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House of Commons Hansard #94 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

10:55 a.m.

Bloc

André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, frankly, I am insulted to be told that I am taking part in some kind of stalling tactic or filibuster when I clearly explained my interest in this issue. When I was elected, I served as the deputy aboriginal affairs critic for the Bloc Québécois and closely followed the work of the aboriginal affairs committees before I was appointed as the agriculture and agri-food critic. I did not stop taking an interest in aboriginal affairs, even after I was assigned to another portfolio.

I do not understand why I am being accused of something when I am just doing my job as a parliamentarian. Yesterday, I listened to all the members who spoke about this issue, and a number of the speeches were extremely interesting. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians should listen to them as well. As I said, despite what he claims, this bill is going to emancipate aboriginal people and even bring them wealth. We have to tell it like it is: this bill would establish a tribunal, which is a good thing, a step forward, but it will not solve all the serious problems on reserves.

I agree with him that the aboriginal people want to be emancipated. That is true. This bill is a step in the right direction. Signing the UN declaration would be not only a step in the right direction, but a huge step in the right direction, a demonstration of this government's determination to improve the lot of the first nations.

However, I will not stand for being told that we are using delaying tactics when we have clearly stated that we support this bill. I have an interest in this issue. The critic from Abitibi—Témiscamingue asked me whether I wanted to take part in this debate, but he did not tell me that we were engaging in some sort of stalling tactics. I am surprised at these insults this morning.

Specific Claims Tribunal ActGovernment Orders

11 a.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, the comment by the Conservative member was odd, because the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development also asked questions today. I do not think it was systematic obstruction or filibustering, although they are the experts on that.

My question for my Quebec colleague has to do with the problems of poverty, suicide, and so on. I am very familiar with the situation in northern British Columbia, but I am not very familiar with the situation in northern Quebec or the situation facing aboriginals in Quebec.

Are aboriginal peoples in northern Quebec currently in the same situation? Because there is a big difference between the people of Quebec—with respect to the situation in Quebec—and the rest of Canada. I am curious. Is the situation really similar? Because the Indian Act is so ridiculous and out of touch; it is a form of oppression.

I am curious about what is going on particularly in northern Quebec. I am not sure if my colleague is familiar with the aboriginals in northern Quebec.

For us, there is the problem of isolation, and there are economic difficulties that come from living in the north, far from cities, far from the central economy and the rest of the province. I do not know if it is the same in Quebec.

Specific Claims Tribunal ActGovernment Orders

11 a.m.

Bloc

André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member very much for his question. He is right to say it is the Conservatives who are the experts in filibusters. It is easy to see that in some of the committees. There have been a host of problems at the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights and the Standing Committee on Official Languages. Among other things, the chairs have been thrown out of both. The Conservatives do not have any lessons to give us, therefore, because we are doing our job in the House.

In reply to his particular question—because that is what interests us today—I would say that the hon. member is quite right to wonder whether the first nations in Quebec, and especially northern Quebec, experience the same problems. These problems of poverty, suicide, and drug addiction are found in Quebec too.

In isolated areas in the north in particular, as the hon. member said, the isolation adds to the problems he just described. That is why we are telling the government not to close its eyes to this situation.

The hon. member is quite right when he says that the Indian Act is ridiculous and out of touch. Nobody wants it any more but it is still there. When I say “nobody”, I mean mostly the first nations, of course, who have to deal with an antiquated act—there is no other word for it.

Some hon. members in this House have said it is a racist, oppressive act. I think all these adjectives apply. The government should not just note what is happening but try to do something about the situation of these peoples, who have even worse problems when they are isolated. Just think of some of these communities. The hon. member himself mentioned houses that are ill-suited to the far north or were built elsewhere.

It is the same in Quebec. In some communities, the houses were not built with any consideration at all of the climate or the fact that many people live in each one. It is common among the first nations for a number of people to live together in the same house. That often results in humidity problems. Then there are problems with running water. All these problems should be corrected as soon as absolutely possible.

We were talking a while ago about the Auditor General and her report. Even today there are thousands of native children living in extreme poverty. Someone, somewhere has closed their eyes and it is time now to open them.

Specific Claims Tribunal ActGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is with great anticipation that I enter this debate today because this affects not only regions like mine in northwestern British Columbia, but I believe it affects the very nature and fabric of our country. It is essential to ensure that legislation like this, Bill C-30, the specific claims tribunal act, is written properly, written well, and written with proper consultation with those most affected and those are the first nations communities that are impacted by the treaty process.

I think all parties within this place have recognized that the process that has existed for so many years has been tinkered with and touched at the margins, but never fundamentally addressed. As I will illustrate over my speaking time here, the greatest effect is on those first nations living in desperate straits.

I cannot recall the number of times, because there have been so many from all sides of this House and from all parties, that we have talked about the conditions of first nations people and how unacceptable those conditions would be for any other group within this country. We need to look upon this as Canadians with unequivocal shame and some understanding that it cannot go on and must change.

I can recall having conversations with the former Indian affairs minister just at the beginning of the tenure of the current regime about the ambitions and the desire to see fundamental shifts in the Indian Act itself. It has guided and ruled over first nations for far too long and is a broken act. The evidence does not need to be crafted up with more government studies because the real, anecdotal evidence is on the ground.

I refer to my colleague from Yukon, whose area has made some progress in trying to take a different approach to first nations consultation, a region, along with other regions across the north, that has attempted to have a deeper inclusion of first nations people in the decision making process. As a result, everyone has benefited. Is the system perfect in Yukon or in other territories in the north? Of course not, but it is a step ahead and I believe that it is simply a question of proximity.

I represent Skeena--Bulkley Valley, a region of some 30% to 35% first nations. In the communities that I represent, where first nations are living side by side with non-first nations, the understanding of the situation, the understanding of culture and history, is deeper and more profound. When I am touring the rest of the country, when I am speaking here in Parliament with my colleagues who do not have that experience, there is a certain alienation that goes on, a certain misunderstanding of what the reality is for first nations people.

That is somewhat to be understood but is no longer acceptable. In order for this country to progress, in order for us as Canadian people to start to feel proud again about having an inclusive, fair and just society, then simply this issue, if no other, must be addressed.

Regarding the specifics of this bill, this is an attempt to clear up a backlog that has not received enough attention, that is the 800-some land claims that wait in some sort of purgatory, some sort of limbo, that has gone on for too long and is costing both first nations communities and Canadian taxpayers untold millions of dollars in meeting after meeting with little or no progress. Unfortunately, those who most suffer are those who can least afford to suffer: the first nations people living on first nations reserves all across this country.

About 60% of these claims actually exist in B.C. For historical reasons, land was not seeded. It was not put under any treaty upon first contact and there was a promise made. There was a promise made in the enactment of what is now Canada that the Government of Canada, then controlled by British Parliament, would treat in good faith and would come to the table in good faith with first nations people and attempt to resolve the land question and issues surrounding land.

