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House of Commons Hansard #30 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was nations.

Topics

Specific Claims Tribunal ActGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

Specific Claims Tribunal ActGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

Order. The hon. member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca for a short question.

Specific Claims Tribunal ActGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, my question for my hon. colleague, who has worked so hard in the Yukon for aboriginal communities, is a simple one. The Indian Act, in my view, is something that is a boot on the neck of aboriginal communities. Does he not think that the Indian Act should be scrapped forthwith?

Specific Claims Tribunal ActGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

The hon. member for Yukon will want to give a short answer.

Specific Claims Tribunal ActGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, why do I always get the hardest questions from my own caucus? The short answer is that this is what land claims are all about, because then they no longer fall under the Indian Act. Aboriginal peoples would govern themselves. They would not be governed by an archaic piece of legislation. Their problems would remain in their own hands. They would have the resources. They would have the rights under which they have successfully governed themselves for thousands of years.

If we could just get the comprehensive claims moved forward, not the specific claims bill, without votes against them as there were in the past from the Conservatives, that problem would be solved, and we would not have to work under the archaic--

Specific Claims Tribunal ActGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou.

Specific Claims Tribunal ActGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

Bloc

Yvon Lévesque Bloc Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to explain that my riding includes the region of Nunavik, not Nunavut. There is a difference between the two territories, and I would not like to take the place of my Liberal colleague who represents Nunavut.

If I read correctly, this bill applies only to specific claims, but what are specific claims, in lay terms?

We do not need to look very far to learn that they originated in old grievances made by the first nations. These grievances have to do with negotiations Canada is required to conduct under historic treaties or the way the country has managed the money or other property belonging to the first nations, including reserve lands.

It is true that, since 1973, the government has had a policy and a process whereby it settles these claims through negotiation rather than in court.

However, there have been calls for measures to settle these disputes not just since 1973, but since July 1947, when a joint committee of the Senate and the House of Commons made this recommendation:

That a Commission, in the nature of the Claims Commission, be set up with the least possible delay to inquire into the terms of the Indian treaties...and to appraise and settle in a just and equitable manner any claims or grievances arising thereunder.

It was not until 1961 that another joint committee of the Senate and the House of Commons again recommended that a claims commission be set up and Prime Minister Diefenbaker's cabinet approved draft legislation to create a claims commission. However, as luck would have it, this draft legislation was never introduced, because of an election call.

Nevertheless, Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson introduced Bill C-130, entitled the Indian Claims Act, in the House of Commons on December 14, 1963. He was determined to keep up with the true Conservatives. However, even back then, the government neglected to consult with the first nations, and the bill was withdrawn to allow time for consultation.

Another bill with the same title was introduced on June 21, 1965. June 21: what a lovely date. I can hardly wait for it to arrive. All kidding aside, guess what happened: yes, the bill died on the order paper when an election was called.

It was not until 1973 that further action was taken, with the establishment of the specific claims policy I mentioned at the very beginning of my remarks, which has been in effect to this day.

In the meantime, a government report on the administrative process for resolving specific claims was indeed published in 1979, citing conflicting duties and recommending the creation of an independent body which would in all respects be a specialized tribunal.

During the same period of time, the Penner report, published in 1983, called for a quasi-judicial process for managing failed negotiations and the neutral facilitation of negotiated settlements.

In 1990, in a report entitled “Unfinished Business: An Agenda for All Canadians in the 1990's”, a standing committee of the House of Commons reiterated the need for an independent claims body. At the same time, a joint working group bringing together representatives of Canada and the first nations—things are getting better—was looking at creating a permanent, legislative entity with tribunal-like powers, and finally in January 1991, the government created the Indian Specific Claims Commission under the federal Inquiries Act .

This commission was only intended as an interim measure, until a permanent independent body with adjudicative powers could be created. The commission remains in existence today, but continues to have only non-binding powers to make recommendations.

By 1996, the need was ever more pressing. The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, whose report is commonly known as the Erasmus-Dussault report, conducted extensive consultations with first nations people across the country and recommended an independent tribunal to replace the ISCC and concentrate on land and treaty issues.

