Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join my colleagues in the opposition as we participate in debating Bill C-30. It is an important bill, as I mentioned in answer to a question from the member for Burnaby—Douglas, and it appears to have agreement in principle in the House. Clearly, though, there are a number of concerns and hopefully they will be addressed in committee.
However, it is also important to raise some of those concerns in this chamber that we share and that the public has ready access to through transmission.
I represent the northern Ontario riding of Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, with its approximately 24 first nations. I am very proud and happy to represent first nations from Manitoulin Island and the north shore of Lake Huron, up through Chapleau and Wawa and near Constance Lake and Hearst.
These are communities that by and large are very well run. In fact, the chief and councillors of one of the band councils have university degrees. This does not fit, sadly, the profile of first nations, which is all too often reported in the media, which by its nature tends to report bad news.
However, the good news is that first nations are successful and can be even more successful. Specific claims based on treaties and other historic precedents need to be resolved not only for the benefit of first nations but for the benefit of all Canadians, their children and grandchildren.
I agree with my colleague from Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca that settling and improving the specific claims process is not the be-all and end-all. It is part of a mosaic of improvements that need to be made in our relationship with first nations, improvements that were well defined in the Kelowna accord, which sadly will languish until a future government, not a Conservative one, will deal with it.
There are issues around water and housing. There are issues about real human rights in our communities, not the non-consultative matrimonial property process that the government imposed on first nations. Happily, that process has been halted and first nations can do their own consultations and come up with solutions that make sense for them, solutions which they have come up with for generations, for eons of time, in fact.
Essentially the bill would take what is now the Indian Claims Commission and create a new tribunal, which would give it the teeth to make settlements. The commission, notwithstanding all of its good work, did not have the teeth to impose solutions. It could only make recommendations to the government. Of course, the government being a party to the dispute, it really was placed in a very awkward position.
A tribunal having legal authority to resolve disputes will make the process more transparent and fairer. I think of it as being similar to binding arbitration in hockey or baseball, where the parties have a process to come to a resolution more quickly and hopefully more transparently.
I would like to give members and those listening to the transmission an example of how the process in the past has been very unhelpful to first nations. I am thinking of Mississagi First Nation in my riding, a community located roughly midway between Sudbury and Sault Ste. Marie on the north shore of Lake Huron. People wonder why there are claims and why taxpayers are having to pay for the settlement of issues from centuries ago. I ask members to imagine a scenario in this community.
The scenario is that 100 or 150 years ago in that community the agent for the Crown made an arrangement which described a certain tract of land that would be the community's reserve. When the document got to England, it somehow was changed. I will not accuse anybody of changing things on purpose, but court decisions in the last 20 years in this case show that the document was changed. What was rendered as a postage-stamp sized piece of land for this community was in actual fact a much larger piece of land when the law was applied.
There was a lot of concern in the area over what this would mean, but ultimately, the right thing was done. Third parties were properly treated. I am happy to see that the government's press release talks about improving the processing of additions to reserve as a future item of business. The release talks about Bill C-30 and it talks about improving a number of other issues.
I am pleased to see that they plan to improve the processing of additions to reserves because the Mississagi First Nation has been waiting a long time for the land which it was awarded in consultation with the province subsequent to the court ruling. It is waiting for that land to be officially added, or I would say, returned to its reserve. I am hopeful that the cabinet will deal with that fairly soon because all the paperwork has long since been done.
I also had asked my colleague from Burnaby—Douglas about the innocent misunderstanding among the public about aboriginal issues, history and culture. I am not being pejorative at all; I am just pointing out that in general we do not teach in our primary and secondary schools much, if anything, about aboriginal history. I am talking about times past and I hope it is going to get better, but it still is not happening very much. We are not readily exposed to the depth of spirituality and culture in our first nations within our aboriginal people, Métis and Inuit included. I think it is very important.
In the case of a claim, our first nations face what I would refer to as a double jeopardy. On the one side they have faced a slow, ponderous process which typically takes years and years to resolve, and on the other side, through that process they face the misunderstanding in the general population about what is going on.
I would advise the House that sometime in the future I am drafting a bill which will ask the federal government to work with the provinces to promote and help develop a curriculum for primary and secondary schools which will help with the teaching of aboriginal history and culture. I think back to my high school times and I do not recall ever being told anything about aboriginal history in all of my years through primary school and secondary school. I imagine that is the case for all if not most of my colleagues. The bill will deal hopefully with the slow and ponderous part of that double jeopardy.
By the tribunal having an ability to make orders, I think it will stiffen the spines of all participants and on average should help speed up the entire process. In asking a question of one of our Bloc colleagues, I pointed out that in my understanding the provinces are not required to participate in any specific claim which comes before the tribunal. The province can choose to participate and say whatever happens out of the tribunal it will accept at the provincial level, or it can step back, wait for the tribunal process to continue and then deal with the result in whatever fashion is appropriate in the circumstances.
According to my information, a federal settlement in favour of a first nation does not automatically obligate a province should the tribunal determine in a particular case that a settlement should be awarded 80% of the fault, to use that word of the federal government, it is not going to say who the other 20% is. It could be any number of other stakeholders but for sure, and I am hopeful, it would be advantageous to the provinces to see this as potentially a very helpful process because we all want to see these settled.
Too often, the uncertainty over specific claims affects third parties. It affects municipalities that may be situated adjacent to a first nation. It can affect third parties who have land that may be within an area which is subject to a specific claim. The sooner these things can be settled, the sooner clouds of uncertainty can be removed from title that is otherwise put in question.