First nations across this country, and in particular British Columbia and in the north, took in good faith the documents that the government officials had in their hands, thinking that they meant something and that those documents would be adhered to. They thought that there would be some sort of justice and some sort of sense of decency and honour from the Crown, that the Crown would come forward and represent those interests and meet between nations and settle treaties because this had been the first nations experience through all of their history between different first nations.

The reason that we know this is because those nations are alive and well today. They will tell us the histories of when there was conflict between first nations which had gone on for thousands of years, that when they came to some resolution to a dispute, they would meet with honour and treaties would be upheld.

We have oral traditions in the northwest of British Columbia going back thousands of years. It seems that every time another archaeological dig is performed, the extension goes back another thousand or two thousand years. Some of the first nations elders in my communities shake their heads when they tell me about this because their claim, their understanding, is time immemorial. They have spent generation after generation and as they say “walked upon the bones of their grandfathers and great grandfathers and going back through time”.

That has brought them to a certain sense and understanding of how the land works, how their communities function with other communities, and that ability to have conflict which is inevitable between peoples. It happens within households. It happens within communities. It happens between nations. That seems to be an unfortunate but inevitable circumstance of the human condition, but then when those conflicts happen, that there is a place and a time for us to resolve those conflicts, a time when we sit down at the table as near equals as can be and settle our differences.

There are an enormous number of reasons why this imperative is growing and needs to be addressed. That is why New Democrats have put this solution, the requirement of an independent arm's-length tribunal from the government, into our last two election platforms and passed recently at the NDP convention. This is why we have a first nations consultation group working with our party to help guide what needs to go into this independent tribunal.

Frankly, what trust should first nations have in the House of Commons, in this Parliament, to get it right all by themselves because over the years any objective observer would look at the condition and treatment of first nations by Parliament after Parliament, government after government, and after so many promises made. The actual on the ground proof shows first nations that trust is not something they should necessarily bring to the table when this process is designed.

Consultation is a comment and word thrown around very casually by politicians. It is almost like a tick-box. First, get the name right, make sure first nations people's names are correct. Second, make sure the word “consultation” is in our speech and maybe throw in respect, trust, mutual admiration along the way. But consultation, one would hope would finally and clearly be legally defined by the government in conjunction with first nations, so that at the end of the day first nations are not asked to simply trust the government, that first nations are not simply assumed to be willing and equal partners in this conversation, but that they have something in hand that they can take to the bank, so to speak.

This legislation talks about three conditions in which a first nation may enter into this process. This is one of those important conversations, as we design this bill, that the clarity and full education of these conditions are presented to first nations people so that they can decide with full knowledge and understanding before entering a process.

We would hope there is a caveat included in this legislation that allows for accountable and transparent information sharing with first nations which are considering entering this process. For too long governments have dealt directly with the band councils, with some of the first nations' leadership that are represented here in Ottawa and lobby groups, and the first nations people actually living in the villages themselves are passed over, are simply not consulted, not brought in and not given a fair, free voice at the table.

These conditions are important for Canadians to understand because this is where the rubber hits the road. A first nation can file a claim when all of these three conditions are met: first, when a claim is not accepted for negotiation by Canada including a scenario in which Canada fails to meet the three year time limits for assessing the claims, which is part of the backlog right now. I comment on this because I have been around the treaty tables previously as a consultant. Time and time again, of the three parties sitting at the table, the province, the federal government and the first nations, inevitably, one of the two levels of government representing this place or the province, would suddenly find the lack of will to participate and would suddenly find its agenda to be full.

Meetings would get cancelled, postponed or delayed. Millions upon millions of dollars would be misspent this way on treaty processes with no clear timelines and no clear deadlines. All it would take was one of the parties to simply step back and say they were busy, particularly, and this is most unfortunate, when tables had progressed to near conclusion. This seemed to be the time when one of the parties, one of the levels of provincial or federal government, found a certain unwillingness to participate.

It is so difficult for first nations communities, for the first nations leadership, who have to go back to their people and borrow against their eventual claim. This is something important for Canadians to understand, that all of the costs that are incurred by the first nations negotiators, often times is some sort of borrowed money from the future, from the eventual claim. The longer the government delays, in effect, takes away treaty money, eventual money for settlement of claims, and puts it into the treaty process itself, year after year. There are some first nations in British Columbia who are $12, $14 or $15 million in debt in trying to settle their treaty processes. That money will be taken off the tab of their final treaty.

There may be some encouragement for the federal and provincial negotiators to keep themselves a job, to keep talking and keep things going. But that sense of urgency is required. As we all know in our personal and business lives there is no deal that is ever settled without a deadline. There is no difficult task that is ever completed without some sense of a deadline to encourage that urgency, to allow the innovation to take place, to actually settle the claims.

There is a second condition: at any stage in the negotiation process, if all parties agree, and here is a rare circumstance that we hope will exist more and more frequently, where all parties see within their common interest the need to agree. What a fascinating notion.

I know the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development is listening intently and wants to know when those conditions will be created. Those conditions get created when people come to the table with proper intent, which is to settle treaties. What a remarkable notion.

It must be within the federal and provincial governments' interest to settle treaties. Certainly, it is within the interests of the first nations. They are living the reality of non-treaty conditions. They are living the reality of having no capital or collateral with which to negotiate and develop the economies they hope for, for their people. They have urgency.

So often and too often times the provincial and federal governments, and I am speaking specifically to the case in British Columbia, do not agree. The parties find some easy and common causality to find disagreement. Treaties are complicated things. They deal with education, cultural rights, land issues and revenue sharing. It is very easy when the government has the intent to not agree, to find something that lets it say it needs to take a step back from the process and move away from the table.

There is a third and last negotiating point: after three years of unsuccessful negotiations. Unfortunately, this should be the easiest condition to be met because if any experience is known to the British Columbian first nations communities, many of them would hope for a treaty process that looked at a three year horizon. They would pray for such a thing.

There is a highway that I would encourage the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development to visit. It travels into the north of British Columbia. It is not a long highway but an important one. It travels from Terrace, British Columbia into the Nass Valley and visits the Nisga'a communities. The highway for many years was a dirt track that sloughed off into the rivers. We have many stories of people dying along the road. It was a logging truck road that was supposed service the 5,000 or 6,000 people who lived in Nisga'a territory.

The road is named Highway 113. The Nisga'a, when settling their treaty, were given the dubious distinction or honour of being able to name the highway. They named it 113 because it had been 113 years since they had first visited the provincial legislature and asked to be treated, dealt with, and negotiated with in a fair and honest way. It was 113 years of persistent negotiation, generation after generation, that would hand the baton to the next leadership and say, please push on because we need to settle this land claim and we need to settle the land question. It took 113 years.

Every time I travel that road, and I was just back there two weeks ago, I visit with the Nisga'a Lisims government, which has a general assembly at this time every spring. I would encourage the Minister of Indian Affairs to visit. He would be most welcome to visit by the Nisga'a and would be treated with dignity and respect, I can assure him.