In 1998, the efforts of a joint Canada-first nations working group eventually led to Bill C-6, specific claims legislation which, this time, received royal assent, in November 2003. That legislation would have provided binding decision-making powers, including on those compensation amounts, estimated at $10 million, which first nations deemed insufficient. They rejected that. This is yet another fine example of consultation.

Here we are now, in 2007, with Bill C-30, at a time when the political landscape has evolved somewhat, at least I hope so. To my knowledge, there are already particular conditions in Quebec, such as a specific first nations association with their own culture and needs. However, this government seems, deliberately or not, to have forgotten to consult those first nations. If we look at the timing of this bill, it is almost certain that we will have an election before it reaches third reading stage. In the end, this bill will only have served electoral purposes, as was the case with Kelowna, in 2005, with Bill C-130, in 1965, or with the Diefenbaker draft bill, in 1962.

In the explanatory notes that accompany this bill—and that were given to us by the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development—it is mentioned that the new approach is based on a wealth of reports, studies and recommendations made by first nations in the past. I emphasize the expression “in the past”. I am prepared to believe that federal officials did consult a few first nations leaders, as they did in 1963 with Bill C-130, for which they had to go back again for another consultation, or in 2003 with Bill C-6, for which they consulted a few first nations leaders. I sense that we will have to hear many more dissatisfied witnesses, as was the case with Bills C-44 and C-21, which is now before us and regarding which the government merely changed the cover page, even though it is well aware of the fact that the various first nations associations are unhappy about it.

I feel a little sheepish for overestimating the Prime Minister's vision and desire for transparency, a transparency that is less relevant than that of Quebec's dark ages under Duplessis, whom he reminds me of, if only because he is so blindly obstinate.

Like my Bloc Québécois colleagues, I will nevertheless support this bill, which will speed up the resolution of specific claims of first nations, a process that has been criticized since the 1940s, as I just described. It would still have to receive royal assent before an election, and all the first nations must agree to it.

How many times in the past have we heard the elected members of this government announce the support of provincial premiers or ministers, organizations or union leaders, when it was completely untrue? As some people would say, credibility goes hand in hand with accountability, which the government seems to be seriously lacking.

I would like to take this opportunity to offer my condolences to the Whapmagoostui community and the family and friends of David Masty, a prominent Cree man who went missing in the waters of Hudson's Bay over the weekend. He was seen as an elder throughout northern Quebec. He was a longtime friend of mine for whom I had a lot of respect.

It goes without saying that we have some concerns about this bill, for example, the fact that a single judge will render a binding decision about a third party's responsibility for paying without that party even being involved in the judgment. Quebec assumes a great deal of responsibility towards first nations, so the other provinces and this government could be more vulnerable to this type of judgment. Could the judge unilaterally require a third party to pay 30% of a first nations claim? Once again, what about the government's fiduciary responsibility?

The Bloc Québécois recognizes that certain specific claims are a strictly federal responsibility. Various House committees have been recommending the establishment of this tribunal for more than 60 years, in order to resolve specific first nations claims, as mentioned at the beginning of my speech, with the expression of concern and regret over the fact that this government is, once again, ignoring Quebec's distinctiveness.

Given the current structure of the judicial appointment process, a contested process if ever there was one, it is worrisome to think that a decision by this tribunal could not be appealed, and this goes for Quebec as well as for first nations, even though the decision is subject to judicial oversight.

This approach will have consequences that first nations really need to consider carefully. No further legal action will be possible. The surrender of land rights will give a clear title to third parties who own the land, and the decisions of the tribunal will resolve, once and for all, all specific claims.

Given that a province, which does not attend a land claim ruling, has no obligation to compensate the first nation, it is possible that the first nation will use the federal decision to demand compensation from that province. What happens, then, to the federal fiduciary responsibility?

The Bloc Québécois has always supported aboriginal peoples in their quest for justice and recognition of their rights. We recognize that the 11 first nations of Quebec are nations in their own right. We recognize that they are distinct peoples with the right to their own culture, language, customs and traditions as well as the right to direct the development of their own identity.

