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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

A message from Her Excellency the Governor General transmitting supplementary estimates (A) for the financial year ending March 31, 2009, was presented by the President of the Treasury Board and read by the Speaker to the House.

Government Response to PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

May 13th, 2008 / 10:05 a.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36(8), I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the government's response to five petitions.

ProstitutionPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Maurice Vellacott Conservative Saskatoon—Wanuskewin, SK

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour today of tabling two petitions. The first petition urges Parliament to resist all attempts to decriminalize or legalize prostitution.

As the petition makes clear, prostitution exploits women and children. The petitioners say that keeping prostitution illegal is in the best interests of vulnerable populations in Canada.

The petition was organized by CASJAFVA, the Canadian Alliance for Social Justice and Family Values Association. It contains 12,376 signatures, almost exclusively from the Lower Mainland of B.C.

We congratulate the Canadian Alliance for Social Justice and Family Values Association for this successful campaign.

Safe Drug Injection SitePetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Conservative

Maurice Vellacott Conservative Saskatoon—Wanuskewin, SK

Mr. Speaker, the second petition I would like to table contains 10,859 signatures. It was also organized by the Canadian Alliance for Social Justice and Family Values Association.

The petition opposes Vancouver's so-called safe drug injection site and urges the government not to renew its exemption from prosecution under the Criminal Code. The petition urges the government to formulate and implement a comprehensive policy for the treatment of drug addictions.

We again congratulate the Canadian Alliance for Social Justice and Family Values Association for this very successful campaign in respect to the crucial issue.

Arts and CulturePetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to table a petition signed by residents of Montreal and the Stratford area who are concerned about the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and its guarantee of cultural expression, noting that it is essential to democracy and the creative process and Canadian arts and culture.

The petitioners note that the Criminal Code already contains provisions regarding pornography, child pornography, hate propaganda and violent crime. They suggest that any guidelines for government funding must support the cultural sector, including the film and video production industry and that the guidelines should be objective, transparent and respect the freedom of expression.

They therefore call on the government to defend Canadian artistic and cultural expression, to rescind provisions of Bill C-10 which allow the government to censor film and video production in Canada and to ensure that the government has in place objective and transparent guidelines that respect freedom of expression when delivering any program intended to support film and video production in Canada.

Unborn Victims of CrimePetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Conservative

Ken Epp Conservative Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to present a large number of petitions. It almost makes me think of the Hank Snow song I've Been Everywhere when I look at the names on these petitions, people from North Bay to Morinville, High Prairie, Devon, Bonavista, Edmonton, Sooke, and many other cities.

These people have signed their names in support of Bill C-484, a very important bill which says that when a woman is pregnant by choice and wants to give her child life, love and care, no one has the right to take that right and that child away from her before the child is born. They are urging Parliament to pass Bill C-484.

With these over 2,000 names, I believe the total is now approaching 24,000 names that have been tabled in this House.

Do Not Call ListPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Conservative

Laurie Hawn Conservative Edmonton Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, my petition is much smaller, but it is a petition from constituents in Edmonton Centre who request that the government institute the national do not call list without delay.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, Question No. 230 will be answered today.

Question No. 230Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

With regards to aboriginal people living on reserves: (a) what is the government's policy as it concerns the reserves in the Northwest Territories; (b) what is the policy as it concerns reserves in the remainder of Canada; and (c) what is the rationale for differences between the two, if any?

Question No. 230Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:10 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, in response to a) In Canada, most Indian Act reserve lands are created by the federal government by order in council pursuant to the royal prerogative, exercised by the governor in council. The criteria for reserve creation are established by the additions to reserve, ATR, policy, which is applied throughout Canada whenever reserve land is created. In Canada’s northern territories, while the ATR Policy applies for reserve creation, a 1955 cabinet directive established the procedures for reserving land. It provided for the reservation of lands by notation in the lands division records of the Department of Northern Affairs and National Resources. Since then, with a few exceptions, it became the practice to establish “reserves by notation” for various federal departments, which were extensively used by Indian and Northern Affairs Canada to make land available to first nations in the Northwest Territories.