Is it not remarkable for Canadians to consider that a first nation that has had to struggle through 113 years to settle a land claim still has the dignity, the poise and the respect to welcome representatives from the federal government, which, some would argue, put them through abuse for 113 years? Is it not remarkable that they would welcome those representatives to their community, that they would provide a feast for them, present them with their respect and their time, and ask those representatives to please accept them? Yes, it is remarkable.

Oftentimes, and perhaps not often enough, members of Parliament are visited by the first nations leadership, the elders from across Canada. I remember when we were settling the Dogrib claim not so long ago. The elders from that first nation community were here in the galleries of the House of Commons and watched question period that day.

I talked to them later and asked them what was going through their minds as they watched the to-and-fro of what we present as debate, what we present to Canadians of their leadership during question period. I wondered what those elders were thinking. They had the dignity and grace to not comment too much to me and said that they supposed it was something good for the cameras for us.

However, we deal with the lives of people. We deal with them when their lives are hanging in the balance and when they are unable to find economic opportunities. I have claimed, and I have been joined in this by many of the first nations leaders in my region, that the best social program is a job. The best way to encourage hope for the future is that prospect of full and gainful employment and the ability to put food on the table in a decent, hard-working way.

That is what first nations want, not just in Skeena in the northwest of British Columbia, but across this country. That is what everybody wants. Everybody wants some respect and some sort of capacity to use the capital that has been given to them, and in the case of first nations, it is capital that is rightfully theirs, which is the land question at its most fundamental.

I would hope, as I have for the four years that I have been in this place, that the cause of aboriginal people is one of those rare causes that will cross over the political lines. I hope that it will cross over the to-and-fro of ideological advantage in the political fray and allow us as people representing Canadians to discover what bonds hold us in common unity across the aisles, across the great divide of partisan politics. I hope that it will allow us to settle on something that we can be proud of.

If this bill is done correctly, this may be one of those rare instances. If the consultation and incorporation of first nations concerns are done properly, this may be one of those circumstances. It is why New Democrats have advocated for this for many years. It is why New Democrats will support the bill going to second reading and to understanding in committee: so that changes can be made, so that we can consider this properly, look at it in the full light of day and take in those consultations accurately.

Granted, one must understand, not having dealt with first nations communities very much, the notions of mistrust from the perspective of first nations. There has been too much history, too much practice, to ask first nations to come out with full and open arms, trusting whatever the government may or may not present.

We must understand, culturally speaking, where the cultural breaks have been when there have been so many atrocities visited upon first nations. We must understand that the lineage back to the tradition of the leadership has been disrupted so fundamentally that time to do this properly must be taken. The ability of government to actually open its mind and its heart to what first nations are telling it is an absolute necessity in order to bring first nations to the table properly and have them endorse this process all the way through.

It is available to us if we as parliamentarians listen properly, if we as parliamentarians act on the recommendations given to us, and if we as parliamentarians put aside the momentary interests of partisan politics and step into that rarefied atmosphere that allows us to develop something that is good for this country in the moment and good for this country in the generations to come.

Specific Claims Tribunal ActGovernment Orders

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

Anita Neville Liberal Winnipeg South Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the comments of my colleague opposite and particularly thank him for making note of the cost of treaty deliberations and the fact that it eats into settlements.

I was pleased to have the opportunity to listen to him, particularly in light of the comments that this was an attempt to filibuster. It seems that when one wants to have one's say in this House, name-calling is resorted to.

The member opposite referenced the Nisga'a treaty and the 113 years it took for Nisga'a to be settled. I wonder if the member opposite would be willing to comment on the three days that this House spent in a filibuster dealing with the hundreds and hundreds of frivolous amendments made in an attempt to filibuster that agreement.

Specific Claims Tribunal ActGovernment Orders

11:25 a.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, that is an interesting scenario.

The previous representatives of my region were part and parcel of that filibuster. They were part and parcel of trying to scuttle the entire deal. That was the effort. It was not simply to cause three days of delay. It was to attempt to ruin the first nations treaty, which was the Nisga'a treaty. That was declared and said by a member, and there is some irony, because that member returned to run as a candidate for the Conservative Party in the last election and held the position again, saying that treaties were a mistake. Before that, he was a Reform member.

However, he ran again as a Conservative. In debate after debate in communities of which 50% or more are first nations, while the non-first nations have grown accustomed to the idea and have seen the advantages of it, that gentleman unfortunately was joined by too many within that political movement in saying that this was bad for Canada, that this was bad for our region.

The Nisga'a, to their credit and under the great leadership of Dr. Gosnell and many others, a leadership that handed a torch to the generation that has now adopted this Nisga'a treaty, saw this for what it was. They knew that right intentions would win in the end.

Here is an interesting example. Out of the Nisga'a treaty, the Nisga'a were able to develop what now is called the Nisga'a Fisheries. In a sense, they take care of the Nass River, its tributaries and the outflow into the ocean and manage the fisheries from their perspective and from their cultural perspective. It is one of the few rivers in British Columbia this year that will have any kind of fishery at all. It has been lauded by DFO, environmental groups and industry groups as a well managed fishery, perhaps the best on the entire west coast.

When the Nisga'a treaty was being debated, an important comment was made by the head of the Credit Unions of British Columbia. When he was asked whether the Nisga'a treaty was good or bad in the short term or the long term, he said it was good in both, because finally it allowed for certainty on the land base. It allowed for certainty for forestry, for mining companies and for fishing. It allowed people to make the types of investments and decisions they needed to make, because there was no question about where fee simple was or was not, where the interdiction of the Crown existed and did not. This is what the Nisga'a had been basing their economic revival on: that land question.

As for questions of filibuster and questions of delaying and denying and hoping to resist the inevitable, it was, I would suggest to my Conservative colleagues, an unfortunate period in Canadian history, it really was. However, the Nisga'a persevered and right-thinking members of Parliament persevered.

Now we now have rules in this place, thankfully, which omit that type of tactics from happening in that manner and do not allow the introduction of some 100 or 200 amendments just to talk out the clock and try to destroy a bill, and this was a bill that was supported by a majority of Canadians.

It is incredible to me that the Conservative members would somehow equate trying to destroy a treaty with a representative commenting on a piece of legislation that affects him or her greatly. Thirty per cent of my constituents are first nations. I am amazed that in their sudden desperation to deal with this bill the Conservatives somehow are seeing a filibuster under every rock and tree. It is remarkable to me. The Minister of Indian Affairs has stood up in this House and asked questions, so I guess the Minister of Indian Affairs is therefore presenting some sort of filibuster to the House.

Of course, we are not making that accusation. It is bizarre and beyond the pale coming as it does from a government that spent six weeks at the environment committee delaying a climate change bill. To suggest that a 20 minute speech is some grand conspiracy is amazing and disgraceful.

Specific Claims Tribunal ActGovernment Orders

11:30 a.m.

Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon B.C.