For this reason, aboriginal peoples must have the tools to develop their own identity, namely the right to self-government and the recognition of their rights. The right to self-determination was recognized by the Bloc Québécois in 1993 in its manifeste du Forum paritaire Québécois-Autochtones, in the future country of Quebec where we will also be masters of our own culture and vision for the future.

Like my Bloc Québécois colleagues, I reiterate my support for this bill, which will speed up resolution of the specific claims of the first nations that have been ongoing for 70 years. However, this is contingent upon my not discovering along the way, as is the case with many other declarations, that the declaration is as false as the consultation of first nations.

Naturally we will have the opportunity to examine the bill in the standing committee. I have the privilege of being a member of that committee where we can observe the childish antics of the members of this government, who have demonstrated a chronic inability to accept other people's ideas.

That is perhaps why they continue to call themselves the new government. There are too many issues that have failed to advance. It is like a plumber who has not understood that something other than water may pass through a pipe. Or an electrician who believes that his job is to make wires pass through this same pipe. This leads to confrontations, such as those the government will have on the international stage, which unfortunately would have reflected on the whole country had it not been for the generosity of the Bloc Québécois members who helped their colleagues go to defend Quebec's integrity in Bali.

What a bunch of half-wits we would have looked like without those few sensible persons who, democratically, have an undeniable right, especially because in terms of simple distribution, this government only represents some 30% of the Canadian population! Unfortunately, we have not yet avoided this reputation, which we must acknowledge is not a source of pride.

We have not forgotten this government's stand with respect to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It is enough to leave anyone involved with this bill perplexed.

We in northern Quebec certainly have our own concerns about the last James Bay agreement, which gave the Cree their share, although they are still awaiting the final agreement.

This is somewhat like Santa's sack, which he is holding in front of the beneficiaries, even though he has no intention of loosening the strings and handing out any presents. This is another point that reminds us of the dirty tricks of the Duplessis years.

It is like the hon. member for Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean, who was elected based on his campaign promise to resolve the forestry crisis. He was elected at the beginning of September. The throne speech was presented at the end of October, but there was no mention of the forestry crisis. Nevertheless, he stood up and voted for that speech. This is not a problem; there are others just like him. In fact, one mayor in my riding stood up to protect this little sinking ship in a sea of Canadians—especially in the shadow of a big Albertan—who would include this topic in the next minibudget. Once again, they did not deliver.

Yet, his big Albertan, as a consolation prize, allows him to blather on, making a few silly remarks on occasion, getting a laugh out of the visitors' gallery, more often than not at his own expense. After all, there are still a few good little French Canadians in Quebec who have not yet managed to separate.

For all these reasons, the Bloc Québécois must remain ever vigilant and uncompromising on behalf of all Quebeckers, aboriginal and non-aboriginal. This always leads us to demand that Quebec officials be consulted in the same way as Canadian officials.

We will therefore vote in favour of this bill, so we may study it and propose amendments, as needed.

Specific Claims Tribunal ActGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

I thank the hon. member for Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou.

The hon. member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca.

Specific Claims Tribunal ActGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to take this opportunity to address this issue.

We know the issues affecting aboriginal communities are some of the most pressing social problems in Canada. In my riding, in places like Pacheenaht, there are high suicide rates, abject poverty, terrible housing and an absence of water, to name just a few of the problems.

Does my colleague think that part of the problem is aboriginal members do not have the ability to properly control their leadership in too many cases? As a result, they do not have the same rights as we do. Unfortunately, in a number of communities they are treated in an abusive way. Furthermore, aboriginal members living off reserve and living in cities sometimes fall between the cracks.

Do we not need to allow aboriginal people to have the same rights of property ownership, access to health care and education as the rest of us have and the ability to have the same electoral guidelines we have in electing our leaders?

Specific Claims Tribunal ActGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Bloc

Yvon Lévesque Bloc Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I find it disappointing that 60% of the money given to first nations is used for their defence and to fight federal government lawyers.