Based on the 1955 cabinet directive, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada has taken a general position that reserves under the Indian Act will not be contemplated for Yukon and Northwest Territories first nations. The exception to this is when legal obligations arise from claims settlement agreements such as the treaty land entitlement settlement agreements, which require implementation by setting apart reserves under the Indian Act. When legal obligations exist reserves are created under the ATR policy. Indian Act reserves created in the northern territories since 1955 have all resulted from settlement agreements.

In response to b) There are no separate policies for the creation of reserves south and north of 60o. The ATR policy sets out three categories for the creation of Indian Act reserves: legal obligations, community additions, and new reserves/other. Currently, the majority of reserves are created in fulfillment of legal obligations. These are proposals that seek reserve status for land based on specific claim settlement agreements under treaty land entitlement, specific claims, court orders or legal reversions of former reserve land.

Community additions are proposals for the granting of reserve status to land that is within the service area of an existing reserve community. Once proposals are shown to be in this category, it is then necessary to establish that the land to be set apart as the reserve meets the site-specific criteria of the ATR policy, which include requirements that the land to be set apart for addition be within the “service area” of an existing reserve. Service area is defined as the geographic area “generally contiguous” to the existing reserve community within which existing on-reserve programs and community services can be delivered, infrastructure extended and installations shared, at little or no cost.

The new reserves/other category covers all proposals that are not legal obligations or community additions. The types of proposals covered under this category include, for instance, economic development, the establishment of new reserves resulting from provincial land offerings or new reserves resulting from unsold surrendered land not within the service area of an existing reserve community where, for example, the benefits would have to be matched against federal cost implications and other site-specific criteria.

There are currently two reserves in the Northwest Territories and they are Hay River Indian Reserve and Salt Plains Indian Reserve. A third reserve is being considered for creation and it is the Salt River Indian Reserve to fulfill the Salt River First Nation Treaty Land Entitlement Agreement of 2002.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all remaining questions be allowed to stand.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

The Speaker

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Comments by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development--Speaker's RulingPrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised by the hon. member for Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques about the remarks made on Tuesday, May 6, 2008, by the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development.

I would like to thank the hon. member for raising this issue, as well as the hon. Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and the hon. member for Joliette for their contributions.

During the adjournment debate on May 6, 2008, the hon. member for Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques asked a question about seniors and felt that some of the remarks contained in the response from the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development were unacceptable because, she believes, they reflected on her reputation. In her opinion, such remarks should not be tolerated and she therefore asks the hon. parliamentary secretary to retract them.

As it says on page 503 of House of Commons Procedure and Practice:

One of the basic principles of parliamentary procedure is that proceedings in the House of Commons are conducted in terms of a free and civil discourse.

The Chair has frequently reminded hon. members to be judicious in the comments they make in this House.

In this instance, however, I do not believe that this is a matter of privilege, because the remarks deemed offensive did not obstruct her in the performance of her parliamentary duties. Accordingly, I cannot find that there is a prima facie question of privilege in this case.

I would nevertheless like to take this opportunity to reiterate my request to all the hon. members to choose their words more judiciously in order to avoid remarks such as this that, unfortunately, occur too frequently in this House, in my view. It is perfectly normal to have divergent political opinions, but remarks that question the integrity, effectiveness or utility of another member are bound to be provocative and do nothing to enhance the image of this institution.

I thank the hon. member for Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques for bringing this matter to the attention of the House.

The House resumed from May 12, consideration of the motion that Bill C-30, An Act to establish the Specific Claims Tribunal and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, be read the third time and passed.

Specific Claims Tribunal ActGovernment Orders

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

When the bill was last before the House, the hon. member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca had the floor.

He has nine minutes left in the time allotted for his remarks, and I therefore call upon the hon. member for Esquimalt--Juan de Fuca.

Specific Claims Tribunal ActGovernment Orders

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, as you mentioned, this is a continuation of the speech I began last night on this critically important issue that affects some of the most underprivileged citizens of our country.

The land claims issue is important for fundamental justice. Will the resolution of land claims ultimately affect the present social and economic problems that act as an anchor attached to the ankles of aboriginal people from coast to coast? I would submit that it will not.

There are other larger structural problems to which solutions have to be put in place to enable aboriginal people to be integrated, not assimilated, into Canadian society. Without that, these people, who now live in some of the worst social and economic conditions in Canada, cannot become part of the 21st century economy.