Conservative

Chuck Strahl ConservativeMinister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians

Mr. Speaker, I want to respond to a couple of comments made by the member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley.

First, he asked rhetorical questions. He asked if we are sincere with this effort in Bill C-30. First Nations have been asking for this for generations, as Chief Joseph from the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations has said. In 30 years of government and 10 years as chief, he said, he has never seen a more cooperative effort to draft a bill than this one.

Were there consultations? Yes, there were consultations to the point that the Assembly of First Nations helped us co-author this bill. Shawn Atleo and others from British Columbia, as the member knows, were part of that process.

This effort is very sincere. There were consultations. There were communications materials developed by the Assembly of First Nations subsequent to that.

Therefore, of course, we believe, as Chief Joseph has said, that it is not only a sincere effort but is perhaps really groundbreaking in its effort, in my opinion. I would hope that the member would know that.

I did appreciate his comment about the annual meeting. I know the Nisga'a have their annual meeting. I was not able to attend this year because the House was in session at the time. Just prior to the meeting I phoned the president and had a discussion with him. I hope to be up there this summer. We had that discussion as well. I will take advantage of the invitation to get up there, not just the member's invitation but the invitation of others. That will be a great opportunity as well.

We have made other efforts as well. Record numbers of claims were negotiated. This tribunal act is for when negotiations do not work, but we have actually settled a record number of claims through negotiations, which again I think shows our sincerity to get claims that really are “justice at last” for many people, as has been described by Phil Fontaine and the Prime Minister. They have been waiting way too long, so let us get at this and get it done.

Finally, there are other examples. Specifically when it comes to claims, we have made promises, have followed through and have met our commitments on adding lands to TLE lands on the Prairies. For example, in Manitoba we promised that 150,000 acres a year would be added over a period of four or five years. We have met our targets for two years now and we will meet our targets going forward.

This is a big effort to make sure that longstanding claims, many of them generational in nature, are put behind us, not only because it is the right thing to do and because it is justice at last, but because it does help to heal that relationship with people who say they have waited a long time and the proof is in the pudding. This bill, I would argue, shows first nations that it is worthwhile to work with the government and that the government is sincere in moving forward.

There will be many other issues, I know, and the member has talked to me about some of them. I know they will be raised in the House on other occasions. However, my hope is that we can say on this occasion, with this bill, and with the amendments that the committee has put forward, that on this day we should celebrate success. I hope this will go through.

I will not accuse anyone of filibustering, but I do say to members, let us get it through. There are other issues to deal with. On this one, could we for one day say that this is a good day for aboriginal people and for us as parliamentarians? Could we say about this, which I think and hope will go through tonight unanimously on the next vote, that this was a good bill done in a good way? It probably never will be perfect, but could we say that it is a very good bill done in a good way? I would like to celebrate that.

Specific Claims Tribunal ActGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

We will have a brief response from the member for Skeena--Bulkley Valley.

Specific Claims Tribunal ActGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is difficult to give a brief response. I appreciate the minister's tone. The tendency in this place to accept victories or near perfect situations is rare.

As I think about my comments, I will note that I have just come from my riding. This past weekend, I was again faced with first nations bands under third party management and again faced with another string of suicides and loss of life.

Mistrust is going to have to be overcome by actual proof. The presentation of this bill may be merits of that proof. It will be my job, and I think the job of others, to hold the government's feet to the fire on this continually, day after day in the House of Commons. I think that is appropriate. I imagine that the minister would be doing the same in my role. For so many years, with so much injustice, the bar will be set pretty high. I think that is only appropriate.

Specific Claims Tribunal ActGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Is the House ready for the question?

Specific Claims Tribunal ActGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

Specific Claims Tribunal ActGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

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

Specific Claims Tribunal ActGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Specific Claims Tribunal ActGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

(Motion agreed to, bill read the third time and passed)

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights ActGovernment Orders

May 13th, 2008 / 11:35 a.m.

Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon B.C.

Conservative

Chuck Strahl ConservativeMinister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians

moved that Bill C-47, An Act respecting family homes situated on First Nation reserves and matrimonial interests or rights in or to structures and lands situated on those reserves, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I thank members of the House for passing Bill C-30. It is one of those moments in a minority Parliament where we see a bill go through. I think Canadians will be pleased as well as first nations that have worked hard on the bill. It is the right thing to do at the right time, for the right reasons, and it is a delight to see it pass through the House. We hope the Senate will deal with it speedily.

I am also pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-47, the family homes on reserves and matrimonial interests or rights act, which is a long title. I encourage my hon. colleagues to join me in supporting this important legislation as well, as it offers a practical, balanced and effective solution to a complex issue that we believe needs to be corrected.

I am pleased to be here today to speak to Bill C-47, An Act respecting family homes situated on First Nation reserves and matrimonial interests or rights. I encourage my hon. colleagues to join me in supporting this bill as it offers a practical, balanced and effective solution to a complex issue.

In recent years on reserve matrimonial real property has been the focus of much study, consultation and discussion. Members of first nations and national aboriginal organizations, along with experts in law, women's issues, human rights, governance and other fields, have offered a variety of insights into relevant issues and commented on potential solutions. While nearly all expert opinion concludes that legislation is needed to rectify the problems associated with matrimonial real property, different viewpoints have been expressed on how the legislation should be structured.

There is no question, however, that the legislative vacuum represented by on reserve matrimonial real property, continues to affect many lives. Clearly, the time has come to put a stop to some of the injustices that are occurring day by day.

To appreciate the proposed legislation and the value of the solution it stands to bring requires a thorough understanding of the issues related to matrimonial real property, or MRP, on reserves.

While some members of the House possess such an understanding, particularly my colleague, the Minister of Industry, as well as members of the Standing Committees on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development and the Status of Women who contributed to committee reports on the issue, I will to take this opportunity to provide some additional context.

Matrimonial real property is a term for a relatively simple legal concept. It refers to the fixed assets owned by one or both spouses and used for family purposes. For most Canadians, MRP includes a house and the property on which it sits.

When spouses separate or divorce, the division of MRP is often contentious, but legally straightforward. Under our Constitution, property rights fall under provincial jurisdiction. Laws exist in each province and territory to protect the matrimonial real property interests of married and, in some cases, common law spouses. This means that should a marriage break down one spouse cannot sell the family home without the consent of the other spouse. The laws also empower judges to remedy spousal disputes involving MRP. For instance, a judge can order an abusive spouse to move out of the family home.

Individuals who live in first nations communities, however, do not enjoy access to these legal remedies. The Indian Act limits the scope of provincial laws on reserve lands. The Supreme Court of Canada has determined that provincial laws cannot alter any interest in MRP located on reserve lands. The Supreme Court ruled that since reserve lands fell outside provincial jurisdiction, only federal law could resolve this issue. However, the fact is there is no federal law on MRP on reserves. This gap means that spouses living on reserves have no legal protection for their MRP interests.