It is true that a long, long time ago, the lands of these communities should have been recognized as theirs. As an invading people, we took what we felt was necessary to meet our needs in this country. They did not ask for much. Unfortunately for them, they have a trusting nature; a handshake to them is as good as a signature. We took advantage of that over and over and at every opportunity. It was every man for himself.

These people should have the chance to manage themselves, to have the same revenues and to profit from the natural resources found on their land. In my riding, there are some of these people, of whom I am very proud. They are entrepreneurs who will enrich our country.

Specific Claims Tribunal ActGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, I take exception with one of the comments the member from the Bloc made in his diatribe. The comment that we are doing this for political purposes is so far from the truth it is not even funny.

First nation leaders and our government have worked together on Bill C-30. They want to see this happen and they want to see it happen expeditiously. We have a chance today to get this to committee. I have heard from all the opposition parties that they support the bill in principle. Let us send it to committee. We do not need to have a game of silly buggers going on in here, having opposition members getting up and continuing to speak on a bill—

Specific Claims Tribunal ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Brent St. Denis Liberal Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. A word was used that I have never heard before. Could you explain what that term means? Do I need to repeat it?

Specific Claims Tribunal ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

An hon. member

What is that silly bugger doing?

Specific Claims Tribunal ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

The hon. member for Selkirk—Interlake has the floor.

Specific Claims Tribunal ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am referring to kids' games where often people go on and on. We do not need these filibusters.

If all the parties support the bill in principle, we have a chance today to send it to committee, to prove the point to our first nations leaders and communities that we want to finally complete the outstanding issues of treaty land claims and do it in an expedited manner in the House and set the example for how we will deal with all these outstanding TLEs with our first nations partners.

Specific Claims Tribunal ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Bloc

Yvon Lévesque Bloc Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am not sure if my colleague wants a Conservative-style answer. I will give him a Quebecker's response.

We are not the ones who created smokescreens.

Specific Claims Tribunal ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

Specific Claims Tribunal ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Bloc

Yvon Lévesque Bloc Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

I would like the NDP members to be more attentive and less distracting.

If we just look at Bill C-44, there too, the Conservatives said that they had consulted the first nations. But when the bill was published, there was an outcry from aboriginal women from Canada and Quebec, the leader of the Canadian Assembly of First Nations and the leader of the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador in protest against this lie.

They have introduced a bill and now they are saying once again that they have consulted. Many people are unsure whether this time that is the truth.

Specific Claims Tribunal ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Brent St. Denis Liberal Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask my colleague a brief question about the role of the provinces.

As I understand it, the province can choose whether to become involved. Is that the case?

According to the information I have, each province, in a given application or claim, can decide whether it wants to give the tribunal authority to deal with its part in a claim, or it can stand back and in such a case the tribunal will proceed without any reference to any provincial role in that claim. The tribunal will only settle matters of monetary concern, nothing to do with land.

Is my understanding correct or do I misunderstand that there is no imposition on a province of a role other than by its own choice to become involved?

Specific Claims Tribunal ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Bloc

Yvon Lévesque Bloc Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Mr. Speaker, this is what I understand from the bill.

A province can choose to participate in a hearing for a particular claim. If the province participates, it commits to abiding by the judge's decision and not appealing it. If it does not participate, it is not obligated to recognize the judge's decision. However, we believe that if the judge finds fault, the first nation will be able to take the province to court.

Our question is about the government's fiduciary responsibility to first nations. Will the province be required to pay 30% of the compensation to be awarded?

Specific Claims Tribunal ActGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, first, we all know the Department of Indian Affairs has a very high administrative cost and burden. Those moneys could best be used for dealing with primary education, health care, social programs and infrastructure for aboriginal communities.

Second, if we look at the issue of land claims where they have been resolved east of the Rockies versus west of the Rockies and ask if aboriginal communities are better off east of the Rockies versus west, the answer is there is little difference.