The current Indian Act is a rock tied to the ankle of aboriginal people. It is so bizarre, so restrictive, so offensive, so unfair. We, as non-aboriginals, would never tolerate such a structure. It does not enable aboriginal communities to be masters of their own destiny. They have an act which sits above them, that rules their lives, that restricts their ability for economic development, that impedes their ability to have the same rights as we have. This contributes to some of the fundamental horrific problems that we see in aboriginal communities across our country.

I will cite one example that the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development may want to consider. I have written to him about an urgent situation at the Pacheedaht reserve in my riding. On the Pacheedaht reserve a catastrophe is taking place right now. The reserve does not have a secure water system. The houses are rotting. Mould is infesting the homes. We know that the incidence of tuberculosis in these kinds of sick homes is much higher than in other communities. This is an urgent situation. It is a health crisis on this reserve. It demands the urgent attention of the Department of Indian Affairs now. Without this attention, people will get sicker and they will die.

I was on the reserve a couple of weeks ago. The day before I got there, a woman was raped. Tragically, that is not an uncommon situation on this reserve. Children are sexually abused. Alcohol and drug abuse is endemic. Unemployment rates are double digit and through the roof. There is no hope. When we look into the eyes of the children on this reserve, we have to ask, do these children have any chance, any hope, of getting out of this hellhole? The answer is no, they do not.

Let me provide a few solutions that may be of benefit.

Number one, we have to remove the Indian Act. It should be scrapped. The AFN should be tasked with, and funded for, providing a list of those groups that can provide constructive solutions and capacity building on and off reserve for aboriginal people.

One of the cruel things that exists is that while responsibilities have been downloaded to aboriginal communities for health care, social services and other structures, too often they do not have the capacity to execute those duties and responsibilities that have been placed upon their shoulders, so they outsource them to individuals. Too often they have no idea whether the band manager is competent or whether the capacity building individuals are any good. Too often I have seen people who are shysters, frankly, go in and engage in fraud. They take money from the reserve and do not provide the needed capacity building.

The AFN and the Department of Indian Affairs should make a list of those groups and individuals who have the proven ability to provide strong capacity building on aboriginal reserves. There should also be a list of those people who are not approved, those people who have gone around the country and frankly committed fraud. Those people should be prosecuted, but a reserve could not do that, because the reserve would not have the resources to do so. The RCMP should be tasked with going after these people.

The aboriginal peoples have some beautiful territory. They have some in my riding in Sooke, Beecher Bay and Pacheedaht. I would tell the aboriginal leaders to take chances and start public-private partnerships. Health care is a good example because there is an enormous need for health care on reserves. This would provide a revenue general stream of money and a clean and environmentally sound industry that would go on in perpetuity.

If aboriginal leaders were to do that, they would be able to provide a source of economic opportunity for their people now and into the future. They could negotiate contracts and the resources could be used to build up the capacity within their own communities. This would provide them with the wealth and security to do what they want.

Aboriginal leaders should take a chance and participate in public-private partnerships. Private-public medical care would be one option. They have the chance to do this now.

The Department of Indian and Northern Affairs should have an investment fund that would be managed with the AFN. This fund would provide aboriginal leaders with the resources they need to provide the economic development their communities require. They cannot do that at the present time.

A dynamic young chief, Russ Chipps, lives in Beecher Bay in my riding. Many children in his community have been sexually abused and the whole community has been damaged as a result. However, I must give Chief Chips credit because he is reaching out and asking the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs for help. The youth in that community need hope and they need opportunity. Now that the chief and council are reaching out for help, it is incumbent upon the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs to work with them effectively.

Many of us who have reserves in our communities all know that the social conditions are utterly appalling. These are conditions that would never be tolerated in non-aboriginal communities. The Department of Indian and Northern Affairs is such an ossified structure that if people on reserve try to engage in some economic development they could not do it because the department is so onerous. It takes four times longer for people on reserve to do the same kind of economic planning as someone off reserve. They need to navigate through at least six different federal departments. What kind of nonsense is that? How can these people possibly get on their feet and move forward with that kind of structure?