As a result, judges cannot deal with the real property of spouses on reserves. Even in the most extreme cases, those involving spousal abuse or physical violence, no court can order a change in possession of an on reserve family home. Furthermore, the courts cannot prevent a spouse from selling or mortgaging the family home without the consent of the other spouse, regardless of the severe repercussions these actions might have.

Closing the MRP legislative gap has proven to be a challenge. Not all off reserve MRP remedies can be replicated on reserves because of the collective nature of reserve lands, our Constitution, the varied land holding systems and housing allocations and the inability of non-members to possess reserve lands.

The House endorsed a partial solution nearly a decade ago when it passed the First Nations Land Management Act. The act provides first nations with a mechanism to opt out of the land management provisions of the Indian Act and develop laws governing, among other things, MRP. The House has also approved self-government legislation that addresses matrimonial interests or rights on reserves. However, despite these actions, a strong majority of residents of first nations communities remain without protection.

In an effort to identify an effective solution, several studies, research projects, information sessions and consultations were undertaken. I draw the attention of the House to three reports that have provided significant insight into this issue.

The Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights investigated relevant legal aspects and tabled an interim report, “A Hard Bed to Lie In: Matrimonial Real Property on Reserve”, in 2003.

Two years later, the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development published its report, “Walking Arm in Arm to Resolve the Issue of On Reserve MRP”.

In 2006 the Standing Committee on the Status of Women reviewed the issue and presented its report, recommending a process and timetable to move the resolution forward. In addition, officials with my department have held dozens of information and consultation sessions with first nation communities and national aboriginal organizations in recent years. Although a mutually acceptable solution has not emerged from these efforts, they have helped to generate the collective will needed to design and implement an effective legislative solution.

Shortly after taking office, our Conservative government launched a new initiative to identify a solution. To direct this effort, a ministerial representative was appointed, Ms. Wendy Grant-John, to facilitate and oversee the consultation process and to ensure that a viable legislative solution was proposed.

During her noteworthy career, Ms. Grant-John has served as chief of the Musqueam First Nation, regional vice-chief of the Assembly of First Nations and associate regional director-general of my department's British Columbia office. She is also a mother, a grandmother, an entrepreneur and former director of Four Corners Bank.

Ms. Grant-John spent many months facilitating consultations with aboriginal groups on the MRP issue. The consultation process included three phases: planning, consultation and consensus building. The government provided funds to the Native Women's Association of Canada and the Assembly of First Nations to work collaboratively with Indian and Northern Affairs Canada in carrying out the consultation process.

From September 2006 to January 2007, consultations were held across Canada with aboriginal organizations and communities and provincial and territorial governments. There were 109 consultative sessions with aboriginal groups, providing a total of 135 consultation days at 64 different locations across Canada. In addition, 12 consultation sessions were held with provincial and territorial governments.

An intensive consensus building phase was held in February 2007 among Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, the Native Women's Association of Canada, the Assembly of First Nations and the ministerial representative.

In March 2007 Ms. Grant-John released her final report, which was tabled in the House in April of last year. Her final report offered a number of recommendations for a legislative solution.

Bill C-47 responds to the majority of these recommendations, including: first, providing basic protections for individual residents on reserve during and after the breakdown of a conjugal relationship; second, balancing individual rights and the collective rights of first nations communities; and third, establishing a mechanism for first nations to develop their own MRP laws.

The legislation now before us was informed by the solid foundation built through these consultations and the reports I mentioned earlier. There were the consensus building phase, the report from the ministerial representative and the sharing of the draft legislative proposal with the Assembly of First Nations, the Native Women's Association of Canada and others.

Bill C-47 strives to achieve two goals: first, to establish an immediate federal regime to protect matrimonial interests that would apply to first nations without laws in this area; and second, to provide first nations with a mechanism to opt out of this regime by developing and adopting MRP laws of their own. These goals would satisfy two of the requirements identified most frequently during consultations.

I encourage my hon. colleagues to keep these goals in mind as they study the legislation and to recognize what Bill C-47 would accomplish and the balanced solution it would represent.

Under Bill C-47, spouses and common law partners living on reserves would be able to access a range of MRP rights and remedies similar to those available off reserve. At the same time, Bill C-47 would also provide protection concerning the collective interest of first nations. For example, non-members would be unable to use the provisions of the legislation to ever gain ownership of reserve lands. That is very important. Furthermore, first nations may make representations to the courts about the cultural, social and legal context relevant to many orders available under the legislation.

The bill also responds to an important concern commonly expressed during consultations, and that is ensuring that members of first nations have direct input into MRP law-making decisions taken by chiefs and councils. Bill C-47 would provide for a ratification process. In essence, for a first nations MRP regime to pass into law, it must first earn the support of a majority of eligible voters. This provision would promote accountability and encourage community members to play an active role in the development of laws, which are two crucial components of a strong democracy.

To support the proposed legislation, the government plans to provide first nation individuals, organizations and governments, as well as law enforcement officials, access to information about rights and remedies available on reserves to address matrimonial interests or rights and services and tools for responding to individual or community needs.

As my hon. colleagues know well, laws are much more likely to succeed when drafted with the input of the people who would be affected by them. Engaging first nation members in law-making discussions would also achieve another key goal, aligning MRP laws with community values and traditions. This was another concern expressed repeatedly during consultations.

Two other ideas often heard during the consultative process are also reflected in Bill C-47.

Many of the people consulted wanted legislation that would provide an immediate and effective solution. The majority said that they would reject a law that enabled the application of provincial laws related to MRP. This was echoed by both the Assembly of First Nations and the Native Women's Association of Canada.

Bill C-47 will satisfy these concerns by instituting an effective federal regime, one informed by but distinct from legislation in place in the provinces and territories. At the same time, this federal regime will be an interim solution until such time as a first nation develops its own MRP law.

Drafts of the legislation were the focus of further discussions with aboriginal groups and officials from the provinces and territories. The results are now before this House in the form of Bill C-47.

I have no doubt that a further analysis of the issues surrounding on-reserve matrimonial real property will lead to one inescapable conclusion: the time has come to enact the practical, balanced and effective solution articulated in Bill C-47. I urge my hon. colleagues to lend their support to this legislation.

I have no doubt that a thorough analysis of the issues surrounding on reserve MRP will lead to an inescapable conclusion. The time has come to enact the worthy balance and effective solution articulated in Bill C-47. I urge my hon. colleagues to lend their support to this legislation.

If I could also take a moment to thank Ms. Wendy Grant-John and the many other people who, in the 109 consultative meetings, contributed their expertise to make this bill as good as it could be.

There will be accusations that the bill is not perfect; any bill that comes before the House will get that accusation. I do believe it is another one of those bills that deals with something that has been a gap in legislation for far too long. This is something that affects primarily women on reserve that may lose the matrimonial home in the case of an unfortunate marital breakup. Right now there is no solution for them. This legislation reflects the desire to help those people. It is time to do that. It also allows first nations to develop their own distinct MRP laws as they apply to the reserve. That is important because it reflects the constitutional reality in which we also live.