Aboriginal communities east of the Rockies can be found to be in as horrible a condition as in the west. Non-reserve aboriginal people can be in the same horrible circumstances east of the Rockies as west. Therefore, do we not have to look at this in a larger context and provide new and better solutions, to work with aboriginal people to resolve the issues they have so many of them can be self-sufficient and self-reliant and they can engage in a 21st century economy?

Given that it is what most aboriginal people want, how does the hon. member propose that it happens and does he think that the bill will do that?

Specific Claims Tribunal ActGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

The hon. member for Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou may answer briefly.

Specific Claims Tribunal ActGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

Bloc

Yvon Lévesque Bloc Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to remind my colleague that I said that my Bloc Québécois colleagues and I support this bill. Nevertheless, I question what the government would have us believe about having consulted all of the first nations and receiving their support for this bill. They can take as much time—

Specific Claims Tribunal ActGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

Order, please. 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 Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, Canada Revenue Agency; the hon. member for Hull—Aylmer, Elections Canada; the hon. member for London—Fanshawe, Infrastructure.

Specific Claims Tribunal ActGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, as I begin, I want to assure my colleague from the Bloc, the member for Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, that the commotion in this corner was New Democrat members defending him against the derision that was heaped on him by Conservative members during his speech. We were listening very carefully to his remarks.

Specifically, this afternoon we are discussing Bill C-30, the specific claims tribunal act. I want to begin by saying that I represent people who live on Coast Salish territory on the Lower Mainland of British Columbia.

The New Democrats believe the legislation is long overdue. The NDP has long called for an independent specific claims tribunal. In fact, it was part of our election platform in at least the last two federal election campaigns and, as party policy, it was reaffirmed at a recent policy convention of the New Democratic Party. We strongly support this and we will support the bill.

We are a little hesitant today because all the experts on aboriginal affairs issues are in committee this afternoon. We think it is unfortunate that the government did not get the timing a little better today to ensure that Bill C-30 would be debated in the House at a time when Bill C-21 was not before the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs in clause by clause discussion. Unfortunately many of our members, our experts in this place from all parties, have to be involved at committee today.

We support the legislation and we will want to work on again at committee, where witnesses will be heard and improvements made.

One of the reasons we support the legislation is we know it has been developed in consultation with first nations. This probably could have been more broad than it was, but it is an important step and we want to acknowledge that this consultative step was taken. We believe this is a good example of how this should be applied more broadly by the government in its relationships with first nations. We believe this might go some way to restoring the nation to nation relationship that existed at the time treaties were signed, and it needs to be part of negotiations of new treaties.

The context of our discussion today is one that is not all that positive, to put it mildly. We come to this discussion today after a long and sad history of discussion of specific claims in Canada. We have seen many reports and many attempts at legislation, even failed legislation, legislation that was passed and then proved unworkable.

This has gone on for many years, beginning with the Indian Act that was in place from 1927 to 1951. It prohibited band funds from being used to sue the government, to take the government to court, to change or to hold the government accountable for agreements and treaties and specific commitments that were made. Thankfully that was changed, but we have seen other things.

I think every decade has seen activity around the question of specific claims. In the 1940s we saw the original recommendation that there be a claims tribunal. Similarly there were recommendations in the 1950s. In the 1960s there was even legislation that died on the order paper, apparently twice. In the 1970s there were more recommendations and attempts. In the 1996 report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal People, one of the recommendations, on of the specific calls, was for an independent specific claims tribunal. In the 2000s, in the previous Parliament, we saw an attempt to deal with this issue in legislation, which has proven unworkable. Many attempts have been made over the long and sad history of dealing with this issue.

Therefore, we come to this today. We come hopeful that this current legislation will be more successful and will do more to address the specific issues that have been before us for so many decades in Canada.

I want to note that this attempt has been welcomed by first nations. In British Columbia that is also the case. The First Nations Leadership Council, which is comprised of the political executives of the First Nations Summit, the Union of BC Indian Chiefs and the BC Assembly of First Nations, has been optimistic about this process since it was first made public back in the late spring.