I would ask the Minister of Indian Affairs to put back the money that he took out of the AFN. It cannot do its job as a result of the more than $1 million in cuts that have taken place. I would ask him to work with the AFN to establish some of the economic and social initiatives that are required and are being asked for by the aboriginal peoples. That kind of relationship would enable the people on the ground to have the hope and security they require. Without that, nothing will change and the horrible conditions that too many people on and off reserves are enduring will continue.

We know that off reserve aboriginal people only receive about 3.5% of funding from the Department of Indian and Norther Affairs. They need hope and they need opportunity. I urge the minister and his department to work with these people to give them the hope and opportunity that all of us deserve, need and have a right to secure.

Specific Claims Tribunal ActGovernment Orders

10:25 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 appreciate many of the comments by the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca. He always has a way of being very provocative in his comments of course. I know he has written about this subject and has many thoughts on the bill. I can trace many of his thoughts back for many years. We have had many discussions over the years.

I also know about his work on first nations reserves in British Columbia and other places. I appreciate his perspective as a doctor, which is often very illuminating.

I want to assure the member on a couple of fronts. One is that we are changing the organization within Indian and Northern Affairs. He talked about the multiple applications that are necessary for economic development. We are patriating from Industry Canada, Heritage Canada and Infrastructure Canada in an effort to allow a one stop application for some of the economic development things that used to be spread out under many different departments. This should make it easier, simpler and more direct so that many of those applications can be speedily dealt with to promote economic development, which is one of the keys.

The other thing the member mentioned was the core funding for the Assembly of First Nations. Overall, the core funding for organizations across the country has gone up significantly this year. We have made a more equitable distribution among the regional organizations where much of the good work is done.

The Assembly of First Nations and all the national organizations still have significant core funding but we have really boosted the funding for regional organizations. Again, it has been my experience that much of the good work is regionally targeted. I would ask the member to think in those terms.

I do think that quite often issues that are important, for example, in British Columbia, are best dealt with by the regional aboriginal umbrella groups from British Columbia. That is something the member should consider.

Specific Claims Tribunal ActGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the minister for taking this initiative along. I know he will find a lot of support across party lines.

The minister mentioned that aboriginal leaders were restricted in their ability to move forward and engage in economic development. I would offer three other suggestions to the minister. First, we could have a list of approved and non-approved band managers who are capacity builders on reserves. As the minister knows, some people are going around the country engaging in fraud and those people should be prosecuted. A database could be set up that could be easily accessed by aboriginal leaders.

Second, we should enable aboriginal leaders, such as Chief Clarence Louie and others, who have done some remarkable work in Osoyoos, to travel around and teach other aboriginal leaders what they have done and how they have managed to enable people in their communities to develop economically. As the minister knows, they have done some remarkable work and if they were to share that kind of knowledge it would be very valuable.

The third thing would be to make a list of those restrictions within the Indian Act that are so perverse that it is essential that they be removed.

Lastly, in my community, the Pacheedaht Band is in crisis. There is a health care catastrophe and people are getting sick. They do not have access to water. I have written to the minister's department. I know he receives many letters but I would be grateful if he would be willing to look at that reserve so the people can receive the urgent attention they require.

Specific Claims Tribunal ActGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have two fundamental questions. The first one concerns the issue of housing.

For many years, the previous government and now the present government seem to face a crisis over the ability to enable or allow first nations to develop new ways to create housing within the reserve system. I am talking about on reserve bands.

When I look across my region, the housing crisis is being predicated and continued by a government policy that says that houses must be paid for and built by the federal government, using figures from, in some cases, 1989, as if housing prices have not changed since then. It also does now allow any innovative programs that would allow local first nations to combine with training facilities and training institutions to actually build the houses themselves and start to create those programs and training opportunities that first nations need and create the houses that would be more practical and applicable.

We have houses designed in Ontario for the west coast of British Columbia. These houses quickly mould and fall apart. Non-aboriginal Canadians look at this and somehow point back to the first nations as if they had designed and built those houses themselves.

My second question is perhaps a more fundamental one. What efforts has the member or his party made to look at the root cause of this? Is it the Indian Act. In his comments, he mentioned how the act was an anchor around the ankles of first nations people. The act, which was created decades ago, has very little in it that is applicable to the real world and yet no one seems to want to take a real march toward reforming the Indian Act. Any attempts that have been made have been pushed back.