It is a balancing act, as I mentioned. It is a unique situation. Most Canadians would not realize that this gap in legislation means that many people, primarily women, do not have the protection that people take for granted every day off reserve.

I hope that we will have a good discussion and debate on this. I look forward to the support of hon. colleagues in this House.

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights ActGovernment Orders

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, Phil Fontaine of the Assembly of First Nations sent a letter on this and attached an analysis which said, “It is very important to note that Bill C-47 does not contain a non-derogation clause”. That type of clause occurs quite often in bills these days.

I am just wondering if the minister could outline why this particular bill does not have that clause.

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights ActGovernment Orders

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

Chuck Strahl Conservative Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon, BC

Mr. Speaker, that is a fair question.

The non-derogation clause is in several other pieces of legislation and in fact was added in committee to Bill C-21, as the member knows, on the extension of human rights of general application to first nations living on reserve. The committee added it as one of its amendments.

I am not a lawyer, but the legal advice is that because the Constitution covers all Canadians, the non-derogation clause does not change the essence of the bill. It will always be interpreted in light of the Canadian Constitution. The Canadian Constitution is clear about aboriginal rights and title. It is clear about what that means. The courts always will interpret legislation or interpret a court case based on constitutional reality. As the member knows, we have any number of cases that work their way through the legal system that might be challenged, and always the court will hold up the Constitution beside the document and make sure that it is consistent.

A non-derogation clause attempts to ensure that we pay attention to the Constitution when we look at the bill, but of course the courts do that anyway. In our opinion, it does not really strengthen the bill. There may be some discussion about that and I would be interested to hear what others may have to say, but the courts always must be cognizant of the Constitution, sections 35 and 92 and other sections that apply, and in our opinion, it does not strengthen the bill to add the non-derogation clause.

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights ActGovernment Orders

11:50 a.m.

Bloc

Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened very carefully to the minister's speech, and in a few minutes, I will have an opportunity to reply to him with the Bloc Québécois' position.

I would like the minister to comment on one thing. Aboriginal women are very concerned about this bill. I believe that my Liberal Party colleague will also talk about this in her speech in a moment. One thing women have been wondering about is how Bill C-47 differs from Bill C-31. Aboriginal women got the short end of the stick, as they put it, with Bill C-31, which was passed and gave back some rights and other things. How is Bill C-47, which the minister is asking the House to adopt, any different? How will it apply on reserves? Of course, I will have a chance to talk more about this later.

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights ActGovernment Orders

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

Chuck Strahl Conservative Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon, BC

Mr. Speaker, I think the member is talking about two different issues. I realize they both may end up in the courts one way or another, but the effort in Bill C-47 is to extend some sort of a federal framework because of the Supreme Court rulings on the application of provincial MRP laws. They just do not apply on reserve lands. What we are trying to do with Bill C-47 is to extend some sort of a federal framework so that, and it is not just first nations women, but primarily first nations women will have the protection that others take for granted in a provincial court system.

Right now the unfortunate reality is if there is a marriage breakdown, or if there is violence against a spouse, frequently or mostly against women, someone needs to intervene to get a restriction, a court order or some sort of legal means to keep the house in the possession of the woman who is raising the kids and needs the protection of the matrimonial home to that. A restraining order or a way to restrict the individual from getting close to the woman is needed and we do not have the tools to do it.

This bill is for the protection of women, for the development of individual MRP laws on each reserve over time, but a law of general application in the meantime that would allow us to have a provision which says we have to look after those interests. Although some homes are owned by the band office, for example, they might be owned collectively, social housing perhaps, many other homes are built by and owned by individual first nations people. The trouble is if there is a marriage breakdown, no laws apply. The guy with the biggest, broadest shoulders wins the argument and that is not fair for first nations women.

This bill will not solve all problems and it does not address the Bill C-31 issues, but it does attempt to fill the gap that otherwise will continue until we do fill it. The system is quite hit and miss across the country. There are some good examples of good leadership on reserve under the First Nations Land Management Act, and there are examples of many first nations which have introduced their own MRP laws, but it is too hit and miss. It does not capture the rest of aboriginal women who deserve the same protection as others.

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights ActGovernment Orders

11:55 a.m.

Winnipeg South Manitoba

Conservative

Rod Bruinooge ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate the Minister of Indian Affairs for introducing this important legislation into our House of Commons. I know it will make a big difference in the lives of first nations people across our country.

Earlier today Bill C-30 finally moved on to the other chamber. I would like to thank the member for Winnipeg South Centre, as well as the member for Abitibi—Témiscamingue for finally getting control of their caucus and bringing forward a resolution to that debate.

My question for the minister is, why is there a sentiment among some members opposite that because a bill is not completely perfect, or because a bill has not received unanimous support from all communities, it should not be brought forward? Could he explain the philosophy we want to employ to bring some resolution to this issue?

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights ActGovernment Orders

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

Chuck Strahl Conservative Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon, BC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. parliamentary secretary has a passionate interest in this bill. He has spoken to me many times and has said that one of the reasons he got involved in politics was to try to bring in this sort of a measure to protect aboriginal women. I appreciate the work he has done on this.

Everyone will speak to his or her own reasons for opposing or supporting the bill. If there is a problem in the parliamentary system, and maybe it is accentuated by a minority government, I do not know, it is that the perfect does become the enemy of the good. We had 109 consultative meetings. Maybe we should have had 129, I do not know; maybe we should have had 299. There is always more we could do, granted, but my hope is that the bill will pass the House, go to committee and there will be more consultations in committee. I would encourage, of course, to have those consultations and broaden them again. That would be good and worthwhile.

As I mentioned on Bill C-30, there are certainly other good issues to raise about all kinds of things, but we should focus on the legislation that is before us, because it is part of a package of ideas that will improve things for first nations. It will not do it all. It is not meant to do it all, but it is meant to focus on matrimonial real property rights.

I think most Canadians have no idea that the laws they take for granted living in Toronto, Vancouver, Sault Ste. Marie or anywhere else do not apply to first nations on reserve when it comes to matrimonial property. I know the government will take a pasting for who knows what else, but my hope is that people will focus on this bill, on this issue and get the bill to committee where there can be some more study.

My hope is that we will follow through and do the right thing because it is the right thing for the right reasons.

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights ActGovernment Orders

Noon

Liberal

Anita Neville Liberal Winnipeg South Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to rise to speak to Bill C-47. It is an important bill, one that certainly deserves consideration. It is a bill that is a matter of human rights for women and children living on reserve. Members of my party are the party of the Charter of Human Rights and we support the measure to extend matrimonial real property rights to first nations.

While the opposition supports the intent of the bill, we do not support the flawed process taken by the federal government to introduce the legislation. We will support moving the bill to committee so we can hear from many concerned stakeholders, many of whom we have heard from already, and legal experts.

I want to emphasize, just picking up on the minister's remarks, that we do not view the representations at committee as consultations. We view them as part of a process of improving legislation that has been brought before the committee.