In a press release in June of this year, they said that they would welcome an independent body for specific claims that was being proposed and that they were cautiously optimistic regarding the proposals.

That is a good thing and I think we can all be pleased that there is this kind of optimism from the leadership of first nations regarding this process.

The First Nations Leadership Council points out that the specific claims that are being discussed arise from, as it puts it, Canada's breach or non-fulfillment of lawful obligations found in treaties, agreements or statutes, including the Indian Act. It points out that the existing 25 year old federal specific claims policy sets out the process for the resolution of these claims through determination of their validity and subsequent negotiations.

However, we have seen a terrible backlog and a gridlock in that resolution system. Currently there are over 900 specific claims designated as under review by the Government of Canada. It is important to note that almost half of those originate from B.C. first nations. Also, of the more than 300 claims currently at the Department of Justice awaiting legal review, 65% of those originate from B.C. first nations.

Therefore, B.C. first nations have a particular concern for this process. We have seen in reports that have been made, most recently the Senate report that was made in 2006, that B.C. was a particular subject in that report and the uniqueness of British Columbia when it comes to the outstanding specific claims, given that there are so many from British Columbia.

This is something that is of particular importance to first nations in British Columbia and, by the same token, to all people in British Columbia because we are anxious to see the relationship with our first nations restored and these specific claims resolved.

At the time, back in June when this proposal was announced, the leaders of the First Nations Leadership Council made various statements. Chief Shawn Atleo of the BC Assembly of First nations said:

An independent panel on specific claims is long overdue. Given this body will possess the necessary mandate with full decision-making authority and an appropriate level of financial and human resources, we expect they ensure that specific claims are fairly considered and equitably resolved in a timely manner.

That was a very important statement of support for this process that came from Chief Atleo.

Grand chief, Stewart Phillip, the president of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, had this to say about the proposal. He said:

The Government of Canada acting as both the judge and jury in the specific claims process has been in a clear conflict of interest. Removing this conflict through the creation of an independent body will ensure that we do not have to wait ninety years to resolve the existing backlog of claims. Furthermore, an effective Specific Claims Policy must be fully committed to addressing, and not side-stepping, all types of claims regardless of size and scope.

While showing his interest in this proposal, Grand Chief Phillip also raised some challenges to the process and some issues that he hoped to see addressed by the legislation and, hopefully, if they are lacking, we can address those when this legislation is before the committee.

Back in June, grand chief, Edward John, political executive of the First Nations Summit, said:

We fully support the recommendations of the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples. In particular, we fully agree with the recommendation that First Nations need to be “full partners” with the Government of Canada in the development of legislation and policy to ensure that Canada meets its lawful obligations to First Nations in the resolution of specific claims.

Again, that reiterates a point I made at the beginning of my speech about the importance of that kind of consultation going into legislative proposals that are brought before the House. We are glad at least to some extent that kind of consultation did take place on this legislation.

Those were some of the concerns raised by the First Nations Leadership Council in British Columbia. It does indicate its support for the legislation but it has raised some specific concerns. I know that the New Democratic Party's aboriginal affairs critic, the member for Nanaimo—Cowichan, will be raising those issues at committee and will be working to ensure that witnesses appear before the committee who can expand on those concerns.

One of the specific concerns that arises is the $150 million cap on the value of claims that can be referred to the tribunal for validation and settlement. One of the concerns about that cap is exactly how it will be determined, how the value of that claim will be calculated. There is a concern about wanting to be consistent and wanting to ensure that it best represents the interests of first nations in calculating that amount.

Another concern that has been raised by the B.C. chiefs is the need for more resources to be dedicated to the research, negotiation and settlement of B.C. specific claims which comprise nearly half the claims in the system and 62% of the claims in the Department of Justice backlog.

We have heard that many times from leaders in the aboriginal community but also from the Senate committee that looked at the situation and wrote a report in 2006 called “Negotiations or Confrontation: It's Canada's Choice”. The Senate committee spent considerable time and effort looking at the question of limited resources in the current process.