The previous Indian affairs minister and I had some conversations about reforming the act but, apparently, that did not advance anywhere. I am wondering what the member's views are on both of those issues, both the practical in terms of housing but then the more fundamental, which is changing the very act under which first nations people are forced to live.

Specific Claims Tribunal ActGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I know the member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley has done a lot of work in his community and in British Columbia on this issue, for which we are all very grateful. The member for Nanaimo—Cowichan has also done a lot of work on Vancouver Island, both as an MP and outside.

There are two things. First, in my view, the Indian Act should be scrapped. It is a racist act that separates aboriginal people from non-aboriginal people. Rather than enabling aboriginal people to be masters of their destiny, it actually acts as an anchor around their ankles.

Secondly, I spoke about property rights yesterday. Aboriginal people should have property rights and should be able to own their own homes. Some people say that is anathema to the history of aboriginal people but that is not true.

If we look at what happened with the Iroquois, it was their property rights. They had the ability to own, to utilize and to hand their land down from family to family and generation to generation. Those property rights can be done in such a way that the land does not disappear from ownership from the community, but can be done in such a way that the individual member can actually have ownership, have capital, have a source of revenue and have an asset that they can bank on and utilize for future wealth building. Aboriginal people cannot build wealth like we can, as the member knows, because of the absurd situation that exists.

Lastly, on the issue of housing, part of the problem in B.C. is that some of the people who are building homes should be going to jail because they are building homes that they know full well will be health hazards. They knew these were sick homes and yet they criminally built them. Now aboriginal people are living in homes that are death traps. They are mouldy, sick, toxic homes. The people who built them should go to jail.

As I said previously, it would be helpful if a database could be set up with a list of people who have done a good job on reserves. There should also be an obligation for those people to capacity build on reserves so aboriginal people can have the tools, the wherewithal and the capacity to build their own homes and manage those homes in the future.

Specific Claims Tribunal ActGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

Chuck Strahl Conservative Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon, BC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member mentioned Chief Louie, the chair of the Aboriginal Economic Development Board. He is travelling the country and he is a great example. As he says, the best social program is a job. His own band has made that a mantra that he sells across the country.

On the idea of scrapping the Indian Act, it would be a great thing if people could come out from underneath the Indian Act. In particular, we have moved ahead aggressively on the First Nations Land Management Act which allows first nations to get control of their land so they do not have to deal here in Ottawa at all. A great way for first nations to get out from underneath the Indian Act is through the First Nations Land Management Act and the other ancillary acts that go with it. I would encourage the member to think about that.

Is it the position of the member's party that we should scrap the Indian Act? Bob Nault tried previously to make some aggressive changes to the act but it did not go very far. I am wondering if the member could tell me whether that is his opinion or the opinion of the Liberal Party.

Specific Claims Tribunal ActGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is my personal opinion. It comes from my communications and conversations with aboriginal members in my community who have said to me, “This act is a racist act. It is a restriction on our ability to move forward”. I thank the minister for moving forward with a number of those initiatives.

Specific Claims Tribunal ActGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

Bloc

André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to join today's debate on C-30, An Act to establish the Specific Claims Tribunal and to make consequential amendments to other Acts.

My modest contribution is not about to significantly alter this bill. After all, my colleague from Abitibi—Témiscamingue is the Bloc Québécois critic for aboriginal issues, and he has worked hard to move this file forward. I know that the Bloc Québécois is also supporting this bill. And so I would like to congratulate my colleague from Abitibi—Témiscamingue for all of his work. You should also know that he is a lawyer. As this bill concerns a tribunal, I am sure that his expertise was an asset, notably at committee, in creating the bill that we have here today.

As with all bills, there are most likely flaws. Nothing in this world is perfect. And often, even when we think a bill is perfect, we see some measures that could be different, improved even, once the bill is implemented. However, one thing is clear: this is a step in the right direction, and so the Bloc Québécois has decided to support this bill.

Throughout my speech, I will point out certain shortcomings, or rather, areas for improvement, particularly with respect to aboriginal affairs. Unfortunately, even now, in 2008, there are many problems that are just as prevalent and just as serious. Yesterday, I listened to several speeches by my colleagues in the House of Commons. Members on both sides realized that there is still a lot of work to do, and that is why we have to participate in this debate in order to improve aboriginals' quality of life across Canada and Quebec.