We were instrumental in making critical changes to Bill C-21 to ensure that aboriginal Canadians would have the time and capacity they needed to deal with the changes. We will continue to push the government to address human rights in all its manifestations, to address the needs of aboriginal Canadians, issues such as education, jobs, poverty and health.

I will take the liberty to go over a little of what the minister has spoken to already.

As we know and have heard, the 1986 Supreme Court of Canada ruled that when a conjugal relationship broke down on reserves, courts could not apply provincial, territorial family law because reserve lands fell under federal jurisdiction. We have also heard that, as a result, aboriginal women living on reserve have not enjoyed the same rights as women living off reserve. They are not entitled to an equal share of the matrimonial property at the time of marriage breakdown. Matrimonial real property refers to the house or the land that a couple lives on while they are married or in a common law relationship.

Since the 1986 Supreme Court ruling, the gap in the law has had serious consequences. When a marriage or relationship ends, the courts have no authority to protect the MRP interests of spouses living on reserves. As a result, spouses living on reserve cannot ask the court to grant an order of temporary or permanent possession of the home or to partition and sale of a home if it applies to enforce an order or preclude a spouse from selling or mortgaging the family home if it applies without the consent of another spouse.

We know approaches to addressing the legislative gap respecting MRP have been under consideration for some time, and the minister has outlined some of the reports and phases. In recent years we know that three parliamentary committees have recommended a legislative mechanism to resolve the issue, and we support one, but we support one brought in appropriately.

Yesterday, we debated Bill C-30, the specific land claims bill, legislation that was done in collaboration with the Assembly of First Nations, a bill that was a compromise, albeit a good first step. Now we are here today debating a bill that the government claims was done in consultation. It said that it worked in collaboration to bring forward a bill. An INAC website states:

The Crown’s consultation process was comprehensive. Indian and Northern Affairs Canada consulted with the provinces and territories and other interested organizations and communities not represented by either Assembly of First Nations or Native Women’s Association of Canada. The Assembly of First Nations or Native Women’s Association of Canada facilitated input from First Nation representatives from across the country. Representatives from the Department accompanied the Assembly of First Nations and Native Women’s Association of Canada at sessions they facilitated.

It is one thing to conduct consultations, but it is another to put forward a bill that does not reflect the outcomes from that consultation.

The government will work in collaboration with first nations when a bill is a voluntary measure, like the specific claims bill, and we applaud it for that, but it will close doors when it is a mandatory measure and it will impose policies on first nations people without taking their input into consideration.

Early reaction to the bill would lead one to believe that the government had the bill drafted even before the consultations took place. When some of us raised that at the time, we were told it was not so, but one cannot help but be skeptical.

On the same day the on reserve matrimonial real property legislation was introduced, it was denounced by the Native Women's Association of Canada, one of the organizations with which the government conducted its so-called consultations. It immediately came out to say that the consultative partnership the government had boasted about was a sham. How could legislation, which was worked on in consultation with affected native organizations, be called a sham?

The president of the Native Women's Association went on to say:

—we have not experienced our relationship with the federal Department of Indian Affairs as being one of partnership or even consultation but rather it feels like another experience of colonialism, or at best piecemeal, individually based solutions that will not result in real equality for the women we represent.

The Conservatives appear simply not to get it. They have not learned from their mistakes in their introduction of Bill C-21. They continue to show disrespect. They continue to act unilaterally. They continue to be paternalistic. Even the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations expressed regret in the government's process. He said:

—the fact that direction provided through this dialogue does not appear reflected in the tabled Bill, leaves us to conclude that the dialogue was of limited value in promoting and implementing a reconciliation approach regarding First Nations aboriginal and treaty rights and Crown sovereignty....the federal government had many, many opportunities to address these matters properly and effectively.

Both these two organizations have major concerns about the bill. The Assembly of First Nations has, in a letter to the minister, even commented that the bill may not survive a constitutional challenge.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to speak to Ellen Gabriel, president of Quebec Native Women's Association. It too has concerns with the legislation, concerns surrounding consultation, among many others, which I will address a little later on.

When the government first set out on its process to study matrimonial real property, we on this side of the House were optimistic. It seemed like the former minister had set out a process in a positive direction.

In June 2006 the Indian and Northern Affairs minister at the time, as we heard, appointed Wendy Grant-John as the ministerial representative to facilitate a consultation piece on matrimonial real property.

Ms. Grant-John is a most distinguished, respected aboriginal leader in her community. We have heard that she served three times as chief of the Musqueam First Nation, and was the first women elected regional vice-chief to the Assembly of First Nations. She had previously worked at Indian and Northern Affairs as a regional director general. She has had an honourary doctorate, and her list of accomplishments go on.

The report by Ms. Grant-John on matrimonial real property issues describes the result of a three phase consultation process, which we heard about from the minister. The primary objective of this process was to provide a recommendation to the minister regarding a viable legislative option to address matrimonial real property on reserves. The process was to comply with the Haida case.

No one expected all applicable parties would agree on everything. It was expected compromises would be made and if there was not a consensus, it would be the representative's mandate to make recommendations, informed by the discussions of the applicable parties. Fourteen key themes came from the discussions, and I will not go through them because I am watching the clock.

As I said earlier, we support the intent of the bill, but we do not support the process taken by the government in its introduction of the bill. We need to get it done right, and that is what I hope the committee will do. The bill does not reflect the ministerial representative's report. It does not reflect the will of aboriginal women. It is a flawed legislation and something that cannot be taken lightly.

The government introduced the legislation, in spite of recommendations of all aboriginal groups. Many problems have been addressed by aboriginal groups and by aboriginal women.

Some problems with the bill include, as indicated by the Native Women's Association: a complete lack of information about the implementation plans and measures that are in the proposed legislation, including timeframes, resources for measures specified in the bill and resources for first nations to implement the legislation; and a lack of information regarding the provision of resources to first nations to enable them to develop their own laws for MRP and to develop capacity to implement either Bill C-47 or their own laws.

Bill C-47 would provide a widowed spouse with only 180 days to remain in a family home following the death of her partner, a time too short. The lack of adequate and appropriate housing in many first nations communities means that the measures contained in Bill C-47 will not assist women and children to obtain alternative housing in the community following the breakdown of a marriage or a relationship. This will continue the status quo, which is many women and children must leave their first nations community following relationship breakdown to find housing and therefore lose access to their family, social networks, culture, language and the services provided on reserve.

The legislation refers individuals to court processes and will likely result in court cases to clarify ambiguous measures. This places remedies contained in the bill out of reach of aboriginal women who cannot access the legal system due to lack of information, poverty or geographic isolation.

NWAC's position is that properly addressing MRP requires both legislative and non-legislative solutions. Non-legislative measures are needed, NWAC suggests, to address the issues and underlie any legislative solutions such as housing, poverty, governance, access to justice and violence, the issues about which we all know.