There is another community, the Wikwemikong Unceded Indian Reserve on Manitoulin Island, which for the longest time has been working on a Point Grondine settlement and an island settlement. I am hopeful that at some point in the not too distant future, should that claim not be resolved in the very near future, this new process will take over and will lead to a speedy resolution one way or the other, not to prejudge the outcome, although my hopes are that for all of Manitoulin and Wikwemikong the settlement be a good one for all.
I want to point out that while we happily receive this legislation, in spite of the track record thus far when it comes to first nations issues, I wish we were listening to some of our Conservative colleagues today on this issue. I think they should be on record as being supportive of this process. They should not leave their comments just to committee. While we want the bill to get to committee and get through on a timely basis, it does need a good airing, because there are such questions as who will decide on which judges will form the core group of the tribunal?
I would hope that our aboriginal communities, the AFN and others, will be consulted on who best understands the issues or who best will be impartial to the outcome so that at the very end of it all people will feel content with the result whichever way a particular decision is made. I am hopeful that the government will include our first nations leadership in its consultation on the appointment of the judges.
I would also want to make sure that this process ensures that research dollars are made available, as they are now but maybe even in a more substantial way to our communities. It will only help speed up the process if these communities, which are typically very small, have the capacity to do the research needed to support their case.
Lest there be any doubt, should a community win its claim, my understanding is that the funds advanced for research will come off the settlement, which may or may not be fair. That is for the stakeholders to decide. Regardless, there is an interest by the general population to see these claims being made completely with all the information available. That requires an ability in the community to do that research, to pull the information together. It cannot be done by a band administrator working by himself or herself with all the other jobs the administrator has. They need the resources to do this and I am very hopeful that the funds will be increased to assist our first nations in this regard.
I am also hopeful that the money to support the tribunal itself will not come out of the settlement funds. I think it would be a responsibility of the government to pay for the tribunal process itself, the salaries, the staffing, the overheads, out of the general revenues of the government, revenues that would logically be assigned to the department, but not out of funds set aside for the settlements themselves. The settlement dollars should be kept aside for that very purpose.
One of my colleagues asked whether the $150 million limit would pose a problem. It may or may not. My understanding is that, on average, settlements are in the neighbourhood of $10 million, give or take a few million. I am hopeful that the funds set aside will satisfy the claims as they come along and as they are settled. If not, the government will necessarily be obligated to increase that budget. That would be the nature of the process, as I understand it.
I would like to take a moment to mention one of the consequences for first nations when these things drag out. It is the concept of loss of use. People may wonder why taxpayers are paying a first nation for some land that they are not going to necessarily get back if that land has been sold off by a province to the federal government. It would be unusual for that land to be given back if it has been sold to third parties. Typically the solution, and this bill calls for a monetary solution to the problem, is there would be a monetary settlement.
If a first nation has not had the use of a tract of land for 150 years or 200 years because it was improperly taken or improperly surveyed or for whatever other reason, the first nation has not had the use of that land for all those decades. That could be loss of access for logging rights or for mineral rights. Others have accessed those minerals or the timber. Others have accessed the land for hunting and sport fishing or even commercial fishing when it comes to water.
There is a concept about the loss of use. Among the many elements to make up a settlement is that loss of use and the fact that over the decades and the hundreds of years the first nation has not had the ability to use that land. In most cases it has lost untold sums of money because resources were taken out from under it.
Some people may say that those things happened a long time ago and why should we be worried about them now. Well in fact, a deal is a deal. A deal was made between a particular first nation and the Crown. That deal was made in good faith at that time. For right or wrong reasons sometimes those deals, and I guess there would never be a good reason for not honouring a deal, but for different reasons, treaties were not honoured. Agreements between a first nation community and the Crown were not honoured.
It is incumbent upon us to reconcile the present with the past in a way that is fair, in a way which recognizes this loss of use, the inability to have access to resources not only for the first nations' own enjoyment, but for their own economic benefit, to help them pay for the services they need in their communities so that the communities have access to animals for food, hunting, fishing or furs. When lands were sold off without their permission and mainstream Canada moved in and urban growth moved in, in many cases that was a loss of use that can never be recovered. It is only fair that if a specific claim is a good claim and it can be proven by the community and looked at honestly and fairly and a settlement should be made, then it should be done on a timely basis for the benefit of all.
I would like to mention that in spite of a lot of news which, sadly, talks about high incarceration rates for our aboriginal people, high diabetes rates, low secondary school success rates, the June 29 day of protest which received a lot of news in some instances, behind all these stories which too often involve negative news, there are many more good news stories.
I would like to talk for a moment about two communities in my riding that are relevant to the claims process, the community of Serpent River First Nation, which is on the north shore of Lake Huron between Sudbury and Sault Ste. Marie, and the city of Elliot Lake. These communities, less than a year ago, after a couple of years of negotiating entered into a memorandum of agreement. They would walk together going forward when it came to sharing the land base. First of all, the land base is the Serpent River First Nation's traditional land base in the Serpent River watershed. They have proof of that going back many millennia when it comes to burial sites and other markings in the earth which demonstrate that they were there long before European contact.
At the same time, the city of Elliot Lake was born out of the huge uranium industry, which started in the mid-1950s. At one time Elliot Lake was the world's uranium capital. This took place in the Serpent River First Nations territorial lands. Instead of fighting over this over the years, they got together, and they are looking forward.