an opportunity to change things. But we are now wasting this opportunity.
I think that is a difficulty that we have as we speak in the House because when we contrast the past and the adversarial nature, look at what we can do when in fact there is political leadership. Look at it domestically. Look at what happened when we had the Yukon and the Northwest Territories agreements. Look at the cooperation that now takes place over our resources, the Mackenzie pipeline. When Mr. Justice Thomas Berger did his report, he said there would never be any cooperation among people, but today people are coming together because they have a buy-in. They have a sense that it is their problem; it is a common problem.
That is what Kelowna was about. It was not just about the money, but for heaven's sake, the money was there, $5 billion, it was booked. It was more than the money. It was the sense that the communities had come together, the premiers had come together, and the Prime Minister of Canada had come together with all of the various communities represented. Money was committed, but we ourselves were committed to solving these problems.
I have seen what we can do when we work together. I have been to the riding of the member for Nunavut of whom we are very proud in what she does in her riding. I have seen what is happening up there and the challenges that are in our north and our arctic as climate change takes place. However, people are meeting these challenges. We can only deal with that in cooperation.
If members could have attended, like I did when I was the foreign minister, the Arctic Council, with representatives of our aboriginal people, the Inuit Tapirisat of Canada, and the Athabasca Nation. They sat there at the table, they looked at our Russian colleagues, American colleagues and Norwegian colleagues. They talked of the Sami nations across the pole. They spoke of what their future was at the pole. They spoke about climate change. They told us the way ahead. This is what our aboriginal people do for us internationally.
The same thing was true in Quebec City at the Summit of the Council of the Americas where we had our aboriginal people present. I had the Mexican foreign minister say to me, “Send us some of your aboriginal people. Help us solve the problem of Chiapas. You can help us”. I have talked to our aboriginal leaders who have been in Mexico helping the Mexicans with their problems. I was in Chile with the leader of the Nisga'a nation when he spoke to the Chilean authorities and he went to islands there and helped negotiate with native people in their country, showing them how we can solve problems.
This is what cooperation leads to, as opposed to the adversarial system which we lived for so long in this country.
In conclusion, if we read the cases, and I would urge any member to read these cases, some of them are dry, boring legal cases. All cases tend to be dry and boring, but these tend to be the least dry and boring, if I may say. I read one, the Gitksan case, in which one of the chiefs said to the court, “The land, the plants, the animals and the people all have spirit, they all must be shown respect”.
That is what we would like in this House today, respect for an attempt to find a solution to this; not an approach that is partisan; not an approach that seeks to divide Canadians one from the other; and not to say, “Hey, we're doing something. You didn't do anything over 13 years”. We got somewhere. We had a new opportunity.
I beg of members, as the member for West Nova did, to say we learn from one another. Let us strengthen our country and our society. Let us work together for our environment, for the traditional roles of our aboriginal people on reserves or in nature, and for the new challenges in our urban spaces. We can also learn that the starting point is, as the chief said in Gitksan, respect; respect for one another and respect for an ability as Canadians to come together to find a solution which is not tolerable in a 21st century country as wealthy, prosperous, privileged and blessed as we are.