Like the others, the Quebec Native Women Inc. also expressed concern with the serious housing shortage on reserve. Will there be measures to find housing on reserve for the person against whom an emergency protection order has been made? We know aboriginal women are at greater risk to become the victims of domestic violence. In situations such as these, the frustration can lead to even more violence.

The Quebec Native Women Inc. have also raised the fact that Quebec is a province that applies both the civil code as well as common law. The legislation does not reflect this and therefore does not reflect the interest of native women in Quebec.

As mentioned earlier, the AFN has said that the proposed legislation may well be deemed unconstitutional. It stated:

This is largely because of issues relating to the rejection of delegated power, the lack of capacity for First Nations to effectively use the limited law-making authority and the lack of access by individuals to the provincial court system.

AFN believes there is a need for a “broad and comprehensive approach”. It said:

Such an approach would deal with important related matters concerning land management, dispute resolution capacity, housing, child welfare, shelters, policing membership...and would be based on the implementation of section 35, Constitution Act, 1982 compliance measures.

This is not the first time the government has head these views proposed. It just simply has not listened.

In a letter to the minister, the national chief also pointed out:

The shared view among First Nations across the country was that certain principles should guide the search for solutions and the standard upon which the proposed solutions should be evaluated:

strengthening First Nations families and communities;

fairness

respect for traditional values;

protection of Aboriginal and Treaty Rights;

no abrogation or derogation of First Nations collective rights;

protection and preservation of First Nations lands for future generations;

recognition and implementation of First Nations jurisdiction; and

community basis solutions.

This approach falls short on all of these points. They were simply bypassed by the government.

This bill also will force first nations women to seek remedies in the court. This is neither timely nor financially viable for many first nations women in remote communities, as expressed by the Assembly of First Nations Women's Council.

Time after time we have heard aboriginal women's groups call for real investments in adequate safe and accessible housing on reserves. Still the government continues to ignore the will of first nations women. How can the government claim that it stands for the rights of these first nations women if it does not listen?

As mentioned earlier, in reading the ministerial representative's executive summary, many of the same issues were raised. First nations people expect the federal Crown to fully respect its fiduciary duties in respect to first nations land, treaty and aboriginal rights. In the discussions held, there was a very strong preference for recognition of first nations jurisdiction to fill the legislative gap identified, a minimal role for federal legislation and a virtual universal opposition to the introduction of provincial laws, by incorporating them in a federal law, to deal with this issue. Participants in both AFN and NWAC discussions have said that first nations people want to see matrimonial real property that incorporates first nations views of land and family.

There are so many points to touch on, but quite simply, the government has not listened to the first nations women, yet at the same time the government says it stands up for their rights. Why does the government think it knows best for aboriginal people, particularly aboriginal women?

The Liberal opposition believes matrimonial property rights should be extended to first nations communities, particularly to protect the interests of first nations women and children, but understand it has implications for the whole community. We understand that these rights should not be imposed.

When consultations take place, we know they should not be ignored. We also know there should not always be consensus, but we also know what it means to work in collaboration. After all, for 18 months the previous Liberal government worked with aboriginal people to bring forward the Kelowna accord, something that would address many of the issues that first nations, Inuit and Métis people face today. Notably, it would have addressed the issues related to housing. It offered hope, but hope was taken away when the government needlessly scrapped the accord.

Now the government professes to champion aboriginal issues. With actions taken with legislation like Bill C-21 and now Bill C-47, and little or no investment in three budgets, and with conditions in first nations communities worse today than they were a year ago, it is no surprise that we are about to see a second day of action.

I want to reiterate the position of my party. We want this legislation to go to committee. We believe that addressing the matter of matrimonial real property rights is important. We believe it is particularly important to do it in real collaboration, in real consultation with aboriginal women's groups, to listen to them, to hear their concerns, to incorporate their concerns into the legislation, not to tell them that we know what is best for them.

We want this legislation to go to committee. We want to hear from the experts. We want to hear from the stakeholders. We will take the opportunity to make this a better piece of legislation.

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

Winnipeg South Manitoba

Conservative

Rod Bruinooge ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the speech by the hon. member for Winnipeg South Centre on this important matter. The government appreciates that her party supports sending the bill to committee. When it gets to committee, there will be some excellent commentary from a number of groups and we will do our best to make this bill better.

I want to put on the record that considerable consultation was done across our great nation. There were over 109 sessions over 135 days in 64 different locations. We heard a lot of commentary from across the country. One must remember that this bill provides for first nations communities to create their own legislation should they want to bring about modifications to the way property is dealt with when marriages break down.

There are a number of measures within the bill to alleviate the concerns of the member opposite. Nonetheless, we are appreciative that the bill will be going to committee based on what she has just said.

I have two questions for her. The first one is around what she mentioned in relation to how a shortage of housing on reserve within our country could be, in essence, an argumentative point in relation to this bill gaining support. Although there is no question that there is a shortage of housing on reserve, and that needs to be put on the record as it is clearly a fact, should that not be used as an argument for this important legislation? Though related, they are two different points.

The second question is, there are a number of first nations communities in Manitoba that are seeking to remove houses from a military base in her riding. Is she supportive of the first nations who are seeking to do that?

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

Anita Neville Liberal Winnipeg South Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I believe that housing is an integral part of the problems that women deal with regarding marriage breakdown on reserve. There is an important need for additional housing. As I indicated in my earlier remarks, the Kelowna accord spoke to the housing issues. Had Kelowna been implemented, we would be well on the way to providing additional housing on reserve. I do not think one can separate the importance of adequate safe housing that is not crowded from the issues of marriage breakdown, domestic violence, et cetera. Housing is an integral part of dealing with some of the issues related to matrimonial real property.

The member opposite has raised the issue of moving the houses at Kapyong Barracks to first nations communities. I would say to the member that is not a housing policy. I would not be prepared at this point to give him a definitive response on whether those houses should be moved to first nations communities. It is important that an assessment be done of the quality of those houses. I know that some of them are not in great shape and some of them are in fine shape. One also has to measure the cost of moving the houses compared to the cost of building new ones. I know that an effort like this was looked at for the houses at CFB Gagetown and was deemed not viable because of the extraordinary cost of doing it.

Therefore, I have no definitive answer. I would need to get more information on that.

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

Bloc

Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to my hon. colleague. To be certain that I understood her correctly, I even listened in English. Of course, I respect her party's position. I also listened closely to the minister earlier. I will come back to that when I rise to speak in a few minutes.

I have a question for my hon. Liberal colleague. There comes a time when we must start somewhere and I will come back to this later. I am wondering how we can integrate women's voices into our consultations, when everyone knows that most first nations are led by men and that the issue of matrimonial real property very often affects women.

Yes, problems exist in the communities—we will talk about them again—but I am trying to understand how to orient our work to ensure that Bill C-47 can go forward and help women. Indeed, we can all agree on this, this bill is about 90% intended for women. I would therefore like to know what direction our work should take. Does the hon. member have any ideas concerning how we should orient our work once the House decides to refer Bill C-47 to committee for study?