These are all things that we would want to avoid in the new process: things like the constant turnover of staff, the ever-increasing backlog, the lack of training that researchers have which often leads to the repetition of historical errors, of frustration and inefficiency in the system. Another one of the resource issues is the inability to have inappropriate information sharing among the parties involved.

Those are some of the specific lack of resource issues that we believe need to be addressed in Bill C-30 and in the regulations and implementation that follows from it. Without appropriate resources to do this work, it will not be done well or it will not be done at all perhaps. This is something we will want to make sure is followed up on.

Concerns have also been expressed by the aboriginal first nations leadership in British Columbia about the exact definition of specific claims. Clearly, that is something that will need to be looked at and resolved because there is no sense having a specific claims tribunal process where there is concern about what the definition of those claims actually is.

I think the first nations of British Columbia also have a number of concerns that they will be raising and it is our intention to ensure that opportunity is provided at the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development when it is looking at this legislation.

Another concern is about the appointment of the tribunal and who serves on the tribunal itself. We want to be sure that first nations are represented in that process of appointment. The resolution of these specific claims should not be solely at Canada's discretion. Canada again cannot be put in the position of being judge and jury on these issues at the same time. We need to ensure the independence of this process, which is the intention of this legislation, but we also need to consider the appointment process of those who sit on the tribunal to ensure they are representative of all the parties, are truly independent and can make the best and most appropriate decisions related to these specific claims. That is something else that we, for our part, will be pursuing in conjunction with first nations at the committee.

I think it is important to point out that we need to make progress on these sorts of legal arrangements to settle specific claims. This mechanism has been too cumbersome, too unproductive, has caused too much tension and too much uncertainty and instability in Canada for far too long. We need to ensure we have an effective process for resolving these issues.

In her speech earlier today, my colleague from Nanaimo—Cowichan said that we needed to be aware that having the most just process in this case, the most legal process, the best court process that we can have does not necessarily solve the problem of reconciliation between first nations and Canada. We need to ensure we have an early and honourable reconciliation and avoid endless appeals and endless court processes that may not allow us to live together successfully.

Many experts, including many judicial experts and judges themselves, say that reconciliation cannot be dealt with in a courtroom, which is one of the most confrontational settings that we have in our society.

I hope we will also look down the road to reconciliation and how this resolution of specific claims fits into that broader question of reconciliation between Canada and first nations.

We are looking forward to working on many things at committee. One of the other issues that should be reviewed at the aboriginal affairs committee is the political accord that was also signed at the time this legislation was tabled, the political accord that will deal with claims above $150 million. This legislation only deals with claims under $150 million.

Many issues need to be looked at. There are questions about why those claims are outside of any legislative process. Maybe they should have been included in Bill C-30 or other legislation. I think that is very important.

However, we are glad that this agreement was signed between the government and the grand chief of the Assembly of First Nations, but I do have some questions and I think that there needs to be some further discussion of those issues as well.

I hope we can avoid some of the problems that we have seen in the history of our relationship between Canada and first nations. I hope we can avoid some of the problems we have seen with the Conservative government's failure to recognize the Kelowna accord and the transformative change accord that was signed with the first nations of British Columbia, the Government of Canada and the B.C. government at the same time as the Kelowna accord.

We want to ensure those agreement are honoured. We have supported those agreements here. Some of our concern about not honouring those kinds of agreements goes to the whole context of how we resolve other issues between Canada and first nations. A history of failure to live up to agreements, accords and treaties that we have negotiated does not help us resolve the problems that are before us currently.

The New Democratic Party is looking forward to seeing the legislation go to the committee and we too support getting it there. We do not believe in rushing things off to committee without appropriate debate here in the House of Commons because that is part of the legislative process in this place. We will be doing that and we will be taking care to look at all aspects of the legislation as it comes before the House and as it comes before committee.

Sometimes in this place, when we go gangbusters, we miss important issues and make mistakes. We cannot afford to do that. We are looking forward to getting this to committee, hearing from appropriate witnesses and, hopefully, making this the best possible legislation we can to deal with the issue of specific claims.