In 2004, deputy Indian affairs critic was my first portfolio, and I was also the globalization critic. Quite frankly, I knew very little about the portfolio. As a former reporter, I was interested in all kinds of current events, but I did not have a very good understanding of that portfolio.

However, I had the opportunity and good fortune to work with the first aboriginal person from Quebec to be elected to the House of Commons in 2004, Bernard Cleary. I worked with him on the Indian affairs file. Mr. Cleary was a negotiator for aboriginals for 40 years. Naturally, he participated in a lot of negotiations with governments. As a result, he knew what he was talking about in the House, during committee meetings and during meetings with the minister and first nations representatives. He set a very good example not only in his approach to negotiation, but also in his approach to problems that were often absolutely dreadful.

In committee, in my earpiece, I have heard interpreters cry because we were talking about what had happened in the residential schools. Mr. Cleary taught me to evaluate these situations and to treat them and the people we met with great respect. He was a good teacher. That is not the reason I am talking about this issue today, but I wanted you to understand why I care so much about Indian affairs.

Without further ado, I would like to talk briefly about the objectives of Bill C-30. The purpose of this bill is to create an independent tribunal, the specific claims tribunal. It also seeks to bring greater fairness to the way specific claims are handled in Canada and to expedite the resolution process. Bill C-30 is therefore designed to improve and expedite the specific claim resolution process in Canada. Since 1947, a number of joint and Senate committees have recommended creating such an independent tribunal to resolve specific claims. Moreover, I learned that the first nations have been talking about and calling for such a tribunal for more than 60 years.

Negotiations will still be the preferred method of resolving claims. This is important, because we know that the first nations prefer to negotiate with the federal government. The tribunal would have the power to hand down binding decisions when claims are not accepted for negotiation or negotiations fail. Briefly, that is the overall objective of this bill, which represents a step forward on this issue.

The Bloc Québécois has always had a very clear position not only on this bill, but on aboriginal affairs in general. The testimony the committee heard answered some of our initial questions. As I said, to us, no bill is perfect, and bad faith on the legislator's part is not necessarily to blame for imperfections. But we often find that there is a need for improvement. That is why, in committee, my colleague from Abitibi—Témiscamingue and the deputy critic improved the bill.

The bill would establish the specific claims tribunal, which would make binding decisions. It could expedite the resolution of 784 claims. That is quite something, and that is why this bill must be passed.

Canada's first nations had some involvement in creating this bill. This may pose a problem. Although there was some first nations involvement, I know that the first nations of Quebec and Labrador unfortunately did not take part in the negotiations.

The Bloc Québécois is in favour of passing Bill C-30, but I have two important points I would like to discuss.

The federal government must properly consult first nations before introducing any bill that may affect them. It needs to do the consultation itself in order to start the reconciliation process. The Bloc Québécois would like to remind members that the government did not hold proper consultations for Bill C-30; the government should develop a real structure for consultation with first nations. Each time there is a first nations bill, the government must negotiate with them and develop a strict and well-established system so that later on, no one can point to a lack of communication between the government and first nations peoples.

The Bloc Québécois would also like to remind members that the bill is connected to a political agreement between the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations in relation to special claims reform. We are very interested in seeing how the government follows through on this agreement and, in particular, the commitments it has made.

I would like to mention some interesting statistics that will show how important it is that we move forward with this bill.

Since 1973, 1,297 special claims have been filed and 513 have been resolved. To resolve these claims, Canada has paid between $15,000—the lowest amount—and $125 million, for an average of $6.5 million per claim.

Of these claims, 284 have been resolved through negotiation, and 229 by other means, either through an administrative avenue or through closing the case. As I was saying earlier, there are currently 784 unresolved claims, and they are targeted in this bill.

Of the claims in process, 138 special claims are in negotiation across the country, and 34 are being handled by the Indian Specific Claims Commission. Those are the statistics.

I repeat, numerous claims and many problems still need to be resolved. The timing on this is good—or bad, depending on which side of the fence you are on—because last week, on May 6, the Auditor General released her report, which obviously looked into the matter of aboriginal children. I say “obviously” because this situation urgently demands greater efforts on the part of the government.

I would like to read a bit from that report. In chapter 4, the Auditor General points out that a number of problems remain to be resolved. I will also be talking about the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. That is another question that must be looked at much more carefully by this government, which still refuses to sign the declaration.

In chapter 4, which is entitled “First Nations Child and Family Services Program—Indian and Northern Affairs Canada”, the Auditor General reviews how the department manages the program through which it provides services to first nations children and families on reserves.

In accordance with federal government policy, these services must comply with provincial legislation and standards, must be comparable to services provided in similar circumstances to children living off reserve and of course must be culturally appropriate for first nations peoples.

Chapter 4 of the Auditor General's most recent report shows that funding for child welfare services on reserves is not fulfilling the federal government's obligations. It also shows that more than 5% of first nations children living on reserves in Canada are under the care of community or provincial child welfare services, for a total of over 8,000 children every year. This proportion is eight times higher than children in care off reserves. I said earlier that the situation must be resolved without delay, or at the very least, greater efforts made to improve it. The Auditor General is appealing for help. She is speaking out on behalf of these children and families, who still face this very serious problem.

The Auditor General noted that Indian and Northern Affairs had not analysed and compared on-reserve services with those offered in neighbouring communities. That must be corrected. In addition, the department had not identified the other health and social services available to support child welfare services on the reserves. Once again, the message is intended for the government.

In fact, the needs of children taken into care by first nations organizations vary considerably. Some children and their families do not receive the services they need because the funding formula for these services is outdated. The Auditor General made another point: the funding formula for on-reserve services has not been modified since 1988 even though the first nations have the highest birth rate in the country.

Finally, I raised another point: the Auditor General recommended that Indian and Northern Affairs Canada should resolve the differences with Health Canada related to their respective funding responsibilities for children in care. This may be a problem of the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing. There must be more concerted communication among departments to ensure that the changes requested by the Auditor General are carried out.

We do not really need the Auditor General to know all about the problems of drinking water, housing, addiction, suicide and so forth, because the media unfortunately keep us well informed. This information is useful but once we have it what do we do? Although we may not need the Auditor General to point this out, she has nevertheless targeted other problems that the general public may not familiar with or that do not receive as much media coverage. Nevertheless, with regard to these problems, we note once again that the most vulnerable often pay the price for the government's lax approach. In speaking of the most vulnerable I am also referring to the weakest: children are among those calling for help.

Earlier I was talking about the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This is another example of an area where the government should be demonstrating a lot more leadership. There simply is no leadership there. Only four countries in the world have refused to sign the declaration and, unfortunately, to our great shame, Canada is one of those countries. Canada still has not ratified this important Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. I read that more than 100 jurists and experts have criticized the Conservative government's lack of leadership and pointed out in an open letter that this government's legal arguments to justify its refusal do not hold water.

The Conservatives give very little importance to recognizing human rights. In addition to refusing to ratify the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, they have also abolished the court challenges program, the preferred tool of minorities wanting to exercise their rights, and let us not forget the government's draconian funding cuts to Status of Women Canada and to the aboriginal literacy program.

There is no use in the government talking about how very important it is to help aboriginals, to improve their conditions and quality of life, when it keeps cutting and cutting. Otherwise, who will pay the bill?

Obviously those who would have received the services that have been abolished, that is who. In this specific case, refusing to become involved more specifically in the services offered to aboriginals will not improve the situation.

The United Nations has worked patiently and thoroughly, together with aboriginal peoples, for more than 20 years to come up with this tool for defending aboriginal rights. Unfortunately, the government is rejecting all this work out of hand.

We have another warning for the government. We are supporting Bill C-30, which is a step in the right direction. In the meantime, the government and its minister have to understand that the situation is not getting any better. Even though this bill is a step in the right direction as far as specific claims are concerned, the government's policy falls short when it comes to aboriginal rights.

Something really shocks me, and I want to choose my words very carefully. I learned yesterday that this government is prepared to invest $30 billion in military equipment. At the same time, Status of Women Canada programs are being slashed, the court challenges program was eliminated and there have been cuts in aboriginal literacy programs. Certainly people do not understand what is going on. I want to choose my words very carefully. Here is my point: I am not saying that we should not have a defence policy, but the problem is that the policy still does not exist. All that is being done is to announce that $30 billion will be invested over a 20-year period to buy all sorts of equipment.

First, there should be a very precise foreign affairs and national defence policy, so that we can determine what we need. Yesterday, in fact, some of the soldiers who attended the Prime Minister's press conference spoke publicly, as the newspapers reported today, saying this was just a sprinkling of money. They say they will be buying planes or this or that other equipment, but no one is sure whether this is the equipment that is really needed in the field. There has to be some housecleaning done in this regard. I will end my parenthetical comment here so as not to confuse things.

On the one hand, we see this pathetic situation on the aboriginal reserves, where there are people whom we should be looking after, since the federal government is trustee for the aboriginal peoples. On the other hand, we get announcements of billions and billions of dollars for military equipment. There is a big disconnect, an enormous gulf between the public's real needs and this government's goals.

To get back to the bill, I want to say that the Bloc Québécois supports the aboriginal peoples in their quest for justice and recognition of rights. The Bloc Québécois recognizes the 11 aboriginal nations of Quebec for what they are, nations. The Bloc Québécois also recognizes the aboriginal peoples as distinct peoples who are entitled to their cultures, their languages, their customs and their traditions, and to their right to decide for themselves how to go about developing their own identity.

We have had a lot of discussion this week and last week about the history of the birth of Canada, which the Conservative government is trying to rewrite, as we celebrate the 400th anniversary of Quebec. Some absolutely absurd things have been said, like some of the documents that have been released. Nonetheless, everyone has to agree on one thing: the aboriginal people were here before Jacques Cartier arrived, and before anyone came to spend time in Newfoundland or elsewhere. The first nations were here. We agree on that. We must respect that fact absolutely.

Speaking of respect, we cannot let the Erasmus-Dussault report go unmentioned. In 1996, the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples submitted a comprehensive report that proposed far-reaching changes over a period of 20 years leading to self-government for aboriginal peoples by respecting their customs, cultures, languages and ancestral institutions. Since that time, the Bloc Québécois has been pressuring the federal government to act on the report's recommendations.

This is another warning. This program has been in place since 1996, but there are still many recommendations from the report that the government must act on.

I will conclude by talking about implementation of the bill. There are three scenarios in which a first nation could file a claim with the tribunal. The first is when Canada turns down a claim for negotiation but fails to meet the three-year time limit for assessing claims. The second is at any stage in the negotiation process, if all parties agree.

The third occurs after three years of unsuccessful negotiation. The tribunal will examine only questions of fact and law to determine whether Canada has a lawful obligation to a first nation.

All of that to say that we now have an opportunity to improve the situation, and I am convinced that all parties in this House will support this bill.

Specific Claims Tribunal ActGovernment Orders

10:55 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, after listening to the hon. member's intervention I can tell that he has a lot of interest in these important issues, although he did seem to stray into matters of defence that I know the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence would love to deal with, probably later today.

To go back to the matter at hand, the member spoke of the tribunal as important, but he also talked about how the Government of Canada is required to take a custodial role in relation to first nations people. I would like to suggest to him that first nations people throughout the country do not appreciate being wards of the state. In fact, many first nations people are hoping to get out of the custodial scenario that he is suggesting Canada needs to maintain or propagate.

This bill is actually going to bring forward a lot of important wealth to first nations people throughout the country so they can relinquish that position of being under the custodial control of a government, which is something that we as a government want to move away from. It has been part of our policy right from the beginning to provide first nations people in particular with the opportunities to get out from underneath the government, to become self-determining and to have a form of self-reliance.

I am very thankful that the filibuster occurring right now seems to be coming to an end with this member. I am hopeful that it is coming to an end, but I notice that the Speaker is indicating that there are going to be more speakers. My question for the member, therefore, is that if he has all these opinions that he believes are important for first nations and aboriginal people throughout the country, why would he be taking part in a filibuster on this important bill even though the member for Abitibi—Témiscamingue was part of endorsing this bill unanimously in committee?

None of the party members disagreed with anything in this bill, really, so I find it interesting that he has decided to take part in this filibuster that actually is preventing our government from bringing forward important legislation on matrimonial real property rights for first nations people on reserve. I would ask the member to explain how we can reconcile that.